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Piedras Negras Ruler 7

K'INICH-ya-[?]AHK, "Radiant Tooth? of the Turtle-?". Drawing, transcription, and translation after Martin and Grube (2008).

Maya ruler of Piedras Negras; also known as Ruler 6. Reigned AD 781-808?.

Born: 12 Manik' 5 Sotz' (April 7, 750).

Acceded: 1 K'an 7 Yaxk'in (May 31, 781).

Mother: Lady Bird.

Monuments: Stelae 12 and 15; Altar 4; Throne 1; Panels 1? and 3.

Although his father's name is not recorded, Ruler 7 was almost certainly a descendant of Ruler 4, perhaps a son of the prince T'ul Chiik who was captured by Yaxchilan in 759 (Martin and Grube 2008:151, 152). Like his two immediate predecessors, Ruler 7 oriented his stelae toward Pyramid O-13, the probable mortuary temple of Ruler 4 (ibid.:152). The latter may have introduced a new royal patriline at Piedras Negras, which would account for his successors treating his memorial shrine as a dynastic focus (ibid.:150). Our knowledge of O-13's significance arises from Panel 3, the consumately artistic carving that Ruler 7 installed in its sanctuary (ibid.:149, 152).

Panel 3 records an el naah fire ceremony performed by Ruler 7 at the tomb of Ruler 4 in AD 782 (ibid.:150, 152). Interestingly, the date chosen for the ritual is precisely a year after the burial of Ruler 7's immediate predecessor Ha' K'in Xook (ibid.:152). (Ruler 7 would not accede for another two months, after an interregnum of over a year.) The glyphic expression el naah umukil, literally "house-burning at the burial", conveys the physical circumstance that the tomb of Ruler 4 in front of the the O-13 pyramid showed myriad signs of blackening from smoke and fire, the evidences of Ruler 7's ritual of veneration (ibid.:150).

A conscious association with the founding dynasty of Piedras Negras may lie behind Ruler 7's regnal name, which shares the ya-prefixed "crossed-bands" and "turtle" elements with Early Classic ruler Turtle Tooth (ibid.:140, 152).

In a pattern seen elsewhere in the Maya realm (for instance Palenque king K'inich K'uk' Bahlam's Tablet of the 96 Glyphs), the last ruler of Piedras Negras commissioned some of the masterpieces of Classic art (ibid.:152, 175). Panel 3's complex narrative scene of palace life is carved with striking three-dimensionality, while the ornate back support of Throne 1 sets elegant royal portraits into the eyes of a mask (ibid.:149, 152). Far from languishing in the very last years before the Collapse, sculptural artistry at Piedras Negras not only flourished but innovated; Ruler 7's Stela 15 is carved almost fully in the round (ibid.:152).

In another pattern seen elsewhere (for instance neighboring Yaxchilan, where the last known monument is preoccupied almost entirely with war), the last known ruler of Piedras Negras took pains to record his military successes (ibid.:137, 152). In August of 787 he captured a yajaw k'ahk' ("lord of fire") from Santa Elena (ibid.:152). Five years later, in March 792, more captives were taken from Pomona in a "star war" action against that city on the Tabasco plain (ibid.:152). Evidently Pomona was not completely vanquished, for a "second star war" is recorded two years later; Stela 12, another artistically striking monument, depicts the prisoners taken on that occasion, huddled in their multitude beneath the feet of their captors (ibid.:152-153).

Ruler 7 is joined on Stela 12 by two subordinates, the most important of whom is Parrot Chaak of La Mar; his accession to kingship in 783 is recorded in inscriptions at La Mar, which also relate his version of the victory over Pomona (he is said to have taken two of the prisoners named on Stela 12) (ibid.:153). Just as La Mar seems to have had a particular significance for Ruler 7's predecessor Yo'nal Ahk III, who recorded the accession of one its sajals on a monument at Piedras Negras, Ruler 7 accorded La Mar's Parrot Chaak conspicuous mentions not just on Stela 12 but on Throne 1; and he is depicted on Panel 3 while still a child (ibid.:151, 153).

Architecturally, Ruler 7 made significant additions to the West Acropolis (ibid.:152). It was here, in the J-6 gallery of the palace, that Throne 1 was found in pieces scattered around the room (ibid.:153). Clearly violence marked the last days of Piedras Negras and those of its final monarch as well, for Ruler 7 was taken captive by K'inich Tatbu Skull IV of Yaxchilan (ibid.:153). This perpetual rival, which seems to have languished under the thumb of Piedras Negras for long periods of time, had scored the final blow.

Piedras Negras does not go completely silent with the capture of Ruler 7; Altar 3 bears a dedication date from two years later (ibid.:153). But the violence that was visited upon Throne 1 may also be expressed in some of the numerous signs of burning at the site (ibid.:153). While a previous generation of archaeologists looked to a "peasant's revolt" to account for monumental damage, current thinking seeks a military explanation (ibid.:153). The site seems to have been abandoned quickly after the end of its dynasty, although the Usumacinta's ongoing status as a major trade arterial conveying traffic between the west and upstream sites like Seibal and Altar de Sacrificios accounts for some continued occupation through the Terminal Classic into the Early Postclassic (ibid.:153).

