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Yaxchilan

Yaxchilan


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Hidden away far from the hustle and bustle of the main tourist track is the archaeological site of Yaxchilan, containing the ruins of this once-powerful Maya city. The ruins are found on the banks of the Usumasinta River.

History of Yaxchilan

Yaxchilan was first settled around 350AD: nestled in the curve of the Usumacinta River, it’s extremely well protected as it uses the river as a natural moat. The city peaked between 650 and 800AD, when it was locked in a struggle with the city of Palenque for dominance.

Not only did the river provide defence, but it also meant Yaxchilan had booming trade with other city states, and whilst it never defeated Palenque, it remained one of the most important city states of its time.

The majority of the building which still exists today was completed in the 8th century, including Yaxchilan’s famous carved lintels, which tell the story of the city and surrounding area and have proved extremely useful to historians and archaeologists. There’s a particularly full list of rulers (including Yaxchilan’s Jaguar dynasty) and their accomplishments – it’s worth looking up English translations of what’s what as the signage on site is relatively limited.

Yaxchilan was ‘rediscovered’ in the early 19th century, but only really full exploring in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Look out for large, slightly weathered, animal sculptures, relief carvings and remnants of roofcombs. Edificios 39-41 are atop a hill and are worth visiting for a vantage point.

The city’s remoteness (until the 1980s there were no roads within 100 miles of it) means it feels extremely special, and there’s unlikely to be swarms of people. The jungle climate can be intense and unsurprisingly there are extremely limited amenities. Bring plenty of water, insect repellent, food and loose, light clothing. Torches can also be useful in order to see some of the lintels properly.

Yaxchilan has plenty to explore so come prepared to walk and climb: it’s a full day’s excursion even without factoring in travel.

Lacandon Maya still make pilgrimages to Yaxchilan to carry out religious rituals: the site is still sacred to them and it should be treated accordingly.

Getting to Yaxchilan

Yaxchilan is buried deep in the Chiapas jungle, literally right on the border with Guatemala. Unsurprisingly, it’s not the easiest to get to! Your best bet is to head to the hubs of San Cristobal de las Casas or Palenque, and organise onward travel from there. You’ll need to catch a boat at least some of the way as there’s no real road access. It’s easiest to go on an organised tour, but it’s possible to visit solo if you have good enough Spanish to sort your various methods of transport.


Yaxchilan Lintel 24

Lintel 24 is the designation given by modern archaeologists to an ancient Maya limestone carving from Yaxchilan, in modern Chiapas, Mexico. The lintel dates to about 723-6 AD, placing it within the Maya Late Classic period. [1] The text of Maya hieroglyphics indicates that the scene depicted is a bloodletting ritual that took place on 5 Eb 15 Mak, 709 AD. The ruler, Shield Jaguar, holds a torch while his consort, Lady Xoc, pulls a rope studded with what are now believed to be obsidian shards through her tongue in order to conjure a vision serpent.


BIBLIOGRAPHY

Alfred P. Maudslay, Biologia Centrali-Americana: Archaeology, 5 vols. (1889–1902).

Ian Graham, Corpus of Maya Hieroglyphic Inscriptions: Yaxchilán, vol. 3, parts 1-3 (1977–1988).

Linda Schele and David Freidel, A Forest of Kings (1990), pp. 262-305.

Carolyn E. Tate, Yaxchilán: The Design of a Maya Ceremonial City (1992).

Additional Bibliography

Brokmann, Carlos. Tipología y análisis de la obsidiana de Yaxchilán, Chiapas. Mexico City: Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, 2000.

García Moll, Roberto. La arquitectura de Yaxchilan. Mexico City: Plaza y Valdés Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, 2003.

García Moll, Roberto, and Daniel Juárez Cossio, eds. Yaxchilán: antología de su descubrimiento y estudios. Mexico City: Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, 1986.

Kaneko, Akira. Artefactos líticos de Yaxchilán. Mexico City: Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, 2003.

Martin, Simon, and Nikolai Grube. Chronicle of the Maya Kings and Queens: Deciphering the Dynasties of the Ancient Maya. New York: Thames & Hudson, 2000.

