Altar Q and the dynastic chain of rulership

Altar Q

Dedicated in a series of ritual events taking place between Dec 25, 775 & Feb 27, 776

The founder of the dynasty, Yax Kuk Mo', is pictured passing the emblem of office to the last king of Copán, Yax Pasah.

All sixteen of the rulers of Copán are represented in order around Altar Q.

Yax Kuk Mo's name appears in his headdress, but all other figures are identified by the hieroglyphs they sit upon. Yax Kuk Mo sits on a glyph meaning "Lord".

The glyphs between Yax Kuk Mo' and Yax Pasah represent the accession date of Yax Pasah.

The West Side of Altar Q features the first and last rulers of Copán

 Copan Altar Q

All sixteen rulers of Copán are pictured on the sides of Altar Q. Below each photo, the dates and buildings associated with each ruler are listed, along with links to photos when available.

Ruler 16: Yax Pasah, the last ruler of Copan, receiving the torch from the founder of the dynasty, Yax Kuk Mo'.
   Accession date: (July 2, 763)
   West Court "Reviewing Stand", dedicated in 769 A.D.
   Str. 10L-11, dedicated in 773 A.D.
   Altar Q, dedicated in (775 A.D.)
   Celebrated first katun of reign in (783 A.D.)
   Str 10L-18, dedicated in (801 A.D.)
   Celebrated katun ending with Jade Sky of Quirigua, in (810 A.D.)
   Posthumous reference on Stela 11, dedicated in (820 A.D.)

Ruler 15: K'ak' Yipyaj Chan K'awil or "Smoke Shell".
   Str. 10L-22 (Hieroglyphic Stairway)
   Stela M
   Stela N

Ruler 2: Almost nothing is known about Ruler 2

Ruler 1: K'inich Yax Kuk Mo' or "Great Sun, Green Quetzal Macaw", Founder of the Dynasty.
   Displayed manikin scepter: (426 A.D.)
   Unknown event: (426 A.D.)
   Celebrated katun ending (?): (435 A.D.)
   Died or buried: (437 A.D.)

The South Side includes Copáns most famous rulers, 18-Rabbit & Smoke Imix

Altar Q

Ruler 14: "Smoke Monkey"
   Accession in (738 A.D.)
   Str. 10L-22A, Popol Nah, dedicated (746 A.D.) (?)
   Died in (749 A.D.)

Ruler 13: Waxaklahum-Ubah-K'awil or "18-Rabbit".
   Accession in (695 A.D.)
   Stela J, dedicated
   Stela C, dedicated
   Stela F, dedicated
   Stela 4, dedicated
   Stela H, dedicated
   Stela A, dedicated
   Stela B, dedicated (731 A.D.)
   Stela D, dedicated
   Temple 22
   Great Ballcourt, dedicated (738 A.D.)
   Captured and sacrificed by Cauac Sky of Quirigua in (738 A.D.)

Ruler 12: "Smoke Imix God K" or "Smoke Jaguar"
Smoke Imix was the longest-lived and, in William Fash's opinion,
perhaps the single most accomplished Copán dynast.
Raised many stela outside the city to consolidate his power.
   Accession in (628 A.D.)
   Died in (695 A.D.)

Ruler 11: Butz Chan
   Accession in (578 A.D.)
   Stela P
   Died in (628 A.D.)

The East Side of Altar Q has less famous rulers

Altar Q

William Fash writes that rulers 8 and 9 reigned only nine years, whereas both Rulers 7 and 10 enjoyed lengthy reigns, and dedicated many monuments.

Ruler 10: Perhaps named "Moon Jaguar", according to David Stuart. This king has a few stela fragments to his credit, and may have been responsible for the bulding of the imposing "Rosalila" structure in the main acropolis.

Ruler 9:

Ruler 8:

Ruler 7: B'alam Hehn, "Jaguar Mirror". B'alam means jaguar, so he appropriately sits on top of an image of a jaguar.

William L. Fash, Scribes, Warriors and Kings: The City of Copán and the Ancient Maya, p. 25

We know little about the rulers pictured on the North Side of the altar

Altar Q

William Fash writes that, except for Ruler 4, we have not found any hieroglyphic monuments dedicated by these rulers, and relatively little is known about them.

Ruler 6: Muyal Jol or "Cloud Head". He appears to be sitting on glyphs representing his name.

Ruler 5:

Ruler 4: K'al Tuun Hix.

Ruler 3:

William L. Fash, Scribes, Warriors and Kings: The City of Copán and the Ancient Maya, p. 25

The most interesting feature of Temple 16 are the earlier temples buried within it

Str. 16

Altar Q can be seen immediately to the left of the large heavy-rooted tree at the extreme right of the photo. Stela P of Buz' Chan, 11th ruler of Copan, can be seen standing in back of the foreground tree on the left side of the Photo.

Structure 10L-16 was the centerpiece of the Acropolis under Yax Pahsaj, 16th and last ruler of Copan, just as it had been since its establishment by the dynastic founder, K'inich Yax K'uk' Mo'.

In a fascinating and detailed lecture, Ricardo Agurcia, Co–Director of the Copan Acropolis Project, describes in detail the excavation and tunneling of Temple 16 and his discovery of the perfectly preserved Rosalila temple buried within as well as the nearby Oropendola temple with its rich tomb. Note: The sound quality is terrible for the first 5 minutes of the video, but improves significantly after that.

Thousands of Temple 16 Fragments of façade sculptures

Altar Q

Agurcia also recovered thousands of fragments of façade sculptures that originally adorned both the temple at the summit, and the central and upper part of the frontal stairway, directly behind Altar Q. Karl Taube and Barbara Fash have reconstructed the stairway sculptures and some of the temple mosaics in the new Sculpture Museum, with some surprising results. Like Altar Q, both the stairway and the temple refer to K'inich Yax K'uk' Mo' [Copan's founder], who is believed to be buried below this edifice, in the Hunal Substructure.

Copan: Temple 16

Altar Q

The bottom stairway sculpture panel shows an immense visage of Tlaloc, surrounded by a huge skull rack. Higher up on the stairs is the image of the founder, emerging from a sun shield. At the top is a large earth monster mouth, which Taube notes is decorated with highland Mexican mountain imagery, belching forth the figure of a bound captive. On the temple façades are six different kinds of depictions of Tlaloc, repeated numerous times. The name of the founder was inscribed upon it, as well.

Thus, Yax Pahsaj out-did all of his predecessors, even Ruler 15, in emphasizing the founder's ties to the great Tollan Teotihuacan.

All later rulers of prominent Maya kingdoms, from the tip of Yucatán to the highland Quiché (as recorded in their royal genealogy in the Popol Vuh), would likewise claim descent from the royal houses of highland Mexico."

William L. Fash, Scribes, Warriors and Kings: The City of Copán and the Ancient Maya, p. 168-9

Maudslay 1890 photo Copan Temple 16

From the Maudslay Collection, British Museum. Used with permission under the CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 non-commercial license. ©The Trustees of the British Museum.

In 1890 inside the shrine at the top of Temple 16, Maudslay found the pieces of a statue of K'inich Yax K'uk' Mo', which probably sat in the niche found at the back of the temple. The head of the founder, marked by goggle-eye circles, sits to the left in Maudslay's photo.