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 Quiriguá

Visit Quiriguá´s Gallery

 Located in Izabal, Guatemala, 2 miles from the main highway to Puerto Barrios, lies Quiriguá a late Classic Maya city, best known for its stelas. Quiriguá was a great Maya city during the Classic period. The site's founder of the ruling dynasty was Tutum Yol K'inichm and it lasted  from 550 to 850 A.D. During that time period Quiriguá controlled the Jade and Obsidian trade to the Caribbean coast and the region's highlands and lowlands. It was also during these years that Quiriguá had a fierce rivalry with its neighbor, Copán, which it conquered in 738 A.D. During this conquest the ruler of Quiriguá, Butz' Tiliw or Cauac Sky, captured and sacrifice in the Grand Plaza Copán's Waxaklahun Ubah K'awil or 18 Rabbit. 

In AD 775, the Maya lord  K’ak’ Tiliw Chan Yoat (Fire Burning Sky Lightning God) set up an immense stone monument in the center of his city.  The unimaginative archaeologists who discovered the stone called it Stela C. This monument bears the longest single hieroglyphic description of the Maya Creation Myth, noting that it took place on the Maya calendar's day 13.0.0.0.0, 4 Ahaw, 8 Kumk’u, a date corresponding to August 13, 3114 BC on our calendar. This date appears over and over in other inscriptions throughout the Maya world.


Click to enlarge, the Translation of Quiriguá's  Stela C

 Quiriguá is a very large site, however, most of the ruins are untouched and require restoration. The most impressive part of these ruins is the amount of fine detail in the architecture and finely carved stone stelas. There are twelve stelas. The largest of which is monolithic (carved from one block of stone). It is 35 feet Zoomorph P, Back sidehigh, 5 feet wide and 5 feet thick and weighs over 60 tons. Also the altars of Quiriguá are famous, carved in the form of animals representing deities, and thus named "Zoomorphs". Maudsley, was the first to noted that  the Zoomorph D in Quiriguá, was above tree stones, Linda Schelle links it to the Cosmology of the "Turtle of creations and the 3 Tuns (stones)"

The monuments at Quiriguá are unique in several other respects. Few other sites display full frontal views of the human figure, a later departure from the traditional profile depictions. Quiriguá also has numerous excellent examples of a fairly rare form of 'longhand' Mayan glyphs which use full animal and human figures, instead of smaller symbols or variations on abbreviated 'head-type' glyphs to represent the same meanings. There are only three other known examples of the full-figured glyphs in the entire Mayan world. The most striking of the sculptures at Quiriguá, however, are the zoomorphs, great unquarried sandstone boulders carved to represent animals. The boulders are covered with figures and glyphs in the characteristic Quiriguá mixture of low and high relief, and represent some of the most intricately carved designs in the Maya world. Nothing like them is found at any other site.   Acoording to Maudsley, the most beautiful Mesoamerican  sculpture, is  Zoomorph P and its altar, Altar O, dedicated in 795 AD, sit before the stairway of a ruined palace facing the main plaza at Quiriguá. It stands seven feet high and over eleven feet wide, covered with figures, masks, and small glyphs, the altar depicts a god emerging from Xibalbá. The altar or Zoomorph O, which flanks Zoomorph P in front of the ruined palace, is exceptional for its flamboyantly executed dancing figure and a series of large full-figure glyphs, bearing enormous numbers in the dates (Up to 400 million Years).

The most beautiful Maya Sculpture, according to Maudsley
Zoomorph P

These imposing sandstone obelisks were commissioned by Maya kings to mark important royal events and as means of self-promotion. Each sculpture bears a king's likeness adorned with symbolic ornaments and encircled by gods and sacred animals. The sides and backs are etched with Maya calendar glyphs giving dedication dates and those of other significant political and military happenings. The stela also acted as billboards advertising the kings' standings with the Maya gods, along with tidbits of personal history. One of Quiriguá monuments, Stela D, is so wonderfully decorated that it was chosen to appear on Guatemala's 10-cents coin. Stela C is the only known monument that shows the Maya creation date, August 14. 3114 BC, or 3 Ahau, 8 Comkú.

Locations of Carved Monumments

    The Maya somehow transported enormous stones through the jungle from distant quarries, apparently without the aid of either wheeled carts or beasts of burden. Artists then used only rudimentary stone tools to execute the intricate carvings, before raising the ponderous sculptures to their present vertical positions. Stela E at Quiriguá weighs an astonishing 65 tons and stretches 10.5 meters in length, with sculptures covering its 8-meter panels. It is estimated that, beginning in A.D. 750, a new stela was installed at Quiriguá every five years (Hotún) until A.D. 805.

