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Itzam K'an Ahk II

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Itzam K'an Ahk II
Ajaw of Piedras Negras
Itzam K'an Ahk II.svg
Itzam K'an Ahk II's glyph
Reign 729–757 AD
Predecessor K'inich Yo'nal Ahk II
Successor Yo'nal Ahk III
Born November 18, 701
Died November 26, 757
Religion Maya religion

Itzam K'an Ahk II (Mayan pronunciation: [itsam kʼan ahk]), also known as Ruler 4, was an ajaw of Piedras Negras, an ancient Maya settlement in Guatemala. He ruled during the Late Classic Period, from 729–757 AD. Itzam K'an Ahk II ascended to the throne upon the death of K'inich Yo'nal Ahk II, who may have been his father. Itzam K'an Ahk II may have fathered the following three kings of Piedras Negras: Yo'nal Ahk III, Ha' K'in Xook, and K'inich Yat Ahk II. Following Itzam K'an Ahk II's demise, he was succeeded by Yo'nal Ahk III in 757 AD. Itzam K'an Ahk II left behind several monuments, including stelae at Piedras Negras and a large mortuary temple now known as Pyramid O-13. In addition, the details of his life and his K'atun-jubilee were commemorated on Panel 3, raised by K'inich Yat Ahk II several years following Itzam K'an Ahk II's death.



Itzam K'an Ahk II, also known as Ruler 4, was born on November 18, 701 AD ( 7 Men 18 K'ank'in in the Long Count).[1] Of the three extant references to Itzam K'an Ahk's birth, not a single one mentions his pedigree or parentage, suggesting that Itzam K'an Ahk was not a direct descendant of his predecessor, K'inich Yo'nal Ahk II. Despite this, Simon Martin and Nikolai Grube point out that in one portrait, the ajaw is shown with a turtle-headdressed belt ornament, suggesting that one of Itzam K'an Ahk's ancestors may have indeed had the word auk, or turtle, in their name, signifying royalty.[2] With this being said, Stela 40—discussed later—shows what could be Itzam K'an Ahk's mother in Teotihuacano garb, suggesting that Itzam K'an Ahk was emphasizing potential connections to Teotihuacan, possibly the home of his mother.[1][3] Martin and Grube also point out that this stela was erected exactly 83 Tzolk'in, or about 59 years, following the death of Itzam K'an Ahk I, a former ajaw of Piedras Negras who lent his name to Itzam K'an Ahk II, insinuating some sort of "special link" between the two rulers.[1]


Panel 3 from Piedras Negras, which shows—among other things—Itzam K'an Ahk II lecturing visiting dignitaries on the superiority of Piedras Negras. Despite depicting Itzam K'an Ahk II, the panel was erected by K'inich Yat Ahk II.

Itzam K'an Ahk II's accession to the throne occurred on November 9, 729 AD ( 7 Ben 16 K'ank'in).[1] In 749 AD, the ajaw celebrated the jubilee of his one K'atun. This celebration was attended by many dignitaries, including local nobles such as a b'aah sajal ("first ruler") named K'an Mo' Te' who had served K'inich Yo'nal Ahk II. The events of this banquet were later recorded by the final ajaw of Piedras Negras, K'inich Yat Ahk II on Panel 3; this artifact shows Itzam K'an Ahk II lecturing the interregnum ruler of Yaxchilan, Yopaat Bahlam II, about a past incident in which Yaxchilan had acknowledged the superiority of Piedras Negras. The K'atun-jubilee, therefore, has been interpreted by some Mayanists to have marked a period wherein Piedras Negras had eclipsed Yaxchilan in power. This celebration was followed by another festival in which Itzam K'an Ahk II performed a "descending macaw" dance, and a nighttime feast wherein fermented cacao beans were served.[4]

Bellicose action seems to have occurred during his reign, as a pyrite disc found in his tomb depicts the severed head of a leader from Hix Witz.[3] Houston et al. argue that the Hix Witz polity was subordinate to Piedras Negras, largely based on the pyrite disk and because the Maya center is identified on Panel 7, erected earlier by Itzam K'an Ahk I, as a "tributary bearing plumes and textiles" to Piedras Negras.[5]


