Chak Tok lch'aak

Detail of Stela 44, depicting Chak Tok Ich'aak. Photo by Francisco Castañeda. Used courtesy of the Proyecto Arqueológico El Perú-Waka´ and PACUNAM.


Discovery of Stone Monument Adds New Chapter to History of Ancient Maya

Wooster's Olivia Navarro-Farr is co-principal investigator of archaeological team

July 19, 2013 by John Hopkins

WOOSTER, Ohio, July 19, 2013 — Olivia Navarro-Farr, assistant professor of anthropology and archaeology at The College of Wooster, and an international team of archaeologists have made another significant discovery in the ancient Maya city of El Perú-Waka’.

Navarro-Farr and her colleagues discovered the tomb of Lady K’abel, a seventh-century Maya queen last year. This year, they found a carved stone stela while excavating a tunnel in March. The stela had been buried as an offering inside a new temple construction (Structure M13-1), most likely as part of a funeral ritual for the great queen K’abel entombed in the building.

El Perú-Waka’ is about 40 miles west of the famous site of Tikal near the San Pedro Martir River in Laguna del Tigre National Park. In the Classic period, this royal city commanded major trade routes running north to south and east to west, according to Navarro-Farr, who has been working as the co-principal investigator and long-term supervisor of work in Structure M13-1. She was joined by Juan Carlos Pérez Calderon, who is co-director of the project, and David Freidel of Washington University in St. Louis, who has directed research at this site in collaboration with Guatemalan and foreign archaeologists since 2003.

The monument, known as Stela 44 in the inventory of the site, dates to the sixth century AD. It was discovered by archaeologist Griselda Pérez, and the text on it was deciphered by epigrapher Stanley Guenter. The information in the text provides a new chapter in the history of the ancient kingdom of Waka’ and its political relations with the most powerful kingdoms in the Classic period lowland Maya world, according to Navarro-Farr.

The stela was originally dedicated on a calendar period ending in 564 AD by the Wak dynasty King Wa’oom Uch’ab Tzi’kin (translated as “He who stands up the offering of the eagle”). That king commissioned the monument to honor his father King Chak Took Ich’aak, Red Spark Claw, who had died in 556 AD. These are both new kings in the history of the dynasty. A new queen, Lady Ikoom, is also featured in the text, and she was important to the king who recovered this worn stela and used it again.

“Stela 44 was brought to the main city temple around 700 to be buried as an offering by the command of King K’inich Bahlam II, probably as part of the funeral rituals for his queen Kaloomte’ K’abel,” says Navarro-Farr. “The tomb of this queen, Burial 61, was discovered by our team in 2012. Stela 44 was set in a cut through the plaza floor in front of the old temple and then buried underneath the treads of the stairway of the new temple.”

Pérez encountered Stela 44 while excavating a short tunnel along the centerline of the temple’s stairway in order to give access to other tunnels that had been excavated in 2012, which lead to the royal tomb discovered in that year. Once the texts along the side of the monument were cleared, archaeologist Francisco Castañeda took detailed photographs and sent these to Stanley Guenter for decipherment.

“The front of the stela is much eroded, likely as a result of extensive exposure,” but it features a standing ruler, facing forward and cradling a sacred bundle,” says Navarro-Farr. “There are two other stelae at the site featuring this pose, Stela 23, dated to 524 AD, and Stela 22, dated to 554 AD, and they were probably commissioned by King Chak Took Ich’aak.”

The narrative of Stela 44 is full of twists and turns of the kind that are usually found in time of war but rarely detected in Precolumbian archaeology, according to Freidel. The text describes the accession of the son of Chak Took Ich’aak, Wa’oom Uch’ab Tzi’kin, in 556 AD as witnessed by a royal woman Lady Ikoom who was probably his mother. She carries the titles Sak Wayis, White Spirit, and K’uhul Chatan Winik, Holy Chatan Person. These titles are strongly associated with the powerful Snake or Kan kings who commanded territories to the north of El Perú-Waka’ so Guenter is confident that she was a Snake princess.

“We infer that sometime in the course of his reign King Chak Took Ich’aak changed sides and became a Snake dynasty vassal,” Freidel says. “But then, when he died and his son and heir came to power, he did so under the auspices of a foreign king that Guenter argues from details is the reigning king of Tikal. So Tikal had reasserted command of Waka’ and somehow Queen Ikoom survived this imposition.

“Then, in a dramatic shift in the tides of war, that same Tikal King, Wak Chan K’awiil, was defeated and sacrificed by the Snake king in 562 AD. Finally, two years after that major reversal, the new king and his mother raised Stela 44, and gave the whole story as outlined above.”

The decipherment of Maya glyphs has made great strides in the last thirty years and Stela 44 will continue to be studied by Guenter, Castañeda, and the project staff. The text on Stela 44 is only partially preserved, but it clearly reveals an important moment in the history of Waka’.

Navarro-Farr’s project and team carry out research under the auspices of the Ministry of Culture and Sports of Guatemala and its Directorate for Cultural and Natural Patrimony, and the Council for Protected Areas. It is sponsored by the Foundation for the Cultural and Natural Patrimony (PACUNAM) and the U.S. Department of the Interior.