Lintel 16 from Yaxchilan, Chiapas, México

Lintel 16 is a beautifully preserved sculptured monument from the Maya classic period. Its hieroglyphic text can be completely read, and the scene, featuring two persons, is well understood. Before the carved stone slab was removed to London in 1883 it spanned the central doorway of a royal mansion of the great Yaxchilan-king YAXUN BALAM IV as a lintel. The two figures and the text could thus only be viewed from below. YAXUN BALAM IV was the fourth king of that name in the royal dynasty of Yaxchilan. He was born on 8 OK 13 YAX which corresponds to August 23, 709 A.D. in the Julian Calendar.

The king was a pious man. Many monuments depict him while performing the bloodletting autosacrifice and other ritual acts. He had three wives of noble descent and pursued a career of victories in battles and ballgames. He died presumably shortly after the last known event of his reign, a war-banner dance which he performed jointly with another noble lord and great warrior by the name of "Red Death", CHAK KIMI in Maya, on the date 1 EB, end of YAXK’IN [ 12] which corresponds to June 16, 768 A.D. (jul.). This event is recorded on Lintel 9 at Yaxchilan. So YAXUN BALAM IV must have been just about 60 when died.


The name of this great king at F3 is mentioned in the inscriptions of more than 40 monuments at Yaxchilan and other sites in the vicinity. It is composed of a principal logographic sign which resembles the head of a jaguar, BALAM in Maya. In some examples of this name, the signs for the syllables YA, XU, and NI precede the jaguar-head. These signs have permitted the decipherment of the king’s complete name as YAXUN(I) BALAM. The YAXUN is the Continga amabilis, a brillantly colored tropical bird, about 7 ½ inches in length. The male is of an intense glossy blue with a triangular patch of rich purple on the abdomen and another on the throat. Wings and tail are black marked with blue.

In our case, rather than using syllabic signs to write YAXUN, the artist who designed the text of Lintel 16 employed another logograph, a little bird which he put right over the jaguar-head. In order to help the reader identify this bird and thus pronounce the king’s name properly he used what is termed a "phonetic complement". This is the sign composed of two scrolls with two dots in the middle, carved in front of the name- glyph. It indicates that the first syllable in the word YAXUN BALAM is YA. The sign composed of three little balls below the jaguar head is another phonetic complement. It represents the syllable MA thus signalling the final consonant in BALAM to be M(A).

The inscription of Lintel 16 begins in the upper left hand corner with the Calendar Round date 6 KABAN 5 POP (A1-B1). In this date the numbers are written above rather than preceding the calendrical glyphs as we have done throughout this calendar. Both writing conventions are equivalent and were used side by side during the Maya Classic Period.

When projected into the time span of king YAXUN BALAM IV’s life, this Calendar Round date can only fall on one Long Count position which is The corresponding date in the Julian Calendar is February 6, 752 A.D. The scene shows YAXUN BALAM IV in battle dress, armed with shield and spear, standing over a bound captive by the name of YAX KIB TOK’ (B2) which may be translated as "First Crooked Flintknife". He is an AH WAK’AB (A3) which means a "man from the lineage or the lineage-residence of the WAK’AB". The glyph in B3 reads U SAHAL. This means that YAX KIB TOK’ was a "subordinate dignitary of" a higher ranking lord whose name follows in glyphs C, D, and E. The glyph at E tells us that this lord in fact is none less than the WAK’AB AHAW, "the ruler of the WAK’AB " himself. His personal name (glyphs C and D) is PAYA(H) LAKAM CHAAK which may be translated as "Invoke the big CHAAK ". CHAAK is the name for the rain god or just simply for rain in Maya. This may indicate that the WAK’AB - king as almost all other Maya kings of whom we know was also a shaman, a rainmaker in this case.

KIB TOK’ may very well be the ancient Maya name for the so called "eccentric flints and obsidians" which have been unearthed by archaeologists all over the Maya area. The most elaborate examples were found at the sites of Copán and Quiriguá. These instruments have been interpreted as ornate and embellished sacrificial knives. If that was indeed the case, then YAX KIB TOK’ was not only of noble descent and a member of the ruling family of the WAK’AB, he probably was the First, the High Sacrificial Priest of his state and lineage. This supposition is supported by the fact that YAX KIB TOK’ holds in his right hand a lineage-banner of the typical umbrella- or rosette- type design. The name of these lineage-banners also had a military annotation. They were called U TOK’ U PAKAL which means "his (i.e. the king’s) flint points, his shields" which was a metaphor for the king’s army. Normally these banners were flown on high over everybody’s head, on a long shaft of about 3 meters length and more. The shaft of YAX KIB TOK’s banner was cut short, and he has rested it on the ground. This, his kneeling position, the rope around his neck and his arms, and his left hand lifting dirt to his mouth, all express a condition of ultimate defeat and humble submission.

