Posted by: Johan Normark | March 29, 2009

The Heart of Time

Several years ago I wrote a novel entitled “Tidens Hjärta” or “The Heart of Time” in English. I got some encouraging (but ultimately dismissive) comments from one of the publishers I sent it to (Leopard förlag). They argued that I could write an interesting story but that I made the same mistake as many other “experts” trying to write novels on their area of knowledge; I simply tried to squeeze too much facts into the story, making it burdensome (believe I have heard that about some of my research as well). The other problem for this publisher was that parts of the story straddled the line towards fantasy. This was obviously my intention, sort of Lord of the Rings meets Apocalypto (although the book was finished well before Gibson’s movie). I simply let the “shamanistic” world live as it is depicted in the iconographic and epigraphic record. The Heart of Time is a sacred object kept in a bundle and its is actually the main polyagent of the book.

The main human character of the book is a fictious person whose life is affected by the civil war within the Mutal kingdom; between the brothers ruling Tikal (Nuun U Jol Ch’aak) and Dos Pilas (B’ajlaj Chan K’awiil). So, what is this “real” story then? It is a story of divide and conquer. I will tell it from B’ajlaj’s perspective. He was born on 9.9.12.11.2 8 Ik’ 5 Keh which correspond to 15th of October 625. His name in the translation offered by Marc Zender is as follows: “K’awiil Hammers (in) the Sky”. The name seems to relate to thunder and lightning and since he was born during the rainy season, it is not unlikely that his name reflects the time of his birth.

B'ajlaj Chan K'awiil

B'ajlaj Chan K'awiil

His birth happened three years before the last known date associated with the 22nd ruler of Tikal, known by the nick-name Animal Skull. The person mentioned as B’ajlaj’s father, K’inich Muwaan Johl II, is believed to have been the 24th king of Tikal. Stanley Guenter believes that B’ajlaj was the second son of this king and that he had an older brother who eventually became the 25th ruler of Tikal, Nuun U Jol Ch’aak. During the time surrounding Animal Skull’s last known date there may have been a dynastic crisis of some sort at Tikal since part of the royal court migrated to the small center of Dos Pilas, 115 km to the southeast in the Petexbatun area. Fahsen and Eric Boot believes that B’ajlaj arrived at Dos Pilas on the date 7 Ben 16 Xul, in 629, when he was only four years old. Guenter on the other hand believes that B’ajlaj had been living at Dos Pilas from birth.

An obscure event occured on 4 Muluc 2 Kumk’u, in 648. A person called Lam Nah K’awiil, whose flint and shield was brought down (a metaphor for the defeat of his army), at a place called Sakha’al. Fahsen believes he was a subordinate to Nuun U Jol Ch’aak who may have become ruler at this time. Guenter believes it was yet another brother from Tikal. B’ajlajs victory at Sakha’al may have divided the Mutal kingdom in two halves, the large and old Tikal and the small and new Dos Pilas. New data indicate that Yuknoom Ch’een, the king of Calakmul, attacked Dos Pilas on the 20th of December 650 (1 Kawak 17 Muwan). B’ajlaj probably fled and “climbed” to a place called K’inich Pa’ Witz which may be the nearby site of Aguateca. B’ajlajs life was spared and Yuknoom Ch’een made him an ally and a vassal. On 6 Ix 2 Kayab, 12th of January 657, Yuknoom forced B’ajlaj’s brother Nuun U Jol Ch’aak to flee Tikal to a place called Sakpa…n.

Step 3 on the eastern section of Hieroglyphic Stairway (HS) 2 at Dos Pilas describe an unknown but probably highly important event which involved Yuknoom Ch’een’s son Yich’aak K’ak’, and B’ajlaj and Nuun at a place called Yaxha. Unfortunately, the date is eroded, but both Guenter and Simon Martin believes that this was a joint submission to the Calakmul ruler and thus was the reason for the “volte face” of B’ajlaj against his brother in later events. The event may have occurred between 658 and 661 if it follows the time sequence.

On 4 Ak’bal 11 Muwaahn (8th of December 672) B’ajlaj was boosted from Dos Pilas by Nuun in a “star war” event. In the text from HS 4,  Nuun is only mentioned as a person from Mutal with the title Huxlahun Tzuk “(He of) Thirteen Provinces” which is associated with Central Petén. B’ajlaj sought refuge at place called Ch’aak Na, a site of unknown location. The Tikal forces were apparently chasing B’ajlaj throughout the Petén. The Dos Pilas king spend five years in exile, either at Hiix Witz or at the court of Calakmul as suggested by Martin and Nikolai Grube.

