Preliminary Notes on Two Recently Discovered Inscriptions from La Corona, Guatemala 9

by David Stuart (The University of Texas at Austin), Marcello Canuto (Tulane University), Tomás Barrientos Quezada (Universidad del Valle de Guatemala), and Maxime Lamoureax St-Hillaire (Tulane University)

During the 2015 excavation season at La Corona, Guatemala, two new sculpted blocks were recovered in excavations of the site’s main palace overseen by one of the authors, Maxime Lamoueax St-Hilaire. Both blocks are parts of larger compositions that were removed from their original settings and re-set in a masonry wall near the northeast corner of the palace complex. The precise archaeological context of the discovery will be presented separately, and described in detailed at the upcoming SImposio de Investigaciones Arqueológicas en Guatemala.

Each stone has been assigned an “Element” designation in accordance with the nomenclature system developed for La Corona’s corpus of sculpture (Stuart et. al. 2015). Each stone seems to be part of a larger panel or sculpted step, so it is important to note that their designations may be modified in the future to reflect new understandings of their original form and presentation.

Also, we should stress that the following commentary is itself preliminary. More formal and complete presentations will appear as part of the series La Corona Notes, and in subsequent publications sponsored by the Proyecto Arqueológico Regional La Corona, directed by Marcello Canuto and Tomás Barrientos Quezada.

Element 55

Element 55 shows a small intricately carved scene of a costumed ruler engaged in a dance performance. The date is the period ending 7 Ahau 3 Cumku, or January 20, 702 A.D. The accompanying hieroglyphs name the ruler as ? Ti’ K’awiil, a prominent king of Calakmul sometimes known in the literature as “Took K’awiil'” (a designation based on his variant name glyphs; see Martin and Grube 2000:112). This appears to be the left-half of a larger scene that would have presented another figure facing the dancer, in all likelihood a local La Corona ruler.

The main portion of the text (from B1 to D6) reads:

u baah ti ahk’ot ? ti’ k’awiil k’uhul kaanul ajaw elk’in(?) kaloomte’ ux te’ tuun

“(it is) his person in (the act of) dancing, ? Ti’ K’awiil, the Holy Kaanul Lord, the east Kaloomte’, (at) ux te’tuun.”

La Corona, Element 55. Preliminary drawing by Mary Kate Kelly. (Please do not re-publish without permission of the Proyecto Arqueológico Regional La Corona).

La Corona, Element 55. Preliminary drawing by Mary Kate Kelly. (Please do not publish without permission of the Proyecto Arqueológico Regional La Corona).


The inscription on the left side of the block gives the Calendar Round date 7 Ahau (A1) 3 Cumku (A4), along with Glyphs G9 (A2) and F (A3). This corresponds with the half-k’atun period ending falling on The verb phrase (B1) and the name and titles of the king (C1-D5) make up most of the rest of the text, ending in a place name uxte’tuun (Calakmul), indicating where the dance performance took place. The glyphs are very finely carved in a style reminiscent of Block V from Hieroglyphic Stairway 2 (the somewhat infamous “2012 block”). A certain scribal flair is evident in these hieroglyphs which display unusual head variant signs and ornate forms, such as the unusual “east” glyph (D4) displaying the head of the sun god K’inich Ajaw emerging from the open maw of an alligator.

The name of ? Ti' K'awiil from Dos Pilas Stela 8. Drawing by Ian Graham.

The name of ? Ti’ K’awiil from Dos Pilas Stela 8. Drawing by Ian Graham.

The Calakmul ruler depicted, ? Ti’ K’awiil (“Took’ K’awiil”) assumed the throne in 698, as revealed in two historical texts unearthed in 2012 (one at La Corona, another at El Peru) (Stuart et. al., 2014). He is named on several other monuments at Calakmul, and a particularly beautiful version of his name, similar to the one given here, occurs Stela 8 of Dos Pilas. The ruler’s dance on marked a special occasion in his life history, being the first major period ending of his reign.  He would live at least three more decades and be responsible for some of Calakmul’s most beautiful monuments, including those erected around Structure 1 on

Element 56

Element 56 is a all-glyphic block, probably the second part of a longer text with its first portion still missing. In format this partial inscription is very much like the “2012 block” discovered a few years ago in Hieroglyphic Stairway 2. It displays precisely the same grid dimensions as that block, in fact, and dates to just a few years before. Its style bears a strong resemblance to other texts known from La Corona dating to the end of the seventh century.

