Yaxchilan was omitted from our 2008 tour at the last moment, but it was possible to make up for this by visiting the British Museum which contains casts and originals of lintels from the site. A series of rulers is recorded in monuments at Yaxchilan spanning the period from 359 to 808. The city on the banks of the Usumacinta reached its height in the 8th century under Itzamnaaj B'alam II and his son Bird Jaguar IV who are responsible for much of the city that can be seen today. Yaxchilan is most famous for its lintels of which some 58 span the entrances of major buildings. Their carvings are among the most accomplished of any Maya site and depict both military and ritual events.
One of four lintels from Structure 12 which together list ten generations of rulers at Yaxchilan and their most notable captives. The lineage culminates in the capture of lords from Calakmul on 18.104.22.168.6.1 cimi 14 muan (14 January 537) by K'inich Tatbu Skull II, also known as Mak'ina Tah Skull II or Ruler 10. The lintel dates from the 6th century but its original location is unknown. It has been suggested that Bird Jaguar IV, the principal protagonist in lintels 15, 16 and 17, had structure 12 built over two centuries later to house this record of the history of his ancestors.
The Yaxchilan lintels from Temple 23
The scenes carved in relief on the sets of lintels of this temple and Temple 24 depict the rituals performed by Maya rulers to invoke powerful immortal spirits to ensure success in battle and secure captives for sacrifice. These ritual deeds legitimised their authority and ancestral right to rule.
One of three lintels from Structure 23 at Yaxchilan. Depicts Lord Shield Jaguar and his principal wife Lady Xoc engaged in a bloodletting rite that took place on 22.214.171.124.12.5 eb 15 mac (28 Oct 709). The king stands on the left, brandishing a flaming torch. Kneeling in front of him wearing a woven huipil Lady Xoc passes a thorn-lined rope through her tongue. The rope falls into a woven basket holding blood-soaked strips of paper cloth.
On the second lintel from Structure 23 at Yaxchilan the sacrificial offering of blood conjures up a visionary manifestation of Yut-Balam, founding ancestor of the dynasty of Yaxchilan. In the guise of a warrior grasping a spear and shield this ancestral spirit emerges from the gaping front jaws of a double-headed serpent rearing above lady Xoc. She gazes upward at the apparition she has brought forth. In her left hand she bears a blood-letting bowl containing instruments of sacrifice, a sting-ray spine and an obsidian lancet.
Lintel 26 which is in Mexico depicts the final scene of the ritual sequence begun lintels 24 and 25. It shows Lord Shield Jaguar wearing a mantel of quilted cotton and wielding a knife in his right hand. He is being presented with his battle shield by one of his wives who cradles the jaguar headdress in her left arm. The glyphic text recounts that this particular presentation took place on 12 February 724.
The three lintels from Yaxchilan Structure 24 record Lord Bird Jaguar's enactment of the ritual depicted on lintels 24, 25 (displayed left) and 26, although they were arranged in a different order. This lintel repeats the vision stage of the blood-letting shown on lintel 25. The serpent coils up through a beaded blood scroll and from the mouth emerges the ancestor whom the lady has contacted in the rite.
The ruler Bird Jaguar stands over a captive noble who, judging by the beaded droplets on his nose and cheek, has already let blood. Eight days later when his heir, Shield Jaguar II was born, Bird Jaguar and one of his other wives performed ritual blood-letting in celebration. Seventy-five days later on 3 may 732 Bird Jaguar was officially installed as king, an event which took place only after the capture of noble prisoners and, in this case, the birth of a male heir.
The bloodletting scene here parallels that on lintel 24. It depicts Bird Jaguar IV and the sumptuously dressed kneeling Lady Mut Bahlam of Hiix Witz (El Pajaral, Guatemala), one of his wives or consorts who draws blood from her tongue with a thorn-studded rope. Opposite her sits Bird Jaguar, adorned with ornate ear-plugs, a nosepiece, bar pectoral, jade cylinder cuffs and a shield tied to his back. The fact that he is wearing a skull and skeletal serpent headdress, like Lady Xoc on lintel 25 suggests that he too is about to let blood by piercing his penis with the sharpened bone perforator he holds in front of him. The lintel comes from the right-hand doorway of the central chamber of Structure 21, and was removed to the British Museum in 1883. It is undated but probably 752, the same date as Lintel 13. The text suggests a penitential rite in celebration of a birth.
This lintel had fallen from the central doorway of Structure 20 when discovered. It bears the date 126.96.36.199.5 1 Chikchan 13 Pop (13 Feb 752)and shows Bird Jaguar IV and his wife or consort Lady Chak Chami wielding hafted bloodletters and other bloodletting equipment. A large serpent disgorges a form which is probably their child, the future Shield Jaguar IV. The scene is probably a metaphorical one, but many key textual passages are eroded and obscure.
The lintel depicts Bird Jaguar IV dancing beside one of his wives or consorts, Lady Great Skull. The king manipulates a K'awiil scepter, while Lady Great Skull supports a large bundle of jades. The text suggest s that this event took place in front of a large crowd. Probably commissioned by Shield Jaguar IV whose name appears at the close of the inscription.
The lintel shows Bird Jaguar IV dancing alongside his young son Chel Te' Chan K'inich, the future Shield Jaguar IV. The king holds two flowered bird staffs, while Shield Jaguar IV also carries one of these staffs. The text suggest s that this dance commemorated Bird Jaguar IV's fifth year of rule. The date 188.8.131.52.0 4 Ajaw 3 Sotz' (3 Apr 757) appears on the lintel.
This lintel, located over the right-hand doorway of Structure 33It bears the date 184.108.40.206.0 8 Ajaw 8 Sotz' (8 Apr 756) and depicts Bird Jaguar IV dancing beside one of his sajals, K'in Mo' Ajaw. Both the king and his sajal bear K'awiil scepters to commemorate the first hotun of the seventeenth katun.