For A Mayan Ruler
By James Donahue
I don't spend time
watching television anymore, but a few years ago, when Novas archaeological mystery story "Lost King of the Maya" aired on
Public Broadcasting I found myself glued to the set.
The story was about
a mysterious Mayan ruler named Yax K’uk Mo, who came out of the jungle from some unknown origin and founded a dynasty
of 16 rulers, lasting 400 years at Copan, Honduras.
The story carved in
the stones told how this ruler, whose name means "Lord of the West," took his emblems of office before traveling 153 days
to reach the settlement of Copan. This amazing man then turned this primitive place into a great dynasty that flourished in
the arts, mathematics and archaeology for the next 400 years.
A study of the complex
Mayan calendar reveals that a 400-year cycle, or Baktun, was a special "long count" or period of time that was regarded with superstition, much like people regard each turn
of a century in contemporary times. The arrival of Yax K'uk Mo in Copan in the year 426 marked the beginning of the Ninth
Baktun. Thus this ruler became elevated to the realm of the supernatural. Strangely, the reign that he started carried on
through 16 rulers and lasted exactly one Baktun before it crumbled.
The great mystery about
this ruler is that he arrived from nowhere, united a band of feuding warlords into a single government, obviously carried
on trade with neighboring people, and left a legacy of great stone monuments and art work that still mystify and marvel all
who come to visit them.
More than one writer
has drawn the similarities between this strange story and the myth of the great Aztec feathered god figure Quetzalcoatl, also
known among the Mayans as Kukulcan and linked to the lesser gods Xolotl, Tlaloc, Xipe and Tezcatlipoca. That Quetzalcoatl
was identified as a white skinned visitor who came among the people, taught them numbers, astrology and culture, then went
away as mysteriously as he arrived, suggests alien visitation.
Writer Thomas Blackstar,
in his own personal analysis of this same television show, wrote that he never saw "sculptures of a Mayan ruler that looked
as extraterrestrial as Yax K'uk Mo."
Author Adrian Gilbert
linked Yax K'uk Mo with the Aztec rain god Tlaloc and suggests that the jungle cities like Copan were developed as imitations
of Teotihuacan, located about 700 miles to the east.
Gilbert writes: "Rows
of these Tialoc faces have been found at Teotihuacan, alternating with curious jaguar faces, lining the staircase of the Quetzazalcoatl
pyramid inside the Citadel. The Tialoc faces have a curious, alien feel to them and are more suggestive of extra-terrestrials
in space suits than powerful chieftains in glasses."
Again we return to
the initial question about Yax K'ui Mo. How did one man emerge out of a jungle, claim authority over a band of savage people
already at war with each other, and almost overnight turn them into a civilized dynasty? This man appears to have been a real
supernatural figure, capable of making the people of the area consider him a god and turning to him for leadership.
Yet the takeover was
not as easy as that.
they have uncovered the bones of Yax K'ui Mo, buried deep in the ruins of a great structure used for placing the remains of
all of the former rulers of that great dynasty.
From all descriptions,
Yax K'ui Mo was a man who died in his mid-fifties following a life of severe conflict and hardship that left him crippled
with numerous scars and broken bones. He obviously was involved in many battles before rising to power.
The record shows that
the skeletal remains found in the tomb reveal that Yax K'ui Mo's right arm was deformed from a fracture that may have been
suffered in battle, the other arm was once broken, there had been a small fracture of the skull, the first thoracic vertebra
and first cervical vertebra in the backbone showed signs of trauma and were rubbing against each other, and several ribs were
Thus this ruler, toward
the end of his life, probably lived in pain. He carried a bent right arm, his lower chest was pushed in and protruding above,
his shoulder pulled medially, his upper back was so stiff he held himself rigid so he probably minimized movement of his neck,
and limped on his right foot.
That he lived the end
of his life in Copan and died there, with a wife buried near him, indicates that even if he originated from the stars, Yax
K'ui Mo was human. He may have been given great wisdom and power, but he was not spared from battle and pain. And he was the
father of children who carried on his reign.