Saturday, March 14, 2020

Edzná Part 8 of 8: The Patio of the Ambassadors

A large circular altar stands in the middle of the Patio of the Ambassadors.  The pit in the altar's center was probably used for ceremonial fires. In the background are two palaces (Structures 433 and 434) that stand at right angles to each other, forming the southwest corner of the Patio. The Patio of the Ambassadors was originally called the Annex of the Knives because it stands immediately to the west of the Platform of the Knives (see Part 7).

The name change came about through a remarkable humanitarian project. In the 1980s, Mexico agreed to provide work to Maya refugees from the Guatemalan civil war by allowing them to help with excavation at the Annex of the Knives. Several European ambassadors arranged financing for this project and the new name was adopted to honor them for their support.

In this posting, I'll walk you through the Patio and the various structures that form its perimeter. Information about them comes from Edzná, A Pre-hispanic City in Campeche, by the Mexican archeologist Antonio Benavides Castillo.  In addition, I'll continue my discussion of Edzná's history and rulers. The little we know comes from glyphs and images analyzed by Carlos Pallán Gayol in an article entitled: A Glimpse From Edzná's Hieroglyphics, which gives us a peek into the Late Classic era of the city's history. When I provide information that is not contained within these two works, I will include links to my other sources.

OverviewSite plan of the Patio of the Ambassadors / Annex of the Knives. North is toward the top of the schematic above. The Patio complex is located in the northwest corner of the Main Plaza, just west of the Platform of the Knives (Structure 431). There are three sets of altars in the Patio. The main altar is circular, with two other circular altars attached, descending in size toward the north. To its east is a large, rectangular, single-level altar. The Zoomorphic Altar stands in the northeast corner of the Patio.

The structures surrounding the Patio include 431 on the east, 435 on the north, and 434 on the west. Structures 433 and 432 form the Patio's southern boundary. Low staircases allow access to each of these. Archeologists gave the Patio its original name "Annex of the Knives" because it appeared to be an extension of the Platform of the Knives. This opinion is supported by the broad staircase leading up from the Patio to the Platform of the Knives. (Schematic is from Edzná, A Pre-hispanic City in Campeche)

View from the center of the Patio toward the west end of the Platform of Knives. The rectangular altar is visible under the tree on the left. The west end of the Platform is accessed by a broad, five-step staircase. At the top of the staircase, you can see the three west-facing rooms that form the west end of the Platform. The housing complex on the Platform of the Knives was covered in Part 7 of this series. The Patio's large enclosed space provided an area for semi-private religious ceremonies, probably reserved for elite families. In addition, it would have been ideal for socializing. 

What we know about Edzná's history and rulers comes primarily from stone carvings. Some of these were found on the risers of temple staircases and contain glyphs with words and dates. Images of rulers, along with more glyphs, were discovered on stelae (upright, stand-alone stone blocks). Most of the stelae were found at the Temple of the Stelae (Structure 419-2), while most of the glyphs come from the staircases of the Temple of the Inscriptions (Structure 419-3) and the Pyramid of the Five Levels. The stelae and most of the staircase inscriptions were created elsewhere in Edzná for other temples. Centuries later, they were recycled and placed in the positions where they were ultimately excavated. 

Trying to piece together Edzná's history from these artifacts is a bit like assembling a vast and complex jigsaw puzzle. Imagine that most of the pieces are missing and that much of what you have are only fragments of pieces. Further, the picture that emerges through this process often has multiple levels of meaning and, in some cases, several alternative meanings. It is truly remarkable that archeologists like Carlos Pallán Gayol and others have managed to do so much with so little.

The Patio and its three altars

View of the Patio and the rectangular altar. I took this shot from the western staircase of the Platform of the Knives (Structure 431). The Patio is shaped like an irregular polygon and measures 40m (131ft) east-to-west by 30m (98ft) north-to-south. Above, in the middle ground, is the rectangular altar. The low platform in the background is called Structure 435, one of several around the Patio that have not yet been thoroughly excavated. Its platform was probably the base for a dwelling which disappeared centuries ago and was constructed either of masonry or perishable materials. 

A total of 32 stelae, 2 lintels, a panel, and two sets of hieroglyphic stairways have been excavated at Edzná. Three of the stelae were produced in the 8th Baktun of the Maya calendar. This unit of time covers 45 AD-435 AD (Late Pre-Classic into Early Classic). This was the period when the Temple of the Masks, the South Temple, and Nohoch Ná were constructed. 

However, most of the stelae and hieroglyphs come from the Late Classic period (600-900 AD). Eleven of these contain dates from the Maya Long Count Calendar that archeologists were able to calibrate to the modern calendar system. These range from 652 AD to 810 AD. Other dates cited below that fall before or after this range are approximate and were inferred by Gayol from a variety of data sources.

