Recording History: Tortuguero Box. The Maya recorded dynastic lineage in varied ways, including architecture, ceramic vases and even wooden boxes.


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 objects, 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 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 birth (612 AD) and accession (644 AD) of B’ahlam Ajaw and indicates that he was the son of Ik’ Muyil Muwaahn I . B’ahlam Ajaw ruled for thirty five years.

The narrative continues by linking the death of B’ahlam Ajaw to the accession of his son, Ik’ Muyil Muwaahn II, forty one 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 AD.

The text concludes with the date that the container was made: October 14, 681 AD. 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 two 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 five days, eleven months and one year since he sat in [not translated] when the offering-container of Aj K’ax B’ahlam was fashioned.