Yaxchilan is an ancient Maya city
Maya city
A Maya city was a centre of population of the pre-Columbian Maya civilization of Mesoamerica. It served the specialised roles of administration, commerce, manufacturing and religion that characterised ancient cities worldwide...

 located on the bank of the Usumacinta River
Usumacinta River
The Usumacinta River is a river in southeastern Mexico and northwestern Guatemala. It is formed by the junction of the Pasión River, which arises in the Sierra de Santa Cruz and the Salinas River, also known as the Chixoy, or the Negro, which descends from the Sierra Madre de Guatemala...

 in what is now the state of Chiapas
Chiapas officially Estado Libre y Soberano de Chiapas is one of the 31 states that, with the Federal District, comprise the 32 Federal Entities of Mexico. It is divided in 118 municipalities and its capital city is Tuxtla Gutierrez. Other important cites in Chiapas include San Cristóbal de las...

, Mexico
The United Mexican States , commonly known as Mexico , is a federal constitutional republic in North America. It is bordered on the north by the United States; on the south and west by the Pacific Ocean; on the southeast by Guatemala, Belize, and the Caribbean Sea; and on the east by the Gulf of...

. In the Late Classic Period
Mesoamerican chronology
Mesoamerican chronology divides the history of pre-Columbian Mesoamerica into several periods: the Paleo-Indian , the Archaic , the Preclassic , the Classic , and the Postclassic...

 Yaxchilan was one of the most powerful Maya
Maya civilization
The Maya is a Mesoamerican civilization, noted for the only known fully developed written language of the pre-Columbian Americas, as well as for its art, architecture, and mathematical and astronomical systems. Initially established during the Pre-Classic period The Maya is a Mesoamerican...

 states along the course of the Usumacinta, with Piedras Negras as its major rival. Architectural styles
Maya architecture
A unique and spectacular style, Maya architecture spans several thousands of years. Often the most dramatic and easily recognizable as Maya are the stepped pyramids from the Terminal Pre-classic period and beyond. Being based on the general Mesoamerican architectural traditions these pyramids...

 in subordinate sites in the Usumacinta region demonstrate clear differences that mark a clear boundary between the two kingdoms.

Yaxchilan was a large center, important throughout the Classic era, and the dominant power of the Usumacinta River area. It dominated such smaller sites as Bonampak
Bonampak is an ancient Maya archaeological site in the Mexican state of Chiapas. The site is approximately south of the larger site of Yaxchilan, under which Bonampak was a dependency, and the border with Guatemala...

, and had a long rivalry with Piedras Negras and at least for a time with Tikal
Tikal is one of the largest archaeological sites and urban centres of the pre-Columbian Maya civilization. It is located in the archaeological region of the Petén Basin in what is now northern Guatemala...

; it was a rival of Palenque
Palenque was a Maya city state in southern Mexico that flourished in the 7th century. The Palenque ruins date back to 100 BC to its fall around 800 AD...

, with which Yaxchilan warred in 654.

The site is particularly known for its well-preserved sculptured stone lintels set above the doorways of the main structures. These lintels, together with the stelae erected before the major buildings, contain hieroglyphic texts describing the dynastic history of the city.

The ancient name for the city was probably Pa' Chan. Yaxchilan means "green stones" in Maya.


Yaxchilan is located on the south bank of the Usumacinta River, at the apex of a horseshoe-shaped meander
A meander in general is a bend in a sinuous watercourse. A meander is formed when the moving water in a stream erodes the outer banks and widens its valley. A stream of any volume may assume a meandering course, alternately eroding sediments from the outside of a bend and depositing them on the...

. This loop defends the site on all sides except for a narrow land approach from the south. The site is 40 kilometres (24.9 mi) upriver from the ruins of Piedras Negras, its major rival. Yaxchilan is 21 kilometres (13 mi) from the ruins of Bonampak
Bonampak is an ancient Maya archaeological site in the Mexican state of Chiapas. The site is approximately south of the larger site of Yaxchilan, under which Bonampak was a dependency, and the border with Guatemala...

. The site lies in Ocosingo
Ocosingo is a city and its surrounding municipality of the same name in the Mexican state of Chiapas. The municipality borders the Usumacinta River along a portion where the river forms the international border with Guatemala. The city had a 2005 census population of 35,065 inhabitants, and serves...

 Municipality in the state of Chiapas, on the Mexican side of the international border with Guatemala
Guatemala is a country in Central America bordered by Mexico to the north and west, the Pacific Ocean to the southwest, Belize to the northeast, the Caribbean to the east, and Honduras and El Salvador to the southeast...

, which follows the line of river. It is 80 kilometres (49.7 mi) downriver from the Maya site Altar de Sacrificios
Altar de Sacrificios
Altar de Sacrificios is a ceremonial center and archaeological site of the pre-Columbian Maya civilization, situated near the confluence of the Pasión and Salinas Rivers , in the present-day department of Petén, Guatemala...