La Corona, Element 56. Preliminary drawing by David Stuart. (Please do not publish without permission of Proyecto Arqueológico Regional La Corona).

La Corona, Element 56. Preliminary drawing by David Stuart. (Please do not publish without permission of Proyecto Arqueológico Regional La Corona).

Summary of inscription:

The partial text recounts several important events involving the La Corona ruler named Chak Ak’ Paat Yuk, leading up to his accession in 689 and culminating in the dedication of an ancestral shrine for the new king’s deceased parents in 690.

The text emphasizes aspects of Chak Ak’ Paat Yuk’s political career, and especially close interactions with the king who reigned at Calakmul in those years, Yuknoom Yich’aak K’ahk’. Some of the history mentioned on Element 56 describes ceremonial dressing and adornment, no doubt reflecting the complex process of royal investiture before Chak Ak’ Paat Kuy’s inauguration on September 9, 689. He returned to Saknikte’ two weeks later on September 23, to establish his new political presence, and shortly thereafter focused his attention on the construction of a shrine (wayib, “sleeping place”) for his father and mother, who died within a few months of each other over twenty years earlier, back in 667.

It is difficult to know what the missing first half of this inscription had to say, but we suspect it may have opened with a Long Count date 3 Ben 11 Zip and an accompanying record of the shrine dedication. It may also have had something to say about the end of the reign of Chak Ak’ Paat Yuk’s older brother, K’inch ? Yook, who is last heard from in 683.

We should mention that the name Chak Ak’ Paat Kuy refers to the same individual we have previously called Chak Ak’ach or Chak Ak’ach Yuk (“Red Turkey”). The new name reflects a revision based on clearer spellings in this new inscription (Houston, Stuart and Zender, in preparation).

Discussion, Dates and Episodes 9 Chicchan 13 Muan (December 7, 688) (missing)

The inscription opens in mid-passage, clearly indicating it was once part of a larger text. First glyph (pA1) is the place name SAK-NIK-TE’, for the local toponym of La Corona, Saknikte’, meaning “white blossom.” The date iassociated with this episode is missing but it can be reconstructed based on the time interval indicated afterward. The event is missing, but given what comes next it seems reasonable to suppose that this passage once recorded Chak Ak’ Paat Kuy’s departure from Saknikte’ as he heads off to Calakmul. 13 Muluc 17 Muan (December 11, 688) (pB3-pA4)

Four days later a new event takes place, written with the phrase pehkaj yichnal yuknoom yich’aak k’ahk’ kaloomte’ “he was summoned(??) before Yuknoom Yich’aak K’ahk’, the kaloomte’” (pB4-pA6). That is to say, the La Corona ruler has an important meeting and conference with Calakmul’s king. It is possible that his older brother K’inich ? Yook had recently passed away or otherwise been de-installed as ruler at La Corona, leading to the need for a face-to-face discussion.  6 Muluc 12 Ch’en (August 8, 689) (pA7-pB7)

Many months later we find Chak Ak Paat Kuy beginning an investiture rite, probably while he is still in Calakmul. The first of these events is recorded here, possibly taking place at dawn or sunset (a temporal adverb appears at pC1). The verb statement is unique, never seen before in any Maya text: po-tza-ja U-pa-ti, for pohtzaj u paat, possibly “his back is wrapped” (pD1-pC2). This happened under the watchful direction of the Calakmul king. We suspect that the La Corona nobleman was being given a ceremonial snake back-rack, much like the one we see depicted on Element 55. A similar costume is shown worn by his older brother K’inich ? Yook on La Corona’s Panel 1.  3 Cauac 2 Yax (August 15, 689) (pD3b-pC4a)

One week later Chak Ak’ Paat Kuy’s “say huun is tied (kahchaj).” We are not quite sure what a say huun is, but it probably is some paper-cloth adornment or accessory, possibly a type of headband or wristlet. Whatever it is, the same event is recorded as a pre-accession rite on Aguateca’s Stela 1 and also at Naranjo’s Stela 32. Here the spelling of the object is sa-HUUN, whereas elsewhere it is more fully sa-ya-HUUN.  6 Ik 5 Yax (August 18, 689) (pC5)

