Mayan King Didn’t Grow up in Copan

DFN: I’ve not yet been to Copan or Belize, but, both are on my must go to trip list.

Ancient Maya king shows his foreign roots Dynastic founder may have been installed by kingdom to the north
By Bruce Bower
Web edition : Wednesday, December 9th, 2009

A tomb excavated at Copán, ancient capital of a Maya state, contains the bones of the site’s first king, researchers say. New evidence suggests that a distant Maya city colonized Copán and installed this dynastic founder.Courtesy of the Early Copán Acropolis Program, U. of Penn. Museum and Instituto Hondureno de Antropologia e Historia

A man’s skeleton found atop a stone slab at Copán, which was the capital of an ancient Maya state, contains clues to a colonial expansion that occurred more than 1,000 years before Spanish explorers reached the Americas.

The bones come from K’inich Yax K’uk’ Mo’, or KYKM for short, the researchers report in an upcoming Journal of Anthropological Archaeology. KYKM was the first of 16 kings who ruled Copán and surrounding highlands of what is today northern Honduras for about 400 years, from 426 to 820, say archaeologist T. Douglas Price of the University of Wisconsin–Madison and his colleagues. KYKM’s bone chemistry indicates that he grew up in the central Maya lowlands, which are several hundred kilometers northwest of Copán.

Along with inscriptions at Copán, the new evidence suggests that the site’s first king was born into a ruling family at Caracol, a powerful lowland kingdom in Belize. KYKM probably spent his young adult years as a member of the royal court at Tikal, a Maya kingdom in the central lowlands of Guatemala, before being sent to Copán to found a new dynasty at the settlement there, Price’s team proposes.

“These findings reinforce the notion that the Copán state was founded as part of a colonial expansion,” says archaeologist and study coauthor Robert Sharer of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. “They also demonstrate the widespread connections maintained by Maya kings.” This line of investigation aims to unravel how Classic era Maya city-states, which dominated parts of Mexico and Central America from about 200 to 900, originated and developed.

Hieroglyphics at Copán that were deciphered more than 20 years ago refer to KYKM as a foreigner who was inaugurated as king in 426 and arrived the next year. But it has been unclear whether the inscriptions referred to an actual historical event or were a form of royal propaganda. In 2007, archaeologist David Stuart of the University of Texas at Austin noticed that an inscription carved on a Copán stone monument referred to KYKM by a title indicating that he was originally a Caracol lord.

Archaeologists Arlen Chase and Diane Chase of the University of Central Florida in Orlando, who direct excavations at Caracol, consider it plausible that Copán’s first king was a Caracol lord but doubt that he arrived via Tikal. No signs of a political relationship between Caracol and Tikal appear at the time that KYKM took over at Copán, Arlen Chase notes.

Instead, KYKM probably came directly from Caracol, Arlen Chase says. By the year 150, Caracol hosted numerous royal activities and had extensive ties to settlements near Copán. “It would not be surprising for Copán to have coveted a Caracol individual to become their first ruler,” he says.

Sharer led a team that tunneled beneath the remains of the Copán Acropolis, a private royal complex, about a decade ago. Workers discovered three royal tombs containing skeletons, as well as four individuals buried in pits or beneath platforms outside the tombs.

An impressive vaulted chamber called the Hunal Tomb held the remains of a roughly 55-year-old man’, adorned by several large jade objects. The tomb’s construction style and pottery offerings suggested that the man was powerful, with connections to both Tikal and another Early Classic kingdom, Teotihuacan in central Mexico. Sharer’s team regards the tomb as that of KYKM.

Ratios of strontium and oxygen isotopes in teeth from the Hunal skeleton, along with comparable data for commoners buried at Copán and for animals and people living today in Central America, support that scenario. These measurements reflect local water sources and geology where a person grew up. KYKM spent most of his early years in the Tikal region, the study concludes.

Until researchers gather a more representative sample of isotopic ratios from throughout the Maya area, KYKM’s Caracol origins remain tentative, Stuart remarks.