Mathews, Peter. La escultura de Yaxchilán. Trans. Antonio Saborit. Mexico City: Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, 1997.

Miller, Mary Ellen, and Simon Martin, eds. Courtly Art of the Ancient Maya. San Francisco: Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco New York: Thames & Hudson, 2004.


Your visit to the Yaxchilan ruins

Boats are leaving from the village of Corozal. The ride goes past banana plantations, tropical rainforest, corn fields and brings you to the site within 45 minutes. Along the way you see local people, from the surrounding communities, working and enjoying themselves in the river.

Upon arrival, you climb a set of stairs and walk towards a small office, where you register. Because the number of visitors is minimal, you won’t find any shops or restaurants, so bring anything you need like water, something to eat, sunscreen and mosquito repellent. Good hiking shoes are also recommended is you are planning to climb the buildings.

There are two ways to access the Yaxchilan ruins Mexico

  1. An easy trail straight ahead, takes you directly to the Gran Plaza. Upon arrival you first walk through the dark “laberinto” where you will see and hear different bats, hiding during the day. Take a flashlight with you if you want to explore a bit more in the laberinto. On the Gran Plaza, you will find the most important buildings, altar stones and stelaes. If you walk up a bit to the left of the laberinto, you have a nice view of the Gran Plaza. Great place for pictures!
  2. If you want a little more challenge, follow the sign up the mountain, located halfway the main trail towards the Gran Plaza, on the right. You will find a jungle trail leading to the buildings of the Little Acropolis. The trail ends at the back of the Great Acropolis. From here you easily walk to the central part of the site, the Gran Plaza.

The Gran Plaza and el Palacio del Rey

Once you find yourself on the Gran Plaza, it is nice to walk up to the right to the buildings of the Great Acropolis. Absolute highlight is the building 33, also called Palacio del Rey, built by Bird Jaguar. Here you can see the beautiful ornaments and decorations of the rulers, that the Yaxchilan ruins are so famous for. King Bird Jaguar would sit on the throne but then beheaded wich leads to many different theories. Was it because evil spirits were able to escape the body in this way? Or would it be a sign for the end of times? Something the Pre-Columbian cultures strongly believed in. There is still no proven explanation.

I have always been interested in the stories behind the Maya sites. I always try to imagine what such a bustling city must have looked like in the past. If you look closely at the reliefs, you can still see the remains of the most important kings, Shield Jaguar and Bird Jaguar. Ornaments and reliefs show a lot of everyday life and rituals. This way much has become clear about this former dynasty. You probably do need a travel book or guide to really dive into it. But even when you just have a look, you will be stunned by the detailed work of these Yaxchilan ruins.

Interested in reading more about ruins in Mexico? Mexico is the country of ancient temples and pyramids, each of them located in a different part of the country. In the jungle, the savanna, on a hilltop, in the rainforest and at the beach. This is a list with the best ruins you want to visit during your trip through Mexico.


Yaxchilan ruins

Brief History of Yaxchilan

Yaxchilan was a large urban center and the dominant power of the Usumacinta River during the Classic Era. The location of Yaxchilan is unique. It was built on the curve of the Usumacinta River which proved a natural moat for protection. Only the south side of the site is exposed to land.

The settlement existed from 350 A.D. to 850 A.D. with the height of its power ranging from 650 A.D. to 800 A.D. In 654 A.D., Yaxchilan found itself at war with Palenque in a fight for power and land. From 681 to 742, the city remained relatively small but grew to a regional capital that lasted into the early 9th Century. 740 AD was the building hey day when the famous lintels were carved and created. It is these architectural details that tell the story of Yaxchilan and enabled archaeologists to unravel the Mayan history in the area.

The first published documentation of the site seems to have been a brief mention by Juan Galindo in 1833,with exploration starting in 1882.Study and documentation has continued throughout the 20th and 21st Century by many national and international groups.

