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acropolis structure 8 dennis jarvis
acropolis structure 7 erick martin del campo
frey group monumental stairway edith echauri perez
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BONAMPAK - Chiapas, Mexico
Bonampak (“painted walls” in Maya) is a compact Maya archaeological zone set amidst the Lacandon Jungle, and is one of a number of ruins spread throughout the valleys between the Rio Lacanha and Rio Usumacinta systems. Its original name has been deciphered as Ak’e, and the Acropolis as Usiij Witz/Vulture Hill.
The site is best known for its fabulous, colorful murals depicting Mayan scenes of dynastic ritual and warfare. Along with the recently excavated murals at Calakmul and those at Chichen Itza, these are among the best preserved murals in the Maya World.
The murals are located within a small temple and are able to be viewed by the public. Temperature and humidity are strictly controlled, and depending on the number of visitors, the time allowed to view the murals may be limited.
Only a small portion of the 1 sq mile/2 sq km site has been excavated and open to the public. This consists mainly of the Grand Plaza with its surrounding structures, and the Acropolis. The site is built among a series of low terraced hills with the Acropolis being built into the hillside itself.
Bonampak lies just off the main road southwest from Palenque past Champa and before the turnoff to Frontera Corozal. This area of Mexico is a bit remote. Check security conditions before leaving either Palenque or San Cristobal de las Casas.
From Villahermosa take the Highway 186 south to the Highway 199 intersection to Palenque. From Palenque take Highway 199 south to the Highway 307 intersection. Proceed south towards Frontera Corozal to the small town of San Javier (81 miles/132 km), and then to the right 8 miles/11 km to reach the site. Signage is good. One can also rent a plane in Palenque, Ocosingo, Comitán, Tuxtla Gutiérrez, or in Tenosique and Villahermosa, in Tabasco State. Combine your visit with Yaxchilan about 20 miles/32 km to the northeast.
HOURS: 8 A.M-4:30 P.M.
ENTRANCE FEE: U.S. $5.50/90 Pesos
SERVICES: Bathrooms, crafts village
ON-SITE MUSEUM: No
ACCOMODATIONS: Lodging and tours can be found in Frontera Corozal
GPS: 16d 42’ 21” N, 91d 04’ 06” W
MISC: As of January 2024 the site may be closed due to security concerns
HISTORY AND EXPLORATION
Bonampak was a tributary city closely related to the larger and more powerful kingdom of Yaxchilan located on the banks of the Usumacinta River about 20 miles/32 kms to the northeast. Most of the monumental architecture and inscriptions seen today began to appear by the Late Classic (600-900 CE). The inscriptions are found on the stelae and lintels located throughout the site with some of the texts referencing back to the Early Classic (250-600 CE). The population of the site reached its height of around 6,000 inhabitants at the end of the eighth century.
Yaxchilan ruler K'inich Tatb'u Skull I defeated Bonampak ruler Bird Jaguar in the early half of the 5th century. Yaxchilan again defeated Bonampak at the turn of the 6th century this time by Knot-eye Jaguar I, and once more c.526 CE by his successor K'inich Tatb'u Skull II. Bonampak thereafter became a dependency of Yaxchilan.
Panel 4 relates to an accession ceremony of Bonampak ruler Yajaw Chaan Muan I on 188.8.131.52.7 11 Kaban 5 Sip, April 25, 600 CE under the supervision of Yaxchilan ruler Itzamnaaj Bahlam II/Shield Jaguar II.
The text of a looted panel from the kingdom of Sak Tz’i’ from 641CE names a lord of La Mar scattering incense in the cave of Sak Tz’i’, and three days later the Sak Tz’i’ king, K’ab Kante’, captures a lord of Ake’/Bonampak.
The construction of many of the main structures and stelae was completed by the ruler Chaan Muan II who acceded to the throne on 184.108.40.206.9 6 Muluk 17 Yaxkin, June 19, 775 CE. He is mentioned on Stelae 1 and 3 celebrating period endings. It is thought that he succeeded his father who may be mentioned on Lintel 3 of Structure 1. It has been determined that his wife, "Lady Yax-Rabbit” was from Yaxchilan and was the sister of the ruler of that site, Itzamnaaj Bahlam IV/Shield Jaguar II, who oversaw Chaan Muan II’s accession to rulership. “Lady Yax-Rabbit” is depicted, along with Chaan Muan II’s mother, on Stela 2.