Known rulers

All dates AD.
Name (or nickname)Ruled
Yopaat B'alam I 359–?
Itzamnaaj B'alam I ("Shield Jaguar I") ?–?
Bird Jaguar I 378–389
Yax Deer-Antler Skull 389–c.402
Ruler 5 c.402–?
K'inich Tatb'u Skull I ?–?
Moon Skull -454–467
Bird Jaguar II 467–?
Knot-eye Jaguar I -508–c.518
K'inich Tatb'u Skull II 526–537+
Knot-eye Jaguar II -526+
Bird Jaguar III 629–669+
Itzamnaaj B'alam II ("Shield Jaguar II") 681–742
Yopaat B'alam II -749+
Bird Jaguar IV 752–768
Itzamnaaj B'alam III ("Shield Jaguar III") 769–800+
K'inich Tatb'u Skull III -808+

Moon Skull

Moon Skull was the seventh known ruler of Yaxchilan and ruled in the 5th century. His name is not an actual reference to the moon but is rather the Maya word for a spear-thrower
An atlatl or spear-thrower is a tool that uses leverage to achieve greater velocity in dart-throwing.It consists of a shaft with a cup or a spur at the end that supports and propels the butt of the dart. The atlatl is held in one hand, gripped near the end farthest from the cup...


Bird Jaguar II

Bird Jaguar II was the eighth king in the dynastic record of Yaxchilan. Two of his sons became kings after him, Knot-eye Jaguar II and K'inich Tatb'u Skull II.

Knot-eye Jaguar I

Knot-eye Jaguar I was the ninth known king of Yaxchilan, he reigned in the early 6th century. His glyphic name should probably be read as Joy B'alam. He was a son of the previous ruler, Bird Jaguar II.

K'inich Tatb'u Skull II

K'inich Tatb'u Skull II is the tenth in the dynastic king list. He was another son of Bird Jaguar II.

Bird Jaguar III

Bird Jaguar III is described in one text as fifteenth in line from Yopaat B'alam I. Bird Jaguar III took Lady Pakal as his wife, who lived a very long life, dying in 705 at the age of at least 98 years. Their son and heir was Itzamnaaj B'alam II.

Itzamnaaj B'alam II

Itzamnaak B'alam II acceded in October 681 and ruled for 60 years. He was often referred to in hieroglyphic texts as Master of Aj Nik, referring to the capture of his first captive before he became king, this phrase being attached to his name on 32 separate occasions. Aj Nik himself was a sub-lord from a place known as either Maan or Namaan and was not of high rank.


Yaxchilan has its origins in the Preclassic Period
Mesoamerican chronology
Mesoamerican chronology divides the history of pre-Columbian Mesoamerica into several periods: the Paleo-Indian , the Archaic , the Preclassic , the Classic , and the Postclassic...

. A large part of what is known of the Classic Period history of the city comes from the hieroglyphic texts of the kings who ruled during its Late Classic apogee, one of the most important of which is Hieroglyphic Stairway 1. Some retrospective inscriptions appear to have been used to rewrite Yaxchilan's dynastic history to suit king Bird Jaguar IV. Before the rule of king Itzamnaaj Balam II, who reigned from 681 to 742, the city was relatively small. The city-state then grew to a regional capital and the dynasty lasted into the early 9th century.

Early Classic

The known history of Yaxchilan starts with the enthronement of Yopaat B'alam I, most likely on 23 July 359. He was the founder of a long dynasty, and took the throne when Yaxchilan was still a minor site. Hieroglyphic inscriptions dating to the Late Classic describe a series of wars in the Early Classic between the city and its neighbours. K'inich Tatb'u Skull I ruled in the early 5th century and was the first of the rulers of Yaxchilan to be recorded as having taken a rival king as a war captive, his prisoner being king Bird Jaguar of Bonampak (not to be confused with the four rulers of Yaxchilan who bore the same name). The long running rivalry with Piedras Negras had already begun by the fifth century AD, with both cities struggling to dominate the Usumacinta trade route. King Moon Skull was credited with gaining a victory over Piedras Negras in 460 and with capturing the enemy king, known only as Ruler A. By the middle of the 5th century Yaxchilan had formal contacts with the great city of Tikal. Bird Jaguar II, the next king of Yaxchilan, captured a vassal of the king of Piedras Negras around 478.

Knot-eye Jaguar I was a warlike king who was recorded as capturing nobles from Bonampak, Piedras Negras and the great city of Tikal. In 514, Knot-eye Jaguar I was taken captive by Ruler C of Piedras Negras, as depicted on Lintel 12 from that city, where he is shown kneeling before the enemy king with his wrists bound.

His successor, K'inich Tatb'u Skull II, was enthroned on 11 February 526. This king is notable for the series of carved lintels he commissioned, including a dynastic list that provides information on the early kings of the city. K'inich Tatb'u Skull II oversaw a revival of Yaxchilan's fortunes and he captured lords from Bonampak, Lakamtuun and, notably, the lord of Calakmul, one of the two great Maya powers of the Classic Period, as well as a success against Tikal, the second great power.