Three days later “he sets-up(?) at Ahktuun.” The phrase is somewhat enigmatic, but it may indicate the La Corona lord’s movement in or around Calakmul as he prepared for his upcoming accession ceremony, recorded in the next passage. The verb is the same one we often find associated with formal “foundation” events for royal courts at new locations. Ahktuun (literally “turtle-stone”) is the basis for a word for “cave” (often spelled actun in modern Yukatek), although here it may refer to an architectural or urban feature. The passage also cites the verb huli, “he arrived” in connection with an enigmatic place name (tz’i?-ni). 12 Imix 4 Zac (September 9, 689) (pD6b-pC7a)

Here we have the record of Chak Ak Paat Kuy’s accession as king. The episode mirrors an accession reference we have on La Corona, Stela 1, falling just one day earlier. The king’s name and title phrase is especially long, and includes elements not seen elsewhere (although his name on HS2, Block 5 shows a few parallel elements).  3 Etz’nab 1 Ceh (Septmeber 26, 689) (pF4-pE5)

Seventeen days later Chak Ak’ Paat Kuy finally seems to be back at La Corona. As the inscription here puts it very directly, ? t-u-hulil ti tax ajaw, “he ‘sets-up’ upon his arrival as the new king.”  8 Ahau 8 Uo (March 16, 692) (pG2-pH2)

In the last two columns we read how the “arrival” just cited took place 2.9.2 before 8 Ahau 8 Uo, “when will occur 13 k’atuns.” This is an anticpatorty record that establishes the events in relation to cosmic time, noting their proximity to the upcoming k’atun ending.

Closing passage of Element 56, noting the fire-entering ceremony at the parents' mortuary shrine (

Closing passage of Element 56, noting the fire-entering ceremony at the parents’ mortuary shrine (“sleeping place”). Photograph by David Stuart. 3 Ben 11 Zip (April 9, 690) (pH4-pG5)

The text closes with a stand-alone record of a major ceremony that occurred after the arrival and before the k’atun ending. This is och-k’ahk’ “fire-entering” – a dedication or activation rite at an architectural feature called “the three platform houses.” This almost certainly refers to a collection of structures atop the palace at La Corona. This is the designation of the “the wayib (shrine)” for Chak Nahb Chan and Lady Chak Tok Chahk, the mother and father of Chak Ak’ Paat Kuy and his elder brother and predecessor K’inich ? Yook.


Both stones are partial commemorations of important ceremonies. One is a visual record of a calendar dance ritual at far-off Calakmul, perhaps involving a local ruler as well. The other is a detailed textual record of a local nobleman’s transformation into a ruler under the close supervision of Calakmul’s powerful king, culminating in a ceremony honoring his beloved parents.

This note represents a preliminary analysis of two newly excavated sculptures from La Corona. More detailed analyses will appear in future issues of the La Corona Notes. More to come.

UPDATE: I would like to thank Jens Rohark for pointing out glaring inconsistencies in my initial conversions of the dates on Element 56. These have now  been corrected to reflect the Martin and Skidmore 584286 correlation.


Several colleagues have offered valuable thoughts and comments on these new finds, including Stephen Houston, Marc Zender and Simon Martin. Many thanks to them. The authors would also like to thank the Instituto de Antropología e Historia de Guatemala (IDAEH) and the Ministerio de Cultura y Deportes for their continued support in the excavation, conservation and analysis of the two sculptures presented here. We would also like to extend our appreciation to PACUNAM and to the National Geographic Society for their financial and logistical support of the Proyecto Arqueologico Regional La Corona (PARLC) in the 2015 season. The individual authors also acknowledge the help and assistance of their respective academic institutions, Tulane University, the Universidad del Valle de Guatemala, and The University of Texas at Austin.


Houston, Stephen, David Stuart and Marc Zender. In preparation. The Reanalysis of a La Corona King’s Name. To appear in La Corona Notes.

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

Stuart, David, Marcello Canuto and Tomas Barrientos Quezada. 2015. The Nomenclature of La Corona Sculpture. La Corona Notes, Number 2. Mesoweb.

Stuart, David, Marcello Canuto, Tomás Barrientos, Jocelyne Ponce and Joanne Baron. 2015. Death of the Defeated. Historical Data on Block 4 of La Corona’s Hieroglyphic Stairway 2. La Corona Notes, Number 3.

