Mysterious Mayan tablet reveals secrets of “snake queen”

The intricate hieroglyphics are still being deciphered by archaeologists - and tell the violent story of a 6th-century “snake queen”.

A tablet found in a tunnel beneath the main temple of the ancient Mayan city El Perú-Waka’ in northern Guatemala has revealed secrets of what archaeologists describe as a “dark period” in Mayan history.

The intricate hieroglyphics are still being deciphered by archaeologists - and tell the violent story of a 6th-century “snake queen”.

The tablet dates from AD 564, a time when two royal dynasties were battling for power - centuries before the “collapse” of the Mayan civilisation, which remains one of the biggest mysteries in archaeology.

Stone tablets carved by the ancient Mayans have been crucial to our understanding of their civilisation - and have been discovered in dozens of other Mayan ruins.


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“Great rulers took pleasure in describing adversity as a prelude to ultimate success,” said research director David Freidel, PhD, a professor of anthropology in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis. “Here the Snake queen, Lady Ikoom, prevailed in the end.”

The stone tablet stood exposed to the elements for a hundred years - before being buried as an offering in a funeral for another queen.

Epigrapher Stanley Guenter, who deciphered the text, believes that the tablet was originally dedicated by King Wa’oom Uch’ab Tzi’kin, a title that translates roughly as “He Who Stands Up the Offering of the Eagle.”

“The information in the text provides a new chapter in the history of the ancient kingdom of Waka’ and its political relations with the most powerful kingdoms in the Classic period lowland Maya world.”

Lady Ikoom was a predecessor to one of the greatest queens of Classic Maya civilization, the seventh-century Maya Holy Snake Lord known as Lady K’abel who ruled El Perú-Waka’ for more than 20 years with her husband, King K’inich Bahlam II.

She was the military governor of the Wak kingdom for her family, the imperial house of the Snake King, and she carried the title “Kaloomte,” translated as “Supreme Warrior,” - higher in authority than her husband, the king.

Around A.D. 700, Stela 44 was brought to the main city temple by command of King K’inich Bahlam II to be buried as an offering, probably as part of the funeral rituals for his wife, queen Kaloomte’ K’abel.