This fall we attended Maya at the Playa – the annual conference where leading Maya archaeologists talk about their latest discoveries. These discoveries are beginning to bring to life some of the Maya individuals who lived at pivotal moments in their city’s history. Here are three of this year’s most fascinating stories.


Shakes the sky seated

Tzabh Chan Yopaat

At the Maya city of Holmul archaeologists discovered an inscription that tells the story of a noble named Tzahb Chan Yopaat (the name means Storm-god Rattles the Sky). Holmul was on the front line in the centuries-long war between the two superpowers of the Maya world: Tikal and Calakmul. In a tale of intrigue and betrayal, Tzahb Chan Yopaat rises to power and switches his city’s long standing allegiance from Tikal to Calakmul. His forces then join the Calakmul army in a devastating attack on Tikal. Just like in a fairytale, Tzahb Chan Yopaat is rewarded with the hand of a princess in marriage and is crowned a divine king in the Calakmul empire.



shellsOn the westernmost edge of the Maya region lies the city of Comalcalco. It’s an unusual city because its pyramids are made of bricks rather than stone. Marc Zender (the anthropologist who checks all our facts in the Jaguar Stones books) told the story of a Maya priest Aj Pakal Than who was Fire Lord to the storm god Chahk. He was found buried with a string of inscribed shell markers that were his own personal divination library. On one he wrote that in the year 763 AD there was crippling drought and famine. (Extreme weather was also recorded in Medieval European chronicles that year.) So severe was the drought that, for years to come, it was the focus of major rituals at Comalcalco.


Calakmul King performs a dance

Calakmul King performs a dance

Tulane archaeologist Maxime Lamoureax St-Hilaire told about his discovery of two inscribed stone panels which show that Maya life was more than just battles and drought – it also involved a lot of dressing up and dancing! On the first panel, a Calakmul king is depicted performing a dance to celebrate the end of a decade on the throne. On the second, the glyphs tell the story of Chak Ak’ Paat Kuy who travels from La Corona to Calakmul. There, at the capital city of the snake kingdom, he is dressed in a snake lord costume, adorned in royal symbols and invested as a divine king. He then travels back to La Corona where he constructs a shrine to bury his recently deceased parents.  You can read more about this discovery here.

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