Little is known of the history of Yaxchilan from 537 to 629, although four kings are known to have reigned in this period. Knot-eye Jaguar II is known to have captured the lord of Lacanha in 564, one of the few events that can be identified from this period. It may be that the lack of an inscribed history for this lengthy period indicates that Yaxchilan had fallen under the dominion of a more powerful neighbour, such as Piedras Negras, Palenque
Palenque was a Maya city state in southern Mexico that flourished in the 7th century. The Palenque ruins date back to 100 BC to its fall around 800 AD...

 or Toniná
Tonina is a pre-Columbian archaeological site and ruined city of the Maya civilization located in what is now the Mexican state of Chiapas, some 13 km east of the town of Ocosingo....

, all of which were powerful polities in the Usumacinta region at this time.

Late Classic

The Yaxchilano murals at Bonampak's Structure I commemorate Yaxchilan's appointment of Chan Muwaan I as subordinate ruler. Yaxchilan rebuilt the site to point back toward Yaxchilan.

In 629, Bird Jaguar III was enthroned as king of Yaxchilan. In 646 or 647 he captured a lord from the still unidentified site of Hix Witz (meaning "Jaguar Hill"), somewhere on the north side of the Usumacinta.

Yaxchilan reached its greatest power during the reigns of King Itzamnaaj B'alam II, who died in his 90s in 742, and his son Bird Jaguar IV. Itzamnaaj B'alam II was enthroned in October 681 and he ruled for more than sixty years. During the last third of his reign he was responsible for a monumental building programme that included the erection of magnificent buildings with richly carved lintels, hieroglyphic stairways and carved stelae, transforming the centre of the city. During his reign, the kingdom of Yaxchilán extended to include the nearby sites of La Pasadita and El Chicozapote to the northwest of the city. At times the sites of Lacanha and Bonampak appear to have been under his domination, although this region was controlled by Toniná in 715.

In 689, relatively early in his reign, Itzamnaaj B'alam II is recorded as having captured Aj Sak Ichiy Pat. In 713 he captured Aj K'an Usja, the ajaw
Ajaw is a political rulership title attested from the epigraphic inscriptions of the pre-Columbian Maya civilization, with a meaning variously interpreted as "lord", "ruler", "king" or "leader". It denoted any of the leading class of nobles in a particular polity and was not limited to a single...

, or lord, of B'uktunn, an otherwise unknown site. In 726, Yaxchilan was defeated by its rival Piedras Negras, an event described on Piedras Negras Stela 8. A sajal (subordinate lord) of Itzamnaaj B'alam II was captured by the enemy city, an event that is completely absent from inscriptions at Yaxchilán itself although, importantly, there is no false claim of victory. It is after this period, over forty years into the reign of Itzamnaaj B'alam II, that this king embarked upon his impressive building programme, this may indicate that at this time Yaxchilan was able to exert independence from the hegemony of once powerful neighbours and claim greater political independence and more lucrative control of riverine trade. In 729, Itzamnaaj B'alam II captured Aj Popol Chay, the lord of Lacanha. This event, together with the other victories of Itzamnaaj Balam II's reign, is described both in the hieroglyphic texts of Structure 44 and also on a series of stelae near Structure 41. This victory over Lacanha is compared to the earlier victory of Knot-eye Jaguar II against the same city. Similarly, his capture of a lord of Hix Witz in 732 is compared to Bird Jaguar III's victory over the same site.

In 749, Yopaat B'alam II of Yaxchilan attended a ceremony to honour Ruler 4 of Piedras Negras. If Yopaat B'alam II was king of Yaxchilan at this time, this would indicated that he was subordinate to the king of Piedras Negras. This event was recorded on Piedras Negras Panel 3, there are no records of the reign of Yopaat B'alam II at Yaxchilan itself, indicating that any records were later destroyed if he had indeed ruled there.

Yaxchilan retaliated in 759, gaining a victory over its enemy. Circa 790 CE, Yaxchilan's king Shield Jaguar III oversaw the installation of Chan Muwaan II in Bonampak, and hired Yaxchilano artisans to commemorate it (and the previous Chan Muwaan) in "Structure I"'s murals.

In 808, king K'inich Tatb'u Skull III marked his capture of the king of Piedras Negras, an event that probably represented the final overthrow of Yaxchilan's long running enemy, ending dynastic rule there and destroying the city as a capital.

Modern history

The first published mention of the site seems to have been a brief mention by Juan Galindo
Juan Galindo
Juan Galindo was a Central American explorer and army officer. He fought for Central American independence from Spain and led the charge that took the fortress at Omoa, the last Spanish stronghold in Central America....

 in 1833, published by the Royal Geographical Society
Royal Geographical Society
The Royal Geographical Society is a British learned society founded in 1830 for the advancement of geographical sciences...