Lintel 1 of Structure 1 depicts Chaan Muan II grasping a captive by the hair following a military engagement. It has been suggested that the enemies of Chaan Muwan II were possible usurpers of the throne allied with the nearby polity of Sak't'zi/ Lacanjá Tzeltal, whose king was named Yete’ K’inich. The lintel bears a reconstructed date of 220.127.116.11 8 EB 10 Kumku, January 10, 787 CE.
Lintel 2 is dated to four days before Lintel 1 and shows Yaxchilan ruler Itzamnaaj Bahlam IV/Shield Jaguar IV in a similar scene, and most likely refers to the same conflict. The fact that a ruler from Yaxchilan is prominently depicted reinforces that sites overlordship of Bonampak.
Lintel 3 has not been clearly placed in time. The scene is similar to that of Lintels 1 and 2. The suggested 3 Ix 1? Yax Calendar round date may reference a reconstructed date of 18.104.22.168.14 3 Ix 2 Yax, July 25, 780 CE. It has also been suggested that this lintel is retrospective to an earlier time referencing either Chaan Muwan II’s father, Aj Sak Teleh, or Yajaw Chaan Muan I.
Chaan Muan II is the last known ruler of Bonampak and ruled at least to 795 CE. Bonampak’s history becomes silent after this, and presumably followed Yaxchilan and other polities of the Usumacinta Valley into historical oblivion in the early part of the 9th century.
The modern rediscovery of Bonampak was made by Carlos Frey and John Bourne in February 1946. In May the same year Giles Healy arrived and was the first to see the mural paintings in Structure 1. They were each guided there by two local Lacandon Maya; Jose Pepe Chan Bor and Acasio Chan. The Lacandon Maya were well aware of the site as religious rituals were still being conducted among the ruins at the time.
The First Carnegie Expedition, along with INAH, reached the site in August 1947, and included Giles Healy and Antonio Tejeda to copy the murals and begin further investigations. The Second Carnegie Expedition arrived in 1948. Included in this group were Karl Ruppert, Gustav Stromsvik, and J. Erick Thompson among others. It was financed by The United Fruit Company. INAH and other partners have been conducting ongoing investigations, excavations, restorations and consolidations ever since. The Bonampak Documentation Project began a full study of the famous murals in 1996.
The site of Bonampak is spread out over a wide area of around 9,884 acres/4,000 hectares, and consists of three main groups. Only the core area of the Grand Plaza and the Acropolis is open to the public. The core site is set on an axis of about 25 degrees east of North.
The Grand Plaza measures around 295 feet/90 m x 361 feet/110 m. It is accessed from the north between two structures, Structure 13 and 15.
Structure 13 is a low, terraced platform that takes up a good portion of the west side of the plaza. There are remains of several masonry pilasters and foundations spaced across its length. Structure 12 is an extension of the platform attached to the south side of Structure 13.
Structure 15 is located on the north side of the Grand Plaza. Its orientation is unusual in that it faces to the north away from the plaza. It has been suggested that this structure was of an intrusive design facing towards Yaxchilan. The structure is set on a raised platform measuring around 46 feet/14m x 85 feet/26 meters with a central stairway on its north side. A masonry temple structure is located on the south side of the platform base accessed by a small flight of steps. Five substructures have been detected beneath the current structure. One of these earlier substructures features an underground passageway that led to a throne/altar on which a anthropomorphic sculpture of modeled, polychromed stucco was located along with the remains of censers.
In front of the temple structure is a plain stela, Stela 9, set on a two-tiered base. There are secondary stairways on both the east and west sides of the platform.
Structure 16 is located to the east of Structure 15. This structure is a partially restored two-tiered basal platform with a plaza facing stairway, and measures approximately 46 feet/14 m x 72 feet/22 m. A circular altar is located at the top of the stairway. The remains of a superstructure foundation are present. A sculpture of a crouching jaguar was discovered in the plaza between this structure and Structure 17.
