Height: 87.500 cm
Width: 82.200 cm
Gift of A.P. Maudslay
Room 27: Mexico
Yaxchilan lintel 15
Maya, Late Classic period (AD 600-900)
From Yaxchilán, Mexico
A serpent apparition from a Maya temple
This limestone lintel is one of a series of three panels commissioned by Bird Jaguar IV for Structure 21 at Yaxchilán and was once set above the left (south-east) doorway of the central chamber.
The lintel shows one of Bird Jaguar's wives, Lady Wak Tuun, during a bloodletting rite. She is carrying a basket with the paraphernalia used for auto-sacrifice: a stingray spine, a rope and bloodied paper. The Vision Serpent appears before her, springing from a bowl, which also contains strips of bark-paper.
Bloodletting was a common practice in Maya life from the Late Preclassic period (400 BC - AD 250) onwards, and an essential part of rulership and of all public rituals. The Maya élite drew blood from various parts of their bodies using lancets made of stingray spine, flint, bone or obsidian. These objects are often found in burials and other archaeological contexts, though other perishable materials, like the rope and the bark-paper strips seen on the lintel, are now lost.
The inscription refers to the bloodletting rite twice in a slightly different form. The date recorded seems to be AD 755. The text that appears between Lady Wak Tuun and the Vision Serpent records her name, titles and her place of origin, Motul de San José.
L. Schele and M.E. Miller, The blood of kings (London, Thames & Hudson, 1986)
S. Martin and N. Grube, Chronicle of the Maya kings an (Thames and Hudson, 2000)
C. McEwan, Ancient Mexico in the British (London, The British Museum Press, 1994)