. Professor Edwin Rockstoh of the National College of Guatemala visited in 1881 and published another short account. Explorers Alfred Maudslay
Alfred Maudslay
Alfred Percival Maudslay was a British colonial diplomat, explorer and archaeologist. He was one of the first Europeans to study Mayan ruins....

 and Désiré Charnay
Désiré Charnay
Claude-Joseph Désiré Charnay was a French traveller and archaeologist notable both for his explorations of Mexico and Central America, and for the pioneering use of photography to document his discoveries....

 arrived here within days of each other in 1882, and they published more detailed accounts of the ruins with drawings and photographs. Charnay dubbed the ruins "Lorillard City" in honor of Pierre Lorillard who contributed to defray the expense of his expedition into the Maya zone, while Maudslay named it "Menché". Maudslay's report was published by the Royal Geographical Society in 1883. Teoberto Maler
Teoberto Maler
Teoberto Maler or Teobert Maler was an explorer who devoted his energies to documenting the ruins of the Maya civilization....

 visited the site repeatedly from 1897 to 1900, his detailed two volume description of the ruins and other nearby sites was published by the Peabody Museum
Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology
The Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology is a museum affiliated with Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA.Founded in 1866, the Peabody Museum is one of the oldest and largest museums focusing on anthropological material, and is particularly strong in New World ethnography and...

 of Harvard University
Harvard University
Harvard University is a private Ivy League university located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States, established in 1636 by the Massachusetts legislature. Harvard is the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States and the first corporation chartered in the country...

 in 1903, he was the first to name the city as Yaxchilan.

In 1931 Sylvanus Morley
Sylvanus Morley
Sylvanus Griswold Morley was an American archaeologist, epigrapher, and Mayanist scholar who made significant contributions toward the study of the pre-Columbian Maya civilization in the early twentieth century....

 led a Carnegie Institution expedition to Yaxchilan, mapped the site and discovered more monuments.

From 1970 onwards, Ian Graham
Ian Graham
Ian Graham is a former Australian rules footballer who played with Collingwood in the VFL during the 1960s.His best season came in 1964 when he won the Copeland Trophy for Collingwood's Best and Fairest player...

 made numerous visits to Yaxchilan and recorded the inscriptions there. These inscriptions were published from 1977 onwards in the Corpus of Maya Hieroglyphic Inscriptions by the Peabody Museum of Harvard University.

The Mexican National Institute of Anthropology and History
National Institute of Anthropology and History
The Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia is a Mexican federal government bureau established in 1939 to guarantee the research, preservation, protection, and promotion of the prehistoric, archaeological, anthropological, historical, and paleontological heritage of Mexico...

 (INAH) conducted archeological research at Yaxchilan in 1972 - 1973, again in 1983, and further INAH work was conducted in the early 1990s. INAH has consolidated and preserved the central portion of the site.

A Mayanist is a scholar specialising in research and study of the Central American pre-Columbian Maya civilization. This discipline should not be confused with Mayanism, a collection of New Age beliefs about the ancient Maya....

 Tatiana Proskouriakoff
Tatiana Proskouriakoff
Tat’yana Avenirovna Proskuriakova was an American Mayanist scholar and archaeologist who contributed significantly to the decipherment of Maya hieroglyphs, the writing system of the pre-Columbian Maya civilization of Mesoamerica.-Early life:...

 did some pioneering work on deciphering Maya writing using the inscriptions of Yaxchilan, and was able to identify the glyphs for death, capture and captor. Since then Peter Mathews and others have expanded on her early work.

Since 1990, the project La Pintura Mural Prehispánica en México (Prehispanic Wall Painting in Mexico) of the Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticas
Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticas
After almost 75 years of existence, the Institute of Aesthetic Research of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, since its foundation in 1936, research has been carried out in its installations into the different forms of artistic expression in Mexico; the diversity of studies undertaken...

 of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México has examined and recorded precolumbian murals such as those at Yaxchilan.

Yaxchilan has long been difficult to reach other than by river. Until recently, no roads existed within 100 miles. The only ways to get to the site were hundreds of miles by boat, or else by small plane. Since the construction of the Border Highway by the Mexican Government in the early 1980s, it is possible for tourists to visit. To reach the site, it is necessary now only to take an hour long boat ride down the Usumacinta River from Frontera Corozal
Frontera Corozal
Frontera Corozal is a mostly Ch’ol community located in the Mexican state of Chiapas on the Usumacinta River, which separates it from neighboring Guatemala. The community was founded in the 1970s by families migrating from northern Chiapas...


Some Lacandon
The Lacandon are one of the Maya peoples who live in the jungles of the Mexican state of Chiapas, near the southern border with Guatemala. Their homeland, the Lacandon Jungle, lies along the Mexican side of the Usumacinta River and its tributaries. The Lacandon are one of the most isolated and...

 Maya still make pilgrimages to Yaxchilan to carry out rituals to the Maya gods.

The site

The site contains impressive ruins, with palaces and temples bordering a large plaza upon a terrace above the Usumacinta River. The architectural remains extend across the higher terraces and the hills to the south of the river, overlooking both the river itself and the lowlands beyond. Yaxchilan is known for the large quantity of excellent sculpture at the site, such as the monolithic carved stelae and the narrative stone relief
Relief is a sculptural technique. The term relief is from the Latin verb levo, to raise. To create a sculpture in relief is thus to give the impression that the sculpted material has been raised above the background plane...

s carved on lintel
Lintel (architecture)
A lintel can be a load-bearing building component, a decorative architectural element, or a combined ornamented structural item. It is often found over portals, doors, and windows.-Structural uses:...

s spanning the temple doorways. Over 120 inscriptions have been identified on the various monuments from the site.