On 2 Ix 17 Muwaahn, 13th of December 677, a new “star war” event took place, as well as a burning event at the unknown site of Pulil/Puluul. Yuknoom of Calakmul once again attacked Nuun. This time Nuun fled from Dos Pilas where he seems to have stayed, which thus make it possible that Tikal was still in control of Yuknoom. Nuun “climbed” to the “Ti’ Patuun” place during his escape. Seven days after his brother’s flight, B’ajlaj arrived at Dos Pilas.

Two years later, on 11 Caban 10 Zotz (30th of April 679) the flient and shield of the king of Tikal was brought down. It is not known if Nuun U Jol Ch’aak was residing in Tikal at this time or if he was still in exile. Anyway, a sentence on Step 3 indicate that blood was “pooled” and bones where “mountained” at Tikal itself (picture below). The lords of the thirteen provinces (locations associated with Central Petén, such as Motul de San José and Tikal) were apparently slaughtered. These unfortunate people must have been allies to Nuun. There are no textual evidence that Nuun died, but he used the title Huxlahun Tzuk (the thirteen provinces) in his name. B’ajlaj do not mention Nuun as a king of Tikal and it is likely that he saw himself as the king of Tikal since he used this Emblem glyph himself. Guenter believes B’ajlaj buried Nuun to proclaim his legitimacy. He further suggests that B’ajlaj tried to become ruler of Tikal but that he was seen as a quisling by the local elite who finally enthroned Nuun’s son as the new king in 682.

Hieroglyphic Stairway 2, Step 3

Hieroglyphic Stairway 2, Step 3

The new king of Tikal, Jasaw Chan K’awiil, acceded to the throne on 5 Kib 14 Sotz’ (6th of May 682). He claimed to be the son of Nuun U Jol Ch’aak. The acceeding to the throne of Jasaw may have been a direct act against his uncle and the king of Calakmul which four days later, on the Period Ending of 9.12.10.0.0, danced in a ceremony, probably at Calakmul. Stela 9 from Dos Pilas is the only known portraiture of B’ajlaj. He is depicted as being at Calakmul, dressed as the Tikal Maize God and standing on his bound captive Nuun B’alam. He holds a K’awiil scepter in his right hand and a shield in his left hand. On the shield is the title U Naab’nal K’inich, a royal title of the Tikal rulers. It is thus ironic that four days earlier Tikal had crowned a new king.

B’ajlaj may have had problems governing Tikal and this disorder may have benefited the nearby Naranjo ruler who attacked the site of Caracol, an ally of Calakmul. The Naranjo victory must have been short-lived since the king of Naranjo never was heard of anymore and it is likely that B’ajlaj and Calakmul defeated Naranjo. This left the throne vacant at Naranjo. It is not by chance that B’ajlajs daughter Ix Wak Chan Ajaw was sent to the site. She arrived on the 27th of August 682, almost four months after Jasaw’s accession. She was never inaugurated as a ruler but she is believed to have acted as one for several years. Whoever she was married to, he was never mentioned in the known inscriptions. She later gave birth to the future king of Naranjo, K’ak’ Tiliw Chan Ch’aak in 688. It is likely that B’ajlaj used Naranjo to keep battles away from the Petexbatun area and still close to receive reinforcements from Calakmul. Jasaw’s early campaigns was heading in this direction, toward Yaxha and Naranjo.

We know very little about B’ajlaj’s final years. He witnessed the accession of the new ruler of Calakmul, Yich’aak K’ak’ in 686. No known recorded death date has been found for B’ajlaj. According to the retrospective mention on Stela 5 at Aguateca he danced and oversaw the 9.13.0.0.0. 8 Ajaw 8 Wo Period Ending. This was on the 15th of March 692. This is the last known date and he probably died around this time, at least before 698 when the next known accession date is known. His death occurred at a time when Jasaw began to gain more control of his predecessors realm. Jasaw defeated the Calakmul forces in 695 and Tikal reclaimed its leading position in the central Lowlands. Jasaw was later buried in Temple I at Tikal.

Temple I at Tikal

Temple I at Tikal

B’ajlaj Chan K’awiil thus became at least 67 years old. He is believed to be buried inside the unexcavated Structure L5-49, a large structure at Dos Pilas, on which we find HS 2. A person with the name Itzamnaaj B’alam and his mother, Lady of Itzan, are mentioned on Step 1 of HS 2. It is believed that he was the next in line, and not as once thought, Ruler 2 or Itzamnaaj K’awiil, who became king in 698. Itzamnaaj B’alam dedicated HS 2 in the mid 690s. Apart from the dedication of HS 2 there is a period of no known inscriptions at Dos Pilas until Stela 1, erected in 706. This is also related to the early reign of a new powerful king at Calakmul. Dos Pilas’ fate was thus tightly intertwined with the large site in the far north, even after the death of B’ajlaj.

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