Discovery of Stone Monument Adds New Chapter to Ancient Maya History: New World ‘Cleopatra Story’ Waits 1,000 Years to Be Retold
Stone-carved representation of Maya King Chak Took Ich’aak (Red Spark Claw) who died in 556 AD. (Credit: Photo by Francico Castaneda; courtesy of Proyecto Arqueológico El Perú-Waka´y PACUNAM) Enlarge
July 17, 2013 — Archaeologists tunneling beneath the main temple of the ancient Maya city of El Perú-Waka' in northern Guatemala have discovered an intricately carved stone monument with hieroglyphic text detailing the exploits of a little-known sixth-century princess whose progeny prevailed in a bloody, back-and-forth struggle between two of the civilization's most powerful royal dynasties, Guatemalan cultural officials announced July 16.
"Great rulers took pleasure in describing adversity as a prelude to ultimate success," said research director David Freidel, PhD, a professor of anthropology in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis. "Here the Snake queen, Lady Ikoom, prevailed in the end."
Freidel, who is studying in Paris this summer, said the stone monument, known officially as El Perú Stela 44, offers a wealth of new information about a "dark period" in Maya history, including the names of two previously unknown Maya rulers and the political realities that shaped their legacies.
"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," Freidel said.
"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."
Carved stone monuments, such as Stela 44, have been unearthed in dozens of other important Maya ruins and each has made a critical contribution to the understanding of Maya culture.
Freidel says that his epigrapher, Stanley Guenter, who deciphered the text, believes that Stela 44 was originally dedicated about 1450 years ago in the calendar period ending in 564 AD by the Wak dynasty King Wa'oom Uch'ab Tzi'kin, a title that translates roughly as "He Who Stands Up the Offering of the Eagle."
After standing exposed to the elements for more than 100 years, Stela 44 was moved by order of a later king and buried as an offering inside new construction that took place at the main El Perú-Waka' temple about 700 AD, probably as part of funeral rituals for a great queen entombed in the building at this time, the research team suggests.
El Perú-Waka' is about 40 miles west of the famous Maya 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.
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