Three other individuals buried under Copán’s Acropolis came from outside the Copán area, the new study concludes. But a woman in one royal tomb, presumably KYKM’s wife, grew up in Copán.



Calakmul – Mayan Murals

DFN: I’ve been to Calakmul, worth the 60KM off the beaten path drive. Almost nobody there on a Sunday, bigger ball court than the court at Chichen Itza. Very impressive 5+ tier grand pyramid.

Maya Murals Give Rare View of Everyday Life
By Andrea Thompson, Senior Writer
posted: 09 November 2009 03:05 pm ET

Recently excavated Mayan murals are giving archaeologists a rare look into the lives of ordinary ancient Maya.

The murals were uncovered during the excavation of a pyramid mound structure at the ancient Maya site of Calakmul, Mexico (near the border with Guatemala) and are described in the Nov. 9 issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The find "was a total shock," said Simon Martin of the University of Pennsylvania Museum in Philadelphia, who studied the paintings and hieroglyphs depicted in the murals.

The Maya have been studied for more than a century, but "this is the first time that we’ve seen anything like this," Martin said.

The Maya, like many other societies, left more traces and accounts of the lives of the ruling classes — the royalty, religious orders and artisans — than of the lower orders of society that made up the bulk of such civilizations.

"We almost never get a view of what other layers of society are doing or what they look like, so this is one of the things that makes [the murals] so special," Martin told LiveScience.

The murals were found on the walls of one layer of the mound structure — Maya built over the top of older structures, creating buildings in layers like onions, Martin explained. While other layers were scraped up and destroyed in the effort to build over them, the layer with the murals appears to have been carefully preserved, with a layer of clay put over the murals, ostensibly to protect them.

This careful preservation "might suggest that it was something pretty special," Martin said.

The images on the mural show people engaged in mundane activities, such as preparing food. Hieroglyphic captions accompany each image, labeling each individual. In each case the term "aj," meaning "person," is used and followed by the word for a foodstuff or material. For example, the terms "aj ul" ("maize-gruel person") shows a man with a large pot, dish and spoon with another man drinking from a bowl, and the term "aj mahy" (tobacco person) depicts two men, one holding a spatula and the other a pot that likely holds a form of the tobacco leaf.

Such scenes have never been seen in surviving Mayan paintings before, though some parts of quotidian Mayan culture have survived through the ages with the remaining Mayan populations) and the hieroglyphs for some words (such as "tobacco" and "maize-gruel") were already known. Other hieroglyphs, though, were new to researchers — of particular importance were finding the words for maize itself and salt, which were known to be key staples of the Mayan diet.

Whether or not any other such murals are hidden in mounds in the jungles of Central America isn’t known, but Martin and other archaeologists say that, chances are, any such paintings that did exist are likely long one.

"Tremendous amounts of Maya culture and writing have just perished," Martin said. "It’s not like Egypt, where even bits of paper in the sand can survive 5,000 years; this is an extremely hostile environment, it’s extremely humid."

Martin and his colleagues are not yet sure what the structure was or why the mural was painted and preserved. But they hope to learn more as they continue to excavate more layers of the pyramid and uncover more of the mural.

Nakum – A Mayan Site

DFN: Another place for me to go visit.

Nakum Guatemala: ancient Mayan prosperity
By Samuel Christ, 11/07/2009–Ancient-Mayan-Prosperity/816742

Nakum is, apart from the setting for one of the survivor programs, a Mayan Jungle Site and a former ceremonial center and city of the ancient Maya of Guatemala. Rediscovered in 1905 by Maurice Perigny, Nakum has had several archaeological and restorative sessions including a Guatemalan "official restoration" in 1990.

Located in the northeastern portion of the Petn Basin region, it rests in what is called the Guatemalan department of Petn. The northeastern Petn region contains significant Maya sites, Nakum being one of three sites composing the cultural and political triangle of "Yaxha-Nakum-Naranjo". Approximately 17 km to the north of Yaxha and some 20 km to the east of Tikal. Outside of Tikal its main temple, a visibly-restored feature, serves as one of the Maya civilization’s best preserved archeological artifacts.

