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he Copan Sculpture Museum, opened in 1996, was initiated as an international collaboration to preserve Copan’s Maya stone monuments. Today, in addition to exhibiting the best examples of ancient Copan architecture and sculpture, it also fosters cultural understanding and promotes Hondurans’ identity with the past. Barbara Fash—one of the principal creators of the museum—tells the inside story of conceiving, designing, and building this local museum with global significance.

“Barbara Fash’s new book places these powerful works of art within a fascinating broader cultural context, drawing upon recent advances in archaeological and epigraphic research. It is indispensable.” —Joanne Pillsbury, Director of Pre-Columbian Studies, Dumbarton Oaks “A very important work and a basic resource for those interested in Copan art and archaeology—visitors as well as serious students and scholars.” —David Stuart, Linda and David Schele Professor of Mesoamerican Art and Writing, University of Texas at Austin Co-published with the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies Paperback $35.00, 216 pp., 198 color illus., 34 line illus., 35 halftones, 2 maps Spanish edition also available. Contact the Peabody Museum Press to order Il Museo de Escultura de Copan. Also of Interest:


For over 30 years the Peabody Museum has been publishing The Corpus of Maya Hieroglyphic Inscriptions. This series has been instrumental in the ongoing process of deciphering Maya writing, making available hundreds of Maya texts to epigraphers worldwide.

To order, contact the Peabody Museum Press: email: tel: 617-495-4255 Or visit our distributor’s website: Harvard University Press at


Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology Harvard University, Cambridge MA


contents spring 2012



7 12 18 36

7 12 18 24 26 36 44 46


By Anthony F. Aveni WHO WERE THE MAYA?




By Robert Sharer TIME BEYOND kINGS

By Loa Traxler 2012 AND BEYOND


By Richard M. Leventhal, Carlos Chan Espinosa, and Cristina Coc departments

2 3 4 52 53 55

From the Editor From the Director From the Archives—The Excavation of the Hieroglyphic Stairway at Copan Book News & Reviews—Bringing Maya Sculpture to Life Museum Mosaic—People, Places, Projects Looking Back on the cover: This jade figurine cached beneath a Copan Acropolis building


dedicated by Wi’ Yohl K’inich (Ruler 8) in ca. 541–542 CE represents the rebirth of the Maize God rising from a spondylus shell, a pivotal event during the Maya creation myth. This suggests that Wi’ Yohl K’inich, like other Maya kings, closely identified himself with the Maize God to reinforce his status as a “Lord of Time.” Photo by Kenneth Garrett; excavated by the Early Copan Acropolis Program, Penn Museum; courtesy Instituto Hondureño de Antropología e Historia.

Expedition® (ISSN 0014-4738) is published three times a year by the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, 3260 South St., Philadelphia, PA 19104-6324. ©2012 University of Pennsylvania. All rights reserved. Expedition is a registered trademark of the University of Pennsylvania Museum. All editorial inquiries should be addressed to the Editor at the above address or by email to Subscription price: $35.00 per subscription per year. International subscribers: add $15.00 per subscription per year. Subscription, back issue, and advertising queries to Maureen Goldsmith at or 215.898.4050. Subscription forms may be faxed to 215.573.9369. Please allow 6-8 weeks for delivery.

We welcome letters to the Editor. Please send them to: Expedition Penn Museum 3260 South Street Philadelphia, PA 19104-6324 Email:

from the editor

the williams director

Richard Hodges, Ph.D. williams directors emeritus

Robert H. Dyson, Jr., Ph.D. Jeremy A. Sabloff, Ph.D. chief operating officer

Melissa P. Smith, CFA chief of staff to the williams director

James R. Mathieu, Ph.D. director of development

Amanda Mitchell-Boyask mellon associate deputy director

Loa P. Traxler, Ph.D. merle-smith director of community engagement

Jean Byrne director of exhibitions

Kathleen Quinn associate director for administration

Alan Waldt expedition staff editor

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Jennifer McAuley subscriptions manager

Maureen Goldsmith advisory board

Clark L. Erickson, Ph.D. Maureen Goldsmith Jaesok Kim, Ph.D. Pam Kosty James R. Mathieu, Ph.D. Amanda Mitchell-Boyask Janet M. Monge, Ph.D. Alessandro Pezzati Kathleen Quinn C. Brian Rose, Ph.D. design Anne Marie Kane Imogen Design printing

Maya 2012: Myth and Reality


ravel through 4,000 years of Mesoamerican history with the Penn Museum in this special expanded edition of Expedition magazine. This issue was created to complement MAYA 2012: Lords of Time, a major new exhibition that opens at the Penn Museum on May 5, 2012 and runs through January 13, 2013. We are the only East Coast venue for this remarkable collection of over 100 artifacts, many excavated from the ancient site of Copan, Honduras, an excavation co-sponsored by the Penn Museum. Large sculptural pieces from collaborating museums and full-size replicas of important Maya monuments are included in the exhibition as well. We begin with “From the Archives,” as Alessandro Pezzati describes the excavation of the Hieroglyphic Stairway at Copan by George Byron Gordon (later Director of the Penn Museum) in the late 19th century. Then we move on to a series of articles that follow the narrative of the exhibition. The first feature article, by Anthony F. Aveni, discusses the current fascination with Maya 2012 and other end-of-the-world scenarios. Robert Sharer answers the question “Who Were the Maya?” as he provides an overview of this great civilization, including maps and a timeline of important events in Maya history. Simon Martin focuses on the Maya writing system, as he describes how Maya calendars were used and what individual hieroglyphs mean. In “Time of Kings and Queens,” Robert Sharer provides fascinating background on early Maya rulers. Loa Traxler discusses the profound changes that occurred in Maya society at the end of the Classic period, as famine, disease, and violence ravaged the once mighty kingdoms. Traxler concludes the discussion on apocalypse and looks to the future in “2012 and Beyond.” The last feature article moves away from the ancient Maya, as three authors—Richard M. Leventhal, Carlos Chan Espinosa, and Cristina Coc—describe the recent history of the modern Maya, in which struggles for self-determination continue. We end with a review by Penn graduate student Sarah Kurnick of a new book by Barbara Fash on the Copan Sculpture Museum, “Museum Mosaic” with news of the Museum, and our new feature: “Looking Back.” This special Maya 2012 issue of Expedition would not have been possible without the assistance and continued support of Robert Sharer, Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at Penn and excavator at Copan. Bob provided invaluable help in structuring this issue, and was happy to jump in on short notice to proofread text or provide photographs from his collection.

Conner Printing, Inc.



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jane hickman, ph.d. Editor

from the director

The Wonders of Copan at the Penn Museum


Richard Hodges

n my visit to Copan last summer to attend a meeting dedicated to the Penn Museum’s MAYA 2012: Lords of Time exhibition, I fell in love with this place and the country. Copan is Honduras’s spiritual capital—a blissful place with magnificent monuments set in a glorious tropical valley, maintained to standards that are truly world class. Its centerpiece, the Hieroglyphic Stairway, is a sculptured library ascending a pyramid, one of the great archaeological treasures of the world. Copan master builders, as the Stairway shows, were the equal of any from ancient Greece or Renaissance Florence. Indeed, the site museum is a treasure trove for those fascinated by the work of Maya artisans. Absent from this museum, though, are the feast of objects found accompanying the royal families interred within Copan’s pyramids. These particular treasures—known from National Geographic’s sumptuous coverage of the Penn Museum’s excavations conducted in collaboration with the Honduran Institute of Anthropology and History and Harvard’s Peabody Museum—are well worthy of a pharaoh. MAYA 2012: Lords of Time aims to introduce these discoveries to an American audience. Penn Museum’s exhibition (May 5, 2012, through January 13, 2013) couples an exploration of the debate about the Maya apocalypse with cases filled with the majestic accoutrements of Copan’s royal lineages. It is a unique opportunity, thanks to the wonderful cooperation of the Honduran Government, to see a major collection of more than 75 treasures—many of them never seen outside of Honduras— trophies worthy of the architects of this great city. Our exhibition also aims to promote Copan as a UNESCO World Heritage Site that has a genuinely commanding presence on the world stage. The intimate drama of the possible end of the world together with the story of these peerless treasures brings a remarkable civilization to life.

In August 2011, the Advisory Committee for the MAYA 2012: Lords of Time exhibition met at the Institute Research Center at Copán Ruinas, Honduras. The Committee stands in front of a full-size replica of a Copan stela. From left to right: Loa Traxler, Richard Hodges, Barbara W. Fash, Salvador Varela, Ricardo Agurcia, Eva Lilia Martínez Ordóñez, William L. Fash, Jr., Dorie Reents-Budet, Norman Martínez, and Kathleen Quinn.

Many of the objects in the MAYA 2012: Lords of Time exhibition (and featured in this issue of Expedition) come from the recent excavations at Copan, Honduras. These excavations were initiated by the Copan Acropolis Archaeological Project conceived by William L. Fash, Jr. (Harvard University) as a consortium of research institutions working cooperatively to investigate and preserve the Acropolis of this UNESCO World Heritage Site under the auspices of the Instituto Hondureño de Antropología e Historia. Penn Museum’s Early Copan Acropolis Program was an important part of this work from 1989 to 2003, along with allied programs from the Peabody Museum of Harvard University, Tulane University, and the Copan Association in Honduras.

richard hodges, ph.d. The Williams Director

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from the archives

Don Dionicio Urrutia and his daughters, residents of Copan, were in charge of the ruins in the 1890s. From the Peabody Museum expedition to Copan, UPM Image #228289.

The Excavation of the Hieroglyphic Stairway at Copan pezzati


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George B. Gordon excavated the Hieroglyphic Stairway on the Peabody Museum expedition to Copan, Honduras. Here are the lower steps of the Hieroglyphic Stairway, the altar, and the first seated figure as found, ca. 1900. Today, the Stairway rises 69 feet or about 21 meters. UPM Image #228288.

Penn Museum


he ancient maya city of Copan is a jewel of a ruin, a beautifully proportioned city situated in a verdant valley, comprised of soaring temples and enclosed courtyards, and adorned with intricately carved stelae. Within the site stands a unique monument of the ancient world, the Hieroglyphic Stairway of Temple 26, completed in 755 CE. Every block is carved with hieroglyphic inscriptions—2,200 glyphs in all, the longest known Maya text—that relate the history of Copan’s rulers. Copan was made famous in 1841 by John Lloyd Stephens and Frederick Catherwood with the book Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatán, but it was not until 1885 that the Stairway was discovered by the pioneering British archaeologist Alfred P. Maudslay, who appropriately named it. In 1891, the Peabody Museum at Harvard University set up the first full-scale archaeological excavations at Copan, under the leadership of John G.

by alessandro

Penn Museum

Owens. Tragically, Owens died of fever the following year, leaving George Byron Gordon in charge. Gordon was a young Canadian graduate student who had been hired to survey and map the site. He was sent to direct the project again in 1894– 1895 and in 1900. Most of Gordon’s focus at Copan was on the Hieroglyphic Stairway. He found 15 steps in situ, but the majority of the blocks were either ruined or in a deteriorated condition and were dislodged among the debris of the pyramid. The hieroglyphic blocks were cleaned, photographed, numbered, and then lowered to the plaza. There they were placed on stone supports and photographed. Then molds were made of many of the pieces, a laborious task. The political situation in Honduras made work difficult for the Peabody Museum, and in 1901 the excavation permit ended. It was not until the 1930s that the Stairway was reconstructed as it appears today, by the Carnegie Institution of Washington. Gordon punctually published the results of his excavations. However, he did not continue as a Maya specialist. In 1903 he accepted the post of Assistant Curator of General Ethnology at the Penn Museum, and by 1910 had become its director. Gordon greatly increased the profile of the Museum. Under his tenure, the institution grew, conducting research and fieldwork on several continents. Gordon, himself, built a reputation as a consummate connoisseur of fine Chinese, Egyptian, and other ancient and traditional art.

Top, Gordon sits next to a figure seated on a throne on the Hieroglyphic Stairway, ca. 1900. From the Peabody Museum expedition to Copan, UPM Image #202576. Above, Honduran government representative Don Carlos Madrid stands next to a figure from the Hieroglyphic Stairway, ca. 1900. From the Peabody Museum expedition to Copan, UPM Image #202578.

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Gordon and his servant are photographed at their camp in Copan, ca. 1900. UPM Image #217932. George Byron Gordon was Director of the Penn Museum from 1910 to 1927. He began his career in archaeology as a graduate student at Harvard University and as a member of the Peabody Museum expedition to Copan. He was the first excavator of the Hieroglyphic Stairway. Selected notes, photographs, and writings from Gordon’s work at Copan can be found in the Penn Museum Archives. UPM Image #174898.

Had the excavation been conducted from its inception with knowledge of the true conditions, a restoration of the inscription, by the exercise of the greatest care, should have been possible. Unluckily the component blocks were removed without the meticulous record which the circumstances demanded…The unhappy fate of this monumental record demonstrates the narrowness of the line which divides excavation from destruction and emphasizes the responsibilities of the excavator. One of the salient features of Maudslay’s extensive pioneer researches is constituted by the fact that they, in no single case, resulted in the destruction of evidence. Gordon wrote angrily to Frederic Kenyon—the Director of the British Museum, with which the Penn Museum was collaborating at Ur—asking for an explanation. The reply came


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from T.A. Joyce, keeper of ethnography and author of the guide, who even in his letter appears to stammer in embarrassment at having insulted Gordon. He claims that he did not mean to offend, but rather was concerned about the possibility of future landslides…“I was anxious to warn future investigators against the possibility of landslides. That being so, I possibly neglected the ‘personal’ element, & I admit, in the light of your protest, the paragraph might have been better worded.” So he was, in fact, anxious to warn future archaeologists against committing the mistake that he was NOT accusing Gordon of having made. Joyce ends the letter beseechingly: “Once more, Gordon, I’m sorry you’ve been hurt, but I can assure you that at heart I am ‘not guilty.’” Gordon wrote a review of the British Museum Guide. In it, he picked apart Joyce’s publication, rallying in particular against the footnote. He goes so far as to point out that Maudslay himself may have caused damage to some of the archaeological sites he visited, but did not in the end publish the review. This draft remains in the Penn Museum Archives. alessandro pezzati is the Senior Archivist at the Museum.

Penn Museum

In 1923, Gordon was therefore surprised and affronted upon reading a footnote in the British Museum’s Guide to the Maudslay collection of Maya sculptures (casts and originals) from Central America that condemned the archaeological methods used on the Hieroglyphic Stairway:

Why Maya 2012 Fascinates Us By Anthony F. Aveni

Albrecht Dürer


pocalyptic ideas have always been popular in the United States. We have long conceived of our country as the land of free thought and, for many, a safe haven for millenarian prophesying. This attitude began in 1500, when Christopher Columbus wrote: “Of the new heaven and the new earth which the Lord made, and of which St. John wrote in the Apocalypse…, he made me the messenger and he showed me the way.” The back of our dollar bill endorses Columbus’ belief that America is the place where the Apocalypse will happen. The words below the eye and pyramid, novus ordo seclorum (“a new order of the ages”), proclaim America the New Jerusalem. The notion of an impending apocalypse was very much a part of the ideology of our first colonizers, the Puritans. Among the most radical Protestant reformers, their very name betrays their philosophy of self-perfection as a way of preparing for the impending arrival of heaven on earth. Many Puritans regarded the King of England as the Antichrist mentioned in the Book of Revelation. They detested the English “population,” with its excessive dress habits, drinking, eating, and even its scandalous poetry. They viewed the unknown wilds of the New World to be a better place to live their ideology, which included morally clean, frugal living, along with a heavy dose of Doomsday prophecy. Throughout U.S. history religious prophets have sought wisdom about what the new order would be like, not only from the Bible but also from the exotic cultures of ancient Egypt, India, and China. Beginning in the 1960s’ age of space exploration, New Agers even looked to alien astronauts for inspiration. Despite the philosophy of self-empowerment they advocated, most New Agers tuned out when it came

Albrecht Dürer’s early 16th century painting shows St. John’s vision of the end of the world by Apocalypse as told to him by an angel (lower left) and recounted in the New Testament Book of Revelation. Among the fantastic imagery, often interpreted literally over the ages, is the sevenheaded dragon (lower right).

