Two Prehispanic limestone sculptures that represent war captives and a pair of tableaux that marked the Ballgame, were found by Mexican archaeologists at Tonina Archaeological Zone, Chiapas. The discovery confirms the alliance between the Lordships of Copan, in Honduras, and Palenque, in Mexico at the war that Palenque fought against Tonina for 26 years (688 to 714 AD) to control the Usumacinta river.
Sculptures of the prisoners of Copan and both tableaux, of an approximate age of 1300 years, were found buried in late May 2011, to the south of the Ballgame Court. “All the pieces were found broken: the tableaux in more than 30 fragments, one sculpture in 20 pieces and the other was found complete but presents 3 fractures”, said director of excavations, Dr. Juan Yadeun.
Evidence to confirm alliance between Palenque and Tonina
“The sculptures – which are 1.5 metres high – are representations of Maya warriors made prisoners by ancient inhabitants of Popo (today Tonina), placed in the 4 corners of the court while still alive. After that, their depiction was placed there permanently to remind that the ruler had won the war against the Maya cities of Palenque and Copan, as revealed by inscriptions found during excavations of the Ballgame Court”, explained Dr. Yadeun.
The INAH specialist declared that “both sculptures have hieroglyphic inscriptions on the chest and loincloth that tell us that these men were subjects of lord K’uy Nic Ajaw, from the lordship of Copan, during the rule of Uaxaclajuun Ub’aah K’awiil (18 Rabbit), in the Epi Classic period (680-800 of the Common Era).”
The discovery of the two captives is physical evidence that confirms the alliance that Copan had with Palenque to fight Tonina, a struggle that went on for over two decades.
“Inscriptions mention that captives were offered with fire and copal smoke during a ceremony related to the Ballgame Court; we think it might have occurred during the inauguration of the second decorative stage of the court at the Maya reign of Popo, around 695 AD,” explained Dr. Yadeun.
He added that ancient Mayans believed that temples had their own life and they were born when inaugurated; possibly prisoners from Copan were part of the ritual.
The INAH archaeologist said that the warrior sculpture found almost complete represents a semi naked man with cloth stripes hanging from his ears; this element is found in prisoners’ representations, which were stripped of their ear ornaments.
“Between Maya peoples, hair was tied before decapitation; both prisoners appear seated with their legs crossed and their hands tied behind their backs,” he explained.
A catastrophe for Tonina
From 688 to 714 AD different battles between Tonina and Palenque took place, in order to control water in the region. Around 688 Yuhkno´m Wahywal, lord of Tonina, was captured and probably murdered by the firstborn son of Kinich Janaahb’ Pakal, ruler of Palenque, as inscriptions in Palenque point out. This catastrophe must have changed the ideology and world vision of the inhabitants of Tonina.
“For this reason they destroyed iconography of several temples and the ballgame court; they destroyed the 6 markers with the form of the celestial serpents’ head, dated from the first constructive stage of the site and linked to the stars’ movement, the cosmos, cult to mountains and struggle between the lords of light (or heaven) and the lords of darkness (or the underworld, Xibalba), to constantly create and destroy the universe,” declared Yadeun.
Victory over her enemies
He went onto explain, “In 688 AD, K’inich Baak Nal Chaahk, the lord of Popo, defeated Palenque and took several prisoners. Between 695 and 714 AD the second constructive stage at the court took place, which was dedicated to the victories of Tonina over their enemies, and where wars between the light and the darkness were represented.
“It was during this second stage that new markers were created, corresponding to the tableaux found recently, which inscriptions mention the dynastic title of the lord of Copan, K’uy Nik Ajaw”
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Past Horizons. 2011. "Copan warriors found in chiapas". Past Horizons. Posted: July 10, 2011. Available online: http://www.pasthorizonspr.com/index.php/archives/07/2011/copan-warriors-found-in-chiapas