The glory days of Nakum came about during the Late Classic period. The apex of its prosperity was achieved due in large part to its strategic position just north of the Holmul river, an imperative resource of trade and communication during the period. The Late Classic period moreover yielded 15 stelae which included "structure A", "Structure C" , and "Structure V", a triadic top, an astronomical complex, a structure of vaults and vertical walls, respectively. It boasts the largest corpus of ancient hieroglyphics only second to Tikal.

The North and South of Nakum comprise what are considered to be the two main sectors of the site. Southern sector, large in comparison to the Northern, houses a major Acropolis, eleven patios, and several various structures which include a forty-four-room Palace, known as building "D". Atop the elevated Acropolis of the Southern Section a clear view of the most important structures of Nakum can be achieved. The Northern section has been more of a mystery, having been little investigated.

Politics from the composition of Nakum seems to reflect a society and culture that held political themes above religious ones, figuratively and literally. The religious structures of Nakum are located on the lower levels, supporting the imposing political Mayan Temples above. Temples A, B, and C, positioned in the southern of the Central Plaza form a clear triangle that aims northward. Nakum has a quadra-directional orientation. It is believed that royals and rulers observed rituals and performances from Palace D. Historians suggest that the East Plaza, parent to Temple V, was abandoned for reasons not completely unknown. Temple U at the Southeastern Plaza is assumed to have had a direct relationship with the Main City.

Mayan Ruins Submerged in Guatemala Lake

DFN: This is one ruin that its unlikely I’ll get to!

Divers Probe Mayan Ruins Submerged in Guatemala Lake

By Sarah Grainger
October 30, 2009

GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) – Scuba divers are exploring the depths of a volcanic lake in Guatemala to find clues about an ancient sacred island where Mayan pilgrims flocked to worship before it was submerged by rising waters.

Samabaj, the first underwater archaeological ruins excavated in Guatemala, were discovered accidentally 12 years ago by a diver exploring picturesque Lake Atitlan, ringed by Mayan villages and popular with foreign tourists.

"No one believed me, even when I told them all about it. They just said ‘he’s mad’," said Roberto Samayoa, a businessman and recreational diver who grew up near the lake where his grandmother told him legends of a sunken church.

Samayoa dived for years at the lake, often stumbling across pieces of pottery from the Mayan pre-classic period. In 1996, he found the site, with parts of buildings and huge ceremonial stones, known as stelae, clearly visible.

He named it Samabaj, after himself, but only in the past year have professional archeologists taken an interest, mapping the 4,300-square-foot (400-square-meter) area with sonar technology and excavating structures on a raised part of the lake bed.

Researchers believe this area, 50 feet below the lake’s surface, was once an island until a catastrophic event, like a volcanic eruption or landslide, raised water levels.

The rising lake drowned the buildings around 250 A.D., before the height of the Mayan empire, and ceramics found intact there suggest the inhabitants left in a hurry.

"We have found six ceremonial monuments and four altars and without doubt there are more, which means this was an extremely important place from a spiritual point of view," lead archaeologist Sonia Medrano told Reuters in an interview.

The Maya built soaring pyramids and elaborate palaces in Central America and southern Mexico before mysteriously abandoning their cities around 900 A.D.

Medrano, whose work is funded by the U.S.-based Reinhart Foundation, says the island has ruins of small houses for about 150 people and is crammed with religious paraphernalia, leading researchers to believe Samabaj was a pilgrimage destination.

Mayan City of Mirador

DFN: And I thought NASA was all about going to the moon! In 2005, I made my first trip to the Yucatan peninsula, my wife and I visited Calakmul, which is 60 kilometers off of 186 (the highway heading E-W, W from Chetumal), and less than 30 kilometers from the Guatemalan border. Took us about an hour to get there, it was a Sunday, and the caretakers charged us though supposedly, the sites on Sunday were ‘free’. We had the site to ourselves!