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Sacred travel abounds as “Y12” approaches. You need to be in the right place at the right time to tune in to the Maya transcendent message. Here thousands of tourists assemble at the Maya ruins of Chichen Itza, Yucatan, on the afternoon of the spring equinox to watch the serpent descend. The image of the ancient Maya deity appears as a light-and-shadow “hierophany” on the northwest balustrade (left). Note the openmouthed stone serpent head at the base of the half-diamond shaped images.

to being self-motivated, active participants in changing the world. They needed to get directions from somebody else. For many, Hamlet’s Mill, a thick scholarly tome that appeared in 1969, would point the way to change. It proffered the theory that all great myths have a common origin and that the gods and mythic places that populate them are really stand-ins for celestial phenomena. Following older theories about the division of history into World Ages, the book argued that all major changes in world civilizations were responses to cosmic shifts, specifically the movement of the sun on the first day of spring from one constellation of the zodiac to the next, known as precession of the equinoxes. Remember the Age of Aquarius? The inclusive nature of Hamlet’s Mill exerted a profound grip on fringe theorists. Popular books soon appeared proving that the Egyptians, the Babylonians, the Etruscans, and even the Inca of the New World had tapped into revealed univer-


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sal wisdom about the ancient past. All were said to have been well aware that the earth wobbled about its shifting axis and that the star-fixed ages of humanity lay at the root of all social change. In the 1970s the Maya would have their turn. The early 1970s were a time when great advances were being made in the decipherment of Maya script, as well as in the study of ancient Maya astronomy. From texts such as J. Eric Thompson’s Maya History and Religion and Michael Coe’s The Maya, World Age prophets became aware that the 5125.37-year Long Count, largest of all Maya time cycles, was soon due to turn over. Echoing the theme of the Second Coming of Christ, Frank Waters’ popular book Mexico Mystique predicted that the Mexican feathered serpent god Quetzalcoatl would descend from heaven in 2011, bringing about a universal upgrading of human consciousness. He also noted that the celestial precession cycle of 25,627 years

George Keene

serpent descending

Anthony F. Aveni, The End of Time: The Maya Mystery of 2012 (2009) (left), Akademische Druck-u. Verlag, Graz, ADEVA (far right, top and bottom)

Below, the theory of World Ages is often based on the zodiac. But are zodiacs universal? A segment of our Greek/Babylonianderived western zodiac consists of twelve constellations. The course of the vernal equinox sun through the zodiac during human history is marked out. Some believe World Ages are heralded by the equinox sun´s passage through successive zodiacal signs. Remember the Age of Aquarius?

Above, the Maya zodiac in the Paris Codex (pp. 23–24), a pre-contact document dated to the 15th century, consists of 13 constellations. Among those most easily recognizable are rattlesnake, bird, scorpion, and tortoise; they all hang from a serpent sky band. Left, as in the Christian Second Coming, a god descending from heaven appears as a common theme in Mesoamerican art. In this scene from the Vienna Codex, Quetzalcoatl (Kukulcan) comes down from the sky on a cotton rope.

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is almost exactly divisible by the length of the Long Count, a fact he felt certain could not have gone unnoticed by mathematically obsessed Maya astronomers. No evidence exists to validate Waters’ claim. New Age mystic Jose Argüelles, architect of the 1987 “cosmic convergence” which he viewed as a prelude to the Long Count turnover, had his own version of time’s end. His scenario had evil Tezcatlipoca, the dark antithesis of Quetzalcoatl, descending from heaven, only to morph into his good, light-bearing counterpart. Where does Maya astronomy fit in? Insistence on the use of the term “galactic” to characterize the domain of the immanent transcendent force has been widespread in the current Maya 2012 literature. For example, Argüelles writes of “galactic sound transmissions [that] will inundate the planetary field”; there is a “galactic code of the seasons,” a “galactic beam,” even a collective “galactic mind.” Maybe we fancy the galactic concept in the vain hope that in its incomprehensible vastness there might be something for us, some hidden meaning. Thus, American author John Major Jenkins invites us to participate “in the galactic process of Maya cosmogenesis.” He predicts that the Maya day of reckoning will be heralded by an


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alignment of the winter solstice sun (December 21) with the Great Rift (he calls it a cosmic womb) near the center of our Milky Way Galaxy. This is a cosmic lineup that is sure to open the door of opportunity to a “conscious relationship with each other and a creative participation with the Earth process that gives birth to our higher selves.” Jenkins argues that it is all foretold in the Maya calendar and inscriptions, as well as architectural alignments at the ruins of Izapa, a Preclassic Maya outlier. He believes that the Maya set up their Long Count calendar there 2,000 years ago with the 2012 alignment date in mind. The alignment, it turns out, cannot be pinned down to an accuracy more precise than 300 years. Nor is there any evidence the Maya cared much about the Milky Way. Moreover there are no Long Count inscriptions at Izapa. Hard times beg for change. Much like the ’60s, the first decade of the new millennium has been a stressful one, marked by terrible events and trends too depressing and familiar to enumerate. It is enough to drive even the most rational segment of the citizenry to bizarre, alternative outlooks. This includes a deep desire to recapture an imagined distant past that knew the essence of true wisdom. And so we romance

Lund Observatory, Sweden

Great Rift

Galaxies are a major theme in Maya 2012 lore. This 360 degree panorama of the Milky Way shows the position of the galactic center and the Great Rift to the left of it. The dashed line approximates the plane of the Milky Way. Actually the ancient Maya paid little attention to the Milky Way, which they believed to be the “path to the otherworld” and not the “world tree,” as is often contended.

NASA/ESA and the Hubble Heritage-Team STScI/AURA

The Sombrero galaxy is a system somewhat like our own Milky Way Galaxy. This advantageous view of it, along the plane of the sombrero, enables us to see the dark murky gap, which actually consists of interstellar matter out of which the hundreds of billions of stars that light up the galaxy form. The arrow in the tip of the sombrero denotes where our solar system would be located if we lived in a neighborhood similarly positioned to our own but within this galaxy.

the Maya. Still there is nothing new under the sun. As I have argued, all the elements of the logic informing the impending contemporary doomsday scheduled for December 21, 2012, have long been in place. Time’s end is in our American blood. But the Maya actually might have made some sense of the Christian apocalypse in a metaphoric way. Ethnohistorian Tim Knowlton argues that the Maya did not offer blind acceptance to appease the will of the conqueror by adopting his religious ideology. Their ancient texts did tell of the destruction and re-flowering of the world, a process which, in practice, is allied to the slash-and-burn agriculture commonly practiced in Yucatan. In essence you need to destroy the old soil to make the new more productive. But the more I get to know the ancient Maya, the more I have come to believe that those who seek universal 2012 wisdom in the native texts need to be aware that they may be peering into a mirror that reflects their own Western ideas. anthony f. aveni is the Russell Colgate Distinguished University Professor of Astronomy, Anthropology, and Native American Studies at Colgate University.

Our Solar System

For Further Reading Aveni, Anthony. The End of Time: The Maya Mystery of 2012. Boulder: University Press of Colorado, 2009. Aveni, Anthony. “Apocalypse Soon? What the Maya Calendar Really Tells Us About 2012 and the End of Time.” Archaeology (Nov-Dec 2009): 30-35. de Santillana, Giorgio, and Hertha von Dechend. Hamlet’s Mill: An Essay Investigating the Origins of Human Knowledge and Its Transmission through Myth. Boston: Gambit, 1969. Knowlton, Timothy. Maya Creation Myths: Words and Worlds of the Chilam Balam. Boulder: University Press of Colorado, 2010. Restall, Matthew, and Amara Solari. 2012 and the End of the World: The Western Roots of the Maya Apocalypse. Lenham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2011. Rice, Prudence. Maya Calendar Origins: Monuments, Mythistory, and the Materialization of Time. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2007. van Stone, Mark. 2012: Science and Prophecy of the Ancient Maya. San Diego: Tlacaelel, 2010.

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Who Were the Maya? By RoBeRt ShAReR

Maya sites that have been identified and explored are located in Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, and El Salvador. This map shows the location of various sites mentioned in this issue of Expedition.


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Belize, Honduras, and El Salvador until the Spanish Conquest. The brutal subjugation of the Maya people by the Spanish extinguished a series of independent Maya states with roots as far back as 1000 BCE. Over the following 2,500 years scores of Maya polities rose and fell, some larger and more powerful than others. Most of these kingdoms existed for hundreds of years; a few endured for a thousand years or more. To understand and follow this long development, Maya civilization is divided into three periods: the Preclassic, the Classic, and the Postclassic. The Preclassic includes the origins and apogee of the first Maya kingdoms from about 1000 BCE to 250 CE. The Early Preclassic (ca. 2000–1000 BCE) pre-dates the rise of the first kingdoms, so the span that began by ca. 1000 BCE corresponds to the Middle and Late Preclassic eras. The Classic period (ca. 250–900 CE) defines the highest point of Maya civilization in architecture, art, writing, and population size. The Classic period has Early, Late, and Terminal subdivisions, the latter overlapping with the Postclassic, and corresponds to the collapse of most Classic

Jennifer McAuley


he ancient maya created one of the world’s most brilliant and successful civilizations. But 500 years ago, after the Spaniards “discovered” the Maya, many could not believe that Native Americans had developed cities, writing, art, and other hallmarks of civilization. Consequently, 16th century Europeans readily accepted the myth that the Maya and other indigenous civilizations were transplanted to the Americas by “lost” Old World migrations before 1492. Of course archaeology has found no evidence to suggest that Old World intrusions brought civilization to the Maya or to any other PreColumbian society. In fact, the evidence clearly shows that civilization evolved in the Americas due to the efforts of the descendants of the first people who came to the New World during the last Ice Age, some 12,000 to 20,000 years ago. Maya civilization was part of this independent evolutionary process. Located in eastern Mesoamerica, the ancient Maya flourished in a diverse homeland in Mexico, Guatemala,

TiMeline oF Maya CivilizaTion

1697 CE

With Western and Maya Dates

1523–1527 CE K’atun 13 Ajaw Pedro de Alvarado conquers the K’iche’ and Kaqchikel Maya in the highlands of Guatemala.

ca. 1470 CE The Kaqchikel Maya establish a new highland kingdom with a capital at Iximche.

ca. 1185–1204 CE K’atun 8 Ajaw Founding of the city of Mayapan.

ca. 900–1520 CE Postclassic Period. Major construction ceases at most cities in the Maya heartland.

May 4, 755 CE 6 Ajaw 13 Sek Copan recovers its political strength and dedicates the final version of its famous Hieroglyphic Stairway. April 29, 562 CE 7 Ik 0 Sip Tikal is conquered by the Kaan (Snake) Dynasty of Dzibanche allied with Caracol, beginning a 130 year gap in sequence of Tikal’s carved monuments. ca. 400 BCE–100 CE Political dominance of early Maya states such as Kaminaljuyu in the highlands and El Mirador in the lowlands.

1697 CE K’atun 8 Ajaw The Spanish conquer the last independent Maya city of Tayasal. 1521 CE K’atun 13 Ajaw Cortés captures the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan. Colony of New Spain established.

ca. 1441–1460 CE K’atun 8 Ajaw Mayapan sacked; kingdom fractures into many smaller kingdoms. ca. 1000 CE The island of Cozumel begins to develop into a major center of trade.

ca. 800–900 CE Signs of significant decline in almost all major cities in the Maya heartland.

August 8, 695 CE 1 Imix 14 Ch’en Tikal defeats its long standing rival Calakmul spurring its decline.

July 8, 292 CE 13 Men 3 Sip Earliest Long Count date carved at Tikal.

1540–1546 CE K’atun 11 Ajaw Francisco de Montejo conquers the Maya of the Yucatan.

ca.1500 CE K’atun 4 Ajaw First recorded outbreak of smallpox in the Maya area.

ca. 1200–1300 CE Revival of Tayasal and other Postclassic kingdoms in the old Maya heartland. January 10, 909 CE 12 Ajaw 3 Wo Last known Long Count date ever carved is recorded on a Maya monument at the site of Tonina. April 28, 820 CE 8 Ajaw 8 Xul End of the royal house at Copan recorded on Stela 11. April 29, 738 CE 6 Kimi 4 Sek Copan king Waxaklajuun Ubaah K’awiil captured and sacrificed by his vassal, the king of Quirigua. February 8, 427 CE 5 Ben 11 Muwann Founding of Classic dynasty at Copan by K’inich Yax K’uk’ Mo’.

ca. 250–900 CE Classic Period ca. 400 BCE–250 CE Late Preclassic Period

ca. 400 BCE Early evidence of Maya carved hieroglyphic text on stone monument at El Portón. ca. 800–500 BCE Tradition of erecting standing ca. 1000–400 BCE stone monuments and altars Middle Preclassic Period begins at Maya sites. ca. 2000–1000 BCE Preclassic Period

ca. 100 BCE Collapse of early Maya states, and El Mirador abandoned Founding of Classic dynasty at Tikal.

ca. 1600–1400 BCE Emergence of maize agricultural communities in Maya area.

January 6, 1542 CE K’atun 11 Ajaw The Spanish found the city of Mérida on the existing Maya city of Tiho. This date is recorded in both Western and Maya calendars. 1519 CE K’atun 2 Ajaw Hernán Cortés arrives in the Yucatan Peninsula and makes contact with the Maya. ca. 1275–1475 CE The K’iche’ Maya establish a kingdom and expand control over the highlands. ca. 950–1050 CE Chichen Itza dominates northern Yucatan, showing influence and connections with many cities.

869 CE 3 Ajaw 3 Keh Last stela erected at Tikal.

ca. 800 CE Maya cities in the Puuc region, north of the Maya heartland, begin to expand.

657 CE 6 Ix 2 K’ayab Calakmul and allies conquer Tikal and force its king to flee.

February 24, 37 CE 12 Eb 0 Keh Earliest Long Count date at a Maya site found at El Baúl.

ca. 800–500 BCE Rise of first Maya cities in both highland and lowland regions.

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1 The Maya produced bountiful harvests of food from a diverse and productive agricultural system that included irrigation, terracing, and drained fields in swamps and shallow lakes. Ancient raised fields at Pulltrouser Swamp in Belize are shown in this aerial photograph. 2 Excavation reveals many layers of soil representing ancient agriculture. 3 In the Maya highlands of Guatemala families continue to live in traditional pole and thatch houses and grow several varieties of maize, beans, squashes, and other food crops. 4 Kaminaljuyu was the largest and most powerful Pre-Columbian city in the Maya highlands; its ruins are now largely destroyed or submerged beneath the streets of Guatemala City. 5 The ruins of an immense Late Preclassic city, now named El Mirador, lie beneath the tropical forest in northern Guatemala including the largest temple ever constructed by the Maya seen here outlined against the horizon (ca. 400 BCE–200 CE). 6 Located in the central Maya lowlands of Guatemala, Tikal was the capital of one of the most powerful lowland Maya kingdoms of the Classic period (ca. 200–800 CE). 7 Calakmul, found in the southern part of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, became the capital of a powerful kingdom ruled by the Kaan (Snake) dynasty by ca. 600 CE. 8 Tikal’s 26th king, Jasaw Chan K’awiil, was inaugurated in 682 CE, ruled for 52 years, and in 695 led his kingdom’s forces to a watershed victory over Calakmul, Tikal’s greatest rival. Stela 16 depicts Jasaw Chan K’awiil. From the Peabody Museum expedition to Tikal, UPM Image #228291. Photos 1, 2, 7 by Kenneth Garrett; photos 3, 4, 5, 6 by Robert Sharer; photo 8 by Penn Museum.


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Tikal Project (top), Simon Martin (bottom)

In Pre-Columbian times war captives were highly prized by the Maya. This portrait of a captive of Jasaw Chan K’awiil, king of Tikal (ca. 734 CE), was found in his tomb excavated by the Penn Museum’s Tikal Project.

kingdoms and the beginning of the transformations that define the Postclassic period. The Postclassic saw a revival of Maya civilization beginning by ca. 900 CE and was cut short by the Spanish Conquest (1524–1697 CE). Over this span, uncounted generations of Maya people lived in villages, towns, and cities from the southern coastal plain and mountainous highlands of Chiapas and Guatemala, to the tropical lowlands of northern Guatemala, Belize, and Yucatan. The Maya created a sophisticated agricultural system, supplemented by forest, river, and seashore resources, to support a population that reached into the tens of millions. Archaeology has revealed this agricultural infrastructure, well adapted to varied highland and lowland environments. Excavated canals show that irrigation was employed in the highland Valley of Guatemala by the Middle Preclassic and expanded during the Late Preclassic. The lowlands hold extensive remnants of raised fields and drainage canals that made swampy land productive, and expanses of terraces that did the same for hilly terrain. Research has identified the agricultural bounty from crops like maize, beans, squashes, manioc, chili peppers, and cacao, along with domesticated turkeys, and cotton for skillfully woven clothing and textiles. Ancient Maya society was founded on ties of kinship, class, and community. Every Maya polity was composed of an array of communities, large and small. The largest cities served as the capitals of independent kingdoms, containing

the most elaborate temples, palaces, markets, causeways, reservoirs, and plazas. Lowland cities were mostly constructed of masonry; highland cities favored adobe and timber. In all Maya cities, hundreds to thousands of houses of the common people were constructed of adobe or pole and thatch. In peacetime, these capitals and their people prospered from trade networks that connected them with other kingdoms. Many polities were also linked by alliances, activated during times of war. Yet these alliances never spurred development of a Maya empire, for the winners seldom absorbed defeated capitals and their inhabitants. Maya warfare was all about humbling foes and their gods to gain prestige and tribute. Capturing enemies was far more important than killing them. Families of the winners often adopted captives, although nobles and kings were sometimes sacrificed in ceremonies celebrating victories. Archaeology provides evidence for Maya kings during the Late Preclassic era (by 400 BCE) (see page 28). With origins in the Middle Preclassic, the site of Kaminaljuyu—now mostly beneath Guatemala City—was the largest highland capital during the Late Preclassic. It produced many beautifully carved monuments, some with hieroglyphic texts. The largest known lowland Preclassic capital was El Mirador, located in northern Guatemala. El Mirador had an extensive network of causeways and contained several of the largest temples ever built by the Maya. It rose to power by 500 BCE and fell by 250 CE. Our knowledge of Classic lowland Maya kingdoms has been vastly increased by deciphered royal texts that allow us to combine historical and archaeological information. Classic Maya kings were members of royal houses and dynasties of successive ancestral rulers. One of the greatest Classic period kingdoms was Tikal, which appears to have founded client kingdoms The Calakmul king Yuknoom Ch’een II throughout the Early Classic (“Yuknoom the Great”), depicted here, lowlands. Tikal’s power was defeated Tikal three times during his reign of 50 years (636–686 CE). eclipsed after its defeat in 562 CE

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by an alliance led by the Kaan or Kan (Snake) kingdom. For over a century thereafter the Kaan alliance, led by the Calakmul king Yuknoom Ch’een II (636–686 CE), ruled supreme in the lowlands. But in 695 CE Tikal’s king Jasaw Chan K’awiil (682– 734 CE) defeated Calakmul and regained its former power before beginning a long decline after ca. 800 CE. During the Terminal Classic period, overpopulation, reduced food production from depleted environments, warfare, and periodic droughts brought famine, disease, violence, and the abandonment of lowland cities by people seeking a better life elsewhere. These changes undermined the authority of traditional Maya kings and led to the collapse of most Classic kingdoms. Yet some kingdoms hung on and even prospered in this changing environment. Chichen Itza in Yucatan was the paragon of this development, and for about two centuries this city headed one of the largest and most prosperous states in Mesoamerica. It did so by advancing the authority of an elite council over the king, since royalty was discredited by the failures of most Maya polities. Yet Chichen Itza also ultimately failed, taking with it the last vestiges of the Classic era. The Postclassic period was ushered in by a series of new states with transformed economic, political, and religious institutions. The new economy was based on utilitarian commodities such as salt, cotton, and obsidian rather than traditional prestige goods. The new political order was based on rule by councils instead of kings. The new religious order emphasized household ritual and pan-Mesoamerican deities that replaced monumental temples, mass spectacles, and the patron gods of Maya kings. Postclassic states prospered in the highlands and along the lowland coasts, controlling new seacoast trade. One of the most successful states was Mayapan, a less ostentatious northern capital that replaced Chichen Itza. Mayapan’s success was built on the heritage of Chichen Itza and by promoting an economy based on utilitarian commodities. This spurred the growth of mercantile elites and the middle class that managed the new economy. Mayapan fell a century before the arrival of the Spaniards, who began conquering a mosaic of Postclassic polities in 1524 CE. After more than a century of bitter conflict, the Spanish defeated the last independent Maya states in 1697 CE. Although Maya kings and kingdoms have vanished, archaeologists and epigraphers have revealed much about their civilization. During their heyday, Maya rulers advertised their achievements with carved portraits on monuments and ordered the construction of splendid palaces and temples.