 Quiriguá is thought to have functioned as an important way station between Copán and Tikal. Goods were shuttled to and from the Caribbean along the Motagua river, and throngs of merchants and buyers probably once rubbed shoulders with regal stele in the city's Great Plaza.

    Most of the steles were erected during the sixty-year reign of Butz' Tiliw or Cauac Sky, Quiriguá's greatest ruler. Not surprisingly, his image stares out impassively from seven of the nine monoliths of the site. In AD 738, Cauac Sky captured the king of Copán, Waxaklahun Ubah K'awil or 18 Rabbit, and had him decapitated in the Great Plaza, thereby ending Copan's long-standing control over Quiriguá. The date of this turning point in Quiriguá history is immortalized on a huge boulder known as Zoomorph G. Half a dozen of these curious rounded sculptures, resembling mythical and real animals, are found in Quiriguá. Zoomorph D, planted firmly in the center of the Great Plaza, depicts a jaguar-like creature with what could be the king of Copan's or Cauac Sky's head clenched in its jaws. Zoomorph P at the plaza's northern end shows the omnipresent ruler sitting cross-legged in the gaping mouth of what appears to be another ferocious monster. The entire surfaces of these massive stones are emblazoned with glyphs, plus some of the most intricate and baffling carvings in Mundo Maya. Not surprisingly Quiriguá was the second Maya city to be declare UNESCO´s World Heritage Monument in 1981, after Tikal (1979).

 Zoomorph D, Creation Turtle and 3 Stones
Zoomorph D

    To the north of the Great Plaza sprawls the Acropolis, a former residential and administrative complex. Steep flights of stairs surmount the quadrangle's walls, which enclose a spacious inner compound. On the Acropolis' south end, the palaces of Cauac Sky, Skull Sky, his son, Imix Dog his grandson and Jade Sky, Quiriguá last known ruler, can be found. These low-slung buildings now lie in ruins, but at one time, they boasted multiple rooms, built-in stone benches, curtains, and even  “pib' nah” (sweat baths), for ceremonial and medical uses. Quiriguá victory over Copan prompted a building boom, which saw the city transformed from a backwater Jade trading post into a major ceremonial center. From A.D. 738 on, the entire west side of the Acropolis was redone. A new ball court was also constructed to the left, along with an elaborately decorated wall sporting busts of Kinich Ahau, the Maya sun god.

    The Acropolis offers panoramic views of the encircling forest canopy, which shelters Quiriguá from the twentieth century, and the Great Plaza with the mysterious sculptures that have mesmerized countless travelers. British author Sir Aldous Huxley, who passed this way in the 1930's, aptly noted that Quiriguá stelas and monuments commemorate " Human triumph over time and matter and the triumph of time and matter over man." Certainly, the ancient Maya were obsessed with measuring great spans of time. Priests used their complex calendar like a time machine, roaming at will through the distant past and future. Stela C depicts the  date 13.0.0.0.0 4 Ahaw 8 Kumk'u (August 13, 3114 BC), the beginning of the 5th. Maya era that will end on Dec. 21 2012 AD. Archaeologists have decoded inscriptions on stele F and D at Quiriguá; they refer to obscure events that took place some 90 and 400 million years ago.

In Quiriguá there are 4 distinct constructive Phases:
  Phase 4
Is the earliest, from 550 to 700 AD., with 3 structures around a Central Plaza, being the materials, sediment rocks and pebbles from the nearby Motagua river.
 Phase 3
From 720 to 740 AD, that shows a more refined technic, using  riolite blocks, in the Ball court,  Additionally, a building to the south is refurbished into a Palace, known as structure 1B-2.
Phase 2
The Ball Court is filled and new edifications are built upon it, a new Ball Court is built to the north of the Acrópolis.
Phase 1
It is the last one, from 810 to 850 AD, Marble from distant quarries is utilized, a new platform upon 2 older structures is built and the largest building in the site,  structure 1B-5 is built and decorated with stucco.

    Ironically, Quiriguá own heyday lasted for little more than a hundred years and the city fell only a few decades after Cauac Sky's death in A.D. 785. Experts think that wars, overpopulation and the resulting depletion of natural resources eventually weakened most great Mesoamerican urban centers. However, the exact reasons for Quiriguá demise are unclear. There is evidence of reconstruction efforts after an Earthquake. By the middle of the ninth century, Quiriguá royalty and much of its population had migrated elsewhere, the last date recorded here is 810 AD. There are some signs of Post Classic occupation without Architecture.

 

     

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Last updated 28/01/2011 17:07:33 -0500
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