Stela A

Stela A

Waxaklahum-Ubah-K'awil or, as his name glyph translates, 18-Rabbit, was the thirteenth ruler of Copan.

He ascended to the throne in 695 A.D. and was a prodigious builder and great patron of the arts.

He developed the Great Plaza to the north of the Acroplis and erected stelae that portray him confronting the supernatural on every major period-ending date during his first thirty-five years of reign.

His program captures an unequaled view of Maya ritual and belief, while at the same time creating one of the great artistic legacies from the precolumbian world.

Sadly, after a long and successful reign of 43 years, he was captured in battle and sacrificed by the much younger Cauac Sky of Quirigua in 738 A.D.

Reca Fernandez, a Maya enthusiast from Santa Rosa de Copan, sent this beautiful photo of Stela A. Thanks, Reca!


Stela A

Stela A shows 18-Rabbit ritually communicating with a deified ancestor

This Late Preclassic sculpture is one of many in Maya art that show the spirit of a deified ancestor appearing to his descendant.

The floating ancestor wears this same woven crown, and his cheek is marked with k'in to identify him as the sun. Schele and Miller (1986:50) remark that this aspect of the sun god, who has squint eyes and a k'in infix in his cheek, seems to represent the daytime sun.

Stela A, then, portrays the soul of a dead king at the zenith of the sky, speaking to his descendant from the shimmering solar disk.

His figure emerges from the swirling scrollwork of clouds and clasps a vision serpent in crab-claw position.

Elizabeth A. Newsome, Trees of Paradise and Pillars of the World: The Serial Stela Cycle of 18-Rabbit-God K, King of Copan, p. 134


Stela A

This detail of Copan Stela A shows the iconography of 18-Rabbit's Skyband Belt

"18-Rabbit's costume on Stela A is a majestic exaltation of the role he plays as the surrogate of Butz' Chan's spirit.

Dressed in the regalia that his forefather would wear if he appeared as an apparition in the sky, like the ancestor images from Stelae 2 and 31, 18 Rabbit wears the celestial band around his waist as his belt.

The symbols that alternate in the rectangular openings along its frame are the crossed bands and other images that normally appear in the sky band that borders the upper edge of cosmological scenes.

The belt heads that hang from the front and sides of the girdle are images of a beautiful young lord; twisted strips of mat below each face indicate that they represent Ahau Pop, the Lord of the Mat.

Three shining celts, marked with mirror signs to indicate their brightness, dangle below each belt head.

Bags decorated with the heads of the perforator god hang inverted from the king's waist, probably containing stingray spines or lancets of stone like those shown emerging from the king's serpent bar."

Elizabeth A. Newsome, Trees of Paradise and Pillars of the World: The Serial Stela Cycle of 18-Rabbit-God K, King of Copan, p. 134


Stela A

A whimsical portrayal of the deified ancestor atop 18-Rabbit's headdress

This portrayal of the deified ancestor atop 18-Rabbit's headdress is a lovely illustration of Paul Gendrop's observation about the stela's deep and whimsically baroque reliefs.

Elizaabeth Newsome writes: "Great tendrils of foliation sprout from a similar oval motif that appears atop the head of the skull in 18-Rabbit's headdress...The skull is that of First Father [the Maize God]..."

Elizabeth A. Newsome, Trees of Paradise and Pillars of the World: The Serial Stela Cycle of 18-Rabbit-God K, King of Copan, p. 135


Stela A

Glyph panels adorn the back and sides of Copan Stela A

In addition to the glyphs, note the letters "J. HIGGINS" defacing the lower right border of the rear text panel.

This graffiti surprised the Victorian era explorer Alfred Maudslay, who documented all the graffiti he encountered during his explorations. His records are now stored and available in the British Museum.

Elizabeth Newsome, Trees of Paracise and Pillars of the World: The Serial Stela Cycle of "18-Rabbit-God K," King of Copan, p. 61


Stela A

Name glyphs for 18-Rabbit and the Copan emblem glyph on Stela A

The name glyph of 18-Rabbit-God K is shown on the left and consists of the bar and dot notation for the number eighteen placed on top of what used to be thought of as a rabbit head, with the God K'awil appearing in the right side of the glyph.

The Copan emblem glyph on the right side of the photo pictures a fruit bat, distinguished by the fleshy extension on its nose.

Regarding the elements that make up the name of Uaxaclahun U Bah K'awil (18-Rabbit-God K), Elizabeth Newsome writes : "The hieroglyphic elements of his nominal phrase include the numeral 18, written as three bars and three dots (Uaxaclahun), prefaced to a rodent head that Linda Schele and Jeffrey Miller originally identified as a short-eared tropical forest rabbit.

The rodent head is now known to be that of a gopher, its sound value corresponding to bah, a word for 'gopher' in the Mayan languages.

However, the original 'rabbit' identification has remained part of the nickname assigned to this king.

The final element of his nominal phrase is usually a portrait head of God K, although a full-figure representation of the god or his characteristic smoking mirror can also appear in this position."

Elizabeth Newsome, Trees of Paradise and Pillars of the World: The Serial Stela Cycle of "18-Rabbit-God K," King of Copan, p. 65


Stela A

Glyphs name royal witnesses attending the installation of Stela A

Glyphs on the side panel mention four witnesses of the rituals related to the installation of Stela A: emblem glyphs for lords from the sites of Copan, Tikal, Calakmul, and Palenque.

These lords represented the four most powerful political entities of the Mayan world at that time.

"Typically an Emblem Glyph consists of three elements. The first is the 'water group' affix on the top or left edge of the main sign composed of a row of droplets signifying blood, topped by a small sign, usually a k'an sign, a shell sign [as is the case here], or an upside-down Ahaw, the composite standing for ch'ul, and read as 'divine' or 'holy'.

The second element is a superfixed sign for Ahaw or lord, usually the ah po sign [the top middle and left spheres next to the shell sign], and the third element is a main sign that is currently believed to designate the site or polity (i.e., a toponym)."

John Harris and Stephen Sterns, Understanding Maya Inscriptions: A Hieroglyph Handbook, p. 71.

The emblem glyph for Copan, top right, features a fruit bat head which was read xu and combines with the syllables ku and pi to read Xukpi, the ancient name of Copan.

The second row shows the glyph for Tikal (which was known as Mutul in ancient times) on the left and Calakmul (represented by a snake) on the right, while the left side of the bottom glyph, with the bones inscribed on a sphere, represents Bak, 'Bone', the ancient name of Palenque.

These glyphs would therefore read "The holy lord of Xukpi, the holy lord of Mutul, the holy lord of [Calakmul], and the holy lord of Bak."


Stela A

Stela A side glyph panel

Only Stela A follows the tradition of earlier Copan monuments, which confine the figural image to the front surface of the stela thus preserving the side and rear areas for text panels only.

As we shall see, other Stela in the Grand Plaza allow the ruler's headdress to partially wrap around the side panels with representations of feathers and baroque vegatation.