Lintel 24 from Yaxchilan – Classical Maya (400 BC – 900 AD)

maya

© Trustees of the British Museum

This image shows a wonderful lintel from Yaxchilan, a Mayan city. It was made at the beginning of the 8th century AD. The lintel is kept is the British Museum.

Mayas were a great civilization in South America. Their golden age was the Classical Mayas. While Spanish conquistadors saw the later Mayas, their culture had by that time declined. Mayas always strike our curiosity because they are full of mysteries. Maybe it is so because the Classical Mayas disappeared for unknown reasons. For a long time, they have been seen as pacifists, but they were not. Maya civilization was not unified, and it was made of City States who were fighting each other. They also performed human sacrifice and self sacrifice. This carved limestone lintel depicts one their bloodletting ritual.

Yaxchilan was an important Mayan city, lots of building are preserved as well as their lintels. Those lintels depict a long dynastic history. This specific lintel show the king Shield Jaguar II (yes, this is his real name) and his wife K’ab’al Xook. The king holds a torch over his kneeling wife. Lady Xook pulls a thorny rope through her tongue while we can see drops of blood around her mouth. This is the main blood sacrifice for the royalty’s women. Since the king has a torch, this ritual might take place at night or in the dark corner of a private chamber. Shield Jaguar II and his wife are richly dress. The head that the king has on his forehead might be a battle trophy.

In the upper part there are some glyphs. The first two gives the date of the ritual which took place in 709 AD. The last glyph is the city name, here Yaxchilan. On this lintel, we can also see the name and titles of Lady Xook. The building, where the lintel was placed, was dedicated to Lady K’ab’al Xook. It was the first building built after a 150 years interruption. The program of Shield Jaguar II was maybe a try out to make his line stronger and show his right to reign.

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