Saturday, October 31, 2009

Yax Mutal’s Start

Central Tikal

Certainly the most imposing of Mayan sites, if not the most beautiful is the great Mayan ruin of Yax Mutal, better known today as Tikal, for only recently have we found out that it’s name during the cities heyday was in fact Yax Mutal. In the Mayan language spoken in what we now call Tikal, Yax means first and Mutal seems to mean possibly bird, but more likely a handful or “topknot” of hair.1

The origins and early archaeology of the site are poorly known. But it appears that Tikal emerged in the late pre-classic period, (400 B.C.E. – 250 C.E.)2

The city became important during this time period with building in the North Acropolis area going back to 350 B.C.E.3 During this period Tikal although growing was very much in the shadow of the massive site of El Mirador, located near what is now the Mexican / Guatemalan border. This site one of the most massive ever erected in the Pre-Columbian Americas, completely dwarfed any other Mayan site and was apparently to remain the largest Mayan site ever.4 Although the Maya at El Mirador erected stela they appeared to have painted rather than sculpted inscriptions on them, the result being that nothing can read from them after the paint was washed off by rain. So the history of El Mirador remains unknown.5

Tikal emerged during this period of domination by El Mirador. So that by 1 C.E., it was a very important center with a significant ceremonial center and a large population. It appears from graves found during this time period that Tikal was ruled by Kings although the names of the rulers has not come down to us.6

c. 90 C.E., a man named Yax Ehb Xook (First Step Shark) became King of Tikal he was regarded by later rulers of Tikal as a founder of the ruling dynasty. We know virtually nothing about him except that later Kings considered him the founder. Although a tomb in the northern acropolis called Burial 85 is very likely his burial.7

Glyph of Yax Ehb Xook’s Name

Shortly after this some time between 250-400 C.E., El Mirador collapsed and was largely abandoned. Although there may have been competition between el Mirador and Tikal it appears that the real reason for the collapse was over exploitation of local resources, especially agricultural exhaustion.8 It appear that right to the end El Mirador’s sheer size was vastly greater than any contemporary Mayan city. This would appear to indicate that its large size without a significant hinterland of similar cities to support it may have made it uniquely vulnerable to collapse from any source of local stress. It appears that the smaller local communities around El Mirador also experience significant decline.9
Glyph of Foliated Jaguar’s Name

The period after the reign of Yax Ehb Xook in Tikal is very poorly known the next named King is called Foliated Jaguar or ? Bahlam; exactly how to read his name is not clear.10 Although the name as also been found on some jade plaques found in Costa Rica. The first dated monument at Tikal bears the date 292 C.E., the name of the ruler portrayed is lost. It could be that the ruler depicted is in fact Foliated Jaguar.11

Stela 29

The next ruler known is Animal Headdress or K’inch Ehb? Who is only known from a monument erected by his son Siyaj Chan K’awiil (Sky born Great Claw) I which was erected c. 300 C.E. An inscription describes Siyaj as the 11 in line from the founder Yax Ehb Xook. Which makes his father , Animal Headdress, number 10.12

Glyph of Animal Headdress’ Name

Very little is known about Siyaj Chan K’awiil, who seems to have reigned c. 307 C.E. It is possible that stela 29 is in fact one of his monuments.13

Glyph of Siyaj Chan K’awiil’s Name

The next ruler of Tikal mentioned in the inscriptions is Unen Bahlam, (Baby Jaguar) who seems to have ruled c. 317 C.E. It was originally thought that the ruler was female but more recent analysis and evidence has made that claim dubious, although the sex this ruler remains unclear. On September 1, 317 C.E., this ruler oversaw some ritual event that was commemorated in an inscription. It appears likely that if Unen Bahlam was a women this event was the result of a crisis in the kingdom, and perhaps created a continual crisis that would climax in the end of the reign of Chak Tok Ich’aaak I. This so given that Mayan women rarely acceded to thrones to reign in their own right.14

Glyph of Unen Bahlam’s Name

The next ruler K’inch Muwaan Jol (Radiant Hawk Skull) apparently became King c. 320 C.E., Little is known about him although he is mentioned in later inscriptions as a ruler of Tikal. An inscription found outside Tikal seems to record his death in 359 C.E He is styled the 13th successor of the founder Yax Ehb Xook.15

Glyph of K’inch Muwaan Jol’s Name

K’inch Muwaan Jol was succeeded by his son Chak Tok Ich’aaak I, (Jaguar paw / claw). His reign was the last of the early rulers of Tikal. Stela 39 shows him standing in triumph over a captive enemy. He seems to have expanded the extensive royal palace and used it as a political and residential headquarters. Various finds would seem to indicate that he was a successful monarch. It appears that Tikal was engaged in a serious conflict with the neighbouring city of Uaxactun.16

Stela 39

What happened next is a surprise, Chak Tok Ich’aaak I, apparently secure on his throne was seemingly overthrown and killed and a new ruler installed. But interestingly the new rulers still recorded the reign of Chak Tok Ich’aak I and still counted themselves from the founder Yax Ehb Xook. I will explore in a future post the mystery and puzzle of this event.17

Glyph of Chak Tok Ich’aak I’s Name

By this time Tikal was the greatest of Mayan cities and the predominant power in the lowland Petan region. The over throw of Chak Tok Ich’aak I was not to stop the rise of Tikal but to single the further rise of Tikal to greater glory and power.

This very incomplete list of rulers provides an glimpse into the rise of what was to become one of the superpowers of Pre-Columbian America.

1. Montgomery, John, Tikal, Hippocrene Books Ltd., New York, 2001, p. 36, Martin, Simon & Grube, Nikolai, Chronicle of the Maya Kings and Queens, Second Edition, Thames and Hudson, London, 3008, p. 30.

2. Drew, David, The Lost Chronicles of The Maya Kings, Phoenix, London, 1999, p.6., Martin, p. 8.

3. Drew, pp. 132-135, 183-186.

4.Sharer, Robert J., & Traxler, Loa P., The Ancient Maya, Sixth Edition, Stanford University Press, Stanford CA, 2006, pp. 352-364, Drew, pp. 131-136.

5. Traxler, p. 352-264, Schele, Linda, & Freidel, David, A Forest of Kings, William Morrow & Co. Ltd., New York, 1990, p. 128.

6. Traxler, pp. 305-306.

7. Traxler, p. 310-311, Martin, p. 26-27, Schele, p. 136, Coe, Michael et al, Royal Maya Dynasties of the Classic Period, 2005, FASMI, Here
p. 23.

9. Traxler, pp. 252-264, Demarest, Arthur, Ancient Maya, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2004, pp. 103, 310, Martin, p. 8, Drew, pp. 145-146.

10. Martin, p. 27, Traxler, p. 312, coe, p. 23.

11. Traxler, p. 311, Martin, p. 26-27. Montgomery, p. 43, Coe, p. 23.

12. Montgomery, p. 43, Traxler, p. 311-312, Martin , p. 27, Coe, p. 23.

13. IBID.

14. Martin, p. 27, Montgomery, pp. 43-44. Coe, p. 23, Traxler, p. 311-312, Schele, p. 221.

15. Coe. p. 23, Traxler, pp. 311-312, Montgomery, p. 44, Martin, p. 27.

16. Coe, p.23, Martin, p. 28, Montgomery, pp. 44-49, 52-53, Drew, pp. 188-189, Schele, pp. 130-164.

17, Martin, 29-30, Drew, pp. 197-202, Montgomery, pp. 68-74.

Pierre Cloutier

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