The foregoing is based on Chronicle of the Maya Kings and Queens by Simon Martin and Nikolai Grube (2008:137, 152-153, 175). Their sources include Alexandre Safaronov (personal communication 2006) for T'ul Chiik, and David Stuart (in Houston et al. 1999) for Ruler 7's capture by Yaxchilan.

Stephen Houston (in Houston et al. 2000:102) describes Stela 12 as a "monument of vengeance" which presents Ruler 7's victories over Pomona as rectification for some humiliation visited upon Piedras Negras by Pomona almost twelve k'atuns earlier, just after (AD 554). Recent archaeological investigations of the Acropolis at Piedras Negras have revealed copious deposits of bajareque, the burned and crushed remains of wattle-and-daub structures that may have been destroyed as a consequence of warfare, "to be tidied up at a later date, probably not fully until Yaxche times, when Ruler 3 left his hand on the Acropolis zone" (Houston et al. 2000:102).

Ruler 7 is referred to as the baak ("captive") of K'inich Tatbu Skull on Yaxchilan Lintel 10 in connection with a date in 808 (Martin and Grube 2008:137, 153). In this context, the import of Ruler 7's Panel 3 comes into clearer focus. The scene is retrospective, featuring a celebration of the twenty-year anniversary of Ruler 4's accession. The most prominent guest at the festivities is the king of Yaxchilan. From his elevated throne, Ruler 4 addresses him in first-person speech, reminding him of a time when Yaxchilan had been subordinate to Piedras Negras. And indeed there seems to have been at least one such protracted period, as there are no contemporaneous monuments from Yaxchilan ruler Bird Jaguar III and the early reign of Itzamnaaj Bahlam II. Whether or not Ruler 4 had been able to reassert and maintain this bygone superiority, it seems that his successors may have let it slip from their grasp. At any rate, Ruler 7 saw fit to memorialize an occasion when a king of Piedras Negras was in a position to lecture a ruler of Yaxchilan.

From the point of view of the surviving monumental record, it can be said that Yaxchilan had finally avenged the capture of its Early Classic ruler Knot-Eye Jaguar by Ruler C of Piedras Negras and come back decisively from its "quietus" under Bird Jaguar III and its apparent subservience at the time of Panel 3's scene. However, it is worth noting that Yaxchilan had actually scored the first coup in regal captive taking with Moon Skull's seizure of Piedras Negras Ruler A. And Piedras Negras had a protracted quietus of its own between Ruler A around 518 and the accession of K'inich Yo'nal Ahk I in 603, with only Stela 30 in 534 and Stela 29 in 539 intervening.

David Stuart's observation that Ruler 7 is named as a captive on Yaxchilan Lintel 10 is contained in a report on archaeological work at Piedras Negras in 1998 (Houston et al. 1999), which offers these reflections on the final days of the kingdom:

The Yaxchilan reference is, at A.D. 808, the latest linked to Ruler 7 the last mention at Piedras Negras comes at A.D. 795. Morever, Throne 1, an important monument of Ruler 7's reign, was violently smashed, and Structure J-12 experienced intense burning. Long ago, Satterthwaite attributed such damage to class struggle (Satterthwaite 1935:11-12). But could such violence result instead from an attack by Yaxchilan? Nonetheless, it is naive to see the local collapse solely in terms of successful battles. The fact that both Yaxchilan and Piedras Negras suffered abandonment within a few years of one another may reflect less the outcome of warfare than a more general debilitation that allowed such warfare to take place (Houston et al. 1999:14).

There is intriguing evidence, however, that palace life may have continued at Piedras Negras even after this violent episode. In their report on operations in 1999, Stephen Houston and his colleagues (2000:12-13) discuss an extraordinary quantity of late-phase ceramics found in Structure J-17 of the Acropolis, which they trace to palace disposal, quite possibly from the reign of Ruler 7 or even thereafter.

The accumulation of trash on J-17 indicates substantial changes in royal existence at this time. Clearly, J-17 no longer functioned as anything other than a convenient dump. This raises disturbing questions about the end of Piedras Negras. Late Chacalhaaz ceramics and their clustering in the palace and a few pyramids point to a counterintuitive pattern. If these deposits do truly come from the reign of Ruler 7, then the palace and royal court would appear to postdate the collapse of Piedras Negras as a city that is, the dynasty survived Piedras Negras itself, a small island in the midst of desolation...

The data from investigations to date suggest that "the demographic collapse at Piedras Negras took place within an exceedingly short period of 5-10 years" (Houston et al. 2000:13). Investigations in 1999 uncovered evidence of unfinished buildings including Structure O-17, in which the archaeologists found a fragment of what was probably a throne inscribed with the name of Ruler 2 (Houston et al. 2000:13). Ironically it was this king who, given the evidence of Panel 2, once dominated his region like no other Piedras Negras lord.