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Toniná is a large center of the Maya classic period (roughly 200–850 ce), located in the Ocosingo Valley in Mexico surrounded by the peaks of the Chiapas highlands. From the plaza below, the acropolis of Toniná appears as a mountainous step pyramid with temples or palaces at every level. There are sequences of seven terraces carved into a steeply rising hillside that leads to the ceremonial core of the site. One of the few highland sites in full classic tradition, Toniná was closely tied to the cultural heartland and may have been a center of trade between the highlands and lowlands of the Ocosingo Valley.

Toniná may have been a provincial city in the Palenque sphere of influence, or perhaps a capital in the southwest highlands of the Maya region in the state of Chiapas, Mexico. Although the art, architecture, and hieroglyphs of Toniná are similar to those of Palenque, its pottery types resemble those of Chiapa de Corzo, to the north and west. From these pottery types the site occupations can be classified into a series of distinctive cultural phases. Toniná also contains shards from Oaxaca and Mexico, even farther north, linking the classic period of the Maya with the distinct cultural development of the highlands of Mexico.

Unique to Toniná are its fifteen sculptured stelae (there is also one plain stela). The stelae are relatively short (less than 6 feet) and carved in the round. All depict figures with large headdresses and elaborate clothing. Some of the stelae are crudely made or incomplete; some are of rough sandstone. Also unearthed at Toniná were a jade bead with a hieroglyph date incised, jade plaques with grotesque hands carved on both sides, and jade pendants with relief figures. Toniná also has monuments with distinctive glyphs, but they have been little studied. Toniná's distinction among the many Mayan sites is its possession of the very last long-count date on a Maya monument, defining the end of the classic civilization in 909 ce.

First excavated by Pierre Becquelin and Claude Baudez of the French Archaeological Mission to Mexico (1972–1980), the site is presently being excavated by the Mexican Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, directed by Juan Yadeun.


Pierre Becquelin, Pierre, and Claude F. Baudez. Toniná, une cité maya du Chiapas (Mexique). 4 vols. Mexico: Mission Arquéologique et Ethnologique Française au Méxique, 1979–1982.

Martin, Simon, and Nikolai Grube. Chronicle of the Maya Kings and Queens: Deciphering the Dynasties of the Ancient Maya. London: Thames and Hudson, 2002.

                                     Richard S. MacNeish

                                              Karin Fenn