Early Classic Co-Rulers on Tikal Temple VI 1

by Simon Martin, University of Pennsylvania Museum

The oversized inscription that runs down the back and sides of Tikal Temple VI—featuring the largest glyphs in the Maya world—presents many problems of interpretation, although most of them a simple consequence of its highly dilapidated condition (Figure 1). Three studies have established key details of its chronology and subject matter (Berlin 1951; Jones 1977:53-55; Stuart 2007a), but a number of problematic areas remain. Photographs and field drawings dating to 1965, now held in the Tikal Archive at the University of Pennsylvania Museum, offer an important resource for further investigation. I rely on these materials to examine a single extended passage that runs from C13-D19, a section that refers to a fascinating period in the dynastic governance of Tikal (Figure 2).(1)

Figure 1. Tikal Temple VI, back of roof comb (Photograph by Jorge Pérez de Lara)

Figure 1. Tikal Temple VI, back of roof comb (Photograph by Jorge Pérez de Lara)

Figure 2. The Period Ending, Tikal Temple VI (C13-D19): a) Photographs by Gordon Echols b) Drawing by William R. Coe.

Figure 2. The Period Ending, Tikal Temple VI (C13-D19): a) Photographs by Gordon Echols b) Drawing by William R. Coe.

The passage begins with the Calendar Round position 13 Ahau 18 Yax, which equates to the Period Ending from 514 CE (Satterthwaite and Jones 1965). This placement is confirmed by the following pair of glyphs: u-4-WINIKHAAB uchan winikhaab “(it is the) fourth K’atun” and the verb K’AL-TUUN-ni k’altuun “(it is) a stone raising/presenting”.(2) Next, at C15, we find yi-chi-NAL for yichonal “before, in the sight of,” a term with the general sense of “oversight” (Stuart 1997:10; Houston and Taube 2000:287-289; Stone and Zender 2011:59). Where calendrical ceremonies are concerned this oversight role is almost invariably assigned to a deity. In this case it is a character called SAK-HIX-MUUT “White Jaguar Bird,” whose battered but recognizable name appears at D15. This was a special deep-time patron of the Tikal dynasty who constitutes the focus of the Temple VI inscription (Martin and Grube 2000:50; Stuart 2007a). Repeating a formula seen in several other portions of this text, ceremonies are further supervised by a human agent introduced by means of the u-KAB/CHAB-ji-ya ukabjiiy/uchabjiiy term. Though much degraded by years of exposure to the elements the sign at C16 shows the nose of the anthropomorphic version of KAB/CHAB, the standard form used on Temple VI.

The personal name of this agent, seen at D16, is by any standards highly eroded. However, by comparing photographs taken in daylight with others shot at night under raking artificial light the outlines of an initial female agentive IX can be discerned (Figure 3a, b). The rest of the block consists of two signs, neither of which is truly legible today. Nevertheless, the IX prefix is enough to suggest that we have here the so-called Lady of Tikal, who was the incumbent ruler at the turn of in 514, having come to the throne at the age of just six years old in 511 (Martin 1999, 2003:18-21).

Figure 3. The celebrant of the Period Ending, Tikal Temple VI (D16): a) Photograph by Gordon Echols; b) Drawing by the author.

Figure 3. The celebrant of the Period Ending, Tikal Temple VI (D16): a) Photograph by Gordon Echols; b) Drawing by the author.

Figure 4. The names of the Lady of Tikal: a) Tikal Stela 23 (C4); Tikal Stela 23 (B6); Tikal Stela 12 (B6) (drawings by the author).

Figure 4. The names of the Lady of Tikal: a) Tikal Stela 23 (C4); Tikal Stela 23 (B6); Tikal Stela 12 (B6) (drawings by the author).

She bore two distinct names. The first is a childhood moniker associated with the record of her birth in 504 (Figure 4a). This features MUT, the well-known toponym of Tikal, as well as AJAW “lord/ruler.” However, it differs from a conventional emblem glyph by the inclusion of a twisted cord glyph of unknown value (see Stuart 2005:28-29). The same sign turns up as a prefix to the Tikal emblem MUT-AJAW on Stela 15 (B5) (Jones and Satterthwaite 1982:Fig.21a) and again, perhaps more significantly, with IX and MUT on Stela 26 (zB9) (Jones and Satterthwaite 1982:Fig.44a), this time in the name of a patron goddess.

