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Ancient Mayan Monument Reveals Story of Little-known Princess

Jul 18, 2013 11:09 AM EDT

The exploits of a little-known Mayan princess were told in a hieroglyphic story carved into stone and buried in the ancient Mayan city of El Perú-Waka', according to archaeologists who unearthed the find in one of the most important temples in the city.

Lady Ikoom, as the princess was known, is depicted in the 1,450-year-old stone monument as the victor in a bloody feud between two of the Mayan civilization's most powerful royal dynasties.

"Great rulers took pleasure in describing adversity as a prelude to ultimate success," said research director David Freidel, PhD, a professor of anthropology in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, said in a statement. "Here the Snake queen, Lady Ikoom, prevailed in the end."

El Perú Stela 44, as the stone monument is known officially, offers a wealth of new information about a "dark period" in Mayan history, Freidel said, including the names of two previously unknown rulers as well as the political backstory that shaped their history.

Exposure to the elements for at least a century before it was buried as part of a funeral ritual caused much of the monument's front to become eroded, but expert epigraphers were able to decipher much of the text on Stela 44, which was determined to be originally dedicated about 1,450 years ago, in the calendar period ending in 564 AD, by the Wak dynasty King Wa'oom Uch'ab Tzi'kin, a title that translates roughly as "He Who Stands Up the Offering of the Eagle."

"The narrative of Stela 44 is full of twists and turns of the kind that are usually found in time of war but rarely detected in Pre-Columbian archaeology," Freidel said.

"The information in the text provides a new chapter in the history of the ancient kingdom of Waka' and its political relations with the most powerful kingdoms in the classic period lowland Maya world."

Lady Ikoom is thought to be one of two "Snake dynasty princesses" who were put into arranged marriages with the rulers of El Perú-Waka' and another nearby Maya city as a means of cementing dynastic control over the territory, which is now in a region of northern Guatemala.

Freidel said the extensive study of Mayan glyphs has revealed many tales of political intrigue and bloodshed and the discovery of the monument to Lay Ikoom is a welcome addition to the canon of Mayan history.

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