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Carved texts provide evidence for the reconstruction of the Maya political system as it developed during the Classic period. The decipherment of these texts has revealed the events and histories of Classic Maya kingdoms, along with their creation myths and religious practices. We know far more about the elites of ancient Maya society than the more numerous common people. Archaeological research has favored polity capitals, along with the elaborate artifacts produced for the elite—carved jades, painted pottery, mirrors, and scepters. Classic Maya inscriptions are even more exclusive to the upper echelons of society. Recently discovered murals at Calakmul are unique in depicting merchants and other non-elite individuals with glyphs labeling their activities (e.g. “salt person”). Otherwise Maya texts and portrayals are all about kings and elites, not other members of Maya society. Fortunately today far more archaeology is devoted to non-elites. A more balanced view of Maya civilization comes from excavations of the settlements of the common people and smaller administrative centers without the trappings of royal power. Interest in the “collapse” of Maya civilization, or descriptions of disease and destruction wrought by the Spanish Conquest, has led some people to believe that the Maya have disappeared. But the Maya did not vanish with the downfall of their Preclassic kingdoms, or from the more profound decline at the end of the Classic period. The Spanish Conquest ended Maya civilization, but the Maya people survived this trauma and 500 years of subsequent oppression. Today, several million Maya people continue to live in their ancient homeland and have retained their culture, their Mayan languages, and many of their traditions. robert sharer is Shoemaker Professor Emeritus, Department of Anthropology, University of Pennsylvania, and Curator Emeritus, American Section, Penn Museum. For Further Reading Farriss, Nancy M. Maya Society under Colonial Rule: The Collective Enterprise of Survival. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984. Jones, Grant D. The Conquest of the Last Maya Kingdom. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998. Martin, Simon, and Nikolai Grube. Chronicle of the Maya Kings and Queens. Revised edition. London: Thames and Hudson, 2008. Sharer, Robert J., and Loa P. Traxler. The Ancient Maya. Sixth edition. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2006.



4 3




1 Chichen Itza, in the northern lowlands of Yucatan, Mexico, was the capital of one of the largest and most powerful Maya kingdoms at the end of the Classic period (ca. 850–1100 CE). El Castillo is shown here. 2 Mayapan was the last of the powerful northern Maya capitals, ruling over much of Yucatan for some 250 years during the Postclassic period (ca. 1200–1450 CE). 3 Murals at Calakmul, discovered in 2005, illustrate everyday life among the ancient Maya. The color of the murals is still vivid, as the paintings were buried for hundreds of years. 4 Markets were the nexus of economic activity for the ancient Maya and continue to flourish in highland Maya towns today. 5 Traditional Maya rituals, such as burning copal resin incense and making flower offerings, continue today in both household and public settings. 6 More opportunities are available to the Maya today, as evidenced by these 2005 graduates from the Altiplano Campus of the Universidad del Valle de Guatemala, located in the heart of the Maya highlands. 7 Modern Maya rituals may be based on stories or myths from the past. Here, a participant in a public ceremony wears a jaguar headdress decorated with flowers, as he plays a flute. His face is decorated with black circles, perhaps imprinted with a modern container. Photos 1, 5, 6 by Robert Sharer; photo 2 by Marilyn Masson; photo 3 by Kenneth Garrett, courtesy of the Proyecto Arqueológico Calakmul, Ramón Carrasco, Director; photo 7 by Kenneth Garrett; photo 4 by Jane Hickman.

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Time, Kingship, and the Maya Universe


n 1832 constantine samuel rafinesque—a polymath who made contributions to the fields of botany, zoology, linguistics, meteorology, and geology—wrote to the celebrated decipherer of Egyptian hieroglyphs, Jean-François Champollion. The letter contained, among other things, his conclusion that ancient Maya numerals were formed from dots that represented the number one and bars that represented five. So began the modern world’s fascination with the intellectual achievements of this precocious New World civilization, opening the first window on their arithmetic, calendrics, astronomy, and ultimately their religion and history. Maya hieroglyphic inscriptions are filled with numbers. The tall stone monuments we call stelae usually begin with a string

Three pages from the Dresden Codex, a Postclassic book probably dating to the 15th century CE, exhibit row upon row of calculations using bar-and-dot numerals.


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of figures and many more of them are embedded throughout their texts. Some pages of Postclassic screenfold manuscripts made of bark-paper, such as the Dresden Codex, consist almost entirely of tabulations of bar-and-dot numerals. Almost every such number, it turns out, is devoted to the single purpose of calculating and recording time, which was expressed through an array of different calendars, some pursuing mystical cycles, others the progress of heavenly bodies across the sky. Early investigators realized that the Maya could substitute both their bar-and-dot numerals and calendrical units with portraits of deities and other supernatural beings—suggesting that numbers and time periods were themselves animate and divine. It is no wonder that many of these scholars believed they had found a civilization that worshipped time itself. It has taken many years to understand the culture that lies behind these fabulous, and sometimes perplexing, records and to gain some sense of an ancient mindset that is both very similar to and very different from our own. The past two decades, in particular, have seen tremendous advances in the decipherment of the Maya script. Today we realize that the Maya did not worship time as such, but did conceive of a cosmos that was intrinsically ordered by numbers and chronology. The lives of both humans and gods were entwined in the same interlocking cycles, differing only in scale: the vast expanse of the divine order contrasted with the miniscule spans of mortals. The Maya word k’in means both “day” and “sun,” and it was the journey of the sun across the sky—its emergence from and descent into the Underworld—that provided the core rhythm of life. Together with the shifting seasons, the waxing and waning of the moon, and the motion of the planets and stars, the sky presents an ever-moving celestial map through

Reproduced from Förstemann 1892

By Simon mARtin

which ancient peoples sought to read the will of their aweinspiring deities. The Maya universe was defined by cosmic trees set at its four cardinal points, together with a fifth, an axis mundi, placed at the center. While their branches reached up into the heavens, their roots burrowed down into the Underworld. The former was a realm of fragrant flowers and shining jewels, a place in which the exalted could hope to find everlasting life among the sky gods. The latter was a dark, dank cavern ruled by the lords of death. Despite its morbid character, it was the origin of many of the earth’s riches, including fresh water, food plants, and even the first humans. For the highborn Maya, it seems to have been the purgatory through which they had to journey and overcome various trials set by infernal deities. Only after passing such tests could they emulate the heroic deities who had preceded them and ascend to the heavens in triumph.

Heather Hurst (top), Simon Martin after a sketch by Barbara Fash (bottom left), Simon Martin (bottom right)

lords of Stone Conceptual counterparts to the cosmic trees were four old men who held the sky above their heads, preventing it from collapsing onto the earth and crushing the mortal world beneath. These characters were also year-bearers and each in his turn served as a patron of the current year that, like the sky, was perceived as a weighty burden. In images from the Classic period their skin was often emblazoned with motifs identifying them as living rocks, and throughout Maya history, stones had an intimate relationship with units of time. When the Spanish conquistadores arrived in the Yucatan peninsula in the 16th century, the word tun meant both “stone” and “year.” The setting and binding of stones were the quintessential acts of calendrical ritual for the Maya, and a concept embodied in the

Above, the ancient Maya believed that the center of the world was defined by a cosmic tree. Its upper branches were the heavenly home of the Principal Bird Deity, while its roots sank into a watery Underworld. This illustration by Heather Hurst (2007) depicts a detail from the West Wall of the murals at San Bartolo.

Right, in this Calendar Round date from Copan Stela D, we see numbers, as well as the days and months they refer to, take the forms of gods and fantastic beings. It records the position 10 Ajaw 8 Ch’en, which corresponds to the Long Count date that fell on July 22, 736 CE. Far right, this sculpture of an aged sky-bearer supported a throne in the Sepulturas group at Copan. His dotted body-markings identify him as animated stone.

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This carved peccary skull from Copan, Honduras, shows two lords, one seated on each side of a bound stela, and an anthropomorphic altar stone. The Calendar Round 1 Ajaw 8 Ch’en corresponds to or October 20, 376 CE. (A peccary is a member of the pig family found in the Americas.)


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The stela and altar pairings at El Naranjo, Guatemala, suggest an early origin for the erection of monuments dedicated to 20-year K’atun periods, with this example dating to 800–500 BCE.

stelae and altars they commissioned to mark significant time periods—most often a position in the Long Count calendar called a K’atun that occurred just shy of every 20 years (see page 24). Recent discoveries of uncarved stela and altar pairings at El Naranjo, now a suburb of Guatemala City, show that this tradition first developed between 800 and 500 BCE, in the Middle Preclassic period. Moreover, the archaeologist Barbara Arroyo has suggested that these stones celebrated the same K’atun cycle, therefore positing that a form of the Long Count existed long before any written record of it survives. The earliest contemporary Long Count dates turn up in the following Late Preclassic period, beginning with one from 36 BCE at the site of Chiapa de Corzo, Mexico. This site is slightly outside the Maya area and is associated with a different hieroglyphic script called Isthmian. This may indicate that the Maya adopted the Long Count from their neighbors, but the evidence is still too scanty to be sure. By 37 CE, a stela at El Baúl, Guatemala, carries distinctive Maya features, and, importantly, combines its date with the portrait of a ruler in full ceremonial garb. Earlier plain stones could have been painted with such images, but this is the first firm evidence that the social elite were using calendrical rites to promote their personal power, perhaps co-opting rituals that once had a more communal focus.

Kenneth Garrett (upper left), Barbara Arroyo (upper right), Courtesy of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University, Peabody #60-74-26-80 (bottom left), Barbara Fash (bottom right)

Tak’alik Ab’aj is a large Late Preclassic site in southwest Guatemala. Stela 5 from that site, shown here with archaeologist Miguel Orrego, depicts two rulers separated by a text that includes two early Long Count dates, the latest equivalent to 126 CE.

THen anD noW:

MaTCHinG Maya DaTeS WiTH oUR oWn


roducing a direct tie, or correlation, between the Long Count and our own calendar is a tricky undertaking. Since the Long Count had disappeared by the time the Spanish arrived in the Maya area around 1525 CE, the only clues we have come from references to other Maya calendars left by early chroniclers and clerics. These match several Calendar Round dates with counterparts in the European calendar of the time, two of which are additionally tied to positions in the Short Count. The latter are of key importance and should allow us to fix the correlation within repeating cycles of 256 years, at which point radiocarbon dating should indicate the correct solution. The proposed alignment that best fits this evidence—as well as emerging climatological data—is called the GMT correlation. However, there are two versions of it: one in accord with survivals of the Sacred Round in use today and another that tries to take account of certain astronomical data in the inscriptions. This explains the contrasting December 21 and 23 dates given for the 2012 event. Many specialists favor the December 23 position, but since the earlier one falls on a winter solstice those who believe in a cosmic significance to 2012 uniformly prefer that one. Both might yet prove to be wrong, as other evidence points to December 24.

It is in the following Classic period (250–900 CE) that we find the full flowering of this union between the calendar and royal power. Indeed, it was the hundreds of carved monuments embellished with kingly portraits, dates, and all manner of accompanying hieroglyphic text (much of it historical) that first defined this era. Tikal Stela 29, unearthed by the Penn Museum in 1959, marks the inception of this monument tradition in 292 CE in the Maya lowlands, and it endured for the next six centuries, with the last such example produced at the city of Tonina in 909 CE. The nature of the union between time and kingship was more profound than simple glorification through association.

Simon Martin

The Sacred Round day 9 Ajaw is here shown with a portrait of a ruling Maya king to emphasize his personal embodiment of the day meaning “Lord.”

By at least the Classic period the ideals and performance of rulership were fully integrated within the time-ordered universe. Each major station in the Long Count necessarily falls on the Sacred Round day called Ajaw “Lord,” and rulers could depict themselves within the distinctive roundels of day-signs, making their role in personifying the day explicit. Such ideas survived the fall of the Classic period kingdoms and can be found in Colonial-era documents such as the Chilam Balam of Chumayel. This illustrates successive K’atun positions of the Short Count (see pages 24-25), each named by their appropriately numbered Ajaw days, as kings wearing European crowns. Among the traditional diviners who use the Sacred Round today, days are reverently referred to as “sir” and considered to be noble people. Thus, when we see the portrait of a ruler on a stone monument celebrating the end of a major cycle, we are seeing something more than a bombastic and vainglorious monarch, we are seeing the very embodiment of time. Chronology was not something external to rulership; together they served as complementary dimensions of sacred authority.

The Maya and 2012 The current fascination with the year 2012 and the various inspirational or doom-mongering predictions it has inspired have given many people their first introduction to the ancient Maya. If we are to understand the origins of this phenomenon and the true relevance of 2012, we must delve deeper into the

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mysteries of the Long Count calendar. Our story begins on August 13, 3114 BCE, when the texts describe the “end of the 13th Bak’tun,” a key juncture in the system we notate today as This date is recorded retrospectively on a number of Classic monuments and even in the Dresden Codex, the most important document to survive from the Postclassic era. Associated texts help to illuminate its significance, with the fullest account appearing on Quirigua Stela C, erected in 775 CE. This tells us that “three stones are wrapped” and goes on to describe each as if it were a stela, recording its dedication by a particular deity at a particular supernatural location, at least two of which were in the sky. Although the full meaning of these divine performances remains obscure, it is clear that this was a special program of regeneration—primordial acts of foundation that later stone-bindings and monument dedications by kings sought to reproduce. A further take on the events of this day, painted on a pair of vases, is set not in the heavens but in the darkness of the netherworld. There we see the Underworld ruler we know only as “God L” seated on a jaguar throne and facing an array of other deities. The text identifies by its Calendar Round date of 4 Ajaw 8 Kumk’u, and says that the


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gods are “put in order,” suggesting a reorganization that established a divine hierarchy for the current era. Now, by the best reckoning available to us, December 23, 2012 CE will see the end of the next 13th Bak’tun cycle, 5,125 years after the one completed in 3114 BCE. Many people believe that this anniversary is of huge cosmic significance and, indeed, that it will mean either the dawn of a new age of enlightenment, or a catastrophic collapse of the world as we know it, or even the end of time itself. But there are a few things that should make us hesitate before entertaining such ideas. The first is that the ancient Maya made no prediction about what would take place on the next occurrence of—calamitous or otherwise. The 2012 date is mentioned only once, on a monument fragment from Tortuguero, Mexico, and contrary to some recent analyses is not associated with any description. It is simply used as an anchor date, a common ruse in Maya texts, that links current events—in this case one from 669 CE—to prestigious points in the future. The second and even more important consideration is that we have clear evidence that the current Bak’tun cycle does not conclude at 13, as the last one did, but

Roll out photograph @Justin Kerr, K2796

This “roll out” photograph of a cylindrical vase shows the enthroned Underworld ruler God L (on the right) engaged in “ordering” a range of infernal deities on from 3114 BCE.