“The Ancient World’s Most Massive Inscription” 2

by David Stuart, The University of Texas at Austin

Looking through the most recent issue of Archaeology magazine, I was fascinated to read about the 2nd-century inscription of Diogenes of Oinoanda, Turkey, which once adorned an immense wall of a public stoa at the site. The Greek text is now in hundreds of fragments and much of it is still missing. It’s a remarkable monument in many respects, stunning for its sheer size as well as for what it says: an summation and eager exhortation of Epicureanism, the ancient philosophical school that emphasized materialism, good living, and a healthy skepticism of divine power over human affairs. I was particularly interested by the article’s simple statement that the Oinoanda text was “the ancient world’s most massive inscription.” It’s original size, as presently understood, is thought to have covered between 200-260 square meters of wall space. That’s big.

Portion of the Diogenes inscription from Oinoanda, Turkey.

Portion of the Diogenes inscription from Oinoanda, Turkey.

Copan's Hieroglyphic Stairway in 1987

Copan’s Hieroglyphic Stairway in 1987

Well, I wondered, how would this compare to the ancient Maya inscription on Copan’s Great Hieroglyphic Stairway? That monument has been an intense subject of my own research for many years now, working is close collaboration with colleagues at Harvard, Brown, Penn, and in Honduras. Over the past three decades we’ve been able to reconstruct a significant  amount of the original inscription and we have a very good idea of what it once said (B. Fash 2011; W. Fash 2002; Houston, Fash and Stuart, in press; Stuart 2005). In several public talks I’ve made the informal claim that the Copan stairway represents the largest text ever built as a single monument, but I now have to doubt that this is the case. In its final version (an earlier monument was roughly half its final size) the inscribed staircase consisted of over 63 steps that were each approximately 7.5 meters wide. The height of the entire staircase as presently reconstructed is about 21 meters. That covers about 158 square meters of space, so smaller than Diogenes’ massive inscription. Within the Maya area Temple VI at Tikal, with its huge inscribed roof comb, might offer some competition to Copan’s stairway. The roof comb itself is 12.5 meters high, and the hieroglyphic text covers a little under 100 square meters by rough calculation.

This all led me to wonder too about the size of the famous cliff inscriptions of Behistun, Iran, which were so important in Henry Rawlinson’s work in the decipherment of Old Persian cuneiform (Behistun’s parallel texts is also written in Elamite and Babylonian). The size of the entire inscribed surface at Behistun is 15 x 25 meters, or 375 square meters — far larger than either the Oinoanda texts and the Copan stairway (Archaeology may need to credit Behistun, then, as the “most massive”).

The Behistun inscription

The Behistun inscription

However, it might not be accurate to call these two old world examples single texts. The Oinoanda inscription is composed of three different treatises written by Diogenes, accompanied by smaller collected sayings and letters by Epicurus. Several texts are combined together, in other words. And at Behistun we have three parallel versions of the same text each presented in a different script and language.

In contrast it seems that the scribes of Copan designed the final version of the Hieroglyphic Stairway as a single inscription. As I argued some years ago (Stuart 2005) the stairway text was built in two phases.  An early version dedicated by the king Waxaklajuun Ubaah K’awiil (Ruler 13) in 710 A.D. provided a lengthy treatise on Copan’s royal history, culminating the dedication of the tomb of K’ahk’ Uti’ Witz’ K’awiil (Ruler 12). A later king, K’ahk’ Yipyaj Chan K’awiil (Ruler 15), decided to update this very visible statement of history. In 755 he expanded on his predecessor’s earlier text, bridging the kingdom’s very recent turbulent history with the glories of the distant past and ultimately to the story of the court’s dynastic founder K’inich Yax K’uk’ Mo’. The later king made a clear effort to integrate his addition seamlessly with the earlier text, both rhetorically and in aspects of visual design.


If we acknowledge that the two phases finally constituted one long inscription, perhaps a case could still be made that Copan’s hieroglyphic stairway, in its final iteration, bears the largest single inscription from the ancient world. While incompletely preserved, its long text does seem more or less cohesive, lacking the discrete sections and partitions we see at Oinoanda and Behistun. I wouldn’t want to force this point too strongly, of course, given how much is still missing of the stairway inscription. We will never be quite certain of its final form and presentation. Besides, the comparisons mean little in the end beyond being an academic exercise. What we can say is that Copan’s huge stairway text occupies a special place alongside those old world examples (and perhaps others I’ve overlooked) as unusually massive displays of the written word, where textuality and ancient monumentality intersect.