The accession phrase for the Lady of Tikal survives only in part on Stela 23 (Figure 4b). The verb is surely the same form as that found on Tikal Stela 31 (E10) (Jones and Satterthwaite 1982:Fig.52b), which either features an early version of the bird-head JOY “wrapped, encircled” joined to ti-AJAW “into lord(ship),” or, alternatively, an attenuated version in which the bird-head lacking its usual “toothache” wrap serves only as ti and ti ajaw(il) stands in place of the proper sequence johyaj ti ajawil. The adjoining sign on Stela 23 includes a crosshatched forelock that makes clear that the Lady of Tikal is its subject.

To follow her later career we must turn to other monuments, especially Stela 6, where she celebrated the aforementioned period ending, and the better-preserved Stela 12, where she marked in 527 (Jones and Satterthwaite 1982:Fig.9, 10, 17, 18). Both of these identify her by means of a regnal name with two parts: a vegetal sign that looks very much like UUN “avocado” and another whose portrait version closely resembles K’IN/K’INICH “sun/radiant” (see Zender 2004:335) (Figure 4c).(3) The former usually has a slanted, upward orientation, which is reminiscent of the strangely pointed head on Stela 23, as if that sign has been conflated with IX in this instance (Figure 4b).

Returning to Temple VI, for the rest of this passage we must cross down from Panel W to Panel X, where the text continues uninterrupted. Very little of this section now survives, but we can surmise that it once included further names or titles for the queen. The best-preserved glyph comes at C19, where we see an old man’s head distinguished by its underbite, snaggletooth, and stingray spine piercing the nose (Figure 5a, b).(4) These attributes identify the Stingray Paddler, one of a pair of Charon-like deities that propel a canoe carrying the Maize God across a primeval body of water (Mathews 2001[1979]:399, Fig.40.4; Stuart 1984:11; Schele 1987) (Figure 6a-c). The name of this ferryman is undeciphered, but both here and elsewhere it bears a ti phonetic complement and must therefore end in –t (see Figure 6c).

Figure 5. The Stingray Paddler on Tikal Temple VI (C19): a) Photograph by Gordon Echols; b) Drawing by the author.

Figure 5. The Stingray Paddler on Tikal Temple VI (C19): a) Photograph by Gordon Echols; b) Drawing by the author.

Figure 6. The name of the Stingray Paddler: a) Quirigua Stela C (B8); Dos Pilas Stela 8 (G18); c) Ixlu Altar 1 (C4) (drawings by the author, 6b after Ian Graham).

Figure 6. The name of the Stingray Paddler: a) Quirigua Stela C (B8); Dos Pilas Stela 8 (G18); c) Ixlu Altar 1 (C4) (drawings by the author, 6b after Ian Graham).

At first sight, we might assume that the role of the Stingray Paddler here is the familiar one in which both Paddler deities are said to “oversee” a period ending ceremony. However, this is not repeated for other such events in the Temple VI text and, more to the point, oversight of this particular ceremony has already been assigned to the Sak Hix Muut character. We should therefore seek an alternative explanation. Notably, the Stingray Paddler name plays a part in the moniker of the Lady of Tikal’s male co-ruler, an older consort or guardian that I have earlier nicknamed Kaloomte’ Bahlam (Martin 1999:5; 2003:20). His personal appellative can be recognized in three Tikal inscriptions (Figure 7a-c).

Figure 7. The names of Kaloomte’ Bahlam: a) Tikal Stela 12 (D5); Tikal Miscellaneous Text 11 (yA); Tikal Stela 10 (C7-D7) (drawings by the author).

Figure 7. The names of Kaloomte’ Bahlam: a) Tikal Stela 12 (D5); Tikal Miscellaneous Text 11 (yA); Tikal Stela 10 (C7-D7) (drawings by the author).

Here the Stingray Paddler is usually conflated with, and somewhat overshadowed by, BAHLAM “jaguar.” Additionally, there are elements resembling those of MAM “grandfather/ancestor” (Stuart 2007b), including a forehead dot that we also see on the glyph at C19 on Temple VI. It is not entirely clear if this is part of the aged identity of the Stingray Paddler—a type of “carrier” sign—or whether it takes an independent role, presumably as a title signaling the advanced years of the bearer. Helpfully, Stela 10 shows the MAM-style head in second position (Figure 7c), offering some constraint to the reading order, but erosion prevents us from seeing if the diagnostic nose-spine appeared there or on the preceding jaguar head. Stephen Houston points out that a further element on the Stela 12 example, an upward pointing “serpent nose,” is that associated with the Central Mexican fire deity xiuhcoatl (Figure 7a). In Early Classic Maya script this is carried by the sun god K’INICH (AJAW)—especially at Tikal—and it is possible that this is a further part of his name, although perhaps an optional one.

