Dzibanché is believed to be the original capital of the Kaan (Snake) Dynasty, who founded the city approximately 200 AD. The city was once thought to have been abandoned in 1000 AD, at the end of the Classic Era. However, recent discoveries show that it was occupied until about 1300 AD, well into the Post-Classic. Although the Kaan Dynasty got its start at Dzibanché, the Kaan eventually came to rule--directly or indirectly--many Classic Era Maya cities. Eventually, this included Calakmul, the greatest and most powerful of them all.
Overview of Plaza Gann
The archeological site that we visited is actually only a small part of what was once a sprawling urban complex. Dzibanché's maximum extent may have been as large as 40 square kilometers. Although twenty-two separate plazas have been identified, only a handful have been excavated. Quite literally, archeologists have barely scratched the surface. In future years, it is likely that the Snake Dynasty's ancestral home will reveal many more of its secrets.
Edificio 2: Pirámide de los Cormoranes
Petén architectural style popular during the early Classic Era.
Palenque's ruler, Pakal the Great, is another example. Jade was considered not only a a sacred substance, but was as valuable to the ancient Maya as diamonds are in today' society. (Photo from Quintana Roo website).
The physical remains of Sky Witness tell an extraordinary story. An osteological analysis of the bones shows that, when he died, Dzibanché's 17th Kaan ruler was a powerfully built young man in his 30s. His relative youth at death fits with his surprisingly short, 11-year reign. The skull bears the healed scars of many battles, which indicates that he personally led his warriors into the thick of the fray. It is unknown, at this time, whether Sky Witness' early demise resulted from battle injuries or natural causes.
Teotihuacán, the great trading metropolis lying more than 1300 km to the west. The temple at the top of the pyramid contains two long galleries with corbel-arched ceilings. Rising high above the back of the temple are the remains of a large crest, called a "roof comb". This was a support structure for three large masks or medallions that were once mounted there.
Sky Witness won fame as the conqueror of Tikal, the Snake Dynasty's great rival during the Classic Era. However, he does not deserve all the credit. His predecessor, the 16th Kaan ruler, was named Stone Hand Jaguar (K'ahk' Ti' Ch'ich'). This very astute ruler laid the groundwork for Sky Witness' later triumph. Stone Hand Jaguar lived a thousand years before Machiavelli, but he would have perfectly understood the intrigues and conflicts among the city-states of the Italian Renaissance.
Archeologists believe that Tikal's somewhat mysterious relationship with Teotihuacan may have been a key factor bolstering its power. Established in the mid-5th century, this connection is believed to have provided one of the main channels for the spread of Teotihuacán's influence throughout the Classic Maya world. In the mid-6th century, as Teotihuacan began to decline, its connection with Tikal weakened and eventually ended. This loss, in turn, contributed to a decline in Tikal's power and influence. Moving into this power vacuum, Stone Hand Jaguar quietly and patiently built a web of alliances. Over a period of twenty years, he gradually surrounded Tikal with hostile city-states who had tired of its domination.
Stone Hand Jaguar's political outreach included dynastic weddings with other ruling houses and arranging ball games between Dzibanché and other city-states. Other tactics included gifts to his counterparts during a long series of "social" visits to their cities. All this is known from glyphs and carvings on the walls and stelae of the cities he targeted for alliances. Individually, these carvings appeared to have no particular significance. However, when archeologists viewed them collectively, a distinct pattern of sophisticated political intrigue emerged. It was as if Machivelli's book, The Prince, had been written in ancient Maya glyphs.
Among the cities Stone Jaguar courted were Caracol to the southeast of Tikal, and Naranjo and Holmul on the east. Waka, to the west, had a particularly warlike reputation and was thus an object of special attention. Eventually, Tikal was isolated and surrounded. Stone Hand Jaguar died before he could see the fruits of his efforts. It was left to his successor, Sky Witness, to carry out the long-range plan.
When all was ready, Caracol, supported by Naranjo and Holmul, attacked from the southeast. Meanwhile, Sky Witness led the forces of Dzibanché and Waka in the west. According to an altar-carving at Caracol, Sky Witness attacked Tikal on April 29, 562 AD. He defeated its army, sacked the city, and sacrificed its king on his own altar. Tikal would not rise again for another 130 years.
Pop was the first month of the year and it was preceded by fasting and abstinence. The first day of Pop was celebrated by feasting, drinking and gift-giving. To the Maya, Pop symbolized community and marriage. I have not been able to determine why the archeologists gave this structure its name. It could have been related to artifacts found here, or perhaps they excavated it during the month of Pop.
Limestone was the material used to build Dzibanché's stone structures. The whole Yucatan Peninsula is a large, flat, limestone shelf that used to be seabed. The stone lies at or just under the surface of the soil in many places, making it easy to quarry. Limestone is relatively soft and light-weight, making it ideal for building monumental structures, as well as for the sculptures and stelae found throughout Yucatan.
Edificio 16: Templo de los Tucanes
The Temple of the Toucans was modified four times over the centuries. The first two constructional stages occurred in the Early Classic (300-600 AD), with another during the Late Classic (600-900 AD). The final modification occurred during the Terminal Classic (900-1000 AD). During the changes, annexes were added on both ends, the staircase was changed and enlarged, and the vaulted rooms once located on the top level were demolished to create more space.
At the center of the photo is a small emblem that looks like a petalled flower circled by a ring. The flower is in the middle of the mask's open mouth, with a prominent chin just below. Above the mouth is a large curved nose, looking like it belongs to a boxer who has been in too many fights. On either side of the nose are rounded cheeks and above these are slitted eyes. Framing the face is an elaborate hairstyle, or possibly a head dress.
This concludes Part 2 of my Dzibanché series. I hope you have enjoyed it and, if so, you will leave any thoughts or questions in the Comments section below, or email me directly. If you leave a question in the Comments section, PLEASE leave your email address so that I can respond.
Hasta luego, Jim