The ancient name for the city was Pa’ Chan meaning “cleft (or broken) sky” but the Mayan name, Yaxchilán, means “green stones.” Today, some Lacandon Maya still make pilgrimages to Yaxchilan to carry out rituals to the Maya gods.

Architectural Highlights of Yaxchilan

There are more than 120 structures in the central area of Yaxchilan that make up three complexes: the Great Plaza, located in the lower part parallel to the river the Grand Acropolis and the Small Acropolis. All of these areas are skillfully adapted to the contours of the low limestone hills and attach to each other with the use of terraces, stairways, and platforms. Highly decorated temples, pyramids, and luxurious palaces clustered along the grand plaza extend along the shores of the Usumacinta River.

The highlight of the buildings are the stelae, lintels, alters, stairs, bas-relief stucco carvings, and mural paintings. Almost every building has a doorway decorated with carved lintels that tell a story through some of the best preserved carvings in the Mayan world.

Not mentioned in many tour books or overviews of Yaxchilan is the Bridge of Yaxchilan, which is now a large pile of stones. The changing water levels in the Usumacinta River would paralyze the settlement throughout the year. The kings of Yaxchilan built a bridge from the settlement to land so villagers could cross the river safely when the river water rose.

What We Love About Yaxchila

We love the diverse and rich landscape of Chiapas. Yaxchilan is a great excuse for us to get out of dodge and experience a different Mexican landscape. We like to take the trip from Palenque or San Cristabol as these stops add to our adventure and knowledge of the Maya. The boat ride is a blessing and makes this Mayan ruin adventure a true adventure.

Getting to Yaxchilan

Travel by rental car or public bus to San Cristabol or Palenque. From there is it recommended to hire a tour company to get you to Yaxchilan or you may spend days trying to connect cars, with boats, and buses. Be ready for a 45 minute boat ride to the ruins. Many companies combine the day with a trip to Bonampak Ruins, which is not a bad idea.


Queens of Yaxchilán

The year was 1831. Irish-Born Juan Galindo, not yet 30 years old, was traveling along the jungle-lined Usumacinta River. When he got to a severe bend in the river, he noticed hills covered in vegetation and crumbled building stones. His indigenous scouts told him that the place was once the home of a famous ancestor called Bol Menché, but no one knew the name of this lost city. Galindo explored the ruins. As a naturalized citizen of the young Republic of Central America and the military ruler of the Petén region of what is now Guatemala, Galindo took extensive notes on any and all ruins he encountered during his various trips throughout his administrative area. The ruins in the bend of the river located today in the Mexican state of Chiapas were later named Yaxchilán by 20 th Century archaeologists, which means “Green Stones” in a local Maya dialect. After the Maya writing system was deciphered to a great extent beginning in the 1950s, the emblem glyph of the site was understood to be read as Siyaj Chan, or “Sky Born” in English. The “Sky Born” city was said to be the capital of a small kingdom called Pa’ Chan, or “Broken Sky.” Juan Galindo wrote about this city now known as Yaxchilán in several articles and letters, with one of his articles published in the London Literary Gazette. In the early 1830s there were many wild theories around about the origins of the people who built the mysterious cities that lay in ruin in the jungles of Mexico and Central America. Through his observations of Maya art – carvings, murals, pottery decorations, etc. – the young military ruler was the first to conclude that the ancestors of the people currently living in the area were the ones who built these once-great cities. This was obvious to him because the current population looked identical to those depicted in the ancient artwork. Galindo would have many more ruined sites to explore and many more theories to ponder as the Republic of Central America granted him one million acres of land in what is now northern Guatemala and Belize. He had a tenuous hold over this claim, though, because some of the land grant overlapped with territorial claims of British Honduras, and the Central American Republic would only let Galindo keep the land if he could settle it and pacify the hostile Lacandon Maya. Juan Galindo went to England to try to iron out his land dispute with the British, but that went nowhere, and he had no clear title to a big chunk of his million acres. He returned to Central America and resumed his role as a military leader, eventually dying in 1840 during a civil war in the republic. Galindo left behind many written observations about the various ruins he surveyed, including the first written accounts of Yaxchilán mentioned earlier. As he was a keen observer of the human form represented in Maya art, he was the first to make note of the seemingly powerful female figures in the many carvings throughout Yaxchilán. Today we know these ancient Maya queens as Lady Pacal, Lady Xoc and Lady Evening-Star.