Mayan City Of Mirador: The World’s Largest Pyramid Discovered!
by admin on Oct.27, 2009, under Latest News
The following CNN Video features the discovery of the world’s largest known pyramid in the Lost Mayan City of El Mirador in El Peten, Guatamela.

Mirador was one of the earliest important Mayan sites and flourished from 150 B.C. to A.D. 150, when it lost its pre-eminence to nearby Tikal, the most famous Mayan City. Measured at some 70 meters (230 feet) high, the Danta Pyramid is the tallest structure the Maya ever built and was mostly buried by the jungle, with the steep apex of its hills protruding from the forest top. El Mirador (The Lookout) lies in the remote northern reaches of uninterrupted jungle, covering 10 square miles of the greatest concentration of civic and religious buildings, carvings and artifacts in the Mayan world.

A new Mayan archaeological discovery of a 2,200 year old carving was found at El Mirador, Guatemala. The archaeological site El Mirador continues to astound the world. A team of archaeologists, mostly Guatemalans, under the coordination of Richard Hansen made the discovery of a carving of the Mayan Pre-Classic Period which dates from 200 BC. This new finding was presented by the Minister of Culture and Sports, Jeronimo Lancerio and businessmen who support the project. Vice- President Rafael Espada and important members of the Guatemalan Press were also present.

“This finding is impressive as finding the Mona Lisa. It is an impressive example of Mayan art”, Hansen stated. The carving is in a structures that was used to store water and shows a Mayan mythological passage, where the twin heroes Ixbalanque and Hunacpú leave the underworld carrying the head of their father, Hun Hunapú. The archaeological site “El Mirador” is being developed to be the crown jewel within the Park “Cuatro Balam”. This is a development project which aims to create the largest archaeological park in the world, containing over four thousand Mayan pyramids. – Guatemala Times.

Archaeologists have since uncovered evidence of a civilization so advanced that many long held beliefs about the Maya have been shattered. With thousands of pyramids yet to be uncovered and ancient artifacts to be translated; the currently held theories about mankind’s origins, evolution, history and development will undoubtedly undergo the same.

“The first step in the NASA Blue Beam Project concerns the breakdown [re-evaluation] of all archaeological knowledge… of supposedly new discoveries which will finally explain to all people the “error” of all fundamental religious doctrines. The falsification of this information will be used to make all nations believe that their religious doctrines have been misunderstood for centuries and misinterpreted.”

– Serge Monast on Project Blue Beam.


Incan Sacrifice?

DFN: First time I remember reading about the possibility that the Incas participated in human sacrifices.

Blood on Incan mummy sparks international scientific controversy
by Mnet on Fri 23 Oct 2009 07:56 PM BST | Permanent Link | Cosmos

The discovery of large blood stains on the clothing of a seven-year-old boy sacrificed by the Incan Empire 500 years ago divides archaeologists over how he could have died.

SALTA , ARGENTINA REUTERS – Visitors at the Museum of High Mountain Archaeology in Argentina can look straight into the face of an Incan girl who was sacrificed on a mountaintop in the Andes some 500 years ago.

It is a rare opportunity to see one of the world’s best-preserved mummies close up.

This Incan girl was just six-years-old when she was killed to appease the mountain deities and ensure the emperor’s well-being.

Her body was unearthed by archaeologists 10 years ago on the summit of Mount Llullaillaco, at 6,739 metres (22,110 feet) above sea level in Argentina’s northeast.

Alongside her were the bodies of a seven-year-old boy and a 15-year-old maiden, surrounded by food offerings and ornaments.

It was believed that all three of the children were drugged and buried alive, but now large blood stains found on the clothing of one of the mummies has set off new theories that their deaths could have been more violent than previously thought.

Forensic anthropologist Angelique Corthals from the John Jay College for Criminal Justice believes the stains could indicate one of the children had been hit or beaten to death.

"When I retrieved a part of the stain it was very clear very quickly that that was mainly blood. And it was not a little bit of blood, it was a lot of blood. So, this indicated to me that it was not, it was very likely not just high altitude pulmonary edema, but it could be. But it may also have been, the pulmonary edema, may also have been triggered by a blunt chest trauma," Corthals said.