David Stuart

advances to 20. In other words, will be followed by,, and so on to A text at the site of Palenque, Mexico, makes this very plain when it records the completion of 1 Piktun, the next unit above the Bak’tun, in 4772 CE. We do not know why the Maya counted the previous Bak’tun cycle in Base Thirteen and the current one in Base Twenty, but, according to a new idea by David Stuart, all of the higher units of the Long Count calendar cycle first through 13 before resetting to zero and counting a second time all the way to 20. Time, for the Maya, was a magical realm in which conventional arithmetic need not apply—things do not have to “add up” in a religious system. To explain why the modern world has become so caught up with bizarre ideas about 2012, one has to examine a different Mesoamerican culture: the Aztec of central Mexico. They believed in four previous creations of the world in which each was populated by a race of proto-humans who were destroyed

Tortuguero Monument 6 is the only ancient inscription that refers to the year 2012—here indicated by the Calendar Round 4 Ajaw 3 K’ank’in (highlighted)—but it doesn’t mention any prophecy.

in a terrible catastrophe. The fifth creation, inhabited by the Aztec, was one in which humans must appease the gods by sacrifice in order to forestall another annihilation. A similar story appears in a Maya epic from highland Guatemala called the Popol Vuh, which was written down by a Spanish priest in the 18th century but was based on earlier sources. This socalled Maya Bible contains versions of myths recognizable in art and writing from as much as 2,000 years earlier. It too has a sequence of creations and destructions, although here the focus is on the failure of different versions of humankind— each made from some inadequate material, on one occasion mud, on another wood—to satisfy their divine makers. In the current era humans have been fashioned from the perfect medium, maize dough, and so no further destruction is necessary. The tale could be a core myth that once spanned Mesoamerica, but it is strange that it finds no clear parallel in any of our ancient Maya sources. Indeed, we might wonder if this particular plot-line owes more to the Aztec, who enjoyed great influence over the highland Maya region at the very time the Popol Vuh was taking shape. Those who believe that the Popol Vuh cycle of creations and destructions must have counterparts in Classic Maya inscriptions have seized upon the pivotal events of 3114 BCE as one of these climactic moments, with the next 13-Bak’tun ending in 2012 taken as a pre-ordained repetition. Although the Maya certainly did have apocalyptic ideas, especially of a world destroyed by a heaven-sent flood, these are not linked to the Long Count calendar and cannot be used to support an “end of time” in 2012. In sum, this date has far more relevance for us than it appears to have had for the ancient Maya—one of many examples of popular mysticism that actually springs from the present rather than the past. The ability of the Maya to develop time-reckonings of such astonishing scale, accuracy, and imaginative power is testament enough to their remarkable intellectual achievements; there is no need to also make them mirrors of our own forebodings or hopes for renewal. If the phenomenon of 2012 brings the true story of the Maya to a wider audience, then all the media hubbub will have at least one significant upside. simon martin is an Associate Curator in the American Section at the Penn Museum and an internationally known Mayan hieroglyphics expert. He is also Co-Curator of the exhibition MAYA 2012: Lords of Time.

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Maya CalenDaRS: an oveRvieW By Simon Martin



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Numerals: 0, 1, 5, 8, and 14.

Long Count date:

Sacred Round day names: Imix, Ik’, Ak’bal, K’an, Chikchan, Kimi, Manik’, Lamat, Muluk, Ok, Chuwen, Eb, Ben, Ix, Men, Kib, Kaban, Etz’nab, Kawak, Ajaw. The columns read down from top to bottom, left to right. Simon Martin

o read any Maya date one must first understand their numerical system. Unlike the ten Arabic symbols we use (0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9) the Maya employed just three symbols: a dot for one, a bar for five, and one of three different signs for zero. Individual dots were arranged to make the numbers one to four, swapping to a single bar for five. Thereafter dots and bars were combined to represent all the numbers up to 19, which was formed from three bars and four dots (a looped design often fills empty spaces but has no value). The sequence runs from 0 to 19 because the Maya system was vigesimal, which is to say that it worked in Base Twenty rather than the Base Ten of our own decimal system (the Babylonians, by contrast, used Base Sixty). Numbers of 20 and above were created with a place notation system—in much the same way we write “10” by shifting 1 up by an order of magnitude (1 x 10) and following it by zero. To write “20” the Maya would use a dot (1 x 20) followed by a zero sign. A variant of place notation was used to create the huge numbers recorded in the Maya calendar we call the Long Count—the system responsible for all the interest in 2012. The Long Count is a cumulative count of days that ascends in magnitude from single days, to units of 20 days, 360 days, 7,200 days (about 20 years), and 144,000 days (about 400 years). Today we call these units K’in, Winal, Tun, K’atun, and Bak’tun. They all work in Base Twenty except the Winal that, confusingly, works in Base Eighteen (probably in order to approximate the 365.2422 days of the solar year). Each of them has its own hieroglyph that, in another layer of complexity, appears in at least two different forms, sometimes more. Today we represent them in Arabic numerals separated by periods. I am writing this description on April 28, 2011, which is equivalent to the Long Count (which is to say, 12 Bak’tun, 19 K’atun, 18 Tun, 5 Winal, 15 K’in). This represents the number of days that have elapsed since August 13, 3114 BCE. But this is not the beginning of the Long Count, since these five commonly seen place notations are only a tiny fraction of the full system. We have texts that record no less than 19 named positions above that of the Bak’tun. This puts the true starting point of the calendar many trillions of years in the past, making it far, far older than the current universe! There was, nevertheless, a special quality to the 3114 BCE date, since the Bak’tun and all higher positions were set to the magical number “13”—doubtless reflecting the Mayas’ belief that they lived in an exceptional era. The Long Count was the grandest conception of time used by the Maya, but far from the only one and others rivalled it in importance. The first of these is called the Sacred Round (or Tzolk’in), a system that

Vague Year month names: Pop, Wo, Sip, Sotz’, Sek, Xul, Yaxk’in, Mol, Ch’en, Yax, Sak, Keh, Mak, K’ank’in, Muwan, Pax, K’ayab, Kumk’u, Wayeb. The columns read down from top to bottom, left to right.

Simon Martin

The interlocking nature of the Calendar Round cycle can be conceived of as a set of meshed cogs.

combines 20 named days with 13 numbers. As each day in this calendar advances to the next, so does its accompanying number. Thus 1 Imix is followed by 2 Ik’, 3 Ak’bal, 4 K’an, and so on until reaching 13 Ben, after which the numbers return to 1 while the day names continue, with 1 Ix, 2 Men, and so forth. It takes 260 days for the days and numbers to come back into alignment and for 1 Imix to repeat itself. This system survives to this day in some isolated parts of the Maya area, where it is used for divination and the timing of certain ceremonies. Another calcalendar is called the Vague Year (or Haab) and is based on the solar year. This system features 18 named months of 20 days each and an additional short month of five days, together totaling 365 days. The Vague Year gets its name because it is .2422 days short of the true solar year and theretherefore slowly slips against the seasons. The Vague Year begins on 0 Pop and progresses through 1 Pop, 2 Pop, 3 Pop, and so forth through each month in turn, finishing with 4 Wayeb, the last day in the short month at the end of the year. The Sacred Round and Vague Year are joined to form the Calendar Round,, in which no combination will repeat for 18,980 days or about Round 52 solar years. On April 28, 2011, the Sacred Round was 10 Men and the Vague Year 3 Wo—a Calendar Round pairing that will not occur again until April 15, 2063. Although there is no reason to think that the Maya ever assembled a clock-like mechanism to display their calendars, a series of intermeshing cogwheels is a useful way for us to conceive how the system worked. The Long Count fell into decline after the fall of the great Classicperiod kingdoms between 800 and 900 CE, but survived in a pared-down form called the Short Count. Count. This identified each successive K’atun by the Sacred Round on which it ended, all automatically falling on the day Ajaw “Lord”—following a fixed sequence of 11, 9, 7, 5, 3, 1, 12, 10, 8, 6, 4, 2, and finally 13 Ajaw. The total span of the Short Count was 13 K’atun or about 256 solar years, and when added to a Calendar Round date could specify an individual day within that span—adequate for most historical purposes. We have by no means exhausted the Maya’s calendrical ingenuity, since there were a range of lunar reckonings and other notations devoted to more purely mystical cycles. The typical stela inscription opens with large introductory hieroglyph followed by the appropriate Long Count, Sacred Round, and Vague Year, but further fixes the day within six, seven, or more alternative systems of accounting time. For a day to be properly commemorated it was necessary to know its place within mulmultiple dimensions of time and acknowledge all the deities that presided over them.

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Time of Kings and Queens By RoBeRt ShAReR


he origins of maya kings can be traced back to the Middle Preclassic period (ca. 1000–500 BCE). Archaeology reveals the beginnings of Maya civilization during this span with evidence for rulers of small independent polities, the first great temples and other large-scale constructions, evidence for warfare, trade in status goods, and the earliest stone monuments. These monuments may represent the oldest surviving markers of the cycles of time in the Maya calendar, placed to commemorate each K’atun. In the southern Maya area of Guatemala, a series of growing population centers were located along trade routes on the Pacific coastal plain and in the adjacent highlands. These areas were also prime regions for producing food and export crops such as cacao. Trade linked the southern Maya area with the lowlands to the north, where agricultural settlements were expanding. Everywhere population growth and trade led to increasing wealth and power for the privileged segment of society, the elite class. Thereafter, Maya society was divided between a small powerful elite group and a far more numerous non-elite.

early Maya Rulers The Maya area provided many resources and diverse potentials for human exploitation. Most regions had good soil, plentiful rain, and valuable natural resources; some were close to sacred features like mountains, caves, and springs. Such favored areas nourished the growth of small polities with leaders skilled in warfare, trade, and religious ritual. Success reinforced the authority of these early rulers, the ancestors of later Maya kings and queens known from portraits and texts on carved monuments. From their beginnings Maya rulers relied


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on their non-elite subjects who farmed the land and processed resources destined for trade, providing rulers with food, tribute, and labor. In return, rulers provided physical and psychological security. As war leaders they protected their subjects from enemies. As traders they provided essential goods from afar. As religious leaders they were believed to hold special powers over supernatural forces and sacred ancestors. Many religious and economic activities reinforced the authority of early rulers. They sponsored public ceremonies, ritual ball games, markets, and craft manufacture. Markets provided access to food, goods, services, and also were an outlet for the products of each household. Maya rulers encouraged long-distance trade and gained new sources of wealth from markets, craftsmen, and merchants. Rare materials, such as jade and the iridescent green quetzal feathers, were believed to possess sacred qualities and were reserved for elite use, increasing their prestige and authority. The construction of temples, causeways, and reservoirs, as well as palaces for rulers encouraged the prosperity and growth of major population centers. These were built and maintained by the labor of non-elite subjects, both for the common good and in the belief that these constructions would win the favor of the gods. Two of the largest known Middle Preclassic temple mounds in Mesoamerica are in the southern Maya area, at Chalchuapa in western El Salvador, and at La Blanca on Guatemala’s coastal plain. Success in war increased the ruler’s prestige and authority. Growth and prosperity led to competition and conflict, as polities attempted to control more land, trade, and people. Polities that controlled vital raw materials often had an advantage. The site of Kaminaljuyu became the dominant Preclassic capital in the Maya highlands by controlling access to obsidian and jade. In the Middle Preclassic the rulers of Kaminaljuyu

William R. Coe (top), James Porter (bottom)

One of the largest structures for its time in Mesoamerica, Mound E3-1 at Chalchuapa, El Salvador (shown as it was in 1954), was constructed in the Middle Preclassic era (ca. 600 BCE) and enlarged in the Late Preclassic (ca. 400 BCE–100 CE).

oversaw the construction of one of the earliest irrigation canals in Mesoamerica to expand agricultural production and their growing capital. Pairs of plain stelae and altars at Naranjo near Kaminaljuyu may mark Middle Preclassic K’atun endings (page 20), as was customary at most Maya capitals in later times. Other Maya polities located along major routes managed the transport, exchange, and redistribution of products. Several lowland sites gained power and prosperity from locations that controlled portages between river trade routes. The Middle Preclassic lowland site of Nakbe was probably among the first to control the strategic route across the base of the Yucatan peninsula. The rulers of Nakbe also ordered the construction of the earliest known causeway in the Maya lowlands. Overall, location and successful economic, social, political, and religious activities were all crucial to the early development of Maya kings and their polities.

The First Maya Kings By the Late Preclassic the first Maya kingdoms had emerged in the southern area, ruled by kings possessing the hallmarks of the powerful kings of the subsequent Classic period. Like their better-known successors, these Preclassic kings left their portraits on carved stone monuments that associated their reigns

with the cycles of time. The earliest known dates in the Maya Long Count calendar come from Late Preclassic sites on the Pacific coastal plain. Monuments at Tak’alik Ab’aj and El Baúl combine carved dates and royal portraits. One El Baúl monument has a Long Count date equivalent to 37 CE. Several Tak’alik Ab’aj monuments have early dates, the best-preserved corresponding to 126 CE (page 20). Kaminaljuyu in the highlands remained the largest of these southern Maya capitals; its Late Preclassic kings ruled their subjects from elaborately carved stone thrones and were depicted on beautifully carved monuments. Undeciphered texts undoubtedly proclaim their achievements and triumphs, like those of their later counterparts. One Excavated broken and battered at the foot of Mound E3-1, Chalchuapa Monument 1 depicts a Late Preclassic ruler accompanied by an extensive but unreadable Maya hieroglyphic text.

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Left, Monument 65 from the powerful highland Maya capital of Kaminaljuyu depicts a succession of Late Preclassic rulers seated on thrones, each flanked by two bound captives. Top right, this artist’s 1977 reconstruction of El Mirador portrays the site as it might have appeared at the height of its power, as the capital of a large lowland polity in the Late Preclassic period (ca. 400 BCE–100 CE). Above middle and bottom, unknown to archaeology until their discovery in 2001, the beautifully preserved murals at San Bartolo, Guatemala, date to ca. 100 BCE and depict the Maya creation myth along with the inauguration of an unidentified king.


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Jonathan Kaplan (left), T.W. Rutledge, National Geographic Society (top right), Kenneth Garrett (right, middle and bottom)

Kaminaljuyu sculpture depicts a succession of three kings seated on thrones, each flanked by pairs of bound captives. To accommodate Kaminaljuyu’s Late Preclassic growth, two huge canals were constructed to increase supplies of irrigation water. The tombs of two of its kings have been excavated, and were found filled with sumptuous goods, jades, hundreds of pottery vessels for offerings, and several human sacrifices. The Maya lowlands also saw the emergence of a series of Late Preclassic kingdoms. The largest had its capital at El Mirador, the hub of a network of causeways that facilitated control over its hinterland. Although no portrait of an El Mirador king has been identified, royal power is amply reflected in the size of the constructions they commissioned. Two temple complexes at El Mirador stand as the largest ever constructed by the Maya. Fragments of carved Preclassic monuments survive in their shadows, at least one with an undeciphered text. Although El Mirador dominated the lowlands, there were numerous smaller Late Preclassic kingdoms spread across the Petén of Guatemala, east into Belize, and north into Yucatan. Like the early states in the southern area, these Preclassic lowland kingdoms were marked by increased size, greater concentrations of power in the hands of kings, and the use of writing to publicly proclaim royal authority and achievements. Late Preclassic Maya kings also reinforced their authority by taking captives in war and hosting ceremonial displays, including feasts, triumphs, and inaugurations. Many of these elements are now stunningly visible in the recently discovered murals at San Bartolo, the capital of a rela-

tively small Late Preclassic kingdom southeast of El Mirador. The mural was found inside a royal building dating to ca. 100 BCE; it depicts scenes from the Maya creation myth marking the beginning of the world, much like the later Maya epic, the Popol Vuh. This saga was an important source of royal authority for later Maya kings, and its presence at San Bartolo testifies to over a millennium of continuity in the Maya institution of kingship. In keeping with its connection with royal authority, the mural culminates by depicting the inauguration of a San Bartolo king. The Late Preclassic period ended with a still mysterious decline that saw disturbances and changes in the economic and political landscape. Most Preclassic capitals declined, and some were abandoned altogether. Several factors contributed to these changes, including environmental problems, population movements, and shifting trade routes. El Mirador collapsed, probably due to overexploitation of local resources that led to repercussions throughout the lowlands. There were changes at Kaminaljuyu, yet it was not abandoned. Trade routes were disrupted and southern capitals never resumed the use of royal monuments with Long Count dates and texts. Decline in the south also probably led to increased lowland trade, which spurred development in several northern regions that ushered in the era of Classic Maya civilization.

Robert Sharer (top), William R. Coe and the Tikal Project (middle), Kenneth Garrett (bottom)

The Time of Kings and Queens Following the major changes that ended the Preclassic era, lowland Maya kings and their kingdoms reached a peak of prosperity and power in the Classic period. These Classic Maya “Lords of Time” fully associated their destinies with the cycles of the Maya calendar. Their carved monuments, often dedicated at the end of each K’atun, used the Long Count calendar to chronicle the events of their reigns. The decipherment of these texts allows us to read the names of individual Maya kings and queens, learn of their life histories and exploits, and recognize their roles within royal dynasties that ruled each lowland kingdom over the cycles of time. Classic Maya kings held the k’uhul ajaw, or “holy lord” title, and belonged to a royal house defined by ancestry and residency in royal palaces. Each k’uhul ajaw presided over a royal court and an administrative hierarchy, which usually included a number of subordinate officials and centers.