The major groups are the Central Acropolis, the West Acropolis and the South Acropolis. The South Acropolis occupies the highest part of the site. The site is aligned with relation to the Usumacinta River, at times causing unconventional orientation of the major structures, such as the two ballcourts
Mesoamerican ballcourt
A Mesoamerican ballcourt is a large masonry structure of a type used in Mesoamerica for over 2,700 years to play the Mesoamerican ballgame, particularly the hip-ball version of the ballgame. Over 1,300 ballcourts have been identified, 60% in the last 20 years alone...



Structure 6 is near the Main Plaza in the Central Acropolis. It is in a good state of preservation and has six doorways, three facing the plaza and three facing the river. The doorways that open onto the plaza were blocked up in antiquity and new doorways were cut into the sides of the structure. The facade of the building facing the plaza has a surviving frieze with a sculpture of a head. The structure has a surviving perforated roof comb
Roof comb
Roof comb is the structure that tops a pyramid in monumental Mesoamerican architecture. Examination of the decorations and iconography of Maya civilization roof-combs indicates that each icon had specific sacred meanings.-External links:...

 and is believed to date to the Early Classic.

Structure 7 is beside Structure 6 but is in a much poorer state of preservation, with its vaulted ceiling having collapsed. This structure also had doorways facing both the river and the Main Plaza.

Structure 8 is located in the Main Plaza in front of Structure 7 and divideds the plaza into northwestern and southeastern sections.

Structure 9 is an unrestored mound northwest of Structure 7. Stela 27 stands in front of it.

Structure 10 shares an L-shaped platform with Structures 13 and 74, in the Central Acropolis. The structure contains a series of hieroglyphic lintels describing the birth and accession of king Bird Jaguar IV.

Structure 12 is a small structure in the Central Acropolis, close to the river. It contained eight lintels dating to the early 6th century. The structure is located in the Central Acropolis close to one of the ballcourts. The lintels record nine generations of rulers of the city. The lintels were commissioned by K'inich Tatb'u Skull II, their original location is unknown, being reset into Structure 12 in the 8th century by king Bird Jaguar IV. Some of the lintels remain in place.

Structure 13 rests on an L-shaped platform in the Central Acropolis, together with Structures 10 and 74.

Structure 14 is the northwest ballcourt. It is located on the Main Plaza of the Central Acropolis. Five sculpted ballcourt markers were found here, three of which were aligned on the playing area and one on each of the platforms to either side. One of the ballcourt markers was removed from the site, the rest are broken and eroded.

Structure 16 is close to the northwest ballcourt. It contains Lintels 38 through to 40, which have been reset in their original positions.

Structure 19 is also known as the Labyrinth. It lies at the western edge of the Central Acropolis. The structure is a temple with rooms spread over three levels, linked by interior stairways. The temple facade has four doorways, with three doorway-sized niches between them. Two sculptured altars are located in front of the structure, which still has the remains of a perforated roof comb.

Structure 20 is in the Central Acropolis and has three rooms. The three doorways to this structure once supported sculpted Lintels 12, 13 and 14, although only two now remain. A small amount of the roof comb of the building remains, and the sloped roof still has surviving friezes containing niches. Structure 20 was excavated by Ian Graham in 1982, during the excavations a hieroglyphic step was found in front of the building, it was reburied in order to preserve it.

Structure 21 is on a terrace below Structure 25 and 26. The three lintels over the doorways in this structure were Lintels 15 through to 17, although they were removed in the 19th century and are now in the British Museum
British Museum
The British Museum is a museum of human history and culture in London. Its collections, which number more than seven million objects, are amongst the largest and most comprehensive in the world and originate from all continents, illustrating and documenting the story of human culture from its...

 in London. Structure 21 was excavated in 1983. The vaulted roof of the structure had already collapsed before 1882, filling the rooms with rubble that has now been removed, uncovering several important monuments, including Stela 35 and the remains of life size stucco figures on the back wall behind the stela itself.

Structure 22 is on a terrace in the Central Acropolis near the Main Plaza. It still has sculptured lintels in place.

Structure 23 is in the Central Acropolis, overlooking the Main Plaza. It was built during the reign of Itzamnaaj B'alam II and is especially significant because it was the first major construction undertaken after a lapse of 150 years. Structure 23 is dedicated to Lady K'ab'al Xook, a wife of the king. It originally had three lintels set above its doorways that appear to mark the re-founding of Yaxchilan in an effort to reinforce the lineage and right to rule of king Itzamnaaj B'alam II. Lintels 24 and 25 were removed at the end of the 19th century and are now in the British Museum, while Lintel 26 is in the Museo Nacional de Antropología in Mexico City. This series of lintels are among the finest relief sculpture surviving in the Maya region.

Structure 24 is on a terrace near the Main Plaza in the Central Acropolis. It still has sculptured lintels in place.

Structure 25 is in the Central Acropolis close to the approach to Structure 33. It has not been excavated or restored, although it has some intact vaulting.

