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

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