All this has produced important information, including ruler names, titles, and dates of accession, as well as critical events such as battle victories and the overthrow of dynasties by foreign invaders. Carlos Pallás Gayol assembled all this into a list of 10 successive Late Classic rulers. Piecing together such a jigsaw puzzle is not an exact science and Gayol's work carefully separates facts from assumptions.

The Zoomorphic Altar is square with two levels. Resting on top is a serpent's head carved from stone. This altar is located in the narrow alley between the eastern edge of Structure 435 and the northwest corner of Structure 431. It is likely that the altar had a relationship to one or both of these structures. An altar with a similar serpent's head stands at the base of the main staircase of the South Temple. The term "zoomorphic" refers to the depiction of a god in the form of an animal, in this case a serpent.

Serpents were very important to the ancient Maya. They were believed to assist the movements of the sun, moon, and other celestial bodies. In addition, the regular shedding of the serpent's skin symbolized the important concepts of rebirth and renewal. Archeologists believe that both the serpent sculptures on the Zoomorphic Altar and the one at the South Temple were originally created in the Early Classic period for other temples or altars, but later were moved to their present locations. This probably occurred during the Post Classic era (1000-1500 AD). 

A line of three circular altars stands in the center of the Patio. The view here is toward the south. In the background, the north end of Nohoch Ná and the Circular Temple can be seen. The alignment of the altars forms a shape somewhat like an old-fashioned keyhole. While I have seen many circular altars throughout Mesoamerica, I have never before encountered an arrangement like this. I have been unable to find any explanation for this mystery.

Unen K'awiil is the first of the ten Late Classic rulers identified in Carlos Pallás Gayon's sequence. He appears on Stela 23, which was found at the base of the Small Acropolis. Its date of 633 AD is only approximate because the stela is very weathered. However, if the date is relatively accurate, Ruler #1 reigned during the meteoric rise of the Kaan (Snake) Dynasty, who ruled the city-state of Dzibanche. It was during this period that Edzná fell under Kaan influence. 

Two years later, in 635 AD, Dzibanche's ruler Yuknoom Cheen II seized power at Calakmul, an important city 225km (140mi) south of Edzna in the Petén lowlands. Following his coup d'etat, he made Calakmul the capital of the Kaan Dynasty and launched the closest thing to an empire that the Classic Maya ever had. For a short time, Yuknoom Cheen II ruled Edzná jointly with Calakmul. However, for most of the period of the Kaan hegemony, Edzná was a subordinate power with a degree of autonomy. Hieroglyphic Staircase 1, at the Five Level Pyramid, contains a glyph that refers to a Kaan Ajaw (Lord). This has to be Yuknoom Cheen II, the katoomte ("overlord") of Edzná's ruler at the time the staircase was built.

A reference to Edzná's Ruler #2, Sih Chan K'awiil, also appears on Hieroglyphic Stairway 1 as well as on Stela 18. Two dates are associated with him: 649 AD and 672 AD. The first is an approximate date, which occurred during his rule. The second date, while definite, was not carved until after his death. The date 649 AD places Sih Chan K'awiil squarely within the long reign of Yuknoom Cheen II, who died sometime in the 680's. During this period, Edzná enjoyed a high level of prosperity and stability, while functioning as the northern regional capital of Calakmul's empire.  

Structure 432: The buried tunnel

Structure 432, which I nicknamed the "Buried Tunnel Building". It sits in the southeast corner of the Patio, separated by a narrow alley from the southwest corner of the Platform of the Knives. The facing stones along the sides of Structure 432 are well-cut Puuc-style blocks. The interior of the walls are filled with rubble. In the foreground is part of the stone border of the sacbe  (processional way) that runs across the Main Plaza from the Great Acropolis and then passes between the Patio of the Ambassadors and Nohoch Ná

Ruler #2 was identified through hieroglyphic references to Lady Jut Chanek, who traveled to Edzná in 649 AD in order to marry him. The name Chanek means "Serpent-Star" and was an elite family from the Petén area, south of Calakmul. Lady Jut was the mother of Janaab Yook K'inich, Edzná's Ruler #5. 

To reach Edzná, Lady Jut had to travel all the way from the Petexbatun region, 330km (205mi) south of Edzná. This represented quite a remarkable journey, since all overland travel had to be by foot. Royal marriages were used to cement political, military, or economic alliances. Given the distance involved, any political or military benefits seem dubious. A trade deal seems more likely, since both Edzná and Petexbatun had resources the other might find attractive.

The buried tunnel, viewed from inside the Patio of the Ambassadors. The most striking feature of Structure 432 is the mouth of what appears to be a tunnel. It runs all the way through the building, connecting the Patio of the Ambassadors with the Main Plaza. However, this is not a tunnel at all. When archeologists excavated here, they discovered that it is actually the remains of a room that was covered over when a later structure was built over it. The tunnel/room's ceiling was formed with the classic Maya corbel arch. The facing stones and the rubble fill behind them can clearly be seen above.