Structure 26 is located beside Structure 25 in the Central Acropolis and has not been excavated. It is the least well preserved of the two structures.

Structure 30 is in the Central Acropolis, it has three doorways facing onto the Plaza. The structure has two parallel rooms with well-preserved vaulting.

Structure 33, in the Central Acropolis, has been described as a masterpiece in stone and was probably dedicated in 756 by Bird Jaguar IV. The structure overlooks the plaza and the river and would have been prominent to river traffic in the 8th century. It has plain lower walls with three doorways, each of the which supports a well preserved lintel (Yaxchilan Lintels 1 to 3). In centre of the back wall of the structure, opposite the central doorway, is a niche containing the headless sculpture of a human figure, probably Bird Jaguar IV himself. The roof of the structure is largely intact, including a sloped roof supporting a frieze and a well preserved roof comb. There are niches in both the roof comb and the frieze, the niche in the roof comb contains the remains of a sculpted figure. Tennons on both roof sections once supported stucco decoration. Leading up to the front of Structure 33 from the plaza is a stairway, the top step of which is sculpted, this step is known as Hieroglyphic Stairway 2.

The South Acropolis consists of Structures 39, 40 and 41. A number of stelae and altars are associated with them.

Structure 39 has been restored and lies within the South Acropolis. It has three stepped doorways that open onto a single, irregularly shaped room. The remains of a perforated roof comb survive, with tenons that once supported stucco
Stucco or render is a material made of an aggregate, a binder, and water. Stucco is applied wet and hardens to a very dense solid. It is used as decorative coating for walls and ceilings and as a sculptural and artistic material in architecture...


Structure 40 is flanked by structures 39 and 41. It has been restored and also has three doorways opening onto a single room and the remains of a perforated roof comb. The room has the remains of murals that once covered all the interior walls. Stelae 12 and 13 stand before structure 40 and Stela 11 once stood between them.

Structure 41 has also been restored. Like the other two structures in the South Acropolis, it has three doorways that open onto a single room. It is not as well preserved as Structures 39 and 40 and much of the vaulted roof has collapsed. A fraction of stucco frieze from the sculpture may date the building to 740, the 3rd K'atun
Katun (Maya calendar)
A k'atun or k'atun-cycle is a unit of time in the Maya calendar equal to 20 tuns or 7,200 days, equivalent to 19.713 tropical years. It is the 2nd digit on the normal Maya long count date...

 anniversary of Itzamnaaj B'alam II's reign. The central doorway is stepped and the front wall has been buttressed. It is one of three principal structures atop the highest vantage point in the city and a series of stelae was set in front of it that described the military campaigns of Itzamnaaj B'alam II.

Structure 42 is located in the West Acropolis. The structure had a series if carved limestone lintels that depict Bird Jaguar IV's efforts to consolidate power, emulating events carried out by his father Itzamnaaj B'alam II.

Structure 44 is in the West Acropolis. It still contains a carved lintel, and has sculpted steps. A number of stelae were originally associated with Structure 44. This temple was built by Itzamnaaj B'alam II and was dedicated around 732. The sculpted texts from this building provide an account of the 8th century resurgence of the city. Each of the three doorways contained sculptured lintels and two hieroglyphic steps.

Structure 67 is the southeast ballcourt, located in the Central Acropolis.


Hieroglyphic stairways

Hieroglyphic Stairway 1 leads up to Structure 5 in the Central Acropolis. It has six sculpted risers consisting of various carved blocks, many of which are heavily eroded.

Hieroglyphic Stairway 2 is the riser of the uppermost step approaching Structure 33. It consists of 13 sculptured blocks, numbered from left to right as Steps I to XIII. Steps VI, VII and XVIII are extremely well preserved and depict Bird Jaguar IV and two of his predecessors dressed as ball players
Mesoamerican ballgame
The Mesoamerican ballgame or Tlatchtli in Náhuatl was a sport with ritual associations played since 1,000 B.C. by the pre-Columbian peoples of Ancient Mexico and Central America...



Lintel 1 is above the eastern doorway of Structure 33 in the Central Acropolis. It depicts 8th century king Bird Jaguar IV accompanied by his wife Lady Great Skull Zero.

Lintel 2 is set above the central doorway of Structure 33. It shows Bird Jaguar IV accompanied by his son and heir, Shield Jaguar II.

Lintel 3 is above the westernmost doorway of Structure 33. It also shows Bird Jaguar IV, this time accompanied by an ally.

Lintel 10 is the last known monument at Yaxchilan, dating to 808. It depicts Ruler 7 of Dos Pilas as a captive of Yachilan king K'inich Tatb'u Skull III.

Lintel 12 was originally set into Structure 20 in the Central Acropolis. It is now in the Museo Nacional de Antropología
Museo Nacional de Antropología
The Museo Nacional de Antropología is a national museum of Mexico. Located in the area between Paseo de la Reforma and Calle Mahatma Gandhi within Chapultepec Park in Mexico City, the museum contains significant archaeological and anthropological artifacts from the pre-Columbian heritage of...

 in Mexico City
Mexico City
Mexico City is the Federal District , capital of Mexico and seat of the federal powers of the Mexican Union. It is a federal entity within Mexico which is not part of any one of the 31 Mexican states but belongs to the federation as a whole...


