Researchers in northern Guatemala have unearthed not only a rare 1,450-year-old Maya stone monument but also an intriguing tale of royal vengeance and power.
Officially named El Perú Stela 44, the stone was found during an excavation beneath the main temple of the ancient Maya city El Perú-Waka’. The new discovery includes hieroglyphic text detailing a battle between two of the civilization’s most powerful royal dynasties.
"'Game of Thrones'... George Lucas... Steven Spielberg... Nobody could write this story the way the Maya actually lived it," Dr. David Freidel, an anthropologist at Washington University in St. Louis who was part of the research team, told NBC News.
So, what story was hidden in Stela 44? The text describes the accession of the son of Chak Took Ich’aak in A.D. 556 as witnessed by queen Lady Ikoom, who was likely his mother.
Map of the Maya world.
Lady Ikoom was one of two Snake dynasty princesses sent into arranged marriages with the rulers of El Perú-Waka’ kingdom and another nearby Maya city -- all part of an attempt to cement Snake control over that region of Guatemala.
She married and had her son with King Chak Took Ich'aak, which confirmed that Chak Took Ich'aak switched allegiances from Tikal to the Snake kingdom.
“But then, when he died and his son and heir came to power, he did so under the auspices of a foreign king,” Freidel said in a written statement. “So Tikal had reasserted command of Waka’ and somehow Queen Ikoom survived this imposition."
Then, Freidel said, "in a dramatic shift in the tides of war that same Tikal King, Wak Chan K’awiil, was defeated and sacrificed by the Snake king in A.D. 562. Finally, two years after that major reversal, the new king and his mother raised Stela 44, giving the whole story as outlined above.”
Analysis of the stone suggests that Lady Ikoom's son, Wa’oom Uch’ab Tzi’kin, commissioned the Stela 44 monument to honor his father, who had died in A.D. 556. The discovery of this monument also marks the discovery of this royal father-son duo's legacy.
Freidel and his team said in the statement that they plan to continue studying Stela 44 for more clues about the nuances of Maya history.
Maya Snake queen Lady Ikoom as depicted on Stela 44.