Ruler #3, known as Cal Chan Chaahk ("Rain God who opens the sky"), was Ruler #2's successor. However, it is not clear that he was Lady Jut's son. Sih Chan K'awiil may had more than one wife or perhaps Cal Chan Chaahk was a brother or other relative who followed him to the throne. He appears on Stela 22, along with the date 652 AD, which is the earliest complete Long Count date at Edzná. The date also appears on Hieroglyphic Stairway 1, on the Five Level Pyramid. Cal Chan Chaahk constructed that great pyramid, as well as the Platform of the Knives and the Ball Court.

Cal Chan Chaahk's image also appears on Stela 21, surrounded by glyphs which include the date 662 AD. This relief carving shows him wearing an elaborate feathered head dress and a belt decorated with the heads of jaguars. In his right hand he holds a symbol of royal authority called a manikin scepter. In his left, he clutches an object called a trilobate flint, which is a weapon of war. Thus, he presented himself as the model of a well-dressed warrior-king. This is the best preserved image of any Edzna ruler.  

Structure 434: The southwest palace

Structure 434 has several interesting features. One of these is a room with four columns. For lack of a better name, I call the columned room the West Palace. It faces into the Patio at the southern end of Structure 434. Across its front is a three-step staircase. The steps lead up to four Puuc-style columns along the entrance of a single rectangular room. This structure, and most of the others found around the Patio, was built in the Post-Classic period between 1000-1200 AD. The Puuc features may have been recycled from other, older parts of Edzná. Whether Structure 434 was a temple, a dwelling, or served some other function is not clear.

Ruler #4 was a woman named Ixb'aah Pahk'. She may have been Cal Chan Chaahk's queen, who followed him to the throne after his death. It was not unusual for Calakmul and its subordinate city-states to have female rulers. Ruler #4 appears on Stela 20 as well as Hieroglyphic Staircase 1. In the image carved on the  stela, Ixb'aah Pahk' sits cross-legged on a throne that is decorated with three human heads. She wears a tall feathered head dress and an elaborate shawl of jade beads over a flowing gown. Dates associated with her include an approximate date of 649 AD and a definite Long Count date of 657 AD.

Ruler #5 was Janaab Yook K'inich, the son of Lady Jut Chanek and Sih Chan K'awiil (Ruler #2). Janaab Yook K'inich appears on Stelae 18 and 19 with the dates of 672 and 692 AD. On both stelae, he is richly dressed and carries the scepter and the trilobate flint of a warrior-king. However, on Stela 19, he also stands on the prostrate body of a captive. Glyphs on the stela link the captive with the city of Cobá and provide a date of 692 AD. Apparently this monument was erected to celebrate a victory over an important rival. Cobá is located near the Caribbean side of the Yucatan Peninsula.

This small room stands immediately to the right of the West Palace. Like the West Palace, it appears to be part of Structure 434. I found this room a bit puzzling because it doesn't have an obvious use. However, it does remind me of a small throne room. I can visualize a ruler sitting on his throne on the top level while receiving official visitors. This is only my speculation, however. The room has a small terrace at its front. This is followed by two levels, the first of which is mounted by three steps on the right side. All the facing stones are cut in Puuc style. Again, these stones were probably re-cycled by the site's Post-Classic builders.

Rulers #6 and #7. Hul Janaab Chanek (Ruler #6) is believed to have ascended the throne sometime after 692 AD. He apparently did not have a particularly long or memorable reign, because he is only mentioned on Stela 19, a monument he shares with Ruler #5. Chan Chuwaaj (Ruler #7), succeeded Hul Janaab Chanek. He dedicated monuments in 711 and 721 AD. Both of these stelae portray him as a warrior-king, standing on captives. The prisoners were taken after victories over the the Gulf Coast city-state of Champutun (modern Chapoton in the state of Campeche). However, Ruler #7s victories appear to have been less of a triumph than a last gasp. During the 70 years following 721, no new monuments were erected. This suggests a period of military defeats and political eclipse. At the end of this sculptural hiatus, Edzná's ruling dynasty appears to have been displaced by a foreign group.

Champutun was an important Chontol Maya city. The Chontol (also known as the Putún) were a different ethnic group than those in Edzná. Champutun was a seaport and connected with the civilizations of central Mexico both by sea and land trade routes. The Chontol are sometimes referred to as "Mexicanized" Maya. Their culture was highly militarized and had a very aggressive merchant class. In 700 AD, the Chontol began to take over many areas of central and northern Yucatan. This was possible because of the vacuum created by the decline of Calakmul after its disastrous defeat by Tikal in 695 AD. Calakmul never recovered its ascendency and, as a result, Edzná lost its protector. It was in this context that Edzná's sculptural hiatus and change in dynasty occurred

Structure 433: the south palace

The South Palace (Structure 433) borders the south side of the Patio. It forms a right angle with the West Palace, creating the Patio's southwest corner. The West and South Palaces are virtually identical. Above, you can see the single rectangular room with its four pillars along the front. A narrow terrace runs along the front between the pillars and the edge of the platform. A small, three-step staircase gives access to the terrace and the structure.