Itzam K'an Ahk II's almost thirty-year reign was one marked by "hegemony over neighboring kingdoms".[6] The ruler died on November 26, 757 AD ( 7 Kaban 0 Pax), and he was buried three days later.[1][7] According to Panel 3, the burial took place at the mythical location ho janaab witz, which has been deduced to mean, Pyramid O-13, Itzam K'an Ahk II's memorial temple.[7] Itzam K'an Ahk II was succeeded by Yo'nal Ahk III on March 10, 758 AD.[8] Due to the apparent veneration of Itzam K'an Ahk II's burial site by the succeeding kings, it has been hypothesized that Itzam K'an Ahk II introduced a new reigning patriline to Piedras Negras, and that the following three kings—Yo'nal Ahk III, Ha' K'in Xook, and K'inich Yat Ahk II—may have been his sons.[7][8][9][10][11]



Itzam K'an Ahk II constructed at least five known stelae: 9, 10, 11, 22, and 40.[12] Stelae 9, 10, and 11 were all erected in front of or near Structure J-3.[13] Stela 11, which was erected in August of 731 AD, is of the niche variety, meaning it depicts the ruler seated in a small hollow, or niche, and it was erected to commemorate the accession of the individual to the position of ajaw.[14][15] The monument shows the ajaw flanked by subjects, witnesses to the ceremonies explored on the face of the stela. The expanse in front of the stone slab is designated as a space for offerings, denoted by the depiction of a sacrificed human near the bottom of the monument.[14][16] The monument was discovered by Teoberto Maler in two pieces on the ground; the front was in good condition, and some pigment was still visible. The glyphs on the upper right have been weathered, but the sides are largely intact. In the 1960s, looters cut the fallen monument into two halves for easier removal. The top portion is currently housed in the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Texas, whereas the bottom half is in a private collection in Switzerland.[17]

Stela 9 was discovered in three pieces by Maler in 1899. The fragments had been moderately weathered, and the base was later found in situ by the University of Pennsylvania's University Museum. In the 1960s, looters removed the carved captives that had appeared on the left of the monument's front.[18] Stela 10 has been highly eroded, resulting in the loss of most of the monument's details.[13] In addition to the decay, the head ornament has been removed, and its current whereabouts are unknown.[19] Stela 22 was dedicated on the East Group Plaza, located in front of Structure O-12's terrace. The monument's dedication initiated the East Group Plaza as a new center for sculpture and stelae.[20] While previous stele had faced other directions, Stela 22 faced northwest towards the site's acropolis, creating "a new axis of dialogue across the site."[20]

Stela 40 is of particular note because it contains the depiction o the aforementioned woman dressed in Teotihuacano garb; it shows Itzam K'an Ahk II scattering what appears to be either blood or incense into a "psychoduct", the name for a vent or a hollow duct that goes from the outer of a temple or structure into an inner tomb. Simon and Grube argue that "the connection between the living and the dead is manifested [on this stela] as a 'knotted cord' or breath which travels down to enter the nose of the deceased".[1] The female on the stela, denoted only by an "upside down vase" glyph, has been inferred to be Itzam K'an Ahk II's mother; Pitts argues that the monument "offers an interesting vignette of Itzam K'an Ahk II and his loyalty to a female ancestor, probably his mother."[10][21]

Pyramid O-13[edit]

There are substantial similarities between Pyramid O-13 and the Temple of Inscriptions at Palenque (pictured), seeming to suggest a relationship between the two sites.

Pyramid O-13 is the name given to the hypothesized mortuary temple of K'inich Yat Ahk II.[22] According to Stephen Houston et al., it was nearly twice as large as any of the previous buildings constructed at Piedras Negras.[23] The pyramid itself changed substantially in the following years after Itzam K'an Ahk II's demise. K'inich Yat Ahk II reset the older Panel 2 and installed two new panels, Panels 1 and the now-famous Panel 3. Megan O'Neil argues that these changes were made in order for the ruling ajaw to have an "engagement with the past".[24] The pyramid was also the location of the stelae of Piedras Negras's three last known rulers.[24] All three of the aforementioned leaders revered the site as a dynastic shrine, suggesting some sort of familial connection with K'inich Yat Ahk II.[7]