Lintel 13 is above a doorway in Structure 20. It had fallen when the roof of the building collapsed but has since been reset. The sculpture on the lintel is very well preserved.

Lintel 14 is set above a doorway in Structure 20 and is particularly well preserved.

Lintel 15 originally spanned a doorway in Structure 21, it was removed to the British Museum in 1982-3. Like Lintels 16 and 17 from the same series, it was carved from limestone. It was originally set above the southeast doorway of the central room. Lintel 15 depicts Lady Wak Tuun, one of the wives of king Bird Jaguar IV, during a bloodletting ritual that results in the appearance of the Vision Serpent
Vision Serpent
The Vision Serpent is an important creature in Pre-Columbian Maya mythology, although the term itself is now slowly becoming outdated.The serpent was a very important social and religious symbol, revered by the Maya. Maya mythology describes serpents as being the vehicles by which celestial bodies,...

. Lady Wak Tuun is carrying a basket containing the tools used for the bloodletting ritual, including a stingray spine, rope and bloodstained paper. The Vision Serpent emerges from a bowl containing strips of bark paper.

Lintel 16 also spanned a doorway in Structure 21 and was removed to the British Museum in 1982-3. It was sculpted from limestone and was originally set above the central doorway of the central room. It shows Bird Jaguar IV holding a spear and standing over a kneeling captive. Bird Jaguar IV wears the same costume that his father is depicted wearing on Lintel 26. The capture event depicted on Lintel 16 took place in 752.

Lintel 17 was another lintel from a doorway in Structure 21 that is now in the British Museum. It is sculpted from limestone and was originally set above the northwest doorway of the central room. It dates to the reign of Bird Jaguar IV. The lintel depicts Bird Jaguar IV and his wife Lady B'alam Mut participating in a bloodletting ritual. The king watches while his wife pulls a rope through her tongue draw blood. This ritual is recorded as having taken place eight days after the capture event depicted on Lintel 16.

Lintel 24
Yaxchilan Lintel 24
Lintel 24 is the designation given by modern archaeologists to an ancient Maya limestone carving from Yaxchilan, in modern Chiapas, Mexico. The lintel dates to about AD 725, placing it within the Maya Late Classic period...

is sculpted from limestone and is regarded as a masterpiece of Maya art. It is one of a series of three lintels that were set above the doorways of Structure 23, this one having been set above the southeast doorway. It shows a bloodletting ritual being carried out by king Itzamnaaj B'alam II and his wife Lady K'ab'al Xook, the king stands holding a burning torch over his wife, who pulls a spiked rope through her tongue. A screenfold book lies in a basket in front of the kneeling princess. The lintel has traces of red and blue pigments. The ceremony represented on the sculpture took place on 28 October, 709. Lintel 24 was removed at the end of the 19th century and is now on display in the British Museum.

Lintel 25 was originally set above the central doorway of Structure 23. It was carved from limestone during the reign of king Itzamnaaj B'alam II and shows Lady Xook invoking the Vision Serpent to commemorate the accession of her husband to the throne. Lady Xook holds a bowl containing bloodletting apparatus consisting of a stingray spine and bloodstained paper. The Vision Serpent rising before her has two heads, one at each extreme, from the mouth of one emerges a warrior, from the other emerges the head of central Mexican deity Tlaloc
Tlaloc was an important deity in Aztec religion, a god of rain, fertility, and water. He was a beneficent god who gave life and sustenance, but he was also feared for his ability to send hail, thunder and lightning, and for being the lord of the powerful element of water. In Aztec iconography he...

, the war god of the distant metropolis of Teotihuacan
Teotihuacan – also written Teotihuacán, with a Spanish orthographic accent on the last syllable – is an enormous archaeological site in the Basin of Mexico, just 30 miles northeast of Mexico City, containing some of the largest pyramidal structures built in the pre-Columbian Americas...

 in the Valley of Mexico
Valley of Mexico
The Valley of Mexico is a highlands plateau in central Mexico roughly coterminous with the present-day Distrito Federal and the eastern half of the State of Mexico. Surrounded by mountains and volcanoes, the Valley of Mexico was a centre for several pre-Columbian civilizations, including...

. The hieroglyphic inscription on the lintel is unusual, being reversed as if it were meant to be read in a mirror, although the significance of this is unknown. Like Lintel 24, Lintel 25 was removed at the end of the 19th century and is now on display in the British Museum. The events depicted on the lintel are described as having occurred "in front of the water of Siyan Chan", a reference to the main plaza of the city being located on the shore of the Usumacinta River.

Lintel 26 was the third in the series set above the doorways of Structure 23, it is now in the Museo Nacional de Antropología in Mexico City. It dates to 726 and bears a portrait of Itzamnaaj B'alam II.

Lintel 29 is set into Structure 10 in the Central Acropolis. It is part of a series of three lintels bearing a continuous hieroglyphic text detailing the birth and accession of king Bird Jaguar IV.

