Posted by: Johan Normark | October 1, 2009

Carved stairway raisers at Yo’okop

Five carved blocks have been found in Group A at Yo’okop. The carved stones are likely from the same building due to their similar carving depths, glyphic compounds and cartouche formats (Wren, et al. in press). It is believed, based upon a local informant, that the known carved blocks (roughly 0.4 x 0.4 m) originated in the same structure, although they were found elsewhere in Group A.

This apparently important building is Structure S5E1-1 which measures 50 x 50 x 11 m. It is an unusual building since it has a square base and inside this square is a depression with a pyramid in the middle. It resembles a smaller version of Tikal’s South Acropolis. The moat could potentially be the result of a collapsed substructure. This building connects the pyramidal structures in the western part of Group A with an area dominated by range structures to the east (Shaw, et al. 2000).

The carved blocks at Yo’okop were probably stairway raisers (Wren and Nygard 2005:170-171). Stone B may include the name Sky Witness, or ruler 17 from the Kaan kingdom (Martin 1997:861). It may have been carved during or later than his reign. He may have come to power around A.D. 546, but he reigned at least A.D. 561-572 (Martin and Grube 2000:102-104). Stone B is probably a posthumous reference to this ruler. Yo’okop was an important site that connected sites in the Southern and the Northern Lowlands along the so-called Petén corridor that runs northward towards Coba.

Stone F

Stone F

Stone C may describe a royal woman; “the kaloomte’ Ix Ch’ak Kab”. It is believed that she came from the Kaan kingdom (Wren and Nygard 2005:174-176). Stone F’s upper right glyph block may have the phrase u kahi (“by his doing” or “under the auspices of”) (Shaw, et al. 2000:58). This last glyph could possibly imply a hierarchical relationship to another site, most likely Dzibanche in the late Early Classic/early Late Classic Kaan kingdom (Shaw, et al. 2000:58; Wren, et al. 2001:101).

As the earlier posts on the Kaan kingdom shows, the Early Classic Snake kings appears to have gain strengths in the east and northeast before they moved the capital to Calakmul, back to an area near where the kingdom may have originated in the Mirador basin during the Late Formative. Yo’okop appears to have been part of this process since the site probably was an ally/vassal to the Kaan kings. The largest single construction at Yo’okop, Sacbe 2, appears to have been constructed during this time. Before any excavation one can only speculate that the person buried in the pyramidal mound where the causeway ends came from the Kaan kingdom, maybe the person mentioned on Stone C, or at least someone associated with that person.



  1. Johan, just a quick correction. There are actually two different Sky Witness kings of the Kan realm. The one listed in Martin 1997 is from the list of the first 19 kings of the dynasty while the king who ruled in the 6th century, and is discussed in Martin and Grube 2000, is his later namesake. The list of kings on the Dynastic Vases, which name the first rulers of the kingdom, does not match the list of known historical rulers of the 6th century.

    The Sky Witness on the Yo’okop monument is pretty clearly the later one, and thus he should not be confused with Ruler 17 of the Dynastic Vases.

    Regarding the name on stone C, the drawing in Wren and Nygard 2005 makes the final sign appear more like the cave sign CH’EEN, rather than KAB, but I think I would need to check the original before coming down in favor of either of those possible readings.

    Incidentally, since there have been few publications on Maya history that don’t involve Simon and Nikolai, the reading of Kaan has become the popular one outside of the epigraphic community. I think this was Nikolai’s suggestion, based upon phonetic complimentation outside of the Snake Emblem Glyph context. I find this spelling problematic as the complimentation needed to make this a long internal vowel is entirely absent in EG contexts and there is one EG context where this name is spelled entirely phonetically, plus one toponymic reference, and these both indicate a short vowel. Unfortunately, since this evidence has never been presented formally the Kaan reading continues to be the popular one, even though most epigraphers, I believe, would agree that this spelling is in error. I should probably get off my duff and actually post this to Mesoweb or somewhere so that the proper Kan spelling can be brought to light.

    • Thanks for clarifying the distinction between the two Sky Witnesses. Yes, it is the later one for sure.

      As for the spelling of the Snake Emblem Glyph I’ll change it in the future posts.

      Btw, are you publishing your Mirador-Teotihuacan text somewhere?


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