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By Joel Skidmore

The recent opening of the Maya Room in Mexico City's National Anthropology Museum has brought a number of old favorites once more before the public eye, as well as impressive new artifacts and artworks. Prominent among these is a ballplayer panel from the archaeological site of Tonina in Chiapas, Mexico. The carved limestone panel, discovered by archaeologist Juan Yadeun and designated Tonina Monument 172 by the Corpus of Maya Hieroglyphic Inscriptions, depicts two players of the Maya version of the pan-Mesoamerican ballgame.

The figure on the left, who is touching the huge ball with his hacha or belt-mounted ballgame implement, is identified by adjacent hieroglyphs as the best-known king of ancient Tonina, K'inich B'aaknal Chaak. The inscription to his left (photo) reads, "It is his image playing ball, the One K'atun Kaloomte', K'inich B'aaknal Chaak." Thus the king is accorded the prestigious Kaloomte' title, while reference is made to the k'atun time-period of twenty years. This apparently refers to years of rulership rather than age, as would ordinarily be the case.

The central glyphs (photo) record a date of 7 Eb 5 K'ank'in, with the additional information of a "G-number" (stipulating which "Lord of the Night" is associated with the day). Like all such dates that are not anchored in the Maya Long Count calendar, 7 Eb 5 K'ank'in can refer to any number of days exactly 52 years apart. The likeliest here are November 12, A.D. 675 or October 30, 727. In the Long Count calendar, these alternatives are, which calls for G8 as its G-number, and, which calls for G7. The fact that G7 is written would seem to pin it down to the latter of these two dates.

The central glyphs also repeat the formula "it is his image playing ball" and then provide a personal name (on top of the ball on the right). This name consists of two parts; the first is a human eye, together with a suffix it normally carries in nominal contexts; and the second is a human head with a knot over its eye and a prominent k'in "sun" sign as an ear ornament. This lord carries no identifying emblem glyph but does have the same high-ranking Kaloomte' title accorded to B'aaknal Chaak (photo).

Who is the second ballplayer? There are two apparent alternatives. As Simon Martin notes, the name given here closely resembles that of Ruler 2, B'aaknal Chaak's predecessor as king of Tonina. A good comparison appears on Tonina Monument 99, where Ruler 2 is named as the main protagonist. Unfortunately no undamaged instances of Ruler 2's name have been discovered, making it impossible to compare finer details like the infixed "sun" sign we see on Monument 172.

Intriguingly, David Stuart has pointed to another possibility and the close similarity of our ballplayer's name to that of a Calakmul king we know as Yuknoom Took' K'awiil. He ruled this distant city from about 700 to 731 or later, a period that overlaps with the last years of B'aaknal Chaak's reign. It was Stuart who recognized the reference to a Calakmul captive on another carved panel at Tonina, and this second mention, if correct, might bring evidence of diplomatic as well as bellicose relations.

The next glyph on Monument 172 supplies a relationship of some kind, an expression that appears only one other time in the corpus of Maya inscriptions (and then only in an unpublished monument in the Tonina storerooms). This somehow relates the second ballplayer to a known king of Tonina whose name can be clearly read as K'inich Ich'aak Chapat. Ruling between 723 and some point after 739, it was Ich'aak Chapat who clearly commissioned the monument. The inscription ends with the Tonina emblem glyph, followed by another glyph that evidently refers to the Sibikte' polity that Stephen Houston and David Stuart have discerned in the cave inscriptions of Jolja and Yaleltsemen, and closing with another Kaloomte' title.

Although the presumed 727 date of the ballplaying scene is consistent with the G-number, this entails the anomaly that at least one of the ballplayers, B'aaknal Chaak, was long-since dead when Ich'aak Chapat chose to depict him in ritual play. (If Ruler 2 is depicted, both are dead.) The undeciphered relationship glyph that ties him to Ruler 2 (or the king of Calakmul) may hold the key to this choice of scene. It is possible that, given the short duration of the reign of Ruler 4 intervening between B'aaknal Chaak and Ich'aak Chapat, Ruler 4 and Ich'aak Chapat were brothers. Thus it is possible that Ruler 2 was Ich'aak Chapat's grandfather.

The fact that G-numbers are often in error at Tonina might occasion a brief consideration of the earlier date for the scene. B'aaknal Chaak, the one clearly recognizable protagonist, is known to have followed Ruler 2 on the throne of Tonina and might well have been related to him, lending support to the idea that the two are depicted together on the monument in the year 675. Although B'aaknal Chaak was not yet a king at the time let alone a one k'atun ruler, there is a precedent at Palenque for anachronistically according a title on a retrospective monument. On the stucco panel from Temple XIX, the future Palenque ruler Upakal K'inich is identified as "Principal Heir to the Throne" at a time when his father was not yet king. (See "Ritual and History in the Stucco Inscription from Temple XIX at Palenque" by David Stuart: online.)

It is noteworthy that the 727 date for the monument would be just one month shy of exactly two k'atuns, or forty 360-day years, after the accession of B'aaknal Chaak. The importance which this would seem to accord him is consistent with the numerous military successes which he appears to have packed into his twenty years of rulership, many of which are recorded in Tonina's ballcourt program.

It was once thought that his noteworthy captures included that of K'inich K'an Joy Chitam of Palenque, but Simon Martin's discovery of the accession date of B'aaknal Chaak's successor Ruler 4 pushes this victory forward into his time (albeit Ruler 4 was a mere child and the actual capture must have been accomplished by his subordinates). It is the knowledge of Ruler 4's accession date, and the inference of B'aaknal Chaak's death not long before, that enables us to understand why he is referred to on this magnificent ballplayer panel as a One K'atun Kaloomte'.

2006 update: This panel was ultimately published as Tonina Monument 171 (Graham et al. 2006).

2004 New Ballplayer Panel from Tonina. Mesoweb: www.mesoweb.com/reports/Tonina_M172.html.