The Cultures and History of the Americas: The Jay I. Kislak Collection at the Library of Congress
Interactive Objects: Tortuguero Box
Text of Flash Presentation:
The Maya recorded dynastic lineage in varied ways, including architecture, ceramic vases and even wooden boxes. This wooden box, called the Tortuguero box because its inscriptions are comparable to those found in Tortuguero, Mexico, is one such object. Its narrative begins with an image of the seventh-century lord who owned it. The subsequent hieroglyphs tell the dynasty of this ruler. An important class of ritual object, such wooden boxes were probably used to house bloodletting implements and other sacrificial paraphernalia.
The narrative begins on the lid with an illustration of Aj K'ax B'ahlam, the owner of the box who held an important office--the "head bird" office--under the patronage of the late seventh-century Tortuguero king, Ik' Muyil Muwaahn II. Many of the glyphs are eroded, thereby obscuring some of the story, but the legible areas clearly show the name of Aj K'ax B'ahlam as well as several other names and dates that have allowed for a partial translation of the Mayan text.
The lid shows Aj K'ax B'ahlam standing in profile, a common convention in Maya art, indicating secondary status. The undecorated stick in his right hand is similar to staffs commonly held by merchants in Maya carvings. Although the object he holds in his left hand is eroded, it may well be the box itself. Aj K'ax B'ahlam wears a typical loincloth or hip cloth, flare-type earrings and high-backed sandals, all in Late Classic style. His necklace appears to be a rolled cloth or rope, another indication of his status as a secondary lord.
Aj K'ax B'ahlam's headdress is made from stiff material with the head of a long-lipped deity attached to its front. Pottery scenes often show secondary lords regularly wearing this kind of headdress. The long-lipped deity wears a black-tipped feather in his headgear. Such feathers are associated with both owls and hawks.
The text continues on the left side mentioning the death of a different ruler, B'ahlam Ajaw of Tortuguero. The text on another Tortuguero monument gives the ruler's birth (612 A.D.) and accession (644 A.D.) of B'ahlam Ajaw and indicates that he was the son of Ik' Muyil Muwaahn I . B'ahlam Ajaw ruled for 35 years.
The narrative continues by linking the death of B'ahlam Ajaw to the accession of his son, Ik' Muyil Muwaahn II, 41 days later. Another phrase identifies Ik' Muyil Muwaahn II as the namesake of his grandfather. The next dates refer to the investiture of Aj K'ax B'ahlam into the "head bird" office on March 8, 680 A.D.
The text concludes with the date that the container was made: Oct 14, 681 A.D. The box is referred to by a term that means "offering container."
This is the image of [a ruler, named] Aj K'ax B'ahlam, the [not translated], in the act of [not translated]. The stone is wrapped two days after [a certain date, known as] 6 Edznab 11 Zec, on 8 Ahau 13 Zec. [Another ruler, named] B'ahlam Ajaw, Divine Lord of Tortuguero did not attend [the stone-wrapping]. On [a certain date, known as] 8 Cauac 12 Yaxkin it had been 2 months since [a ruler, named] B'ahlam Ajaw was entombed when [another ruler, named] Ik' Muyil Muwaahn II, namesake of his grandfather, sat in lordship. On [a certain date, known as] 9 Manik 15 Pohp it had been about a year since [another ruler, named] Ik' Muyil Muwaahn II sat in lordship when [a ruler, named] Aj K'ax B'ahlam sat in [not translated]. It had been 5 days, 11 months and 1 year since he sat in [not translated] when the offering-container of Aj K'ax B'ahlam was fashioned.
With thanks to Marc Zender and Karen Bassie, Department of Archaeology, University of Calgary. And references to Tatiana Proskouriakoff and Stanley Guenter.