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Yaxchilan, Izancanac, Menché and City Lorillard

Yaxchilan means Green Stones in Maya.

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One of the pyramids on the upper terrace of Yaxchilan.
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One of the pyramids on the upper terrace of Yaxchilan.

Yaxchilan (also sometimes historically referred to by the names Menché and City Lorillard) is an ancient Maya city located on the Usumacinta River in what is now the state of Chiapas, Mexico.

The ancient name for the city may have been Izancanac.

Yaxchilan means Green Stones in Maya.

Ancient Yaxchilan

Image:YaxchilanDivineSerpent.jpg
detail of a carved lintel
depicting an ancestor emerging from the mouth of a vision serpent

This was a large center, important throughout the Classic era, and the dominant power of the Usumacinta area. It dominated such smaller sites as Bonampak, and was long allied with Piedras Negras and at least for a time with Tikal; it was a rival of Palenque, with which Yaxchilan warred in 654. Yat-Balam, founder of a long dynasty, took the throne on 2 August, 320 when Yaxchilan was a minor site. The city-state grew to a regional capital and the dynasty lasted into the early 9th century. Yaxchilan had its greatest power during the long reign of King Shield Jaguar II, who died in his 90s in 742.

Yaxchilan is known for the large quantity of excellent sculpture at the site.

Rediscovery and modern history

Lintel 24, structure 23, Yaxchilan (drawn by Charnay). The sculpture depicts a sacred blood-letting ritual which took place on 26 October 709. King "Shield Jaguar" is shown holding a torch, while Queen "Lady Xoc" draws a barbed rope through her pierced tongue.
Enlarge
Lintel 24, structure 23, Yaxchilan (drawn by Charnay). The sculpture depicts a sacred blood-letting ritual which took place on 26 October 709. King "Shield Jaguar" is shown holding a torch, while Queen "Lady Xoc" draws a barbed rope through her pierced tongue.

The first published mention of the site seems to have been a brief mention by Juan Galindo in 1833. Professor Edwin Rockstoh of the National College of Guatemala visited in 1881 and published another short account. Explorers Alfred Maudslay and Désiré Charnay arrived here within days of each other in 1882, and they published more detailed accounts of the ruins with drawings and photographs. Charnay dubbed the ruins "City Lorillard" in honor of Pierre Lorillard who contributed to defray the expense of his expedition into the Maya zone. Teoberto Maler visited the site repeatedly from 1897 to 1900 and published a detailed two volume description of Yaxchilan and nearby sites in 1903.

In 1931 Sylvanus Morley led a Carnegie Institution expedition to Yaxchilan, mapped the site and discovered more monuments.

The Mexican National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) conducted archeological research at Yaxchilan in 1972 - 1973, again in 1983, and further INAH work was conducted in the early 1990s.

Yaxchilan has long been difficult to reach other by river. Until recently, no roads existed within 100 miles. The only ways to get to the site were hundreds of miles by boat, or else by small plane. Since the construction of the Border Highway by the Mexican Government in the early 1990s, it is possible for tourists to visit. To reach the site, it is necessary now only to take an hour long boat ride down the Usumacinta River from Frontera Corozal.


Further reading

  • Yaxchilan, The Design of a Maya Ceremonial City, by Carolyn E. Tate, University of Texas Press, Austin, 1992. ISBN 0-292-77041-3

Bats in the unlighted labyrinth at Yaxchilan.
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Bats in the unlighted labyrinth at Yaxchilan.
The Great Acropolis at Yaxchilan.
Enlarge
The Great Acropolis at Yaxchilan.


The Maya sites which were most important in Pre-Columbian times and which have left the most impressive archaeological remains include:

Other significant Maya sites

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