In 1997, an excavation led by Héctor Escobedo discovered a tomb, Burial 13, underneath the plaza floor at the front of the pyramid's frontal stairs which may have been the place of interment for Itzam K'an Ahk II. Inside the tomb were discovered the remains of three humans: one adult male and two adolescents. Over 100 artifacts, including pieces of jade and ornaments, were found scattered about. There was evidence that the tomb had been reentered and disturbed after it had been sealed; many bones were missing and there was evidence that the remaining body parts had been burnt long after the flesh had decomposed. Eventually, it was concluded that the apparent destruction was part of a ritual that had been described in Panel 3, called el naah umukil, or "house-burning at the burial", and that it had been carried out by K'inich Yat Ahk II.[7] However, Stephen D. Houston cautions that, while Burial 13 might be the resting place of Itzam K'an Ahk II, it has not been conclusively proven.[25]

It has been pointed out that, architecturally, both the O-13 Pyramid and the Late Classic Temple of the Inscriptions at Palenque, are nearly identical; both have the same number of substructure terraces, and both pyramids' substructures have exactly five doors. Furthermore, both pyramids were built into the sides of existing hills. Damien Marken and Kirk Straight, use this—as well as inscriptions on stelae at Palenque—to argue that there was some sort of relationship between the two polities.[26]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Martin & Grube (2000), p. 148.
  2. ^ Martin & Grube (2000), p. 147.
  3. ^ a b Witschey & Brown (2012), p. 247.
  4. ^ Martin & Grube (2000), p. 149.
  5. ^ "Hix Witz". Mesoweb Encyclopedia. Retrieved February 6, 2014. 
  6. ^ Fitzsimmons (2010), p. 154.
  7. ^ a b c d e Martin & Grube 2000, p. 150.
  8. ^ a b Martin & Grube (2000), p. 151.
  9. ^ Pitts, Mark (2011). "Ruler 6". A Brief History of Piedras Negras as Told by the Ancient Maya: History Revealed in Maya Glyphs (PDF). Pre-Columbian Society of the University of Pennsylvania Museum. pp. 157–168. Retrieved March 2, 2014. 
  10. ^ a b Martin & Grube 2000, 152–153.
  11. ^ Sharer & Traxler (2006), p. 426.
  12. ^ "Piedras Negras Ruler 4". Mesoweb Encyclopedia. Retrieved February 6, 2014. 
  13. ^ a b "Stela 10". Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology. Retrieved July 31, 2014. 
  14. ^ a b O'Neil (2014), p. 72.
  15. ^ Sharer & Traxler (2006), p. 427.
  16. ^ O'Neil (2014), p. 76.
  17. ^ "Stela 11". Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology. Retrieved July 31, 2014. 
  18. ^ "Stela 9". Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology. Retrieved July 31, 2014. 
  19. ^ O'Neil (2014), p. 197.
  20. ^ a b O'Neil (2014), p. 136.
  21. ^ Pitts, Mark (2011). "Tomb of the Matriarch". A Brief History of Piedras Negras as Told by the Ancient Maya: History Revealed in Maya Glyphs (PDF). Pre-Columbian Society of the University of Pennsylvania Museum. p. 121. Retrieved March 2, 2014. 
  22. ^ "Piedras Negras Ruler 7". Mesoweb Encyclopedia. Retrieved February 6, 2014. 
  23. ^ Houston et al. (1998), pp. 40–56.
  24. ^ a b O'Neil (2014), p. 153.
  25. ^ Houston et al. (1999), pp. 16–22.
  26. ^ Marken & Straight (2007), p. 305.


Fitzsimmons, James (2010). Death and the Classic Maya Kings. University of Texas Press. ISBN 9780292781986. 
Houston, Stephan; et al. (1998). "Monumental Architecture at Piedras Negras, Guatemala: Time, History, and Meaning" (PDF). Mayab. 11: 40–56. 
Houston, Stephan; et al. (1999). "On the River of Ruins: Explorations at Piedras Negras, Guatemala". Mexicon. 20 (1): 16–22. 
Marken, Damien; Straight, Kirk (2007). Marken, Damien, ed. Palenque: Recent Investigations at the Classic Maya Center. Rowman Altamira. ISBN 9780759108752. 
Martin, Simon; Grube, Nikolai (2000). Chronicle of the Maya Kings and Queens. Thames & Hudson. ISBN 9780500051030. 
O'Neil, Megan (2014). Engaging Ancient Maya Sculpture at Piedras Negras, Guatemala. University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 9780806188362. 
Sharer, Robert; Traxler, Loa (2006). The Ancient Maya. Stanford University Press. ISBN 9780804748179. 
Witschey, Walter Robert Thurmond; Brown, Clifford (2012). Historical Dictionary of Mesoamerica. Scarecrow Press. ISBN 9780810871670.