Top, this view from the Monumental Plaza in Copan, Honduras, faces south toward the famous Ball Court, beyond which are the Hieroglyphic Stairway and royal Acropolis, the political and ritual center of the kingdom. Middle, these drawings of Tikal Stela 23 (left side, front, right side) depict the only identified female ruler of Tikal. Her name remains unknown, so she is referred to as the Lady of Tikal. Right, Tikal Stela 31 was dedicated to the auspicious Bak’tun ending by Tikal’s 16th king, Siyaj Chan K’awiil II. The king is portrayed on the front while the text on the back recounts the dynastic history of his royal predecessors.

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ltar Q was dedicated by Copan’s 16th ruler, Yax Pasaj Chan Yopaat in 776 CE. The four sides of this carved stone display the portraits of all 16 Copan rulers seated on thrones formed by their name glyphs. The sequence begins with the dynastic founder, K’inich Yax K’uk’ Mo’, whose name is in his headdress and who sits on an ajaw (“ruler”) glyph as he hands the royal scepter to Yax Pasaj with his left hand. K’inich Yax K’uk’ Mo’ is thus portrayed left-handed with a shield on his right arm, matching the evidence of a left-handed male buried in the Hunal Tomb. Behind K’inich Yax K’uk’ Mo’ sits his son, the second ruler of Copan, followed by the rest of the successors, four to a side. The text on the upper surface of Altar Q records the inauguration of K’inich Yax K’uk’ Mo’ on September 5, 426 CE (“he took the k’awiil scepter”) and his arrival in Copan to take the throne five months later (February 8, 427).

Above, the west side of the altar is shown here with K’inich Yax K’uk’ Mo’ facing Copan’s 16th king. Below is a detail showing K’inich Yax K’uk’ Mo’. Note the bar pectoral around his neck; a similar jade bar pectoral was found in the Hunal tomb.


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Maya kings possessed economic, religious, and political power reinforced by a belief that they ruled with the support and approval of the Maya gods in harmony with the cycles of time. Tikal was one of the largest of these newly powerful Early Classic kingdoms in the Maya lowlands. Retrospective texts record a Tikal king named Yax Ehb’ Xook who had founded a new ruling house in the Late Preclassic era, around 100 CE. His origins are unknown, although his name appears at Kaminaljuyu and he may have come from the highlands. Over the following two centuries some ten kings ruled Tikal as the dynastic founder’s successors. By ca. 300 CE Tikal’s prosperity was boosted by links with the powerful city of Teotihuacan in Central Mexico. With the death of Tikal’s 14th king, Chak Tok Ich’aak, in 378 CE, there was a regime change probably orchestrated by Teotihuacan. A new king, Yax Nuun Ahiin, took the throne as the 15th ruler in the line of the dynastic founder. Under its new king Tikal expanded and dominated other lowland polities. One successor of Yax Nuun Ayiin was a queen who dedicated several monuments. Although her name does not survive, she apparently reigned as Tikal’s ruler from 511 to 527 CE. At least two other woman rulers are known from lowland Maya texts. Lady Yohl Ik’nal ruled at Palenque from 583 to 604 CE and Lady Six Sky was regent or ruler at Naranjo from 682 to 693 CE. The site of Copan in western Honduras is a prime example of the expansion of Maya kingdoms in the Early Classic period. The kings of Copan counted their succession from a dynastic founder named K’inich Yax K’uk’ Mo’. The evidence suggests this founder was dispatched to Copan by Tikal to establish an allied kingdom on the southeastern borderlands of the Maya area. Thereafter, Copan with its subordinate center at nearby Quirigua controlled the critical Motagua River trade route and the frontier with Central America. The Copan dynasty is recorded on Altar Q, an extraordinary monument set in the royal Acropolis. Tunnel excavations beneath the Acropolis have discovered palaces and temples from the dynastic founding era, and three inscriptions dedicated by K’inich Yax K’uk’ Mo’s son, Copan’s 2nd king. One of these founding era buildings, the Hunal Structure, is likely the original house and burial place of K’inich Yax K’uk’ Mo’; the Hunal Tomb is covered by a sequence of temples commemorating the founder. One of these, the Margarita Temple, was decorated with a large panel representing the founder’s name. Nearby is an elaborate second tomb along with a hieroglyphic

Kenneth Garrett

Copan altar Q

text and date (437 CE) that refers to K’inich Yax K’uk’ Mo’, which probably holds the burial of the founder’s queen, the mother of Ruler 2. Excavations under Copan’s Hieroglyphic Stairway found another sequence of Early Classic buildings and a carved monument, the Motmot Marker, portraying K’inich Yax K’uk’ Mo’ and Ruler 2. This stone and the later Stela 63 refer to important ceremonies performed by K’inich Yax K’uk’ Mo’ and his son in 435 CE marking the end of a major calendrical cycle, the 8th Bak’tun, and associated the new dynasty’s destiny with the succeeding 9th Bak’tun. The Acropolis excavations show that centralized political power associated with Maya kings began at the very time later texts record the founding of Copan’s royal dynasty. The reigns of Copan’s first eight kings between 426 and 551 CE were marked by huge building efforts that created much of the royal Acropolis. The Acropolis excavations also found the SubJaguar tomb, which may be the burial of the 8th ruler, Wi’ Yohl K’inich (534–551 CE). This tomb was on the west side of a courtyard, opposite a temple with a text recording its dedication by Ruler 8 in 542 CE. Soon thereafter a splendid new temple decorated by painted stucco masks commemorated the central sacred location under the Acropolis established by the founder’s tomb. Nicknamed Rosalila, this temple was eventually buried by an even larger structure. A final temple built by the last Copan King, Yax Pasaj, completed a sequence of seven temples built over the Hunal Tomb that were dedicated to the founder of Copan’s royal dynasty.

Kenneth Garrett

Top right, the Hunal Tomb, under Copan’s royal Acropolis, was discovered and excavated by Penn Museum archaeologists. The male skeleton buried in the Tomb has been identified as the remains of the dynastic founder, K’inich Yax K’uk’ Mo’, who reigned 426–ca. 437 CE. Middle right, after removal of the skull, various jade objects were revealed: a carved bead that had been placed in the founder’s mouth, an ear flare, a ring, and a bar pectoral like that depicted on Altar Q (page 30). Bottom right, this modeled and painted stucco panel from the Margarita Temple represents the name of the founder: K’inich Yax K’uk’ Mo’.

These three offering vessels recovered from the Hunal Tomb testify to the strong ties between Copan and other Maya cities during the dynastic founding era. The two vessels on the right were made in the Tikal region of the Maya lowlands; the Deer Vessel (far left) comes from the Kaminaljuyu region of the highlands and contained chocolate (cacao). A shell scoop in the shape of a hand (second from left) was found inside the Deer Vessel.

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Kenneth Garrett

Left top, Copan’s Margarita Tomb adjacent to the Hunal Tomb was discovered and excavated by Penn Museum archaeologists. The female skeleton buried here has been identified as the dynastic founder’s queen, the mother of Copan’s 2nd king (ca. 465 CE). Middle left, the SubJaguar Tomb (ca. 550 CE) was the first Copan royal burial found and excavated by Penn archaeologists Loa Traxler and Robert Sharer, shown here with Honduran conservator Nando Guerra. Right clockwise, this carved jade head was part of the necklace worn by the queen in the Margarita Tomb, which also contained the Dazzler Vessel seen in a roll out of its painted decoration. In his excavation of the Rosalila Temple at Copan, Honduran archaeologist Ricardo Agurcia found a cache of beautifully crafted flint scepters including this example. Bottom right, these stucco-painted offering vessels were recovered from the SubJaguar Tomb. All photographs by Kenneth Garrett.


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Robert Sharer, Simon Martin (inset)

Tikal Temple I is shown in the foreground. In the background is Tikal’s royal palace. Below, this graphic depicts how the alliances forged by the Kaan dynasty of Calakmul created a ring of allied capitals around Tikal that isolated it from its allies and severed its trade routes.

By the time the Copan dynasty was founded, another power was emerging to the north of Tikal. With possible origins at Late Preclassic El Mirador, the Early Classic Kaan (snake) dynasty settled at Dzibanche. The Kan kings established alliances with a number of lowland polities, eventually displacing several former Tikal allies, until Tikal was encircled by a ring of allied kingdoms. Cut off from its trade links and more distant allies such as Copan and Palenque, Tikal was vulnerable when the Kaan alliance struck and won a decisive victory in 562 CE. Soon thereafter the Kaan kings moved to a new seat of power at Calakmul, located closer to their defeated foe. From their Late Classic capital of Calakmul, the Kaan dynasty and its allies dominated Tikal for over a century. The Kan kings had their greatest successes under Yuknoom Ch’een II (636–686 CE), also known as Yuknoom the Great, during his long and successful reign at Calakmul (see page 15). The power of the Kaan dynasty relied on alliances with client states, without expanding its own territory. Difficulties in communication throughout the expanse of the Maya lowlands probably inhibited the creation of a larger unified state

under its authority. As a result, Calakmul’s political and military control over its allies remained tenuous at best. Even after a series of defeats, Tikal continued its efforts to restore its former prestige and power. The failure of Calakmul to consolidate its political control led to Tikal’s resurgence under its 26th king, Jasaw Chan K’awiil (682–734 CE). In 695 CE Tikal struck back and defeated Calakmul, changing the course of lowland Maya history in one dramatic battle. After burying his father in a splendid tomb under Tikal’s most famous monument, Temple I, Jasaw Chan K’awiil’s successor, Yik’in Chan K’awiil (734–766 CE), reinforced his father’s success by defeating two of Calakmul’s major allies. As a result Tikal regained its ancient east-west trade routes across the lowlands, ushering in a final period of renewed expansion and prosperity.

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Left, Quirigua Stela D depicts K’ak’ Tiliw Chan Yopaat, who captured and ritually decapitated Copan’s king, Waxaklajuun Ubaah K’awiil. The size of the monument can be gauged from the man standing to the right. Right, Copan Stela C was erected by Ruler 13, Waxaklajuun Ubaah K’awiil. The 13th king, known for sponsoring Copan’s greatest assemblage of sculptured monuments, took the throne in 695 CE. Remnants of the stela’s original red paint are still visible.


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Alfred Maudslay (left), Robert Sharer (right)

Although it suffered a mysterious episode of destruction about the same time as Tikal’s defeat, Copan continued to prosper at the beginning of the Late Classic era. Its 13th king, Waxaklajuun Ubaah K’awiil, took the throne in 695 CE, and is known for sponsoring Copan’s greatest assemblage of sculptured monuments. One of these proclaims that Copan ranked with Tikal, Palenque, and Calakmul as the four greatest kingdoms of the Maya world. His final project was rebuilding Copan’s Great Ball Court in 738 CE. But only 113 days after its dedication, Waxaklajuun Ubaah K’awiil was captured and ritually decapitated by his vassal, K’ak’ Tiliw Chan Yopaat of Quirigua. This disaster destroyed Copan’s power monopoly in the southeast. Although Quirigua did not conquer Copan, it did gain its independence. Since it no longer sent tribute to Copan, Quirigua enjoyed unprecedented prosperity thereafter. For the remainder of K’ahk Tiliw Chan Yopaat’s 60-year reign, this newly won wealth and prestige transformed Quirigua through a major rebuilding effort. Meanwhile Copan suffered a severe economic setback by losing the Motagua Valley and its trade route. Copan also lost prestige and power, for the Maya believed the capture and sacrifice of a k’uhul ajaw meant the gods had withdrawn their blessings from the destiny of king and kingdom. How Quirigua defeated its far more powerful superior has long been a mystery. A text on a Quirigua monument provides the likely answer. It states that shortly before its victory

“Tikal Abandoned” by Russell Hoover, was painted for the Penn Museum in 1985. It depicts this once mighty city as it might have appeared soon after the fall of its ruling dynasty. UPM Image #153736.

Quirigua hosted a visit by the king of Calakmul. This suggests an opportunity for Calakmul to offer to help Quirigua defeat Copan, perhaps by providing armed forces. The motive seems obvious: by defeating Copan, one of Tikal’s oldest allies, Calakmul could avenge its defeat by Tikal and gain some of the wealth from the Motagua trade route. Little is known of Waxaklajuun Ubaah K’awiil’s successor at Copan. At Quirigua, K’ak’ Tiliw Chan Yopaat took the title of 14th successor of the dynastic founder and may have even controlled Copan by installing a subordinate king. After its defeat, ruling authority at Copan came from the sharing of power among Copan’s nobles, crippling the power of its kings. The 15th Copan king, K’ak’ Yipyaj Chan K’awiil (749–763 CE), re-established Copan’s prestige by dedicating the famed Hieroglyphic Stairway recording Copan’s former glories. Copan’s 16th king, Yax Pasaj Chan Yopaat (763–ca. 810), dedicated Altar Q and Temple 16, the final temple built over the sacred center of the Acropolis established by K’inich Yax K’uk’ Mo’. Yet the damage to royal authority remained. Yax Pasaj tried to keep his kingdom together by rewarding his nobles with more titles and greater status, but in so doing, he only increased their power at his expense.

Penn Museum

The end of Kings After the victory over Copan, the rulers of Quirigua reigned supreme in the Motagua Valley, controlling the lucrative jade route. In 810 CE the ceremonies marking the auspicious 9.19 K’atun ending were held at Quirigua, where Yax Pasaj visited a reconciled Quirigua king. But the end of the 9th bak’tun in 830

CE was not recorded at either site, for by this time the rulers of both kingdoms had lost their thrones and their subjects had already abandoned Copan and Quirigua to the tropical forest. Tikal’s triumph was also short-lived, and the Terminal Classic kings of Tikal, Calakmul, and the other kingdoms of the Maya lowlands were plagued by a host of threats to their authority. Overpopulation, environmental degradation, and drought brought recurring disasters to their subjects. Many died from famine, disease, and violence. The failure of Maya kings to stave off disaster destroyed their credibility and authority. As the survivors left for better lives elsewhere, the lowland Maya kingdoms were abandoned and their “Lords of Time” disappeared forever. robert sharer is an archaeologist and directed the Penn Museum’s Early Copan Acropolis Program from 1989 to 2003.

For Further Reading Bell, Ellen, Marcello A. Canuto, and Robert J. Sharer, eds. Understanding Early Classic Copan. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Museum, 2004. Estrada-Belli, Francisco. The First Maya Civilization: Ritual and Power before the Classic Period. New York: Routledge, 2010. Houston, Stephen, and Taleshi Inomata. The Classic Maya. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009. Martin, Simon, and Nikolai Grube. Chronicle of the Maya Kings and Queens. Revised edition. London: Thames and Hudson, 2008. Sabloff, Jeremy A., ed. Tikal: Dynasties, Foreigners, and Affairs of State: Advancing Maya Archaeology. Santa Fe: SAR Press, 2003.

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Time beyond Kings


rofound changes within maya society ended the time of kings. Traditionally, kings monopolized the political, economic, and religious power within each Maya state regardless of its territorial extent. These powers were lost in the midst of famine, disease, and violence at the end of the Classic period (ca. 300–900 CE). As their subjects fled from local and regional problems, the kings of polities like Tikal lost upwards of 90 percent of their population by the end of the Classic period. With their authority undermined, and few if any subjects acceding to their rule, the last of the traditional Maya kings vanished. What brought about this unraveling of the supreme authority held by individual kings and their royal houses? Celebrated for generations as semi-divine figures, royal lords anchored the political and religious systems at the heart of each kingdom. Like the towering ceiba tree—which the Maya believed grew at the center of the world and held together the multi-

Tikal, like most other Classic cities in the central Maya lowlands, was abandoned by the beginning of the Postclassic.


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layered heaven, earth, and Underworld—the king connected and interceded with the supernatural forces of the world all around him. Acting to sustain the proper order of daily life and relationships across time and space, Maya kings held immense power over their communities. However, as their kingdoms grew in population, straining local resources and political alliances, the challenges to royal authority increased. Further complicating the strain of managing expanding royal territories and burgeoning populations, the impact of environmental changes—revealed through modern analyses of climate history—certainly pushed some Classic lowland kingdoms to a breaking point. Recent paleoclimate studies indicate severe and persistent multi-year droughts occurred throughout the Yucatan peninsula at the very end of the Classic period. The Maya were able to manage the normal wet-to-dry season fluctuation of rainfall throughout the year, building extensive water management systems as part of their urban centers and farming settlements. Yet all these engineering systems, no matter the scale, relied primarily on annual rainfall to recharge the cisterns, reservoirs, lakes, and wetlands. Analyses of sediment cores from lakes in northern Yucatan, supported by climate data from the southern Caribbean, indicate that a relatively wet period in long-term climate cycles characterized the decades from 550–750 CE. The large Classic-period kingdoms of the lowlands reached their political stride, economic dominance, and height of population by the 8th century CE, sustained by this favorable climate that allowed peak agricultural production. Unfortunately, from 800 to 1000 CE this Classic florescence experienced the driest interval of time in the last 7,000 years throughout the circumCaribbean region. Within this dry period, severe multi-year droughts occurred approximately every 40 to 47 years beginning after 760 CE. Especially severe was a 10-year period around 810 CE. While no one factor seems to have caused the collapse of the 9th century political and religious system of divine kingship,

Kenneth Garrett

By LoA tRAxLeR

the impact of severe drought on kingdoms and the authority of individual rulers throughout the central and southern lowlands must have been significant. An example of the response by kings to reassert their role of sustaining the world order can be seen on Jimbal Stela 1. This monument dedicated in 879 CE (for the half K’atun celebration of presents the ruler of this petty kingdom claiming his descent from the Tikal royal house. (For an overview of the Maya calendar system, see Simon Martin’s article in this issue.) Although archaeology indicates his territory and power were limited, his portrait presents him in a swirl of deity figures interpreted by some scholars to be wrapped in rain clouds. The next stela carved at the site just ten years later to mark the K’atun celebration of in 889 CE had no royal portrait at all, perhaps an indication that rulership for the people of Jimbal had begun to change, and the authority of the king was diminished. The last stela with a clear Long Count date was carved at Tonina for the celebration in 909 CE, while texts at Itzimte and Chichen Itza include dates that point to the end of the Long Count in Yucatan. After this, use of the Long Count for public inscriptions on stela and other royal monuments and architecture ceased, marking the disappearance of Classic Maya kings.

