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Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History Essays

Tikal: Stone Sculpture

Hieroglyphic writing in the Maya lowlands was manifest at Tikal around 200 B.C., although the first contemporary inscription does not date until 500 years later. Stela 29, as the monument is numbered within the Tikal sequence, bears a Maya date equivalent to 292 A.D., and depicts a richly dressed profile figure thought to be a dynastic ruler of the city. Carved in low relief on slender stone shafts, the basic format for the elaborate depiction of Tikal’s dynastic rulers, as seen on Stela 29, would continue until 869 A.D., when the last such monument was erected in Tikal’s Great Plaza. While the depiction of a handsomely outfitted, lordly figure on a wide side of the stone shaft remained constant over the centuries, other elements such as accoutrements, headgear, and garments became more grandiose and visually complex, and the sides and back of the stela could be carved with long hieroglyphic inscriptions. Of the forty-odd stelae and thirty accompanying altars carved in this manner at Tikal, eighteen feature royal portraits and historical texts. These have been used to reconstruct the history of more than thirty dynastic rulers of Tikal, beginning with the legendary first-century A.D. founder Yax Ch’aktel Xok (First Scaffold Shark), incorporating the arrival in the late fourth century of a warrior called K’ak Sih (Fire-Born), apparently from the central Mexico city of Teotihuacan that initiated a period of Teotihuacan influence, and ending in the ninth century with the last lord of Tikal, Hasaw Chan K’awil II (Heavenly Standard Bearer).