A formula in which the Lady of Tikal conducts a Period Ending while Kaloomte’ Bahlam appears in some secondary context is mirrored on Stela 12 (Jones and Satterthwaite 1982:Fig.17, 18). The rear face of that stone details her ritual acts and genealogy (the latter now sadly broken away), while its left side describes the monument itself as his possession—a point emphasized by the male portrait carved on its front. The left side further tells us that Kaloomte’ Bahlam was counted as Tikal’s 19th king, placing him as the next male ruler after Chak Tok Ich’aak II, who had died in 508.(5) Taking these clues together, we can infer that the Lady of Tikal was a queen by right of descent from an earlier king—presumably Chak Tok Ich’aak II—whereas Kaloomte’ Bahlam probably gained his position only via his association with her. The simplest explanation is that they were a married couple, even though the age difference between them may have been considerable (Stela 10 suggests that Kaloomte’ Bahlam was militarily active as early as 486). The partially surviving sign at C18 on Temple VI seems to be a possessed noun of some kind and could define the relationship between them. The destroyed block at D18 offers room to complete the name of Kaloomte’ Bahlam, while D19 may be the beginning of a new Distance Number.

Exactly when he assumed his kingly office is unclear. A different male, a bearer of the noble ti’huun epithet who used the same personal name as the later king Animal Skull, was another close associate of the Lady of Tikal. Depicted on Stela 8, he may have been the guardian of her early reign (see Zender 2004:333-338). Clarifications of her relationships were doubtless once supplied on other monuments from this period, most of which are now in a sorry state of preservation. An important inauguration statement on one of them, Stela 10, concludes with the plural suffix –taak, apparently directly after an ajaw title, as if to mark the ascent of more than one character. Complicating matters, the badly effaced date of this accession does not seem to match the one cited on Stela 23 for the Lady of Tikal. Much remains to be learned here.

Despite the unconventional nature of a female monarch this does not appear to be a period of significant weakness for the kingdom and the Lady of Tikal might even be credited with foreign influence, possibly presiding over a lesser ruler at Tamarindito in 534.(6) We do not know the length of her tenure, but it is assumed that she was out of office by the time the 21st Tikal king “arrived” at the city in 537 (Martin 2003:23).(7) At that point she would still have been only 33 years old. That her reign was memorialized on Temple VI, over two centuries after the fact, confirms that there was nothing illegitimate about her status or that of the co-rulership arrangement in general. While no mention of building activities are made in this passage, the unexplained insertion of these two characters into the narrative could imply that an earlier version of Temple VI was built under their direction (Stuart 2007a; Martin, forthcoming).


My thanks go to Stephen Houston and Marc Zender for helpful comments on a draft of this posting and Jorge Pérez de Lara for supplying the image used in Figure 1. I also wish to acknowledge Philippe Galeev, whose own investigations and queries about the Temple VI text provoked my return to the monument, and an informative correspondence with Dmitri Beliaev based on his work with the Atlas Epigráfico de Petén project.


(1) For the complete inscription, as drawn by William Coe, see Jones 1977:Fig.9, 18, 19 or, in its proper architectural context, Miller 1986:Fig.42a, b.

(2) Marc Zender suggested the nominalized form of k’altuun used here.

(3) Versions of both the childhood and regnal names for the Lady of Tikal appear in their expected temporal sequence on an unpublished stela Vilma Fialko excavated at Tres Cabezas, a site in the periphery of Tikal. This again recounts the queen’s completion of the Period Ending of 514.

(4) My thanks go to Dmitri Beliaev for checking this observation with the collection of photographs he took in 2014 in collaboration with Oswaldo Gómez of IDAEH and a complete re-documentation of the Temple VI inscription under the auspices of the Atlas Epigráfico de Petén.

(5) To judge from evidence elsewhere queens were omitted from official dynastic counts. David Stuart (pers. comm. 1999) noted the death-date for Chak Tok Ich’aak II on Tonina M.160 (Graham et al. 2006).