Ruler #8 was Aj Koht Chawa Nahkaan. He appears on several stelae, but the most important of these is Stela 5, dated 790 AD. In some ways, the image of Ruler #8 duplicates his predecessors, Aj Koht Chawa Nahkaan is shown carrying a scepter and a trilobate flint while standing on the prostrate body of a defeated enemy. However, his name and some other aspects of his stela depart from the traditional formulae used by his predecessors. Taken together, these differences strongly suggest that the man who erected Edzná's first stela in 70 years was a foreigner. 

For one thing, the word Koht ("eagle") in his name is not Maya but is from the Nahuatl language of central Mexico. The Chontol's trading network into the Nahuatl-speaking areas of central Mexico led them to adopt some of the words they encountered. Additionally, Ruler #8 does not use the traditional title of "Holy King", but calls himself "the principal of the land or territory". This stress on territorial control suggests a hostile takeover. Finally, conspicuous by its absence is the emblem glyph used for centuries to identify Edzná's dynastic rulers. It appears that the defeated figure shown in Stela 5 represents Edzná's old dynasty. Twenty years after Stela 5, Aj Koht Chawa Nahkaan erected Stela 9. Its date, 810 AD, marks the last definite Long Count date in Edzná's history

An iguana strikes a dramatic pose. These guys usually remain perfectly still, as if happy to be photographed. We found them everywhere, which may explain why someone suggested that Edzná's name means "House of the Iguanas". 

The dates 849 AD and 869 AD are associated with the 9th century's next two rulers. This is the Terminal Classic period (also known as the Epi-Classic). Neither of these dates are definite and we know little about the two rulers except their names. Ruler #9 was B'ahlam K'uk Ek Chan. Ruler #10 was a man we only know from a fragment of his name: Ajan. The 9th century was the last gasp of the Maya Classic era. It was a century of turmoil, intense military conflicts, and dynastic changes throughout the Maya world. Great cities like Tikal and Calakmul were abandoned to the jungle. Other city-states, especially in the Yucatan Pensinula, were incorporated into a new international order called Zuyua. Edzná was one of these.

This new order arrived with the Mexicanized Chontol Maya from the Gulf Coast. They not only seized Edzná, but groups of them progressively took over and transformed other cities like Chichen Itza, Uxmal, and Oxtkintok. Under the Zuyua Order, new ruling dynasties were established in the conquered city-states. These dynasties adhered to a new religion based on the Feathered Serpent, known as Kulkulkan. The Chontol invaders were highly militarized, with specialized eagle and jaguar warrior cults. Their economies were controlled by elite groups of merchant-traders who emphasized commerce and worshiped a trader god that archeologists call God L.

In fact, a similar transformation was occurring at the same time in central Mexico. Like the fall of Calakmul, the end of Teotihuacán's empire left a vacuum. Into it moved other groups of Mexicanized Maya from the Gulf Coast, called the Olmeca Xicalanca (not to be confused with the much earlier Olmecs). They established new regional city-states to control trade routes and dominate resources. Among these were Cacaxtla (north of Puebla) and Xochicalco (south of Cuernavaca). Many elements of the Zuyua Order were strongly emphasized by these new regional powers. These included worship of the Feathered Serpent (called Quetzalcoatl in central Mexico), elite military orders who wore eagle and jaguar regalia, and an aggressive class of merchant-traders who worshiped God L.

Edzná continued as a city-state into the Post-Classic era (1000-1500 AD) and was still inhabited until a few decades before the arrival of the Spanish. However, its Classic era glory days were over.

This completes the last part of my series on Edzná. I hope you have enjoyed it. If so, please leave any thoughts or questions in the Comments section below or email me directly. If you leave a question in the Comments section, PLEASE include your email address so that I can respond.

Hasta luego, Jim

Friday, March 13, 2020

Edzná Part 7 of 8: The Platform of the Knives

Main entrance to the elite residence known as the Platform of the Knives. The name comes from knives left as offerings here. They were made from chert, a sedimentary silica rock that was widely used in pre-hispanic times to make tools. The Platform of the Knives (also called Structure 431) forms the northern boundary of Edzná's Main Plaza. The platform's position and the quality of its construction identify it as the dwelling-place of a very high status family, possibly the city's rulers. The Platform of Knives was built during the Late-Classic era (600-900 AD).

In the previous parts of my Edzná series, I have focused on the architecture of the temples and pyramids of the city's ceremonial center, including their construction styles and the time periods in which they were built. In Part 7 and Part 8, I will focus on the lifestyles of the elites who lived in these structures. I will also talk about the history of Edzná, its rulers, and the role the city played in the great power struggles of the ancient Maya world.

