Bonampak and Yaxchilan

Bonampak Travel Blog

 › entry 11 of 19 › view all entries

Today we head into the Lacandon area to the ruins of Bonampak. The discovery of the well preserved murals at this site had a profound impact on our understanding of the Mayans. The site and its murals became first known to non Mayan people in 1946, when photographer Giles Healey, accompanied by two Maya Lacandones, reached Bonampak and the Temple of the Paintings during a deer hunt. The discovery of the paintings, especially the Mural of the Battle, caused a huge debate among Maya scholars, since at that time the most accepted view was that the Ancient Maya were a peaceful people, more interested in mathematics and astronomic observations than warfare.

Throughout its history Bonampak was heavily influenced and subjected to the more powerful center of Yaxchilan, on the Usumacinta river, and in several inscriptions in both sites, the Bonampak ruler appears as a subaltern of the Yaxchilan lord.

Continuing to Frontera, we board our lancha (river boat) on the Ucumacinta river and head for the remote site of Yaxchilan, famous for its stelae and roof combs. The Mayan ruins at Yaxchilán are known for the extensive history detailed in its well preserved carvings. The majority of lintel and stele carvings commemorate the important historical events occurring during the reign of King Jaguar Shield, his famous wives Lady Xoc and Lady Eveningstar, and his son Bird Jaguar who ruled here in the 8th century.

Yaxchilán is unique in its multitude of depictions of important female personages. Lady Xoc, in particular, is depicted engaged in numerous rituals.Many images depict women engaged in the ritual of bloodletting. If this was a city of seers, as many believe it was, then the bloodletting ceremony was undoubtedly the ritual magic used to start the seer on their journey.


Yaxchilán also possesses some interesting images that shed light on another important Mayan ritual, the sacred ballgame. The shocking discovery of this group of friezes show in clear detail that the ¨ball¨ in this game was a bound captive human. It appears that Bird-Jaguar (in his ball game outfit) must not let the ball hit the ground. Behind the king are two dwarves, causing one to ask, who were these enigmatic little people referred to so much in Maya mythology? Perhaps they are related to the ancient Olmec belief that four dwarves held up the cardinal points of the sky.

We continue back up the river through the rainforest to our overnight lodge.  

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photo by: Natjie