The east side of the plaza is taken up by two elongated platform structures, Structures 17 and 18. Structure 17 takes up the northern half of the east side of the plaza. It is a low, stepped, two-tier platform exhibiting no remains of a masonry superstructure. Two plain stelae, Stela 5 and 6, are located here along with a plain altar. A central set of steps leads up to Stela 5 with the altar behind it. Structure 18 defines the southern end of the east side of the plaza. This structure is a low, stepped, two-tier platform featuring a central stairway.
In the center of the plaza are Stelae 1 and 4. Stela 1 has been tentatively dated to 22.214.171.124.0 12 Ajaw 8 Pax, November 30, 789 CE. It reaches a height of around16 feet/5 m. The central figure is that of Chaan Muan II celebrating a lahuntun/10-year period ending. Stela 4 is plain.
At the south end of the Great Plaza is the Acropolis which consists of multiple platform levels terraced into a hillside reaching a height of about 151 feet/46 m. It is accessed by a monumental central stairway with a width spanning 49 feet/15 m. At the foot of the stairway excavations have revealed the remains of a stuccoed, standing figure. Half-way up to the first terrace level is a small landing containing Stelae 2 and 3.
Stela 2 is located on the east side of the landing. It features Chaan Muan II in the center flanked by his mother, Lady Shield Skull, and his wife, Lady Yax Rabbit. The scene depicts the preparations for a blood-letting ritual to commemorate his accession of rulership on 126.96.36.199.9 6 Muluk 17 Yaxkin, June 13, 776 CE.
Stela 3 is found on the west side of the landing. The date incorporated on the stela has been reconstructed as 188.8.131.52.0 5 Ajaw 3 Muwan, November 4, 785 CE, a hotun/5-year Period ending. It shows Chaan Muwan II standing over a kneeling captive, and performing a “scattering” ritual. A sculptured stone/altar is associated with each stela.
A second flight of steps leads up to the first terrace level of the Acropolis at a height of about 49 feet/15 m. Three temples, Structures 1-3, are located here and face out overlooking the plaza.
Structure1 is on the west side of the terrace and is known as the Temple of the Paintings, the most important structure at the site. The structure exhibits three entryways, each into separate rooms, all containing beautiful murals. Above the medial molding of each entryway is a niche with the remains of seated figures. Between the niches are the remains of stucco scenes, one of which still features a standing figure. There are remains of a band of glyphs that once ran under the lower molding, and a remnant of a stucco mask was discovered on the west end of the structure.
The murals are thought to have been completed under the direction of Chaan Muan II and depict a continuous narrative including ceremonial, religious, and warfare scenes centered around an event related to his reign. Unfortunately the earlier explorers used kerosene to bring out the colors of the murals which has had a negative effect upon them.
Room 1 depicts a palace scene ritual involving the king, his wife, young son, and a richly attired procession of musicians, dancers, and dignitaries. It has been interpreted as the presentation of the heir of Chaan Muwan II to the royal court. An Initial Series date has been reconstructed to place the scene on 184.108.40.206.4 10 Kan 2 Kayab, December 12, 790 CE.
Room 2 depicts different aspects of a vivid battle scene culminating in victory and the display of captured prisoners. The scenes include over 100 individuals. The center of the mural depicts the ruler Chaan Muwan II with his warlords and attendants. A richly furnished tomb was located beneath the floor of this room in 2010. It contained the unidentified remains of a male individual and a large amount of jade and shell jewelry, and ceramics.
Room 3 is devoted to celebration and ritual ceremony after the victory of battle. Over 65 figures are represented including dancers, musicians, and members of the royal court. These murals are a must-see for anyone who appreciates art and history.
Structure 2 is set on a low, elongated platform base. It consists of three multi-chambered structures though only the foundations remain. Excavations have revealed a stucco decoration at the base of the steps in front of the structure.
Structure 3 is a well preserved, unadorned structure on the east side of the terrace and features its own stairway down to the plaza. It is a single chamber structure entered between two square columns. Recent excavations have shown this may have been a residence of one of Bonampak’s rulers. The stub remains of a roof comb are evident. On the east side of the structure is a small platform displaying a plain stela.