Floor plan of the Platform of the Knives. The platform is rectangular on an east-to-west line. In the schematic above, north is at the top. The south side, seen in the previous photograph, faces the Main Plaza. The east end faces the northern section of the Great Acropolis, while the west end overlooks the Patio of the Ambassadors (see Part 8).

The dimensions of the platform are 80m (262ft) long and 35m (115ft) across. The highest point measures 5m (16.4 ft) above the level of the Main Plaza. There are broad staircases on the south and west sides and narrower ones on the north and east.

Archeologists have excavated a total of 20 rooms. Twelve of these once had masonry roofs, while the other eight were covered with perishable materials which have long since disappeared. The rooms are arranged in the shape of a capital "I" placed on its side. Several of them contain sleeping platforms or benches, providing strong evidence that Structure 431 was residential.

View toward the west along the south side of the Platform of Knives. Broad grassy terraces run along the south and north sides of the platform. Two Puuc-style columns stand in the main entrance, seen in the upper left. Doorways open into rooms on either side of the main entrance. The well-cut facing stones of the walls are in the Puuc style. Some of the other rooms are constructed with stones of a rougher cut, indicating that they were added later, in the Post-Classic era.

As I outlined in Part 1 of this series, Edzná had an unusually long and unbroken period of occupation that spanned nearly 2000 years. Early settlement began somewhere between 600-400 BC. Not long after this, efforts began to drain the swampy but agriculturally productive area in order to control seasonal flooding. During the Mid-to-Late Pre-Classic era (400 BC - 300 AD), ancient engineers created a huge system of canals, drainage ditches, and water reservoirs in the Edzná Valley. 

This not only resulted in bountiful harvests but provided water for drinking and other purposes. This, in turn, made possible a rapidly growing population. At its peak, Edzná had  25,000 inhabitants. In addition to water control, the canals and reservoirs enabled fish farming and also served as transportation corridors for goods and people. All this helps explain the size, prosperity, and longevity of this great Maya city.

The long "stadium seat" stairs of Nohoch Ná, viewed through one of Structure 431's south facing doors. Similar to Nohoch Ná, the Platform of the Knives was positioned so that people could view the great ceremonies conducted in the Main Plaza. The Platform of Knives and the neighboring Patio of the Ambassadors are the only residential areas that border the Main Plaza. It can therefore be assumed that the people living here were of the highest status.

In the Middle Pre-Classic period (400 BC - 1 AD), the construction of massive waterworks prepared the way for Edzná to become a large and influential city. During the Late Pre-Classic period (1 AD - 300 AD), Petén-style masonry structures began to appear, including small pyramids and temples. These included the Temple of the Stelae (Structure 419-1), on the Small Acropolis. By 200 AD, Edzná had become an important regional city. 

However, the construction of large pyramids and temples did not occur until the Early Classic (300 - 600 AD). The style the Maya builders used got its name from the great Maya civilization developing in the Petén lowlands of northern Guatemala. Nohoch Ná (structure 424) and the Pyramid of the Five Levels were both initiated in this period. However, unlike Nohoch Ná, the Five Level Pyramid was modified numerous times, using other architectural styles popular during the centuries that followed. 

View toward the eastern end of the platform. The rooms in the middle of the platform have an east-west alignment. Those on the ends--the capital and the base of the "I"--are oriented north-south. The shapes of the rooms range from rectangular to square and most are entered through a single door. However, several of the north-south rooms are connected by internal doors. The surviving rooms in the central area all face south, toward the Main Plaza. Six of the north-south rooms face inward toward the center of the platform, three on each side. They are back-to-back with six others which face outward, three toward the east and three west.

The rooms are not large by modern standards, but they would have been much more substantial than the na (house) of the common people. The latter would have been constructed on a low stone platform with walls of vertical sticks  plastered with mud and a thatched roof. The stone rooms of the elite would have been cooler than the commoner's na during hot months and warmer in the cool season. In any case, most daily activities would probably have occurred outside, on the broad terraces along the north and south sides of the platform.

Sleeping platform with Puuc-style decorations. At least four of the rooms have platforms for sleeping, a further indication that this is a residential complex. The stonework along the border of the platform shows a clear Puuc influence. In the nearest corner are three stone cylinders that archeologists have dubbed "drums". There are two more sets of drums on each side, separated by well-cut square blocks. When in use, the sleeping platform may have been covered by one or more woven reed mats called petates. These would have provided cushioning and insulation. Drawings of people sitting or lying on petates can be found in the ancient Maya codices. Similar mats can still be purchased on the streets of the village where I live.