The mummy with the blood stains is the seven-year-old boy, who is also kept at Museum of High Mountain Archaeology.

Two out of the three bodies are kept in special refrigeration chambers out of public view to safeguard them in the event of a system breakdown in the exhibition centre.

Identifiable by his tightly-wrapped bindings, this is the seven-year-old boy seen here.

Freezing temperatures in the isolated mountain summit where they were buried is what naturally mummified these bodies, and these oxygen-reduced tanks maintained at -20 degrees Celsius [-4 degrees Fahrenheit] keep the bodies preserved.

Corthals says that CT scans used study the boy’s internal organs show that double-walled sack surrounding his heart was also quite extended, further indicating a blunt chest trauma.

But the scientists that work with the Llullaillaco mummies are far from convinced the evidence suggests the boy had been beaten.

"I think [the evidence] coincides with what the Spanish chroniclers said, which is to say they got them drunk and drugged and then they were buried. Because with the position [the bodies were in] and the results from the CT scans and of all of the macroscopic studies that they did on the bodies we don’t have any signs that there was violence to that degree," said archaeologist Cristian Vitry, one of the experts that participated in the expedition which first discovered the Llullaillaco mummies.

The focus of the Museum of High Mountain Archaeology is the continuing preservation of the mummies and the more than 100 objects found alongside them.

In the Incan tradition, sacrificed children were considered privileged to have been chosen to lead a new life among the gods.

Textiles, pottery, gold statues and other offerings were buried with them to prepare them for the afterlife.

Experts at the museum say this frame of mind is important to remember when hypothesizing on how the children died.

"All of the analysis that is done on the nature of their deaths has to be carried out with a lot of responsibility and scientific rigor. It has to be carried out by forensic doctors, who are effectively the people that are responsible for examining these types of cases. And well, as I said, it is important to analyze it with a lot of responsibility and sensitivity because they are human bodies and they form part of a culture that is still alive in our region that requires and demands a great respect. So it definitely can’t be treated lightly when you are studying what were the real causes of the deaths," said Mario Bernaski, the engineer who designed the museum’s refrigeration and atmosphere control system.

As science develops, there is no doubt that the spectacularly-preserved Children of Llullaillaco, with their ritually-deformed craniums, will continue to reveal more secrets of their ancient past.

Mayan Sites – Palennque

DFN: I didn’t make it to Palennque, but, I did make it to Uxmal and Chichen Itza. I’ve got Palennque on my ‘hit’ list.

Maya Site of Palennque History
By: Willigers

Enclosed and surrounded by dense jungle forest with pervasive mahogany, cedar and sapodilla trees, frequently shrouded in fog lies the Maya site of Palenque. Resting on the eastern front of the Rio Usumacinta Basin in the neighborhood of the roaming foothills of Chiapas’ Oriental- at elevation of about 3000 meters-overlooking the lower plain extending to the Gulf of Mexico it is one of the most fascinating and most beautiful places the world has to offer.

The Mayan archaeological site of Palenque represents the western regional variant of Classic Maya civilization. Although the earliest occupation of the site dates to about 100 BC, it became a major population center only at about 600 AD. Nearly all construction at Palenque stopped by about 800 AD. Unlike its cousin site of Chichen Itza or Tikal, Palenque’s well-preserved ruins now visible are the heavily restored remains of the ceremonial center the ceremonial center may be divided into three major areas:

1. The Pyramid of the Inscriptions, the west facade of the Palace and the unexcavated mound Temple XI;
2. Arroyo Otulum, Temple of the Sun, the Temple of the Cross and the Temple of the Foliated Cross;
3. Ball Court and the Temple of the Count, Palace, Temple X, and the North Group.

In 1952 an impressive tomb was uncovered under the Temple of the Inscriptions, demonstrating for the first time that the Maya pyramids served -contrary to former belief of the Maya- both as funerary structures and temple platforms. To this day many of the inscriptions at Palenque have been deciphered, revealing much of the dynastic history of the site. The following descriptions of the different elements are best described via the time frame that corresponds to the rulers. This is because it was the rulers, namely Pacal and his children that held the greatest and most influential power in Palenque, sponsoring structures during their reign.