On the west side of Structure 1, Temple of the Paintings, is a continuation of the terrace that turns to the south. It features two structures, with one structure having been recently excavated and partially restored. It is a low, three-tiered platform with the masonry remains of walls and square columns.
A third set of steps continues upward behind Structure 3 to the second terrace level. Here are found several structures, Structures 4-8, set in a semi-straight line overlooking the Grand Plaza. These are all small, one chamber temples with Structures 5-8 having a single entryway. All show a nice degree of restoration. Tombs have been located within these structures.
Structure 4 has a double entryway and has the remains of a perforated roof comb. Two columnar altars are located within the structure.
The façade of Structure 5 features a series of projecting stones, some of which display the remains of figures. A single columnar altar is located within the interior chamber.
Structure 6 has a sculptured lintel, Lintel 4, over the entry with a Calendar Round date of 7 Chuwen 4 Sotz'. It is thought that the lintel depicts the early ruler Chaan Muan I. Above the entryway on the exterior of the structure are the colorful remains of a painted scene. The remains of stucco masks are noted on the north and west walls.
Structure 7 has been partially restored, though its vault is mostly missing. A single columnar altar is located within the chamber.
Structure 8 has been nicely restored. The remains of an inset panel are seen above the entryway.
Directly behind Structure 4, and slightly elevated, is Structure 9. It has a west facing entryway accessed via a small set of steps. This single chamber structure has been partially restored and houses the remains of a plain stela, Stela 8.
A single stairway leads up from the west end of the second terrace to a third terrace that houses two unrestored structures, Structures 10 and 11. A wide, monumental stairway rises behind Structure 11 to the leveled summit of the hill which incorporates several mounds including Structures 20 and 21.
There are at least two residential areas outside the core area that have yet to open to the public. The first is known as the Frey Group, and is located on a small hilltop about 151 feet/46 m in height, and 1,312 feet/400 meters to the north of the Grand Plaza. The group was excavated between 1993 and 1994 by Alejandro Tovalín. It has been observed that the previously mentioned Structure 15 faces in this direction, and may have had some sort of relationship with this group. A sacbe has been identified that most likely connected the group to the Grand Plaza.
The group includes three structural complexes accessed by a high and wide monumental stairway composed of five sections. The upper level consists of a wide platform measuring about 79 feet/ 24 m × 69 feet 21 meters.
Structure 1 is the larger of the structures and is situated at the rear of a small terrace in front of the stairway. Within the foundational remains of the single chamber are six interior pilasters. Four elite burials are associated with this structure. A small stairway on the west side of the terrace leads down to a smaller terrace housing Structure 2.
Structure 2 is divided into two chambers by a thin L-shaped wall. The remains of four interior pilasters have been identified.
Structure 3 has been identified as a shrine temple. Numerous artifacts have been recovered from the group that confirm its residential nature.
The second recorded residential area is known as the Quemado Group. This residential area is located to the northwest of the Grand Plaza and consists of at least two residential complexes. As more information becomes available, it will be reported here.
acropolis recentlly excavated structure erick martin del campo
structure 15 joaquin bravo contreres
grand plaza stelae and structure 15 ela ginalska
frey group structure 2 edith echauri perez
structure 6 lintel 4 momon
structure 1 room 1 north wall inah
frey group structure 3 edith echauri perez
site map tovalin
structure 3 temple of the paintings erick martin del campo
structure 1 room 3 south wall upper panel inah
acropolis structure 2 erick martin del campo
structure 6 detail erick martin del campo
stela 2 erick martin del campo
acropolis structures 4 & 5 eduardo manchon
structure 1 room 1 north wall detail inah
acropolis site plan tovalin
site map inah
structure 18 erick martin del campo
acropolis plaza level stucco figure erick martin del campo
structure 1 exterior stucco fogure ela ginalska
structure 1 room 1 east wall lower detail inah
structure 1 room 2 south wall inah
structure 1 room 3 south wall upper detail inah
acropolis erick martin del campo
structure 16 inah
structure 1 room 1 east wall inah
structure 1 lintel 1 jacob russ
pyrite mirror structure 4 tomb inah
giles healey and jose pepe chan bor 1949 peabody museum