Tikal was the dominant city-state in Guatemala's Petén region during the Early Classic era. Its style of monumental architecture was adopted by Edzná and many other city-states in Yucatan peninsula including Dzibilchaltun, a city in the far north of Yucatan. It has a Petén-style palace closely resembling Nohoch Na. Tikal, in turn, was influenced by the great trading empire of Teotihuacán, located 966km (600mi) away in central Mexico. 

In fact, Tikal's pre-eminence may have depended upon its relationship to Teotihuacán. Around 600 AD, a still-mysterious but definitely violent event destroyed the elite power structure at Teotihuacán. The city's influence began a rapid decline, leading to the fragmentation of its empire. Not long after, Tikal's hegemony over the Maya world also began to decline. It is probably no coincidence that about this time Edzná and other city-states began to replace the Petén architectural style with the Puuc style.

Another platform that could have been used either for sleeping or sitting. This one doesn't have drums but its border is faced with well-cut stone blocks typical of Puuc architecture. The walls are also faced with finely cut blocks, but their internal structure consists of rubble. The rooms of Structure 431would have been plastered with stucco and painted in bright colors. Furnishings could not have been extensive, given the size of the rooms. Anything made of wood or other perishable materials disappeared long ago. Baskets and pots for storage would have been used, along with ceramic vessels and dishes for food consumption. Ceramic fragments from household dishes are an additional indicator of a structure's residential use.

The Early Classic period was a time of growing prosperity and influence at Edzná. Unlike many of the other of the city-states of the Yucatan Peninsula, it had a stable water supply. When the fertile sediments of the Edzná's large swampy aguada were uncovered by drainage projects, food production increased dramatically. Further, the city was geographically well-situated for trade. Edzná's location in the center of a galaxy of city-states in the western Peninsula made it a commercial hub. In addition, one of key trade routes from the Petén to northern Yucatan ran through the city. Finally, Edzná was close enough to the Gulf Coast to benefit from the seaborne trade routes that circumnavigated the Peninsula, as well as from the Gulf's rich maritime resources such as fish and mollusks.

View toward the east, along the terrace on the north side of the platform. Above, you can see the north-south rooms on the east end of the platform. They face west, into the platform's central area. Out of sight on the left is a small staircase that leads up to this terrace. Spaces like this would have been ideal for domestic work like cleaning or mending clothes or food preparation. It is possible that such work would have been performed by servants or slaves. An interesting study of households at the Maya city of Aguateca indicated that elite family members were directly engaged in craft production, such as leatherwork and shell jewelry. This even included members of the king's family. So, perhaps that sort of activity was also happening here.

The period between the middle of the Early Classic era and the middle of the Late Classic was marked by intense competition and conflict between Tikal and Calakmul. They were two great "superpowers" of the Classic Maya world. Each city dominated an array of satellite city-states that were linked to them through alliances or conquest. While Tikal is located in the north-central region of Guatemala, Calakmul is in Mexico, just a few miles from the Guatemalan border. It should be remembered that the nations of Mexico and Guatemala did not exist at that time. The lowland region within which both cities were located is called the Petén and it was the center of Classic Maya civilization. Today, most of it consists of thousands of square miles of trackless jungle dotted with ruined cities.

Edzná was on the northern fringe of the Petén civilization, in the west-central Yucatan Peninsula. It was a rising regional power that had developed its own satellites. From the Late Pre-Classic through the beginning of the Early Classic, Tikal exerted some influence over Edzná. However, this was primarily cultural since Tikal was simply too far away for political domination. Calakmul, on the other hand, was much closer and Edzná was eventually incorporated within its sphere of influence. The city generally exercised considerable autonomy as a subordinate regional power. However, for a time during the mid-7th century AD, Edzná was ruled directly by the king of Calakmul, 

Near the platform is an underground water cistern called a chultun. Another indicator that the Platform of the Knives was residential is the large chultun located a few meters to its north. Chultunes were bell-shaped, with a narrow neck reaching to the surface. The interior was sealed with a stucco lining. The total depth of the Edzná chultun in the schematic above was 5m (16.4ft). The ground-level opening was at the low point of a plaster-lined, bowl-shaped depression that collected rainwater.

Sometimes, channels would be cut in patios or plazas to direct water off those surfaces and toward a chultun's opening. The average capacity of a chultun was about 7,500 gallons, enough to supply 25 people with year-round potable water. Occasionally, chultunes were also used to store perishable foods. When they were no longer considered suitable for those purposes, they often became refuse dumps or even sites for human burials.

View of the west end of the platform. The two rooms visible above are the south and middle west-facing rooms. The north room is out of sight. The wall at the back of these rooms also forms the back of the east-facing rooms. Visible in the lower left is the corner of Structure 432 of the Platform of the Ambassadors. The line of stones in the grass in the foreground is part of the sacbe (processional way) that runs from the Great Acropolis, across the Main Plaza, and then between the Patio of the Ambassadors and Nohoch Ná.

