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Go to page: Ek Balam is located in northeastern Yucatán about 70 kilometers by road from Chichen Itza. In ancient times, it was a large city, controlling a populous and prosperous countryside. Its impressive architecture dates, for the most part, to the Late Classic. In this view from the Acropolis (Structure 1), we see the Oval Palace straight ahead and other structures of the South Plaza. Just out of the picture to either side are the large pyramid mounds of Structures 2 and 3.
Go to page: The central precinct of Ek Balam was surrounded by three concentric walls, used apparently for defense as well as to restrict ceremonial access. The formal entrance was probably via Sacbé 2, where it passed through this structure with arches on all four sides. In the photograph, we are looking at one of the short sides. The ceremonial roadway approached from the right (east).
Go to page: A visitor to Ek Balam would have been greeted by this view of the ballcourt and the looming mass of the Acropolis. (The palm-thatched roof protects the recent archaeological finds.) The current archaeological project at Ek Balam, under the direction of Leticia Vargas de la Peña and Victor R. Castillo Borges of the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), has made a number of discoveries in the ballcourt, among them a painted stucco frieze and a collection of burnt stone balls that may relate to the ballgame.
Go to page: Before we visit the Acropolis, let's detour towards the South Plaza. Its largest structure is the Oval Palace (Structure 16).
Go to page: This is Structure 17 of the South Plaza.
Go to page: For some reason, Structure 17 is known as The Twins.
Go to page: Facing Structure 17 is Stela 1. This monument depicts a ruler of Ek Balam, probably Ukit Jol Ahkul.
Go to page: He is wearing a complex headdress featuring stacked monster snouts (upper left in photo). In his upraised hand he holds a stylized K'awiil scepter that terminates in the head of a snake (indicated with the arrow). With his other hand he was probably scattering an offering.
Go to page: Above the ruler, seated in what the inscription refers to as a "sky house" is Ek Balam's most venerated ancestor, Ukit Kan Le'k Tok' (Alfonso Lacadena, personal communication, 2002). This king, who probably founded the Ek Balam dynasty, built most of the Acropolis.
Go to page: Also in the South Plaza are a number of sculptures like this one, as well as a small structure similar to the so-called "miniature temples", known from other prehispanic sites in the region.
Go to page: Now let's walk over to the North Plaza. Pictured here, in this sweatbath in front of the Acropolis, is a young man named Natividad, who turns out to be a precociously well-informed guide to the site.
Go to page: We won't be needing Natividad's services today, however, as our tour is being given by Alfonso Lacadena, epigrapher for the Ek Balam archaeological project. He is seen here conferring with archaeologist Leticia Vargas de la Peña. In the background are Marc Zender and Simon Martin.
Go to page: We'll be climbing the Acropolis to visit the tomb of Ukit Kan Le'k Tok' underneath that thatched roof.
Go to page: But the first thing that attracts our notice is this sculpture of a snake head on the stairs of the lowest level. Its extended tongue is covered with glyphs. There are two of these hieroglyphic serpent ballustrades, both with inscriptions.
Go to page: The glyphs in the top row here (seen at an oblique angle while peering over the shoulders of some of the world's leading epigraphers) spell the name of Ukit Kan Le'k Tok'. At the lower left is the emblem glyph of Ek Balam, naming the ruler as a Divine Lord of Talol, as the kingdom was known in ancient times.
Go to page: There are numerous wonderments throughout the Acropolis.
Go to page: This one features a "squirrel"...
Go to page: ...(more probably a howler monkey).
Go to page: There are copious remains of paint from stucco murals. (Unfortunately the Mural of the 96 Glyphs is not on our tour today.)
Go to page: The Acropolis has numerous interior passageways as well as its formal stairs.
Go to page: Stanley Guenter navigates a staircase.
Go to page: Here are the directors of the Ek Balam archaeological project: Arqla. Leticia Vargas de la Peña and Arqlo. Victor R. Castillo Borges.
Go to page: They are standing in front of the modelled stucco facade of the building that houses the tomb of Ukit Kan Le'k Tok'.
Go to page: The central motif is a huge monster whose looming jaws are lined with teeth.
Go to page: The rough-stone column in the center is the core of what would have been the monster's nose.
Go to page: The figures stand about the height of a normal Maya. Leticia Vargas de la Peña has remarked upon their unusual clothing.
Go to page: Their poses are also unusual.
Go to page: This figure sits in the monster's eye.
Go to page: The ancient Maya preserved the stucco so well that no modern restoration was required. Not long after Ukit Kan Le'k Tok' was buried inside the building, it was carefully filled with powdered limestone and rocks and then the entire facade was covered with the same material.
Go to page: The upper portion of the central figure has been lost. It probably represented the king Ukit Kan Le'k Tok himself.
Go to page: A detail from the sculptured facade.
Go to page: Another detail.
Go to page: This is from the base of the central portion.
Go to page: Alfonso Lacadena has interpreted the inscription from a capstone inside the building to mean that the building was called the "White House", which is appropriate considering that the stucco was never painted.
Go to page: We will now enter through the portal behind the monster's nose.
Go to page: We've come into the outermost of the building's two chambers through the door on the right.
Go to page: Directly in front of us is this bench.
Go to page: A detail of the bench.
Go to page: Re-orienting ourselves, we now turn to the left.
Go to page: We are facing the inner chamber.
Go to page: It was in this room that Ukit Kan Le'k Tok' was laid out on a jaguar skin inside a special enclosure, accompanied by rich offerings and human sacrifices. Bioarchaeologist Vera Tiesler has reported that the mouth of Ukit Kan Le'k Tok' was deformed due to an abcess and a projecting lower jaw, and it has been suggested that his portrait as the maize god on the capstone of his tomb reflects this condition.
Go to page: The capstone has been removed from the ceiling vault for safekeeping and eventual display.
Go to page: On one of the outer walls of the building we find this mural.
Go to page: Three seated figures on the left...
Go to page: ...above two standing figures, one on a stairway...
Go to page: ...face three seated figures on the right.
Go to page: Note the jewels on the figures' chests.
Go to page: On the next level above the tomb (the fifth level of the Acropolis) is this rounded terrace corner, built by a successor of Ukit Kan Le'k Tok'.
Go to page: Clearly Ek Balam has many wonders yet in store.