(6) Tamarindito Stela 2 (Gronemeyer 2013:Pl.5) records the Period Ending performed by a local king who appears to be supervised by someone bearing the distinctive name of the Tikal founder YAX-EHB-(XOOK) superimposed with the female agentive IX.

(7) At some point we must account for the missing 20th Tikal king, though it is quite possible that he was a further spouse or guardian of the queen in the later part of her reign.

Sources Cited

Berlin, Heinrich. 1951. El Templo de las inscripciones—VI de Tikal. Antropología e Historia de Guatemala 3(1):33-54.

Graham, Ian, Lucia R. Henderson, Peter Mathews, and David Stuart. 2006. Corpus of Maya Hieroglyphic Inscriptions, Vol. 9, Part 2: Tonina. Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Gronemeyer, Sven. 2013. Monuments and Inscriptions of Tamarindito, Peten, Guatemala. Acta Mesoamericana 25. Verlag Anton Saurwein, Markt Schwaben.

Houston, Stephen, and Karl Taube. 2000. An Archaeology of the Senses: Perception and Cultural Expression in Ancient Mesoamerica. Cambridge Archaeological Journal 10(2):261-294.

Jones, Christopher. 1977. Inauguration dates of three Late Classic rulers of Tikal, Guatemala. American Antiquity 42:28-60.

Jones, Christopher, and Linton Satterthwaite. 1982. The Monuments and Inscriptions of Tikal: The Carved Monuments. Tikal Report No.33, Part A. University Museum Monograph 44. The University Museum, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.

Martin, Simon. 1999. The Queen of Middle Classic Tikal. In Pre-Columbian Art Research Newsletter 27:4-5. Pre-Columbian Art Research Institute, San Francisco.

__________. 2003. In Line of the Founder: A View of Dynastic Politics at Tikal. In Tikal: Dynasties, Foreigners, and Affairs of State, edited by Jeremy A. Sabloff, pp. 3-45. School of American Research Advanced Seminar Series, School of American Research Press and James Curry, Santa Fe and Oxford.

__________. Forthcoming. The Dedication of Tikal Temple VI: A Revised Chronology. In The PARI Journal.

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

Mathews, Peter. 2001[1979]. Notes on the Inscriptions on the Back of Dos Pilas Stela 8. In The Decipherment of Ancient Maya Writing, edited by Stephen Houston, Oswaldo Chinchilla Mazariegos, and David Stuart, pp.394-415. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman.

Miller, Arthur G. 1986. Maya Rulers of Time: A Study of Architectural Sculpture at Tikal, Guatemala. The University Museum, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.

Satterthwaite, Linton, and Christopher Jones. 1965. Memoranda on the Text of Structure 6F-27 at Tikal (“Temple of the Inscriptions,” “Temple VI”). Unpublished manuscript in the Tikal Project Archive, University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Philadelphia.

Schele, Linda. 1987. New Data on the Paddlers from Butz’-Chan of Copán. Copán Note 29. Copan Mosaics Project and Instituto Hondureño de Antropologia e Historia.

Stone, Andrea, and Marc Uwe Zender. 2010. Reading Maya Art. Thames and Hudson, London.

Stuart, David. 1984. Royal Auto-sacrifice among the Maya: A Study of Image and Meaning. Res: Anthropology and Aesthetics 7/8:6-20.

_________. 1997. Kinship Terms in Mayan Inscriptions. In The Language of Maya Hieroglyphs, edited by Martha J. Macri and Anabel Ford, pp. 1-11. Pre-Columbian Art Research Institute, San Francisco.

_________. 2005. The Inscriptions from Temple XIX at Palenque: A Commentary. Pre-Columbian Art Research Institute, San Francisco.

_________. 2007a. “White Owl Jaguar”: A Tikal Royal Ancestor. Maya Decipherment: https://decipherment.wordpress.com

_________. 2007b. The Maya Hieroglyphs for Mam, “Grandfather, Grandson, Ancestor”. https://decipherment.wordpress.com

Zender, Marc Uwe. 2004 A Study of Classic Maya Priesthood. PhD thesis, University of Calgary.

One comment

  1. Simon – your mention of Charon put me in mind of Causabon and his struggle with “The Key to All Mythologies” in George Eliot’s Middlemarch. Elegant analysis of the co-rulers.

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