One of the turning points of the Classic era was the decisive defeat of Tikal in 562 AD by an alliance of city-states led by Sky Witness of Dzibanche's Kaan (Snake) dynasty. The result was the political eclipse of Tikal for the next 130 years. In 631 AD, Yuknoom Cheen II took power in Calakmul. He had been another of Dzibanche's Kaan rulers, but shifted his capital to Calakmul after he seized power there. Yuknoom Cheen II expanded Calakmul's area of influence to its greatest extent and eventually assumed direct rulership of Edzná. 

This concludes Part 7 of my Edzná series. I hope you have enjoyed it. If so, please leave any thoughts or questions in the Comments section below or email me directly.

If you leave a question in the Comments, PLEASE include your email address so that I can respond.

Hasta luego, Jim

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Edzná Part 6 of 8: Nohoch Ná & the Circular Temple

Nohoch Ná is a massive structure that occupies the entire west side of Edzná's Main Plaza. You are looking south along the eastern side of the structure. Nohoch Ná means "Big House", but its official archeological designation is Structure 424. The eastern side of Structure 424 has fifteen extraordinarily long and massive steps. At first glance, these steps make Nohoch Ná look a lot like stadium seats at a football field. In fact, one of its functions may have been to provide mass seating for large public ceremonies staged in the Main Plaza.

In this posting, I will focus on the ceremonial monuments of the western part of the Main Plaza. These include Nohoch Ná and several other temples and pyramids known only by their archeological numbers. In addition, we will look at a small but fascinating temple for which I could find no name or archeological number. Unless otherwise indicated by a link, all the information provided with my photos comes from informational signs at the site or from Edzná, A Pre-hispanic City in Campeche, by the Mexican archeologist Antonio Benavides Castillo.


Satellite view of the western side of the Main Plaza. North is toward the top of the photo. The long narrow structure running north to south is Nohoch Ná. To its right is the broad open space of the Main Plaza. At the north end of Nohoch Ná, just to the west, is a small circular temple known as Structure 425. Further to the west of Nohoch Ná is Structure 501, a large pyramid partially buried in jungle. Two other temples to the west of Nohoch Ná  are not visible in this photo because of the jungle canopy.

In the lower right, you can see the South Pyramid and the Ball Court, which we examined in my last posting. Running diagonally across the upper right is a sacbe (processional street) that connects the Great Acropolis (Edzná Parts 2 & 3) with the north end of Nohoch Ná and other ceremonial areas further west.

Notice the short passageway on top of Nohoch Ná that runs east-to-west at the mid-point. There is a direct line-of-sight from Pyramid 501's temple, through this passageway, to the top of the main staircase of the Great Acropolis (out of sight to the east). From there, the line extends to the top of the Pyramid of the Five Levels. Archeologists believe these three structures may have been deliberately aligned for astronomical purposes. One of these purposes might have been the observation of the sun rising over the Pyramid of the Five Levels. Another possibility relates to the quarterly appearances of the equinoxes and solstices.

Nohoch Ná

View of the west side of Nohoch Ná, looking north. There are various sets of staircases on this side, but they are not aligned like the "stadium seats" of the eastern side. Structure 424 is 135m (443ft) long. Its width is 31m (102ft) and it stands 9m (30ft) high. The massive, fully-integrated structure of Nohoch Ná is an outstanding example of Petén monumental architecture from the Early Classic period (300-600 AD).

A very similar structure, called the Palace (Structure 44) can be seen at Dzibilchaltun, a Maya city north of Mérida in the state of Yucatan. The Palace also has 15 long rows of stairs that overlook a large plaza. This strongly suggests a function similar to Edzná's Structure 424. In addition to their "stadium seats" both structures also have a series of long rooms along their tops with numerous doorways separated by large numbers of pilasters. Both cities had very long histories of occupation and the two structures were built contemporaneously.

One of four long galleries atop Nohoch Ná. Two of the galleries run side-by-side along the northern half and another two on the southern. The galleries along the eastern side face east and the others (including this one) face west. A long dividing wall (above right) runs down the center of Structure 424, separated at the mid-point by the passageway mentioned previously. Each gallery has 12 entrances, separated by pilasters (above left), for a total of 48 doorways. All of the galleries were once covered by corbel vaults made of masonry.

The long narrow structure of the galleries, along with their many entrances, suggests purposes other than residential. Archeologists have suggested such functions as the control and distribution of merchandise, storage of elite luxury goods, or other administrative purposes. Nohoch Ná appears to have had multiple functions, including administrative activities, astronomical observations, and as a giant set of bleachers.