Unlike Aztec civilization, which was intact when the Spanish arrived, Classic Maya civilization, known for its magnificent art and architecture, mysteriously ended centuries before Europeans arrived in the New World. Fortunately, the ancient Maya had very sophisticated writing and calendar systems which, when combined with beautiful illustrations, tell the tales of kings and queens and exotic happenings from a time long ago. For a detailed exploration of the Maya writing system, please see Mexico Unexplained episode number 16: https://mexicounexplained.com//writing-ancient-maya-history-words/ With the decipherment of Maya writing scholars have been able to piece together elaborate histories of this complex jungle society. With most Maya glyphs interpreted, researchers have a clearer picture of the lives of the rulers of these ancient kingdoms. Carved on monuments throughout their cities, Maya rulers celebrated their victories over other city-states and described important milestones or events in their reigns, to further legitimize their rule in the eyes of their subjects. The archaeological site of Yaxchilán is especially rich in dynastic history with inscriptions going back to the city’s founding in the year 359 AD under King Yopaat B’alam I and going unbroken to the reign of a king known to scholars as K’inich Tatb’u Skull III. K’inich Tatb’u Skull III was the 17 th and last king of Yaxchilán. The last inscription with his name on it at the site dates to 812 AD.

Among the long line of kings at Yaxchilán we see some of the most powerful female rulers the Maya world had ever seen. While various consorts of kings and other female relatives merit passing mention on the city’s monuments, the first one of notable prominence is known as Lady Pacal. This woman is not related to nor should she be confused with Lord Pacal or Pacal the Great from the city of Palenque. The word pacal means “shield” in the local Maya dialect. So, in English, this queen would have been known as “Lady Shield.” Apparently, she was from a very wealthy and powerful local family. Modern people would say that Lady Pacal also had, “good genes.” The noble queen died in the year 705 AD after reaching her 98 th birthday. She would pass these good genes on to her son, King Shield-Jaguar who would live to his mid-90s ruling Yaxchilán for over 60 years. The long life of Lady Pacal could not have been without enormous influence on the city’s politics. In perhaps one of her biggest political moves, Lady Pacal ensured that one of her female relatives, perhaps a younger sister or cousin, married her son, Shield-Jaguar, the heir to the throne. This influential Maya woman’s name was Lady Xoc.

The story of Lady Xoc, Queen of Yaxchilán, is illustrated on what is known on Structure 23 in the heart of the civic-ceremonial center of the city. A series of carved lintels, or supports above building entrances, demonstrate to the world Lady Xoc’s importance in this powerful jungle kingdom. She is shown in several scenes engaging in ritualistic and ceremonial practices at this building. The depiction of a female as the principal participant in ritual is extremely rare to see in ancient Maya art, and this is why researchers believe that Lady Xoc was one of the most important female nobles in the Maya world. The carvings on Building 23 of this famous queen were most likely highly political in nature. Lady Xoc was King Shield-Jaguar’s first wife, but not the mother of his successor. The queen did not bear him any sons, or at least none who survived to rule the kingdom. The marriage to Lady Xoc did solidify Shield-Jaguar’s place on the throne, however, because she came from the most influential family at Yaxchilán. In their book A Forest of Kings: The Untold Story of the Ancient Maya, Maya scholars Linda Schele and David Freidel theorized that even though Lady Xoc would not bear the king a son to succeed him, King Shield-Jaguar wanted to show publicly that Lady Xoc was still important, so as to appease her powerful family. It must have worked, because even though Shield-Jaguar had other wives, including one who would bear him an heir, his rule lasted over 60 years and his reign was uncontested.

