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Bird Claw

?-TE'?. Drawing and transcription after Martin and Grube (2000).


Maya ruler of Tikal (?); also known as Animal Skull I and Ete I. Monument: Stela 8.

Stela 8, a "staff stela" in the style of the earlier ruler Chak Tok Ich'aak II, depicts a male figure and names him in a relationship with the Lady of Tikal (Martin and Grube 2000:39). Neither the relationship nor the date of the stela has been deciphered; but the subject of the monument, who has been nicknamed Bird Claw, is a candidate to occupy the position in the dynastic count of Tikal rulers between Kaloomte' B'alam, the nineteenth ruler, and Wak Chan K'awiil, the twenty-first (ibid.:39)

Tikal's twentieth ruler would have occupied the throne at some point between AD 527 and 537 (ibid.:39). This was a time of significant architectural developments at Tikal, with construction of the East Acropolis platform, new plaza floorings throughout the site center, and the first twin-pyramid complex, which was built in the East Plaza (ibid.:39).

The foregoing is based on Chronicle of the Maya Kings and Queens by Simon Martin and Nikolai Grube (2000:39). Their sources include Christopher Jones (1991) for the twin-pyramid complex.


The "Bird Claw" designation arose from a misidentification of the main component of the subject's name on Stela 8 (Martin 2003:note 31). The glyph that appropriately bears the "bird claw" nickname (bottom right in this photo) appears just before the statement of the relationship with the Lady of Tikal. But the core part of the name of the person depicted on the stela is shown in the drawing above (and in this photo).

This name, which occurs at the beginning of the inscription and again later followed by the u naab'nal k'inich title, is quite similar to that of the later Tikal ruler Animal Skull. Martin and Grube maintain that the 'animal skull' glyphs and the 'bird claw' glyph later in the inscription all refer to the same individual, who is a candidate to be considered the otherwise-missing twentieth ruler of Tikal based on the u naab'nal k'inich title — elsewhere associated with Tikal royalty — as well as the fact that he is depicted on a stela. Stanley Guenter (personal communication 2001) suggests instead that the glyphs refer to Animal Skull himself.

Stela 8 is a monument of the "staff stela" type in a style consistent with the earlier era of Chak Tok Ich'aak II rather than its apparent date in the reign of the Lady of Tikal, who is named in the inscription. Bird Claw, in turn, is named as the Lady of Tikal's ti' hu'un (top left glyph in this photo), an untranslated noun seen elsewhere as a title carried by subordinate lords in the western region of the Maya lowlands (Martin 2003:note 31). Guenter suggests that Stela 8 is a monument carved in an archaic style by Animal Skull himself after his accession (when he would have carried the u naab'nal k'inich title by right). The indication that he had once served as the ti' huun of the Lady of Tikal would explain how he came to rule despite not being the son of the previous king. Guenter's solution requires the correction of a number in the period-ending date of the monument, a scribal error that Martin (personal communication 2001) considers unlikely.