Transformations in Maya Civilization The final pre-Columbian episode of Maya civilization—the Postclassic period (ca. 900–1500 CE)—is characterized by a transformed and less centralized political order. Scholars once described the Postclassic period as a time of cultural decline or decadence because of evidence of new standards of artistic expression and other changes. But viewed on its own terms, the Postclassic was a time of political, economic, and religious transformations, which led to the integration of more widespread Mesoamerican traditions into Maya society and culture. These Postclassic transformations spurred the development of a more cosmopolitan culture based on expanded commerce, communication, and interchange of ideas. Certainly the movements of peoples and the expansion of trade inspired many of these changes. Increased external contacts created new opportunities for the Maya to adopt new technologies, products, religious practices, and political ideas. Whereas the central and southern lowlands saw the rise and florescence of Classic period Maya civilization, the Postclassic was a time of ascendant polities in the northern lowlands and

Casts and Replicas Preserve the Past

Tikal Project, Penn Museum (left), Joya Hairs (right)


asts and molds of ancient sculpture play an important role in preserving art works that are often damaged or destroyed by environmental change and human intervention. A mold was created from the carved face of Jimbal Stela 1, uncovered by the Penn Museum Tikal Project in 1965, and a cast was made from that mold shortly thereafter at the Museum. Tragically, the stone monument at the site in Guatemala was targeted by looters, who destroyed the upper zone of carving in a failed attempt to saw off the carved face of the stela for sale in the antiquities market. The cast at the Penn Museum is the only preserved record of the three-dimensional carved relief that exists today.

Left, Jimbal Stela 1 was uncovered in 1965 and set upright during the field investigations at the site carried out by the Penn Museum’s Tikal Project. Right, tragically, the monument was destroyed by looters attempting to saw the carved face off the stone slab in order to make it lighter in weight for transport to the illicit art market.

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southern highlands. Postclassic states were sustained by new trade routes that linked the Maya lowlands, highlands, and the rest of Mesoamerica. Managing some of these routes were the Chontal Maya of the west coast of Yucatan, who expanded sea-borne trade circulating around the entire coast of the peninsula, linking ports such as Cozumel, Tulum, and Chetumal. Sea-borne commerce provided more efficient and far-reach far-reaching distribution of everyday products, and this Postclassic economy promoted growth and prosperity that transformed Maya society. Across the Maya world, a middle class sector of

This map of the Maya area shows the location of prominent sites during the Postclassic period.


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These pages from The Chilam Balam of Chumayel, one of the Books of Chilam Balam, are examples of native accounts that were written down using European script in the Yukatek Mayan language. Based on preColumbian records, the accounts were recopied and continued to be used during the period after the Spanish Conquest.

craft specialists expanded along with the mercantile economy, and increased prosperity reduced the distinctions separating the elite from the rest of Maya society. The new mercantile economy was reinforced by a multiethnic religion based on the cult of K’uk’ulkan—a feathered serpent deity. With its widespread adoption throughout Mesoamerica, this cult encouraged commercial interaction and communication with a shared stylistic vocabulary. The new religion was less hierarchical and centralized than its predecessors and more focused on family-based ritual and pilgrimages. It required fewer and smaller temples, thereby lessening the huge expenditures for temple construction typical of earlier centuries. The Maya recognized how their society had changed. In Yucatan they recorded how their past was a time when “the course of humanity was orderly.” Thereafter the Maya often despaired of the arrival of new peoples and new ideas: “There were no more lucky days for us; we had no sound judgment.” This comes from a Postclassic Maya chronicle, the Books of Chilam Balam, which records history according to the K’atun cycle of the Maya calendar. For the Maya such records of past events were an important means to compile and understand

Robert Sharer (top left), Jennifer McAuley (map), Princeton Mesoamerican Manuscripts No. 4, Manuscripts Division, Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University (top right)

K’uk’ulkan, a feathered serpent deity depicted by these sculptured temple columns at the site of Chichen Itza, was the focus of a popular religious cult that spread throughout the Maya region during the centuries of the Postclassic period.

Left, Chichen Itza rose to power in the 9th and 10th centuries CE and became an important economic and religious center in the northern Yucatan peninsula. Built for celestial observations and rituals, the Caracol is one of several famous structures at the site. Right, El Castillo temple at Chichen Itza inspired similar temples at other sites throughout the Maya area during the Postclassic period.

the prophecies made for each cycle of time, including the K’atun period of 20 years. Maya histories often present past events as fulfilling the prophecies for a sequence of K’atun endings.

Jane Hickman (left), Kenneth Garrett (right)

New Powers Emerge in Yucatan Even as Classic kings disappeared, a new political order took shape on the coasts, highlands, and plains of the northern Yucatan peninsula—areas resettled by émigrés from the declining traditional lowland kingdoms. These migrations spurred the rise of new polity capitals with more dispersed political, economic, and religious authority. The trend toward a decentralized political system can be seen first at Chichen Itza, where rulers and advisory councils shared power based on the control of critical commodities, corvée and slave labor, strategic warfare, and religion. Rising above the control of the site of Ek’ Balam during the end of the Late Classic period, Chichen Itza became both a major military power and a major religious center, attracting pilgrims from all over Mesoamerica to its shrines. As a cosmopolitan center, Chichen Itza incorporated imagery and glyphic symbols influenced by central Mexican traditions in its inscriptions and public displays, allowing a wider range of visitors to comprehend their meanings. Prominent at the site of Chichen Itza is the building known as the Caracol—a distinctive round structure associated with the wind-deity aspect of K’uk’ulkan from central Mexico. The building’s interior chamber and windows provided sightlines for important celestial observations. Elsewhere at the site the famous structure called El Castillo presents nine terraces and

four radial stairways interpreted to represent the order of the cosmos. Associated with the massive structure on the same expansive platform are the Great Ball Court and Temple of the Warriors, connected by means of a causeway to the Sacred Cenote (deep well). These buildings were the focus of architectural emulation and a destination of religious pilgrimage for generations. The inscriptions of Chichen Itza reveal many changes in the political arena of this northern city. Bishop Diego de Landa’s famous description of Yucatan, penned in the 16th century, mentions the rule of Chichen Itza by a group of brothers. Recent decipherments of the hieroglyphic texts identify two leaders who receive prominent mention: K’ak’upakal and his brother K’inil Kopol. No clear indication of hierarchy between the two contemporary lords is stated in the texts. In addition, a noble family named Cocom appears in the inscriptions associated with multiple shrine buildings during the time of K’atun 1 Ajaw. Almost all the inscriptions at the site fall within a single K’atun, with the last mention of K’ak’upakal dating to 890 CE. Texts also suggest a notion of co-rulership by humans and supernaturals—divinities who protected the lords and gave them power. These inscriptions refer explicitly to the gods and humans as owners and residents of certain buildings. Like most of its Classic predecessors, Chichen Itza eventually succumbed to overpopulation, depleted environments, warfare, and failures of leadership. The decline of Chichen Itza was fully evident by 1050–1100 CE, its ruling house likely overthrown by military conflict and sacking of the capital center. The site continued to be an important pilgrimage destination, access to which was highly sought and controlled by

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descendant elite groups. Yet, after its fall, this city became a legendary inspiration for later capitals, which continued to develop decentralized political systems during the Postclassic period based on the remembered heritage of Chichen Itza. The leaders of new Postclassic polities looked to the past for inspiration and for practical ways to reinforce their authority. At the same time, these leaders succeeded by reformulating the failed socioeconomic, political, and ideological foundations of past Maya states. Their most immediate inspiration was the legendary city of Chichen Itza. During its heyday Chichen Itza reached far beyond the Maya area to secure resources and exchange ideas throughout Mesoamerica. Its successors did the same, and continued to import new products and concepts that fostered further changes to Maya society. After the fall of Chichen Itza, a new capital arose at Mayapan (see page 17), which continued many of the political, economic, military, and religious institutions found at Chichen Itza and which became the dominant power in the northern lowlands. According to The Book of Chilam Balam of Chumayel, Mayapan’s ascendancy over Yucatan spanned one cycle of 13 K’atuns, or 256 years. Its founding took place in K’atun 8 Ajaw (1185–1204 CE), and its earliest architecture dates to this period. Archaeology reveals that Mayapan’s Central Plaza was renovated 13 times—perhaps a new plaza floor was laid as part of the ceremonies marking each new K’atun.


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Mayapan is smaller than its sprawling predecessor, protected by a wall with four gateways enclosing an area of dense settlement that once numbered around 20,000 people. Its major buildings cluster around the central public plaza, and many (including the Temple of K’uk’ulkan) are patterned after those at Chichen Itza, though not as large or as wellconstructed. A round platform in the plaza once supported carved stone stelae dedicated to K’atun-ending ceremonies. Mayapan Stela 1 commemorates the completion of the K’atun in 1185 CE. Temples, shrines, and colonnaded buildings likely served both residential and administrative functions for Mayapan’s elite. Some buildings retain stuccoed decorations and painted murals rendered in the prevailing styles of Postclassic Mesoamerica, reflecting wide-ranging commercial contacts and broadly shared religious concepts. Mayapan controlled much of the coastal salt production— a crucial product throughout Maya history—as well as the source of rare clay that combined with indigo made the highly prized “Maya Blue” pigment. The Mexica, or Aztecs, in Central Mexico imported Maya Blue pigment from Yucatan to decorate buildings in their capital at Tenochtitlan. Mayapan’s merchants traded Maya Blue pigment and other products (cotton textiles, honey, and pottery), along with slaves, for products from western Mexico (including copper bells) and the Maya highlands (especially obsidian and jade). Distribution

Marilyn Masson

Mayapan rose to power after the fall of Chichen Itza. Within its city walls residents constructed the Temple of K’uk’ulkan, patterned after El Castillo at the still-famous pilgrimage center.

Robert Sharer (top), Kenneth Garrett (bottom)

via water-borne commerce centered around ports along the Yucatan coast, although goods were also carried over inland trade routes, supplying communities that repopulated the central lowlands. The Postclassic political system controlled the new economic, military, and religious institutions. Scholars reconstruct the governing system at Postclassic capitals as a collective sharing of power among elite ruling lords, usually in the form of a ruling council. Decision-making and responsibility were shared rather than concentrated in a single individual, although one lord was usually identified as paramount among the ruling council for a time. For Mayapan, an informant describing its leadership to Bishop Diego de Landa in the 16th century referred to 12 priests, each from a prominent family, who controlled the city. The chronicles relate that a new ruling house, anchored by an elite family named Cocom, came to Mayapan in K’atun 13 Ajaw (1263–1283 CE) and took control of the city. The Cocom brought mercenaries from the Tabasco region in Mexico to enforce their authority. Loyalty of the provinces controlled by Mayapan was assured by means of representative captives held in the capital. The Cocom erected large structures similar in design and purpose to the famous buildings of their former capital, including shrines for the cult of K’uk’ulkan. Mayapan became the center for a revived cult of K’uk’ulkan associated with the past glories of Chichen Itza. This is seen in representations of K’uk’ulkan throughout the city and the introduction of distinctive incense burners adorned with modeled deity figures. These Mayapan-style incensarios were traded widely and are found at sites from the Maya lowlands to the Gulf Coast. They remained popular long after Mayapan’s fall; the Spaniards documented their use and destroyed many such “idols,” which they found inside Maya temples. The Book of Chilam Balam of Chumayel records that in K’atun 1 Ajaw (1382–1401 CE) the Cocom expelled another noble family, the Xiu, who likely controlled the K’atun-ending ceremonies at Mayapan. This allowed the ruling Cocom to consolidate their power over all aspects of the Mayapan community and economy. The chronicles also tell how during this time the mercenaries controlled by the Cocom abused the people of Mayapan. Later in K’atun 8 Ajaw (1441–1461 CE) the surviving Xiu at Mayapan revolted against Cocom rule in a famous episode of invitation and ambush. All members of the Cocom ruling house were killed except one who was away on

Above, a modern Christian chapel has replaced the original Postclassic temple that once crowned the summit of this preColumbian substructure in the Maya highlands. Right, this Mayapan-style incense burner adorned with an elaborately modeled and painted Maya deity dates to the Postclassic period.

a trading mission. Archaeology supports this account of sacking the ruling house with evidence of burned buildings and destroyed altars from the period. With this revolt the confederacy of ruling houses and provinces disintegrated. The abandonment of Mayapan occurred during the return of K’atun 8 Ajaw, 256 years after the site’s founding. After the breakup of the Mayapan state, its former provinces returned to a mosaic of independent rivals. These petty states were frequently at war with each other, sometimes triggered by fallout from the revolt against the Cocom that initiated

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Popol vuh and the K’iche’ Creation Story


Mayapan’s downfall. These internal conflicts continued even as the Spanish were attempting to conquer Yucatan, preventing the northern Maya from uniting against the invaders from Spain. Elsewhere the new Postclassic economy revived inland trade routes following major river systems, restoring the fortunes of the Peten Lakes region of the old Classic heartland. This reinvigorated economy supported the rise of several small lowland states that claimed origins from Chichen Itza or Mayapan. In their relative isolation from the coasts, these lowland Postclassic communities remained independent from Spanish control far longer than Maya states in northern Yucatan or in the southern highland area.

new Powers in the Maya Highlands Postclassic populations increased along the coasts of the Maya lowlands as well as in areas of the highlands, which had not seen the expansive kingdoms of the Classic period. Movements of new people into the highlands brought influences from the coast and northern Yucatan, as well as non-Maya areas of Mexico. The K’uk’ulkan religious cult reached the highlands along with other ideas and trade goods associated with Chichen Itza and its successors of the northern lowlands. Postclassic states in the Maya highlands followed a similar course as those to the north, and often traced real or fictive origins back to


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This shows a temple at the ruins of Q’umarkaj (Utatlan) before excavation. Founded in the 15th century by the highland K’iche’ Maya, Q’umarkaj fell to the Spanish Conquistadores in 1524.

Chichen Itza or Mayapan. After ca. 1300 CE, the aggressive K’iche’ Maya state in the central highlands of Guatemala grew rapidly by conquest and political consolidation. Increased warfare across the Maya area forced many Postclassic settlements to more defensible locations. In the highlands, centers typically were located on hills and mountaintops. In the 15th century CE, warriors of the K’iche’ Maya and their chief competitors, the ascendant Kaqchikel, fought for supremacy in the highlands. The Popol Vuh records the history of the K’iche’ and the founding of their capital at Q’umarkaj (or Utatlan) in the 15th century. The Kaqchikel in time defeated the K’iche’ and were in the midst of expanding their territories when the Spanish Conquest halted their independent careers, as it did to the petty states of Postclassic Yucatan.

The Conquest The Spanish Conquest of both the Maya highlands and Yucatan required numerous campaigns, beginning in 1517 CE, and resulted in countless fallen Maya warriors and villagers. The campaign across what is now Guatemala, begun in 1523 by Pedro de Alvarado and continued by his brother Jorge de Alvarado, is the subject of the remarkable Lienzo de Quauhquechollan. Painted by artists from the Puebla region of Mexico, the lienzo (painted cloth) presents both an indigenous map of the territories crossed and the history of the campaign as recorded by these Nahuatl-speaking allies of the Spanish conquistadores.

Robert Sharer

rom the K’iche’ comes perhaps the greatest literary work of the Maya, the manuscript known as the Popol Vuh. Written down in the 16th century and recopied multiple times, the text preserves the creation story and history of the K’iche’ people. The stories of the Hero Twins and their exploits, including their defeat of the Underworld deities as recorded in the Popol Vuh, represent what were likely long recounted poems, oral histories, legends, and myths that accompanied painted books and ceramic vessels depicting scenes from these oral traditions.

Universidad Francisco Marroquín and Banco G&T Continental

These 16th century painted scenes, part of the Lienzo de Quauhquechollan, show the territories crossed by the Spanish and allied indigenous forces who marched with Pedro de Alvarado to conquer the Maya living in what is now Guatemala.

The legacy of conquest in Yucatan was a patchwork of subjugated communities, some defeated in battle, others who submitted without waging war, and a small number of fiercely independent kingdoms. A group of communities around the Peten Lakes, most notably the Kan Ek’ polity, successfully resisted and remained independent of Spanish rule. Even once conquered, however, polities did not always remain loyal to the Spanish crown. The influence of Catholic missionaries and negotiated surrenders held back the final round of military conquest of the interior of the Maya lowlands until the late 17th century. In 1697 a water-borne assault on the Kan Ek’ capital of Tayasal, situated on an island within Lake Petén, brought the last independent Maya kingdom under Spanish control. The centuries of the Postclassic and the early Colonial periods were times of great change, innovation, and accommodation in the Maya world. The influence of new ideas, languages, and technologies shaped the history of mountainous highlands and expansive lowlands. Throughout these centuries, an attention to recording events and interpreting the passage of time resulted in the monuments and chronicles that survive. Through these primary sources, contextualized and augmented through archaeological research, we see the impact of successive arrivals—from Maya groups to the Mexica to the

Spanish Conquistadores—and their continuing influence on the lives of Maya descendants today. loa traxler is Andrew W. Mellon Associate Deputy Director of the Penn Museum and an archaeologist with the Penn Museum’s Early Copan Acropolis Program. She is also Curator of the exhibition MAYA 2012: Lords of Time. For Further Reading Brenner, Mark, Michael F. Rosenmeier, David A. Hodell, and Jason H. Curtis. “Paleolimnology of the Maya Lowlands.” Ancient Mesoamerica 13 (2001): 141-157. Haug, Gerald H., Detlef Günther, Larry C. Peterson, Daniel M. Sigman, Konrad A. Hughen, and Beat Aeschlimann. “Climate and the Collapse of Maya Civilization.” Science 299 (2003): 1731-1735. Kowalski, Jeff, and Cynthia Kristan-Graham, eds. Twin Tollans: Chichén Itzá, Tula, and the Epiclassic to Early Postclassic Mesoamerican World. Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks, Trustees for Harvard University, 2007. Peterson, Larry, and Gerald Haug. “Climate and the Collapse of Maya Civilization.” American Scientist 93(4) (July-August 2005): 322-329. Sharer, Robert J., and Loa P. Traxler. The Ancient Maya, 6th edition. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2006.

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2012 and Beyond By LoA tRAxLeR

Did the Maya predict an apocalypse in 2012? in a word: no. With clear evidence to the contrary, we return to this question and reflect upon why we in a 21st century American society are so strongly drawn to this idea. Western society has long been fascinated with “End of Time” predictions, and we share an underlying human quest for certainty through religious thought and scientific inquiry. A particularly well-developed theme within Judeo-Christian traditions, the idea of an impending Armageddon has been a core tenet of Christianity from its very outset. When the original Judgment Day failed to materialize, a new End of the World was predicted for the year 1000 CE, attended with great anxiety. More recently, dire millennial predictions were revived for the year 2000 CE, and to almost everyone’s great relief, global markets and civilization continued on. The Pre-Columbian Maya did not predict the end of the world would occur in December 2012. This particular interpretation of ancient ideas results from a blending of a precious few Classic-period Maya texts with notions drawn from

A Maya woman wears the traditional-style blouse of her community as she makes her way through the marketplace.

Kenneth Garrett

The present-day Maya culture embraces both ancient and modern traditions.

indigenous Mesoamerican and European writings from the Colonial era, and topped up with speculations from modern writers seeking to fit it all into a predictive package tied to the calendrical-cycle completion date. Yet, as scholars have noted, the remarkable achievements of ancient Maya astronomers—including their ability to accurately predict the movement of Venus and other planets based on naked eye observations—do not imply that their interests were the same as ours or that their interpretations were meant for us. The ancient Maya clearly understood that their Long Count calendar would extend far into the future. They considered themselves the true people created from the ideal substance, maize, and they had no inclination to agonize over a future annihilation event linked to the Long Count cycles. In fact, this calendar system fell out of use among the Maya centuries ago, while other calendar systems continued on. For generations, the Maya looked to their calendars as a way to give shape, order, and meaning to past events and to inform decisions concerning proper timing for things to come. The Long Count—a count of days based on the appearance of the sun, not the movement of other celestial bodies—allowed Classic Maya kings to present themselves within that grand


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Yukatek Maya women meet at their local facility to grind bowls full of maize in order to make tortillas for their families.

A wedding in a Maya community integrates traditions from ancient and modern worlds.

sweep of time and to draw comparisons to events and personages of the past. But the Long Count was not used to predict future events, and the few ancient texts that anticipated the completion event in 2012 did not address what may come; instead they referred to the coming cycle completion as a temporal benchmark framing events and individuals of their time. In fact, the monuments erected at the site of Coba in Yucatan present such an astounding span of Long Count cycles that the upcoming date in December 2012 pales in comparison. Why are we drawn to this idea of cataclysmic events supposedly predicted by ancient people to occur in 2012? Some writers anticipate widespread destruction triggered by a galactic alignment of the sun with the plane of our Milky Way galaxy. Others foresee a cosmic re-awakening and renewal set to begin in 2012. In the latter view, a genuine transformation will follow if proper religious observance and sacrifices occur at the time of the cycle completion. This idea of a transformation resonates with many people and conveys their optimism for the future.

relies on a strong sense of cultural heritage and commitment to expand opportunities. While much remains to be accomplished within the modern nations of the Maya world, Maya individuals and their communities have greater legal and social standing today than at any time over the past 500 years. Among the outcomes of the peace agreements signed in 1996, concluding Guatemala’s long civil war, the human rights of indigenous Maya people were formally recognized and initial steps taken to dismantle the government structures of ethnic discrimination. Maya children now can be educated in their own languages. Maya adults can serve in political office. And indigenous communities have the right to administer their traditional land holdings. In Mexico, Guatemala, and neighboring countries, Maya people are increasingly involved in the research, conservation, and management of their cultural heritage sites. Yukatek archaeologist Huchim finds great satisfaction in his work for the Mexican government overseeing activities at the famous archaeological parks of Uxmal and Chichen Itza near his childhood home. Following in the footsteps of his parents and grandparents, Huchim has worked in archaeology for over 30 years, and he represents a growing number of Maya who hold positions of authority guiding the research programs and workforces at many sites. The year 2012 and those that follow will be momentous, but not because of the turn of the 13th Bak’tun. The engagement of the Maya in regional and national political and economic affairs will shape their future, and establish greater representation of diverse communities within modern nations. With access to education, healthcare, and economic opportunities for households and communities, Maya traditions will continue to enrich our global heritage.

Kenneth Garrett

What will happen in December 2012? As Yukatek archaeologist José Huchim Herrera commented, “The Maya today do not worry about what will happen. We are not worried, because the date is simply the ending of a long period and the beginning of a new cycle.” In his mind, the event is cause for celebration, rather like New Year’s Eve, with a positive sense of hope for individuals, family, and friends. Indeed, the new cycle beginning in 2012 is an opportunity for greater awareness of the world around us, and a time to be more conscious of our impact on the environment and our legacy for future generations. For Huchim, along with countless Maya and others who work in collaboration with them, the future, beginning in 2012,

loa traxler is Curator of the exhibition MAYA 2012: Lords of Time.

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The Modern Maya and Recent History By RichARd m. LeventhAL, cARLoS chAn eSPinoSA, And cRiStinA coc

Top, Maya from the community of Indian Creek in Belize gather to hear news of a judgment on land rights. Bottom, the Cortez dancers—young girls and boys—take a break while performing an indigenous dance from the southern Belize region.


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Cristina Coc


he maya are generally thought of in relation to their distant past—a past of great cities with towering stone pyramids rising up out of dense jungle. Exploring further, one encounters a complicated writing system, beautiful pottery, carved stelae, and elaborate ceremonies and rituals. Indeed, the history of the Maya began in ancient times ca. 2000 BCE and has continued with many important cultural developments into the modern world today. The Maya still live in their ancestral homelands in southern Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. In addition, local and world politics, along with current economic systems have resulted in the movement of some Maya people to southern California (San Diego and Los Angeles), San Francisco, Houston, Miami, Chicago, and many other parts of the world. Several historical narratives have been commonly associated with the Maya, including the notion that the Maya no longer exist. One narrative explains that as the great cities of Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, and Belize collapsed and were abandoned (ca. 850–900 CE), the Maya people and culture disappeared. This abandonment, often thought of as one of the great mysteries of the ancient world, is frequently taught in schools, when students learn about the Americas prior to the arrival of the Europeans. In this narrative, the Maya are mixed together with the Aztecs, Incas, and other cultures of the ancient Americas. As the anthropologist Eric Wolf might say, they become a people without history. The second narrative suggests that the collapse of the Maya cities of the southern lowlands was not the end of the Maya people or culture. Rather, the Maya of the Guatemala highlands

Don Owen-Lewis (top), Richard M. Leventhal (bottom images)

and of the northern lowlands, in the area of the Yucatan Peninsula, maintained their cultural traditions. During the Postclassic Period (ca. 900–1520 CE), important Maya centers—Chichen Itza and Mayapan in the north and Utatlan and Zaculeu in the Guatemala Highlands—continued to develop. These cities extended their influence beyond Central Mexico and were connected to the entire Mesoamerican world. However, by the time the Spanish arrived at the beginning of the 16th century, the Maya civilization had fragmented into many small city-states. With the appearance of the Spanish, disease rapidly depopulated the region and ultimately destroyed the Maya people. A third account comes closest to what actually transpired. Even after the initial collapse in 850/900 CE, the subsequent fragmentation of their culture during the Postclassic period, and the destruction caused by the Spanish and by disease, the Maya continued to exist in Central America. But they were forced to convert to Catholicism, were seen as a faceless labor force, and were persecuted and made to live as a permanent underclass— first under Spanish control and later within the political systems of independent Central American nations. This narrative—of devastation by disease and persecution by Spanish conquistadors and modern governments—provides a framework for the lives of Maya people today. During the last 500 years, the Maya have been an underclass: oppressed by the Spanish, other Europeans, Ladinos (non-indigenous peoples of the region), and even by their own people. Fortunately, this situation has begun to change. The Maya make up a majority of the population in Guatemala and have become important members of the political power structure. In addition, Maya men and women have been elected to the Belize National Assembly, and to governorships and other official political positions within the Mexican states in the Yucatan Peninsula. However, today in Chiapas, the Zapatista rebellion—focused on Maya self-determination throughout the region—continues in opposition to the political power in Mexico. To illustrate the current situation within some Maya communities, we present two stories that illuminate the Maya struggle for self-identity as well as the fight for political, social, and economic power and self-determination. Both of these stories have roots that go back several hundred years.

Above, the Cortez dancers are named after Hernán Cortés, one of the Spanish conquistadors who colonized the Americas. Below left, the Tihosuco Church was partially destroyed during the Caste War, but its remains serve as a reminder of this period. Below right, a statue of Jacinto Pat, one of the first leaders of the rebellion, is located in the central plaza in Tihosuco.

Rebellion and Heritage As one travels around the Mexican states of Quintana Roo, Campeche, and Yucatan, almost every town and village show scars from the Caste War: the armed conflict and rebellion that began in the region around 1847 CE. One of the largest and most successful indigenous rebellions in the world, the Caste War extended into the 20th century and, in many respects, continues today. Within the main square of the small town of Tihosuco in Quintana Roo, the inner sanctuary of the church is open to the outside elements with a missing end wall and roof, destroyed during the rebellion. It remains unrepaired to serve as a reminder of the war. Nearby in this same square stands a

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statue of Jacinto Pat, one of the early leaders of the rebellion who was from Tihosuco. Pat is shown holding a sharpened machete ready for battle. Down the road in the neighboring town of Tepich, there is a statue of one of that town’s favorite sons, Cecelio Chi. And behind the town’s church is a walled cemetery with a plaque on the outside indicating the location of Chi’s grave. Although common in the tourist centers of Cancun or Chichen Itza, statues of ancient Maya people are absent from Tihosuco and Tepich. In some towns there may be wall murals that celebrate the ancient Maya, but these are generally overshadowed by murals in public buildings showing the Maya during the time of rebellion and conflict. The Maya people of Yucatan are focused more on their recent history and attempts to regain power and self-determination than on their distant past. One might say that the ancient Maya are celebrated more for the tourism and economic clout they bring to the region, than for the role they play in providing cultural and social continuity to the modern Maya world. The Caste War began on the dry limestone flats of the Yucatan Peninsula in the mid-19th century. The causes of the rebellion are numerous: internal Mexican politics, economic hardships of the Maya, repression exerted by Yucatecos (local population of European descent) over the Maya, and increased and constant taxation. In 1847, as the Yucatecos debated aligning Yucatan with Mexico rather than creating an independent state, concern grew over the potential for an indigenous rebellion. Based upon this fear, a Yucateco army set fire to the town of Tepich, suspected to be one of the centers of the rebellion,


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Carlos Chan Espinosa, one of the authors of this article, is the Director of the Museo de la Guerra de Castas (Museum of the Caste War) located in the town of Tihosuco in the state of Quintana Roo, Mexico.

Museo de la Guerra de Castas (Caste War Museum)


he Caste War Museum, created in 1993 by the government of the state of Quintana Roo, Mexico, is located in the town of Tihosuco about 70 kilometers south of Valladolid. It is focused on the presentation and preservation of the cultural heritage of the region. The museum exhibits Caste War artifacts, drawings, photographs, dioramas, and text panels. It presents the complex background and causes of the rebellion, leading directly to a discussion of the battles and the people of this time period. The Caste War Museum has become a focal point for cultural activities in the local community and it is part of the curriculum for local school groups.

and an indigenous leader, Manuel Antonio Ay, was captured and killed. Jacinto Pat and Cecelio Chi gathered men and resources at Culumpich, Pat’s hacienda, and on July 30, 1847, they attacked the Yucateco forces in Tepich. In a letter from 1848, Jacinto Pat wrote: It would be well if the lands of Yucatan were divided as you suggest to me because we are already tired of seeing so much death. For that reason we want peace, without being at war. It is because the whites began it, because

Randi Ragsdale

The “Talking Cross,” which energized those who fought in the Caste War, is now lost. However, the Shrine of the Talking Cross still stands in Felipe Carillo Puerto, formerly called Chan Santa Cruz.

This is the original entrance arch to Culumpich, the hacienda of Jacinto Pat. Culumpich holds great significance to the modern Maya of this region.

what we want is liberty and not oppression, because before we were subjugated with the many contributions and taxes (pagos) that they imposed upon us. — —February 18, 1848 letter to John Kingdom and Edward Rhys of Belize, from Maya Wars, p. 51.

And later, Pat described the situation that eventually led to war:

Richard M. Leventhal (left), Museo de la Guerra de Castas (right)

With great respect I wish to inform you that here in Yucatan we suffer the evils and harms of the Spanish. They kill the poor Indians as they kill animals, but not all the Spanish; they who did so were well known, whether great or small. For this cause the eastern Indians and all their companions in Yucatan rose up, but they did no harm to all the Spanish, only to those who were cruel to the Indians. Furthermore, for some time they have paid contributions but received poor treatment. —July 11, 1848 letter to Modesto Mendez, from Maya Wars, pp. 55–56.

Although multiple Maya factions worked in concert during the war, their forces were never truly united. By mid-1848, the Yucatan elite had been driven to Merida where preparations were being made to flee the peninsula, leaving it entirely in Maya hands. But soon thereafter the Maya withdrew and the Mexican/Yucateco forces regained control of much of the region. The reasons for the Maya retreat or defeat are unclear; scholars have argued that the Maya did not have the resources for a prolonged war or that their supply lines were stretched to the breaking point. And some have suggested that the Maya simply left the battlefield when it was time to plant their fields. Both Jacinto Pat and Cecilio Chi were killed, not in battle but

by internal, competing Maya factions as the Maya were pushed back. In 1850, the Maya were nearly defeated and had been driven to the very edges of the region. However, in the forests of eastern Yucatan a new town at Chan Santa Cruz developed around the cult of the Talking Cross. This cross became the No known photographs spiritual and military symbol of Jacinto Pat exist. This for the Maya as they rebounded drawing is commonly in battle. A small independent used to represent him. state was declared around Chan Santa Cruz, and this entity and others remained outside the control of the Mexican government into the 20th century. Some would argue that the rebellion continues even today within the Yucutan. The Zapatista rebels of nearby Chiapas have indicated their strong connection to the rebellious past of the Yucatan. Also, many of the underlying causes for the Caste War still exist in the region.

Penn Museum Project in Tihosuco


cooperative project has been started in Tihosuco to focus on the identification and preservation of some of the important remaining artifacts and symbols of the Caste War. The project falls under the auspices of the Museo de la Guerra de Castas and the Penn Cultural Heritage Center of the Penn Museum and is initially focused upon the sites of Culumpich, Jacinto Pat’s hacienda and the starting point for the rebellion, and the nearby town of La’al Kaj, abandoned during the rebellion. This project will identify and preserve these sites and associated artifacts. At the same time, it will evaluate the economic future of the region, creating a development model that will allow for both the economic sustainability of Tihosuco and the region, as well as Maya control of their heritage and their future.

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Traditional Maya Lands in Southern Belize The second story of the modern Maya continues to play out today. The Maya people of southern Belize and the government of Belize are locked in a long-standing legal, political, and social fight about rights and the nature of identity in the 21st century. In 2007, the Maya people of southern Belize won a landmark legal case when the Supreme Court of Belize affirmed their rights to control traditional lands and the resources on and below those lands. This decision, based on the Constitution of Belize and relevant international law, provided for permanent control of a large swath of land in southern Belize by indigenous Maya people. This would benefit the Maya, allowing them to control external exploitation of the rainforest and other natural resources including lumber and oil. A few months after the Supreme Court handed down this decision, the people of Belize went to the polls and elected a new national government. The Maya people, represented by the Maya Leaders Alliance and the Toledo Alcaldes Association, hoped that this new government would affirm the legal decision and would work to implement it. However, it rapidly became clear that the Belize government would appeal the decision. A second, similar case was presented to the Belize Court in 2010. The government argued that the Maya of southern Belize—both Kekchi and Mopan—were relatively recent immigrants into Belize and therefore did not deserve this land any more than any other group in the country. Belize, according to this argument, was unpopulated in the 17th and 18th centuries and is therefore a country of recent immigrants. But the Maya disagreed. As stated by Cristina Coc, then head of the Maya Leaders Alliance, We have known from the outset that the government does not agree with us. We knew that they would fight us to the highest courts.…the Prime Minister said that a few times publicly. So we anticipated coming back to the Court of Appeals. We’re here to continue to defend our right to life…our right to those lands and resources that we call our home. We’re here to continue to express our disappointment with how the government has violated our rights, with how the government has refused to respect and to recognize us as a people. Maya people are not asking for special rights. There is nothing special about Belizeans having a right to property and property of any kind. Maya people are Belizeans…and their rights need to be respected.—March 17, 2011, Channel 5 Belize.


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The Belize land case goes back many years. Its roots can be found in the first attempt to organize the Maya of southern Belize in the 1970s and 1980s with the creation of the original Toledo Maya Cultural Council (TMCC) headed by Diego Bol and Primitivo Coc. As the Maya population began to grow within southern Belize, questions relating to land, control of resources, and long-term land preservation began to be asked. In 1996, the TMCC, with Julian Cho at its head, filed a claim against the Belize government. This claim sought to provide title to traditional lands and resources, within the Toledo District, to the Maya people and communities. In addition, the claim challenged the constitutionality of the government’s actions in granting concessions for logging or access to other resources on these lands. This was a direct challenge to the actions of the Belize Ministry of Natural Resources that had granted logging concessions for 500,000 acres of rainforest to two Malaysian companies. This claim languished in the courts as the Attorney General for Belize never brought the case forward. In the meantime, the Maya submitted a petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, requesting that the Commission either mediate a resolution or find that the government of Belize was in violation of human rights. When mediation failed, the Commission issued a final report in 2004 that clearly stated that the government had violated human rights laws and that indigenous peoples have collective property rights over traditional lands and resources. When this report brought no response from the government, the Maya people were forced to re-enter the Belize legal system, filing a grievance in 2007, as noted above. The court’s landmark ruling in favor of the Maya, however, did not mark the end of this saga. The second land case was heard at the beginning of 2010. And on June 28, 2010, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in Belize, Dr. Abdulai Conteh, affirmed the traditional land rights of the Maya people of southern Belize. He stated, “that Maya customary land tenure exists in all Maya villages in Toledo and where it exists, gives rise to collective and individual property rights under…the Belize Constitution” (Judgment of the Supreme Court of Belize, 2010). The Maya had won a second legal victory. As the original 1996 claim potentially had a major impact on logging within the proposed homeland in southern Belize, the 2010 decision affects recent petroleum concessions on this land granted by the government of Belize to an energy company from the United States, US Capital Energy.

Even now, this dispute has not been resolved nor is it moving towards a mediated solution. Rather, the government has appealed the 2010 decision with hearings held in 2011. One last possibility exists to resolve this case—the Appeals Court of the Caribbean Court of Justice that, in 2001, replaced the Privy Council of the United Kingdom as the court of last appeal. The Maya people of southern Belize continue the struggle to gain control over the land and resources that were and are traditionally theirs. For the Maya this is a struggle for self-determination, cultural identity, and economic sustainability.

Millions of Maya people live in Central America and throughout the world. The Maya are not a single entity, a single community, or a single ethnic group. They speak many languages including Mayan languages (Yucatec, Quiche, Kekchi, and Mopan), Spanish, and English. However, the Maya are an indigenous group tied both to their distant past as well as to events of the last several hundred years. During their most recent history, the Maya have become an almost permanent underclass of the region. The future of the Maya is not based solely upon their past, but is organized around their desire for cultural and economic self-determination in the future.

Louise Krasniewicz (top), Cristina Coc (middle), Richard M. Leventhal (bottom)

richard m. leventhal is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania, Curator in the American Section at the Penn Museum, and Founder and Director of the Penn Cultural Heritage Center. carlos chan espinosa is Founder and Director of the Museo de la Guerra de Castas in Tihosuco, Mexico. Espinosa is also co-director of the Caste War Cultural Heritage Project. cristina coc is a member of the Maya Leaders Alliance in Punta Gorda, Belize. For Further Reading Channel 5 Belize (online). “Mayas from 38 Villages Appear in Appeals Court over Land Rights,” March 17, 2011. Conteh, Abdulai (Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Belize). Claim number 366 of 2008, Judgment of the Supreme Court of Belize, 2010. Top, in 2008, a conference on Indigenous Perspectives on Cultural Heritage was held at the Penn Museum. Cristina Coc is seated in the middle (white blouse). Richard Leventhal is standing, second from left. Middle, Cristina Coc is one of several Maya leaders who are organizing the fight for control of traditional Maya lands in southern Belize. Bottom, Maya demonstrations in favor of land rights take place in Belize.

Rugeley, Terry, ed. Maya Wars: Ethnographic Accounts from Nineteenth-Century Yucatán. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2001. Wolf, Eric R. Europe and the People without History. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982.

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book news & reviews

Bringing Maya Sculpture to Life The Copan Sculpture Museum: Ancient Maya Artistry in Stucco & Stone by Barbara W. Fash (Cambridge: Peabody Museum Press, 2011). 216 pp.; paperback. $35.00, 198 color illus., 34 line illus., 35 halftones, 2 maps; Spanish edition also available. ISBN 978-0-87365-858-4

reviewed by sarah kurnick, Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Anthropology, University of Pennsylvania. Copan is among the most well-known, frequently visited, and extensively excavated archaeological sites in the ancient Maya world. In 1996, the Copan Sculpture Museum opened, providing visitors an opportunity to see examples of the site’s most important and most impressive sculptures, architectural facades, and monuments. The Copan Sculpture Museum: Ancient Maya Artistry in Stucco & Stone began as a visitors’ guide to the museum, but expanded into a wider consideration of the sculpture at Copan. In this volume, Barbara Fash provides detailed descriptions and iconographic interpretations of the various objects on display. She places these objects into their broader archaeological context, suggesting what questions they pose and what answers they provide about ancient Maya society. Written for the general public, The Copan Sculpture Museum serves as an enticing entry into the art of Copan, as a photographic atlas of the museum’s exhibits, and as a model of how archaeological research can and should be disseminated to non-specialists. Divided into 12 chapters, the book discusses the genesis of the museum, the history of archaeological research at Copan, the various thematic elements to which the exhibits allude— including warfare, the Underworld, and fertility, among others—and the involvement in the museum by the modern Copan community. The chapters provide archaeological context for a consideration of the exhibits, and the exhibits provide an entry point for chapters about various aspects of ancient Maya society.


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Although never explicitly stated, several themes run through the book and are worthy of mention. The first is the importance of making archaeology accessible. Fash offers an easily understandable, extensively illustrated text about the making of a museum that brings Copan’s sculpture to life. The second theme is the fragility of the archaeological record and the need for its active preservation. Through photographs, Fash documents some of the destruction that has occurred at the site since archaeological research began there in the 19th century. She thereby effectively underscores the importance of endeavors—such as the creation of the sculpture museum— designed to preserve the site and its artifacts and to protect them against future damage. The final and perhaps most important theme is the emphasis on people as the fundamental objects of archaeological inquiry and main beneficiaries of archaeological research. At various junctures, Fash emphasizes that the value of Copan’s sculpture is found not in the physical stucco, stone, and clay, but rather in the insights the sculptures provide about past societies and the appreciation they inspire in, the economic opportunities they bring to, and the sense of cultural heritage and community identity they foster among, modern groups. The stated goals of the book are to offer a detailed archaeological context for the museum exhibits, to provide an introduction to the history and culture of the ancient Maya, and to demonstrate the value of working with local communities to preserve cultural heritage. Fash achieves these goals and accomplishes much more. This publication is a welcome addition to the literature about the ancient Maya.

museum mosaic

People, Places, Projects MAYA 2012: Lords of Time Exhibition Wins NEH Award

This rendering by Samuel Anderson Architects shows a cross-section of the soon-to-be renovated Widener Lecture Hall.

Penn Museum

Widener Lecture Hall to Reopen in Spring 2013 Thanks to a magnificent lead gift from Ingrid A. and Donald C. Graham, and deeply generous additional support from A. Bruce and Margaret Mainwaring, Widener Lecture Hall will undergo a full restoration and reopen, fully climate controlled and with state-of-the-art audio-visual facilities, in spring 2013. The largest lecture hall on the University of Pennsylvania campus when it opened as part of the Museum’s original building in 1899, Widener Hall was lost to public view several decades ago when it was used first as offices for faculty in the Anthropology Department, and then as a woodshop for the Museum’s Exhibits Department. Following the renovation designed by Samuel Anderson Architects of New York City, Widener Lecture Hall will accommodate approximately 190 people on the main floor and in a third floor balcony for lectures and performances; it will also be available for Museum, University, and private events, seating up to 110 for dinner on the main floor and stage.

Lead support for the Penn Museum’s MAYA 2012: Lords of Time exhibition is provided by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor. Penn Museum was honored to be selected for a maximum award implementation grant of $400,000— $200,000 outright and $200,000 in federal matching funds— through the highly competitive, panel-reviewed program. MAYA 2012: Lords of Time was developed by Loa Traxler, Curator; Simon Martin, Co-Curator, and an exhibition team led by Kate Quinn, Director of Exhibits. It was based on Dr. Traxler’s original exhibition concept “The Ancient Maya City,” funded by a planning grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities awarded in July 2009. The planning grant made it possible for the Museum Exhibition Team and the Exhibition Advisory Team, including scholars from Honduras and throughout the United States, to meet in Philadelphia and Copan, further strengthening the strong international partnerships among the academic experts whose scholarship informs the project.

New Classroom Programs Promote Collaborative Learning School children in kindergarten through ninth grade are thinking like archaeologists and exploring their creativity at the Penn Museum. In November 2011, the Community Engagement Department unveiled a classroom dedicated exclusively to its expanded field trip offerings. The classroom, constructed with donated funds from long-time supporters Annette Merle-Smith and Josephine Klein, is designed to accommodate arts-based and presentation-style programming. The highlight of the room is the SMART Board, a

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museum mosaic

large touch-screen whiteboard programmed for collaborative and interactive learning. For a complete listing of Classroom Workshop and Art and Artifact Workshop program offerings, browse the 2011–2012 Trip Planner at: documents/penn_museum_trip_planner.pdf

FAMILY SECOND SUNDAYS PROGRAM OFFERS HANDS-ON ACTIVITIES Children and their families are expressing their creativity, exploring the galleries in engaging ways, and investigating touchable artifacts at the Penn Museum. The inaugural program, entitled Family Second Sundays, welcomes visitors to

drop in for crafts and activities on the second Sunday of each month through April 2012. From October through January, this intimate program welcomed approximately 120 visitors, many of whom were first-time visitors to the Museum. The program is coordinated by Program Manager Jennifer Reifsteck and volunteers. All activities are free with Museum admission donation.

Williams Director’s Circle ($50,000 and above) Donald C. and Ingrid A. Graham Barbara D. and Michael J. Kowalski A. Bruce and Margaret R. Mainwaring Charles K. Williams II, Ph.D.

Penn Museum is pleased to take this opportunity to acknowledge the following members of the Loren Eiseley Leadership Giving Society at the very highest Williams Director and Platinum Circle levels. The Loren Eiseley Leadership Giving Society recognizes individual donors who provide annual, unrestricted support of the Penn Museum’s operations of $1,500 or more.


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Williams Director’s Circle ($25,000–$49,999) Peter G. Gould and Robin M. Potter Curtis S. Lane and Stacey Rosner Lane, Esq. Bernard and Lisa Selz Gregory A. Weingarten Jeffrey Weiss and Jill Topkis Weiss Platinum Circle ($10,000–$24,999) Lois and Robert M. Baylis Cummins Catherwood, Jr., and Susan Catherwood

Winnie Chin and Michael Feng David T. Clancy and McCarroll Sibley Greg Danilow and Susan F. Danilow, Esq. Betty S. Gerstley, M.D. Janet F. Haas, M.D., and John O. Haas Jacqueline W. Hover and John C. Hover II Diane von Schlegell Levy and Robert M. Levy Bonnie Verbit Lundy and Joseph E. Lundy, Esq. Gail P. Manning and Frederick J. Manning, Esq. Annette Merle-Smith Carlos L. and Renee Nottebohm Adolf A. Paier and Geraldine Paier, Ph.D. Frances and John R. Rockwell Douglas C. Walker Schuy Wood and Theodore V. Wood, Jr. Mo and Nanou Zayan

Penn Museum (left), Joseph Balmos (right)

Victor Balmos wears a replica Corinthian helmet and bronze greaves at Greek Vase Family Sunday.

Jennifer Reifsteck, School Programs Manager, works with students using the Museum’s new SMART board.

looking back

Pe nn M us eum


lfred P. Maudslay (1850–1931) was a British explorer credited with the first systematic excavations of Maya ruins. Between 1881 and 1894 he carried out eight expeditions in the Maya area, working at sites such as Tikal, Quirigua, Copan, and Yaxchilan. The results of his work were published between 1889 and 1902 in the Biologia Centrali-Americana. During the course of Maudslay’s work, he took photographs and made molds of many Maya monuments, casts from which are now in the British Museum. He worked extensively with British artist Annie Hunter (1860–1927), who drew inscriptions and artifacts, and prepared the plates for his book. Penn Museum obtained the Hunter material from her sisters in 1928; it consists of a number of drawings and mock-ups of plates from Maudslay’s books, including the photograph presented here.

Stela 1 at Copan, Honduras, as found by Alfred P. Maudslay, 1880s. A Honduran man stands next to the stela for scale. UPM Image #228287.

— Alessandro Pezzati, Senior Archivist w w w .p e nn.m us e um /e xp e dit io n


Presented by the Penn Museum in partnership with the Instituto Hondure単o de Antropologia e Historia of the Republic of Honduras. Penn Museum gratefully acknowledges the individuals, corporations, foundations, and media sponsors who have partnered with us to make this extraordinary exhibition possible: PRESENTING UNDERWRITER


Selz Foundation PARTNERING UNDERWRITERS Mrs. Louis C. Madeira IV, in honor of Dr. Peter D. Harrison A. Bruce and Margaret Mainwaring SUPPORTING UNDERWRITERS Martha M. Duran and Luis Fernandez Renee and Carlos Nottebohm Mexican Society of Philadelphia EDUCATION PARTNERS Aker Shipyard The Christian R. and Mary F. Lindback Foundation Annette Merle-Smith PNC Foundation Malcolm Hewitt Wiener Foundation HOTEL PARTNER Host Hotels and Resorts LANGUAGE SERVICES PARTNER Global Arena MEDIA PARTNERS


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Become a member today and enjoy free tickets to MAYA.2012: Lords of Time! Explore our world-class Collection, learn from our renowned curators and researchers, and enjoy exclusive events as only a Penn Museum member can. Members receive exclusive privileges,including: • FREE* tickets to MAYA.2012: Lords of Time • Free general admission to the Museum all year long • Invitations to members-only events • Discounts at the Shops and the Pepper Mill Café. ONLINE: ONSITE: Visit any Admissions Desk PHONE: 215.898.5093

Ancient Prophecy or Modern Myth? World Premiere


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MAY 5, 2012 – JANUARY 13, 2013



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Wilderness Travel Special Events Presents

World of the Maya: Cycles of Time A Symposium & Tour Program December 19–31, 2012

A Once In A 5,126-Year Event For a Full Color Brochure or to make your reservation, email or call 1-800-368-2794.

Don’t miss it!

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Featuring Anthony Aveni, PhD, Susan Milbrath, PhD, Harvey Bricker, PhD, Victoria Bricker, PhD, Karl Taube, PhD, and Alfonso Morales

The Maya Mystery of 2012 On December 21, 2012, after 13 baktuns (5,126 years), the great cycle of the Maya Long Count calendar comes to an end—to begin anew. Our symposium offers extraordinary access to renowned Mayanist scholars as they share lively talks on Maya concepts of time, astronomy, and archaeology, and lead us on in-depth excursions to ethereal Uxmal and the nearby Puuc Route.

• Three-day symposium at magnificent Uxmal, with its grand Palace of the Governor, precisely aligned with the planet Venus, and the soaring “Pyramid of the Magician” • Six of the world’s top Mayanists sharing their expertise through presentations, excursions, and informal conversations • Choice of five exciting post-symposium tours across the Maya world, escorted by one of our Mayanist scholars


NEW IN THE GALLERIES AT THE PENN MUSEUM Run! Super-Athletes of the Sierra Madre March 31, 2012–September 30, 2012 MAYA 2012: Lords of Time May 5, 2012–January 13, 2013

philadelphia, pa 19104-6324, u.s.a.

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A special issue of Expedition magazine celebrating 125 years of exploration by the Penn Museum

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Expedition magazine - The Special Maya Issue  

Learn more about the exhibiton MAYA 2012: Lords of Time at

Expedition magazine - The Special Maya Issue  

Learn more about the exhibiton MAYA 2012: Lords of Time at