The carved lintels depicting Lady Xoc are some of the most spectacular examples of ancient Maya carvings yet known. On Lintel 24 King Shield-Jaguar holds a flaming torch above Lady Xoc as she performs the important ritual of bloodletting by pulling a rope laced with stingray spines through a hole in her tongue. This carving has a date marking its dedication: October 28, 709. Another lintel shows Lady Xoc holding the king’s helmet and shield, helping Shield-Jaguar prepare for an important battle. The carving known as Lintel 25 is perhaps the most curious and the most beautiful. It shows Lady Xoc calling forth the Vision Serpent which is rising from a bowl. The queen is shown looking at the serpent, and in its mouth emerges the first king of Yaxchilán, Yopaat B’alam. Researchers believe that this king is Lady Xoc’s ancestor and this is one of the reasons why she is engaging in a ritual reserved almost exclusively for noble Maya men. Maya historians also believe that Building 23, the site of these elaborate carvings, was the personal property of Lady Xoc, as indicated by the structure’s inscriptions. In the ancient Maya world, the main buildings of the civic-ceremonial centers such as Building 23 were said to belong to the gods and not to individual people. For some reason, this important building in the very center of Yaxchilán was the personal property of the queen which was unheard of in the Maya world. Researchers are at a loss to understand why, but it surely indicates this woman’s important role in the kingdom’s history.

While Lady Xoc would not produce an heir to the Yaxchilán throne, Lady Evening-Star would. The marriage of King Shield-Jaguar to Lady Evening-Star was an international affair. She was a princess, the daughter of the king of Calakmul, a Maya city-state located over 100 miles to the northeast of Yaxchilán. The marriage not only brought peace between the rival kingdoms of Yaxchilán and Calakmul, it produced the male heir that King Shield-Jaguar needed. Lady Evening-Star was in her early 20s and the Yaxchilán king was 61 years old when future king Bird-Jaguar the Great was born. The queen kept close to her family and her own brother would rule the kingdom of Calakmul. With the death of King Shield-Jaguar in his mid-90s, the son of Lady Evening-Star was assumed to accede to the throne of Yaxchilán, but the history written on the stones shows the transition of power was difficult. For almost 10 years Yaxchilán had either no king or several pretenders to the throne trying to take power. Some theorize that the city was a subject state of a neighboring kingdom during this power vacuum, and other theories have Lady Evening-Star ruling as a kind of regent, holding the throne for her son. One can only imagine the politics involved here or what position the queen was in as a foreigner at Yaxchilán with few allies. The fact that Lady Evening-Star was a princess from a foreign bloodline may have caused the old nobility of Yaxchilán to question her son’s right to rule. In the end, Lady Evening-Star would never be a dowager queen as she would die a few months before her son became king. The nature of her death is unknown, but she died at the age of 47 in the year 751. Her son King Bird-Jaguar would rule Yaxchilán from the years 752 to 758 a time of great prosperity for the city with many monumental building projects completed during this time. Within a generation, though, the building would stop and like so many other Maya city-states Yaxchilán would collapse and fade into obscurity. What’s left is not just the crumbling buildings in the jungle but bits and pieces of the fascinating stories of the people who lived there. Many stories are yet to be told.


Yaxchilan - History


The Yaxchilán archaeological site can be reached by an hour long incredible boat ride down the mighty Usumacinta river through one of the last great North American rainforests. It is an experience to be remembered. Riding in a long boat with its large outboard motor you can see Guatemala on one shore and Mexico on the other. If you keep on the lookout you will see many of the rainforest inhabitants, from wild monkeys to toucans and eagles. The water itself contains crocodiles and many kinds of fresh water fish. You´ll see large buildings of cut stone peeking through the jungle as you pull to shore. Stepping off the boat and under the rainforest canopy has a cooling effect as you begin your tour of Yaxchilán.

The ancient Mayan city of Yaxchilán was a city of ¨seers" and powerful queens. Here one can almost feel the high magic and ceremony in the air. Built during the Maya golden Classic age, 200-900 A.D., the site has 86 known buildings. To enter the site you go through a building known as the labyrinth. The exact use of this building in ancient times is unknown, yet its connection to the underworld for the Maya is undoubtedly important.

The ceremonial center starts with its huge main plaza and well preserved stele and door lintel carvings. Looking up the hill you´ll see incredibly intact roofcombs of the second tier of buildings. You can climb to level after level of buildings, each an architectural wonder, each with some remarkable detail worth noting. Occasionally one can find evidence of recent worship by the Lacandons, a dwindling group of Maya that still practice the ancient ways of worship.

The Mayan ruins at Yaxchilán are known for the extensive history detailed in its well preserved carvings. The majority of lintel and stele carvings commemorate the important historical events occurring during the reign of King Jaguar Shield, his famous wives Lady Xoc and Lady Eveningstar, and his son Bird Jaguar who ruled here in the 8th century.

Yaxchilán is unique in its multitude of depictions of important female personages. Lady Xoc, in particular, is depicted engaged in numerous rituals. To quote Linda Schele and David Friedel in A Forest of Kings, ¨The depiction of a woman as the principal actor in ritual is unprecedented at Yaxchilán and almost unknown in Maya monumental art at any site.¨ Many images depict women engaged in the ritual of bloodletting. If this was a city of seers, as many believe it was, then the bloodletting ceremony was undoubtedly the ritual magic used to start the seer on their journey. Again to quote Schele and Friedel, ¨The aim of these great cathartic rituals was the vision quest, the opening of a portal into the Otherworld through which gods and the ancestors could be enticed so that the beings of this world could commune with them.¨ Here a Maya queen holds a bowl filled with strips of paper used to collect blood. The strips will later be burned as an offering to the gods.

Yaxchilán also possesses some interesting images that shed light on another important Mayan ritual, the sacred ballgame. The shocking discovery of this group of friezes show in clear detail that the ¨ball¨ in this game was a bound captive human. It appears that Bird-Jaguar (in his ball game outfit) must not let the ball hit the ground. Behind the king are two dwarves, causing one to ask, who were these enigmatic little people referred to so much in Maya mythology? Perhaps they are related to the ancient Olmec belief that four dwarves held up the cardinal points of the sky.

Almost every building has a doorway that tells a story. When visiting here, be sure to look up at the carved lintels that top the doorways to see some of the best preserved carvings from the ancient Maya world.

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The excavation of Yaxchilán has led to a greater understanding of Maya civilization

We collaborated with the Instituto Nacional de Antropología y Historia INAH and the Commission for Protected Areas CONAMP on developing a site redevelopment plan within a comprehensive management plan for Yaxchilán. The project began in 2001 and the nature conservation portion of the plan was completed and legally enforced in 2011. In Phase I the pressures of development, tourism, and the environment were identified as significant problems. Phase II began in 2003 and entailed cleaning the complex, stabilizing and consolidating the structure, removing vegetation, replacing wall capping, and redesigning and replacing of protective covers. Over the next two years several evaluations were performed on the condition of the site, and it was determined that the nearby city of Frontera Corozal should be developed as a staging area for tourism. Guatemala’s Institute of Anthropology and History joined the project team to help promote cultural and eco-tourism in the Usumacinta basin. In 2011 we collaborated with INAH on the development of design prototypes for protective covers for the artistic elements of Yaxchilán.

The excavation and evaluation of Yaxchilán has led to a greater understanding of Maya civilization. The comprehensive management plan for the site serves as a useful example for developing and promoting eco-tourism. The project includes training for local authorities, the communal government, and other local people to ensure proper management. This regional cooperation greatly increases the site’s potential for survival and protection.


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Maya glyphs, a basic introduction

Codex Dresden, also known as Codex Dresdensis, P 1–3, original from c. 1500, facsimile from 1825–31, Lowland Maya region, south eastern Mexico and Guatemala, comprising of 74 leaves (© Trustees of the British Museum)

Structure 23, Lintel 25, Yaxchilán (Maya) (© Trustees of the British Museum)

Across the Pacific Ocean, the Maya civilization was at its height between 300 and 900. Inscriptions have been found on monumental sculpture, public buildings, murals, pottery, shell, obsidian, bone, wood, jade, and screenfold books called codices. They were only identified as a writing system by scholars during the nineteenth century.

