The Birth Date of Copan’s Ruler 12? 1

The two lowermost steps of Copan’s Hieroglyphic Stairway record two historical dates separated by over a hundred years in time. The earlier of the two appears only briefly on Step 2 as the abbreviated record “9 Kawak” (written as the head of Chahk — a nice variant). An associated Distance Number bridges this highly reduced statement with a full long count record of 9.13.18.17.9 12 Muluk 7 Muwaan. Although damaged, the DN is best reas as 5.7.10.10, resulting in this likely reconstruction of the initial date:

9.8.11.6.19 9 Kawak 7 Mak (Step 2)
+ 5.7.10.10
9.13.18.17.9 12 Muluk 7 Muwaan (Step 1)

The last date is the initial dedication of the stairway in 710 A.D., corresponding to the time Waxaklajuun Ubaah K’awil (Ruler 13) constructed the “Esmeralda” phase of Structure 10L-26 over the tomb of his illustrious father, Ruler 12. It seems the son designed this temple and the associated stairway inscription as a commemorative monument and funerary shrine for his predecessor, who had died some fifteen years earlier.

There’s little doubt that the earlier of the two dates was recorded more fully in the steps just above Step 2, perhaps among the very eroded glyphs found on Step 5. At least the abbreviated “9 Kawak” implies such an fuller record somewhere nearby. Much of the text on Steps 1-7 treat Ruler 12’s reign — his accession and death are both recorded on Step 7 — so it seems likely that the early 9 Kawak date would be relevant to that ruler’s history. In fact, there seems good reason to consider 9.8.11.6.19 as Ruler 12’s birth. His age upon death would have been 91 years, and we know from several inscription that Ruler 12 lived to be a “Five K’atun Lord” — that is, to some age within his fifth K’atun of life (between 80 and 100). This was an important title for the king, so basic to his historical identity, in fact, that “Five Katuns” repalces his personal name glyph on the side of Altar Q.

The case is circumstantial but strong. Even if the date proposed here is incorrect, the timespan recorded in the DN suggsests the last two steps of the Hieroglyphic Stairway juxtapose Ruler 12’s distant birth with his son’s construction of “the steps for his tomb” many years later in 710.

One comment

  1. Good morning, David. Do you know if there is any drawing or photograph of step 2 of hieroglyphic stairway that can be consulted, to appreciate the variant of Chahk as the day Kawak?

    William Mex

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