Perhaps one of the greatest and most ambitious, not to mention precocious Mayan kings, Pacal assumed power in 603 AD at the very early age of 12 and ruled for 68 years until his death in 683 AD. Well known for his drive and contributions of Palenque, Pacal built the Forgotten Temple in 647 AD. He also sponsored the Temple of the Count, as well as underground galleries beneath passages in the Palace. Stucco reliefs of masks in tableros on the west end of the north facade of the Palace and figures with well defined facial features on columns on the north facade celebrate Pacal’s ancestry. His remains, adorned with jade ornaments and face covered with a jade mask were deposited in a stone sarcophagus covered with an elaborately carved stone located in a chamber 1.5 m below the surface of the plaza above which was erected as the Pyramid or Temple of the Inscriptions. The sarcophagus is currently accessible by a stairway from Temple of the Inscriptions on the top of the pyramid.

Pacal left more than just majestic temples to remind the Mayan world of his existence; Chan-Balum, the eldest son, assumed power in 684 AD upon the death of his father ruled under the same lineage for another 18 years. He was responsible for the completion of the temple atop the Pyramid of the Inscriptions modeled after the Forgotten Temple and the construction of the Group of the Cross temples: the Temple of the Cross, the Temple of the Foliated Cross, and the Temple of the Sun. The panels on the rear interior walls of all these temples depict Chan-Balum and Pacal containing texts purporting to legitimize Chan-Balum’s power.

Kan-Xul the younger son of Pacal succeeded his older brother in 702 AD at the age of 38 and ruled for yet another 23 years. He remodeled the Palace adding rooms, galleries and courtyards with bas-relief slabs some exhibiting fine detail. Under his direction the Palace assumed roughly its present form including T-windows (also present in other structures at Palenque and at other sites) whose function is unclear. Some theories suggest that the T formations functioned as vocal points for an system of acoustics within the walls of the palace that allowed for communication around its walls. The T-form also appears in the Ik day glyph which means ‘wind" and ‘breath" and might be taken as a metaphor for ‘life’.

Though uncertain, Kan-Xul may also been responsible for adding the tower to the Palace. This structure supported by wooden lentils with an interior staircase is thought by some to have functioned as an astronomical observatory, a theory supported by the presence of a venus glyph on a landing. Temple XIV is also attributed to Kan-Xul. This structure was apparently deliberately placed to block access to the Group of the Cross. Kan-Xul is thought to have been made a prisoner of war and decapitated.

Credits for the original version of this post goes out to Duende Tours: Palenque History

More information:
Mayan Pyramids: ancient technology article on

Pictures of Palenque
Pictures of Mexico

Duende Tours Home

Fields, Virginia M. (1991) Iconographic heritage of the Maya Jester God. In Sixth Palenque Round Table, 1986. Virginia M. Fields, ed. pp. 167 – 174 Palenque Round Table (6 session, 1986) University of Oklahoma Press Norman.

Freidel, David and Barbara Macleod (2000) Creation Redux:new thoughts on Maya cosmology from epigraphy, iconography, and archaeology. PARI Journal 1(2):1-8,18.
Guenter, Stanley (n.d.). The Tomb of K’inich Janaab Pakal:The Temple of the Inscriptions at Palenque (PDF). Mesoweb Articles. Mesoweb. Retrieved on 2008-02-04.

Houston, Stephen (1996) Symbolic Sweatbaths of the Maya:Architectural Meaning in the Cross Group at Palenque, Mexico. Latin American Antiquity, 7(2), pp. 132-151.
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Robertson, Merle Greene (1991) The Sculpture of Palenque Vol. IV. Princeton University Press, Princeton.
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Stuart, David and Stephen Houston (1994) Classic Maya Place Names Studies. Pre-Columbian Art and Archaeology, 33. Washington, DC:Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection.