On display

Maya relief of royal blood-letting (Yaxchilan lintel 24)

Mexico, about AD 600-900

This limestone lintel, considered one of the masterpieces of Maya art, is one of a series of three panels from Structure 23 at Yaxchilán, where it was set above the left (south-east) doorway.


Lintels 24 and 25, removed at Maudslay's request at the end of the nineteenth century, are on permanent display in the British Museum's Mexican Gallery. Lintel 26, the third in the series, is in the Museo Nacional de Antropología, in Mexico City.

The scene represents a bloodletting ritual performed by the king of Yaxchilán, Shield Jaguar the Great (681-742), and his wife, Lady K'ab'al Xook (Itzamnaaj Bahlen III). The king holds a flaming torch over his wife, who is pulling a thorny rope through her tongue. Scrolls of blood can be seen around her mouth.

The first two glyphs in the text at the top of the lintel indicate the event and the date on which it took place, 24 October, AD 709 (5 Eb, 15 Mak in the maya calendar).

The last glyph represents the Emblem Glyph (that is, the city name in Maya hierolglyphs) of Yaxchilán. The text on the left of the panel contains the name and titles of Lady K'ab'al Xook.

The lintel has traces of Maya blue, turquoise and red pigment.


Yaxchilán

A significant Maya centre, Yaxchilán is located on the south bank of the Usumacinta River, in Chiapas, Mexico. It largely dates to the Classic period (AD 250-900) and a number of its buildings are still standing.

lintel

Yaxchilán lintels

The carved stone lintels found above doorways have made this site famous. Commissioned by rulers of the city, the lintels area a lengthy dynastic record.

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Video

Alfred P Maudslay

Maudslay carried out eight expeditions to the Maya areas of modern Central America between 1881 and 1894, visiting Copán, Quirigua, Yaxchilán, Chichen Itza and Palenque.

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The Maya

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The Maya civilization (AD 300-900) was one of the most sophisticated in the pre-Columbian Americas and extended from Mexico across Guatemala, Belize and the western parts of Honduras and El Salvador.

Maya world culture

Maya glyphs

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Maya relief of royal blood-letting

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Object details

From Yaxchilán
Maya, Late Classic period (AD 600-900)

 

Height: 109 cm
Width: 78 cm
Depth: 6 cm

 

AOA 1886-317

Room 27: Mexico

     

    Gift of A.P. Maudslay

    References

    L. Schele and M.E. Miller, The blood of kings (London, Thames & Hudson, 1986)

    C. Tate, Yaxchilan: the design of a Maya ceremonial city (University of Texas Press, 1992)

    S. Martin and N. Grube, Chronicle of the Maya kings and queens (Thames and Hudson, 2008)

    M. Miller and S. Martin et al, Courtly Art of the Ancient Maya (New York, Thames and Hudson, 2004)

    See this object in our Collection database online

    Further reading

    V.R. Bricker, ‘Advances in Maya epigraphy’, Annual Review of Archaeology, 24 (1995), 215–235

    J. Marcus, ‘The Iconography of Power Among the Classic Maya’, World Archaeology, 6 (1974), 83–94

    N. Grube and Simon Martin, Chronicle of the Mayan Kings and Queens: Deciphering the Dynasties of the Ancient Maya (London, Thames and Hudson, 2008)

    V.E. Miller, Yaxchilan: the Design of a Maya Ceremonial City (Austin, University of Texas Press, 1992)

    D. Freidel and L. Schele, A Forest of Kings: the Untold Story of the Ancient Maya (London, 1990)