Stela 26, a now fragmentary but beautifully carved Early Classic monument, commemorates the erection of this very same stela by king Chak Tok Ich’aak II (ruled AD 485-508). His name appears in the fourth glyph in the second column.
(left) Stela 26, Left Side, Tikal, El Peten
(right) Stela 26, Close-up of Glyph
Discovered in 1958 by an archaeological team from the University of Pennsylvania Museum, it has been nicknamed the ‘Red Stela’ due to the pigment found still adhering to its surface. Due to the extensive damage, there has been some debate by scholars as to its date. Generally, Maya stelae include the date at which the monument was erected, but in this case that portion of the text has been lost. Clues gleaned from artistic conventions and layout suggest a date around AD 507, during the Early Classic period.
The complex glyph shown on the right above includes a female portrait (IX), a baby’s body (UNEN), jaguar features, such as paws and ear (BAHLAM), and a jaguar tail (ne). Altogether, the glyph reads Ix Unen Bahlam, or Lady Baby Jaguar. This is the name of a woman who is indicated with reference to her husband and her father or ancestor in the full glyph panel.
Maya hieroglyphic writing is composed of both syllabographs and logographs. The syllabographs are phonetic, giving the sound of a consonant and a vowel, such as ne above, and the logographs convey an entire word. Logographs generally represent the word pictorially, giving much room for artistic license.
Stela 26, Feet of Chak Tok Ich’aak II
The front of the monument, once depicting the king in front view in all of his finery, now preserves little more than the king’s elaborately sandaled feet. Barely visible at upper left of the photo is the diminutive icon of the ‘White Jaguar Bird,’ one of the king’s supernatural patrons.
(left) Stela 20, Tikal, El Peten
(right) Stela 20, Detail of Jaguar Throne
Stela 20 has long been recognized as one of two that were erected in commemoration of a period-ending on 22.214.171.124.0 2 Ahau 13 Zec (May 6, AD 751). We have recently learned that it was commissioned by Yik’in Chan K’awiil, who appears to have ruled from AD 734 until at least AD 755.
This stela provides a rare “frontal” view of the double-headed jaguar thrones or benches common in Late Classic Maya palaces. The chubby-cheeked jaguar seems to smile at the viewer, and his heavy-lidded eyes add to the self-satisfied impression.
Stela 12, Tikal, El Peten
The almost three-dimensional relief of Stela 12 stands in stark contrast to the shallow carving of Tikal Stela 20 above, which dates to almost 225 years later. The visible text reads “and the stela of Kaloomte’ K’inich Bahlam was erected.” This non-royal general seized control of Tikal by marrying Lady Uun K’in, daughter of the previous ruler. Kaloomte’ K’inich Bahlam is depicted on the monument’s front.