Lintel 30 is part of the lintel series carved with a continuous hieroglyphic text set into Structure 10.

Lintel 31 is another part of the series of three hieroglyphic lintels set into Structure 10.

Lintel 35 was found by Maudslay among the rubble of Structure 12. It was sculpted from limestone in the 6th century under the rule of K'inich Tatb'u Skull II and records a series of victories including that over the great city of Calakmul
Calakmul is a Maya archaeological site in the Mexican state of Campeche, deep in the jungles of the greater Petén Basin region. It is from the Guatemalan border. Calakmul was one of the largest and most powerful ancient cities ever uncovered in the Maya lowlands...


Lintel 38, Lintel 39 and Lintel 40 have been reset in their original positions in Structure 16 in the Central Acropolis. Unlike most of the other lintels at Yaxchilan, they are sculpted on their edges instead of the undersides.

Lintel 41 was set above the south doorway of Structure 42 in the West Acropolis. It had fallen and broken into two pieces when Maudsley found it in the late 19th century. The upper section is on display in the British Museum, the lower section is damaged. The lintel was carved from limestone and is one of a series of lintels set in the same structure that celebrate the victories of king Bird Jaguar IV. The king is shown preparing for a battle that took place in 755, his wife is offering him his spear, she is Lady Wak Jalam Chan Ajaw from the site of Motul de San José
Motul de San José
Motul de San José is an ancient Maya site located just north of Lake Petén Itzá in the Petén Basin region of the southern Maya lowlands. It is located a few kilometres from the modern village of San José, in Guatemala's northern department of Petén...

 in the Petén
Petén Basin
The Petén Basin is a geographical subregion of Mesoamerica, located in the northern portion of the modern-day nation of Guatemala, and essentially contained within the department of El Petén...

 Lakes region of Guatemala.

Lintel 50 is set into Structure 13 in the Central Acropolis.

Lintel 60 remains in its original setting in Structure 12. It was discovered during excavations of the structure in 1984.


Stela 2 is on the lowest terrace opposite the stairway approach to Structure 33. It is badly weathered and dates to 613.

Stela 3 stands on a platform in the middle of a plaza by Structure 20. It was badly damaged and the fragments have been reassembled and the monument re-erected. One side of the stela has well preserved sculpture.

Stela 5 is in front of the terrace holding Structure 20. The upper part of this monument depicts king Itzamnaaj B'alam II.

Stela 6 stands in front of the terrace supporting Structure 20. It is largely intact and depicts the 7th century ruler Bird Jaguar III.

Stela 7 was badly damaged, being broken into fragments. The monument has now been reassembled and the surviving sculpture is of excellent quality. The stela stands in front of a terrace below Structure 20. It depicts a kneeling figure.

Stela 11 originally stood in front of Structure 40. The stela was removed in 1964 and shipped upriver to Agua Azul to be flown to Mexico City for display in the Museo Nacional de Antropología. However, it was too heavy to fly and was returned to Yaxchilan in 1965 and now lies near the bank of the river. The upper side of the stela depicts king Bird Jaguar IV and his father. The figures and the accompanying hieroglyphic panel are very well preserved. There are various dates inscribed on the stela with the earliest being 741. The stela is broken into two parts.

Stela 18 dates from some time after 723. It depicts the victorious king Itzamnaaj B'alam II standing over a kneeling captive, who is identified as Aj Popol Chaj, the ruling lord of Lacanha.

Stela 27 has been re-erected in front of Structure 9 on the Main Plaza in the Central Acropolis. The monument dates to 514 and depicts the king Knot-eye Jaguar I. This stela is the earliest known from Yaxchilan. Stela 27 is particularly notable because it was obviously damaged in antiquity and subsequently restored in the Late Classic, with substantial reworking in the lower third of the stela dating to the time of Bird Jaguar IV.

Stela 31 is located a short distance in front of Structure 33. It is a particularly unusual monument because it is sculpted from a stalactite
A stalactite , "to drip", and meaning "that which drips") is a type of speleothem that hangs from the ceiling of limestone caves. It is a type of dripstone...

. It is undated and depicts three incised figures and some hieroglyphs.

Stela 33 is a fragmented monument that was discovered during excavations of the platform supporting Stela 3.

Stela 35 is an exceptionally well preserved monument found during excavations of Structure 21 in 1983. The stela is fairly small and depicts Lady Eveningstar (also known as Lady Ik Skull), the mother of king Bird Jaguar IV.

See also

  • El Zotz
    El Zotz
    El Zotz is a Mesoamerican archaeological site of the pre-Columbian Maya civilization, located in the Petén Basin region around west of the major center of Tikal and approximately west of Uaxactun. It is so called because of the large number of bats living in caves in the nearby cliffs...

  • List of Mesoamerican pyramids
  • Maya Bridge at Yaxchilan
    Maya Bridge at Yaxchilan
    Academics have speculated that the Maya may have built a suspension bridge across the Usumacinta river. If so, the Maya Bridge at Yaxchilan would have been the longest bridge discovered in the ancient world, dating from its construction by the Maya civilization in the late 7th century at Yaxchilan...

  • Yaxchilan rulers
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