The majority of surviving examples of Maya writing are from the Classic period (250–900) although some date to the Late Preclassic (B.C.E.–250 C.E.). Inscriptions record calendar and astronomical information, and historical events such as alliances, wars, lineages, and marriages.

Maya glyphs were inscribed in blocks placed in horizontal and vertical rows. One or more glyphs were set in each block. It is generally read from left to right and top to bottom. The text sometimes appears in single columns, but can appear in L-shaped or other arrangements, such as on the carved lintels from the city of Yaxchilán.

Maya hieroglyphs were first identified as a writing system during the nineteenth century, when the bar-and-dot numerical system was deciphered. In the 1950s it was discovered that the script combined signs representing whole words with signs representing syllables. Certain glyphs were recognized as naming specific people and cities (known as Name Glyphs and Emblem Glyphs respectively). There were major breakthroughs in decipherment in the second half of the twentieth century and approximately 85% of the glyphs can now be read.

Yaxchilan lintel 35, Maya, Late Classic period, 600-800, From Yaxchilán, Mexico, (© Trustees of the British Museum)

Glyphs from a Maya temple

This limestone lintel was found by A. P. Maudslay in 1882 among the rubble where it had fallen from Structure 12 at Yaxchilán. Eight lintels were housed in this building. Commissioned around 500, they record nine generations of rulers at Yaxchilán and the accession of Mah K’ina Skull II, the tenth king of Yaxchilán. Mah K’ina Skull II commissioned this lintel, Lintel 35, which records a series of captures that he made in the surrounding region, concluding with a triumph over the great northern city of Calakmul, dated to 537. More than two centuries later (around 760), Bird Jaguar IV, the main character in Lintels 15, 16, and 17, reset the lintels recording his ancestry in Structure 12. The last three hieroglyphs tell us that the captives were seen as the ‘food’ of Yaxchilán’s patron deities.

Writing on ceramic vessels

Polychrome ceramic vessels were a symbol of status and power for the Maya. They were used by the élite and are found as offerings in rich burials. A large number of beautiful polychrome vases, bowls and dishes from the Late Classic period have been recovered from the Maya area, at sites such as Tikal, Holmul, and Seibal in the lowlands, and Nebaj in the highlands.

The Fenton Vase, 600-800 C.E., Maya, Late Classic period, polychrome ceramic, 17.2 cm diameter, Nebaj, Guatemala © Trustees of the British Museum

The vessels provide an important source of information about Maya society in the Classic period, with text and image illustrating historical and mythological events. The scenes depict scribes, merchants, rulers and other members of society.

The Fenton Vase, 600-800 C.E., Maya, Late Classic period, polychrome ceramic, 17.2 cm diameter, Nebaj, Guatemala © Trustees of the British Museum

This beautiful example was found at Nebaj, a Maya site in the highlands of Guatemala. The most common themes on Nebaj style polychrome vessels are tribute and warfare. The scene here represents the delivery of tribute to a seated lord. Above the basket presented to him are a series of six hieroglyphs which indicate his name and titles, while the other glyph panels correspond to those of the four figures in the scene. Their jewelry, clothing and spangled turbans adorned with flowers suggest that they are members of the elite.

© Trustees of the British Museum

Additional resources

Coe, Breaking the Maya code(London, Thames & Hudson, 1992)

Coe and J. Kerr, The art of the Maya scribe(London, Thames & Hudson, 1997)

Schele and M.E. Miller, The blood of kings(London, Thames & Hudson, 1986)

Tate, Yaxchilan: the design of a May(University of Texas Press, 1992)

McEwan, Ancient Mexico in the British(London, The British Museum Press, 1994)

Martin and N. Grube, Chronicle of the Maya kings an(Thames and Hudson, 2000)


Watch the video: Yaxchilán, la ciudad de la Selva Joven. PIEDRAS QUE HABLAN (June 2022).


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