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Yaxchilán, Maya archaeological site located in Chiapas, Mexico. Renowned for its numerous well-preserved stone monuments beautifully carved with scenes of human figures accompanied by long hieroglyphic texts, Yaxchilán has provided epigraphers with crucial information concerning the history and organization of Classic Maya society. The city's monuments were placed in front of and inside many small temples built atop ridges and terraces that overlook a great U-shaped bend midway along the Usumacinta River, which is now the international border between Mexico and Guatemala.

First brought to public attention in the 1880s through the photographs of two European explorerarchaeologists, Alfred P. Maudslay and Teobert Maler, the Yaxchilán texts have proved critical in deciphering Maya history as told from the point of view of kings. During a period of almost five centuries (320–808 ce), the Yaxchilán polity was ruled from its capital by a sequence of ahaw, or lords, each of whom oversaw one or more sahal, or provincial lords, who governed communities subordinate to the king. While the names of at least fifteen kings are recorded in the texts, the most important of these were Shield Jaguar I (647–742 ce) and Bird Jaguar IV (709–c. 770 ce), rulers responsible for building most of Yaxchilán's temples and monuments. The predominant themes of the Yaxchilán inscriptions are warfare and bloodletting, both central activities in the ritual lives of kings. Also recorded in the texts are details of marital and military alliances, ritual practices and religious ideas, and terms for kinship and political office, information that enables archaeologists to reconstruct important aspects of Maya social, political, and religious organization.

A broad historical context for the glyphic information is provided by the excavations of the Mexican archaeologist Robert García Moll, whose preliminary results indicate that Yaxchilán was occupied from the Late Preclassic through the Terminal Classic periods.

See alsoArchaeology; Maya, The.


Alfred P. Maudslay, Biologia Centrali-Americana: Archaeology, 5 vols. (1889–1902).

Ian Graham, Corpus of Maya Hieroglyphic Inscriptions: Yaxchilán, vol. 3, parts 1-3 (1977–1988).

Linda Schele and David Freidel, A Forest of Kings (1990), pp. 262-305.

Carolyn E. Tate, Yaxchilán: The Design of a Maya Ceremonial City (1992).

Additional Bibliography

Brokmann, Carlos. Tipología y análisis de la obsidiana de Yaxchilán, Chiapas. Mexico City: Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, 2000.

García Moll, Roberto. La arquitectura de Yaxchilan. Mexico City: Plaza y Valdés; Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, 2003.

García Moll, Roberto, and Daniel Juárez Cossio, eds. Yaxchilán: antología de su descubrimiento y estudios. Mexico City: Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, 1986.

Kaneko, Akira. Artefactos líticos de Yaxchilán. Mexico City: Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, 2003.

Martin, Simon, and Nikolai Grube. Chronicle of the Maya Kings and Queens: Deciphering the Dynasties of the Ancient Maya. New York: Thames & Hudson, 2000.

Mathews, Peter. La escultura de Yaxchilán. Trans. Antonio Saborit. Mexico City: Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, 1997.

Miller, Mary Ellen, and Simon Martin, eds. Courtly Art of the Ancient Maya. San Francisco: Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; New York: Thames & Hudson, 2004.

                                          Kevin Johnston