The worst, however, is yet to come for YAX KIB TOK’. His ear ornaments of precious jade have been taken from him. Instead stripes of bark paper were inserted in the holes of his earlobes. These paper ornaments were part of the attire of persons destined to be sacrificed.

So, from the pictorial representation and the two columns of hieroglyphic text translated and interpreted so far, this much can be gathered: In a battle on February 6, 752 A.D., the ruler YAXUN BALAM IV of Yaxchilan won over the dynasty and state of the WAK’AB and took what was probably the high priest of his adversary’s polity prisoner. This is in fact what the verbal glyph in A2 expresses in Maya: CHUKA(H) which means "he was captured".

We shall conclude our brief description of Lintel 16, Yaxchilan, with the reading and interpretation of the remainder of the hieroglyphic text on the right hand side of the monument. All glyphs in column F deal with YAXUN BALAM IV, listing his name and titles in a stereotype formula which is found in almost like sequence on all of his monuments.

YAXUN BALAM IV’s name-and-title-sequence commences with the glyph at F1 which reads Y-ET "the work of .....". This means that the event documented in the first part of the inscription, the capture of YAX KIB TOK’, "was the work of" YAXUN BALAM IV whose first title, immediately preceding his name, follows at F2. This title is read OX K’ATUN AHAW in Maya, to be translated as "Lord of three K’ATUN’s". A K’ATUN is a Maya calendrical unit, employed in the Long Count, which amounts to 20 times 360 or 7.200 days. Thus OX K’ATUN is 105 days less than three times 20 years of 365,25 days each. In 752 A.D., the year of the event recorded on Lintel 16, YAXUN BALAM IV was 43 years old. So he indeed was already in the third K’ATUN of his life as a ruler ( AHAW ) for more than three years.

Also this title, wich has a decided honorific annotation, recording elapsed K’ATUNs in the lives of kings, is widespread in the Maya area. Perhaps the best known individual bearing this type of title is the famous king of the Palenque-dynasty, HANAB PAKAL II. Born on the Calendar Round day 8 AHAW 13 POP which fell on (March 23, 603 A.D.), he lived a rather long life and "entered the road to his ancestors" according to the hieroglyphic text on the lid of his sarcophagus on the Calendar Round day 6 ETS’NAB 11 YAX which fell on (August 18, 683 A.D.). So HANAB PAKAL II was just over 80 when he died and, therefore, in the inscription of the beautifully carved Palenque-monument called "The Tablet of the 96 Glyphs", he rightly bears the honorific title of a HO’ K’ATUN AHAW, a "Ruler of five KATUN’s".

Then, in F3 on Lintel 16 from Yaxchilan, follows YAXUN BALAM’s name and after this, recorded at F4, a military title which is read AH K’AL BAK in Maya, to be translated as "He of the twenty prisoners". This title means that YAXUN BALAM IV had captured twenty enemies with his own hands. Similar titles are found in inscriptions all over the Maya area. We know of one ruler from what is now the archaeological site named Machaquilá in the lowlands of Guatemala, who bears the title of AH HO’ BAK "He of the five prisoners". CHAK KIMI ("Red Death") who danced the dance of the war-flags with YAXUN BALAM IV in 768 A.D. calls himself an AH KA’LAHUN BAK which means that he had twelve captives to his credit. YAXUN BALAM IV’s prisoner-count of 20 is the highest found so far in the corpus of Maya inscriptions. Only one other Maya king bears this epithet. The Maya rulers’ count of captives is slightly reminiscent of the custom of allied fighter pilots during WW II who kept a record of the number of enemy aircraft they had shot down by having the respective number of swastikas or rising suns painted on their planes.

The title in F5 names YAXUN BALAM IV as the head of the lineage which ruled at Yaxchilan. The elements in front and above the larger center sign are read K’UL AHAW in Maya which is the title "Holy King" or "Venerable Lord". The name of the royal lineage of Yaxchilan was probabaly inspired by a mythological event which happened in celestial regions. It is presently read as SIYAH CHA’AN which may be translated as "presented in heaven". The artist who designed the text added the phonetic complement NA below the logograph thus indicating that the final consonant in the Maya word CHA’AN for "sky" was N(A).

YAXUN BALAM IV, great king of YAXCHILAN, is one of the best known individuals from the times of the Maya Classic. This is so because he was a very talkative king who left us with a lot of information about himself, his wives, his allies, subordinates and enemies. There are many more Maya rulers. All had their monuments carved and their beautiful cocoa cups painted with episodes from their lives. Some of them died as captives on the sacrificial stones of their adversaries. Others lived a long and prosperous life and have left us with much information about their deeds, their victories in wars and ballgames, their noble parents, their marriages and children, and, above all, their religious devotion and acts of shamanistic magic.

If you want to know more about the ancient Maya kings, please, visit our website again. We will keep you informed of what has been read from the inscriptions which they have left us.