View of the northwestern steps of Nohoch Ná and the mysterious Circular Temple. Immediately adjacent to the northwestern tip of Structure 424 is a relatively small circular structure of a kind that is unusual in the Maya world. When I have encountered circular temples elsewhere in Mexico, they are usually associated with Ehecatl, the God of the Wind. Most temples for other gods are square or rectangular and are oriented to the Four Cardinal Directions. However, the wind can blow from any direction, so Ehecatl's temples are always circular. The Maya also had a Wind God. His name was Hunraqan ("One-legged"), from which we got the word hurricane. However, it is not clear whether Hunraqan was the deity worshipped here.

The Circular Temple (Structure 425)

The Circular Temple, viewed from the top of the north end of Nohoch Ná. This position allows a look inside the temple, which is also known as Structure 425. Within the circular room at the top is a smaller, rectangular room with a north facing door. This interior room may have been used for rituals that were especially secret or, alternatively, for storage of costumes and other ritual materials.

The structure is believed to be a temple rather than a dwelling because archeologists have found none of the ceramic fragments that are typically associated with residential spaces. While circular temples are not common forms of Maya architecture, other examples do exist. One that is nearly identical to Structure 425 is Platform 84, located at Dzehkabtun, about 35km (22mi) from Edzná. The only major difference between the two structures is that Platform 84 is oriented toward the west while Structure 425 faces north,

What the Circular Temple may have originally looked like. There are three concentric circular levels. The temple faces north, directly onto the sacbe that runs from the Great Acropolis, past the north end of Nohoch Ná, and toward ceremonial areas to the west. The temple has one Puuc-style stairway that is almost 9m (30ft) wide. Eight steps lead up to the single doorway,

The bottom half of the walls around the circular room are stone, but the upper section and the roof would have been constructed of perishable materials. The diameter of the base of the structure is 23m (75ft), while the diameter of the top-level room is 12.5m (41ft).

View of the Circular Temple from the northeast. In the upper left corner of the photo, you can see the Five Level Pyramid in the distance. The tourists at the temple provide a sense of scale. Fragments of ceramics found within the structure place it in the Terminal Classic period (900-1050 AD). Although the stairs and some of the other parts were made using well-cut stones from the earlier Puuc era, these were apparently recycled from older buildings when the Circular Temple was constructed. During excavation, archeologists found some very deteriorated remains of an underlying Pre-Classic structure.

Temple with the Half-Moon Terrace

The structure above stands only a few meters to the west of Nohoch Ná. Carole is the figure standing near its north side. There was no sign at the temple, identifying it or providing any information. Despite my best efforts, I have been unable to find any mention of it in the archeological literature, nor even a numerical designation.

Lacking a name, I decided to call it the "Temple with the Half-Moon Terrace", because of the unusual curving terrace on its east side. The temple stands close to the west side of Nohoch Ná, at its south end. This places it in the West Plaza, which is bordered by Nohoch Ná on the east, the Circular Temple to the north, and the large pyramid called Structure 501 to the west.

View of the "half-moon" terrace. The temple is not large, standing only about 1.8m (6ft) tall. The length of each of its four sides is approximately 15m (50ft). The east-facing staircase has 7-steps. The other three sides are smooth sloping ramps, rather than the stepped levels usually found on a structure like this.The temple's top level is flat and about 5m (16.5ft) on a side. At one time, this flat area probably contained a structure made of perishable materials.

Structures 501 and 512

Only the eastern side of Structure 501 has been excavated. The rest of it is still covered by jungle vegetation. This large pyramid faces east toward the western side of Nohoch Ná. As noted before, there is a direct line-of-sight between the temple on top of the pyramid to the central passageway of Nohoch Ná, then to the main staircase of the Great Acropolis, and finally to the temple atop the Five Level Pyramid. This alignment is apparently associated with astronomical observations. I regret that I didn't spend more time at this structure or get more photos. I am especially intrigued by the curved balustrades on either side of the top of the staircase.

Structure 512 is close to the sacbe that runs from Edzná's entrance to the Main Plaza. This small temple was built in the Post-Classic era (1000-1200 AD). Edzná experienced a demographic boom and an intense period of construction during that period. As a consequence, new architectural forms began appearing. These included the sloping panels and moldings seen above. There is a very similar temple at Chichen Itzá, a structure built contemporaneously with Structure 512.

A spiny-tailed iguana basks on a ledge of Nohoch Ná. The scientific name of this creature is Ctenosaura. These lizards are omnivorous and are popular as pets. Their name comes from two Greek words: ctenos (comb) and saura (lizard). Iguanas are wonderful photographic subjects because they tend to remain absolutely still unless you approach too closely or otherwise disturb them. We saw spiny-tails and other iguana species throughout the Edzná ruins.

This completes Part 6 of my Edzná series. In my final two postings of this series, I will show some of the elite living areas that form the north end of the Main Plaza. I will also outline some of the extraordinary history of the city. I hope you have enjoyed this posting. If so, please leave any thoughts or questions you might have in the Comments section below or email me directly. If you leave a question, PLEASE leave your email address so that I can respond.

Hasta luego, Jim