Fash, Barbara. 2011. The Copan Sculpture Museum: Ancient Maya Artistry in Stucco and Stone. Peabody Museum Press and DRCLAS, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.

Fash, William. 2002. Religion and Human Agency in Ancient Maya History: Tales from the Hieroglyphic Stairway. Cambridge Archaeological Journal (12)1:5-19.

Houston, Stephen, Barbara Fash and David Stuart. In press. Masterful Hands: Morelli and the Maya on the Hieroglyphic Stairway, Copan, Honduras. RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics, forthcoming.

Stuart, David. 2005. A Foreign Past: The Writing and Representation of History on A Royal Ancestral Shrine at Copan. In Copan: The History of An Ancient Maya Kingdom, edited by E. Wyllys Andrews and William L. Fash. pp. 373-394. The School of American Research Press, Santa Fe.

NEW BOOK: The Maya (Ninth Edition) 7


The Maya (Ninth Edition)

By Michael D. Coe and Stephen Houston

Thames & Hudson, 2015

The Maya has long been established as the best, most readable introduction to the New World’s greatest ancient civilization. Coe and Houston update this classic by distilling the latest scholarship for the general reader and student.
This new edition incorporates the most recent archaeological and epigraphic research, which continues to proceed at a fast pace. Among the finest new discoveries are spectacular stucco sculptures at El Zotz and Holmul, which reveal surprising aspects of Maya royalty and the founding of dynasties. Dramatic refinements in our understanding of the pace of developments of the Maya civilization have led scholars to perceive a pattern of rapid bursts of building and political formation. Other finds include the discovery of the earliest known occupant of the region, the Hoyo Negro girl, recovered from an underwater cavern in the Yucatan peninsula, along with new evidence for the first architecture at Ceibal.

Michael D. Coe, Author
Michael D. Coe is Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at Yale University. His books include The Maya, Mexico, Breaking the Maya Code, Angkor and the Khmer Civilization, and Reading the Maya Glyphs. He lives in New Haven, Connecticut.
Stephen D. Houston, Author
Stephen D. Houston is Dupee Family Professor of Social Sciences at Brown University. His most recent book is The Life Within: Classic Maya and the Matter of Permanence.

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NEW BOOK: Maya Imagery, Architecture, and Activity: Space and Spatial Analysis in Art History Reply

MIAAcoverMaya Imagery, Architecture, and Activity: Space and Spatial Analysis in Art History

Edited by Maline D. Werness-Rude and Kaylee R. Spencer

University of New Mexico Press, 2015

Maya Imagery, Architecture, and Activity privileges art historical perspectives in addressing the ways the ancient Maya organized, manipulated, created, interacted with, and conceived of the world around them. The Maya provide a particularly strong example of the ways in which the built and imaged environment are intentionally oriented relative to political, religious, economic, and other spatial constructs.
In examining space, the contributors of this volume demonstrate the core interrelationships inherent in a wide variety of places and spaces, both concrete and abstract. They explore the links between spatial order and cosmic order and the possibility that such connections have sociopolitical consequences. This book will prove useful not just to Mayanists but to art historians in other fields and scholars from a variety of disciplines, including anthropology, archaeology, geography, and landscape architecture.

Maline D. Werness-Rude is an assistant professor of art history at Eastern Connecticut State University.
Kaylee R. Spencer is an associate professor of art history and the chair of the art department at the University of Wisconsin–River Falls.

6 x 9 in. 432 pages 50 halftones, 121 drawings

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Death of the Defeated

The third on the series of La Corona Notes is now posted on Mesoweb. This study focuses on one of the inscribed blocks recently unearthed at the site, bearing new historical details about the life of the famous Calakmul king named Yuknoom Yich’aak K’ahk’ (a.k.a. “Jaguar Paw” or “Jaguar Paw Smoke” in the earlier literature).

Death of the Defeated: New Historical Data on Block 4 of La Corona’s Hieroglyphic Stairway 2