The North Acropolis as viewed from the Central Acropolis

Tikal: North Acropolis

There is a marvelous 3D flyover of the North Acropolis and Temples 1 & 2 from Google Arts and Culture (click through to last panel).

Occupied for over a thousand years, Tikal was a functioning city from Pre-Classic times (600 BC–250 AD), reaching it's height during the Late Classic period (600–900 AD).

It has been known to Western scholars and explorers since the 19th Century through the detailed 1881 drawings of Alfred Maudslay and the 1895 & 1904 photographs of Teobert Maler. The monuments and inscriptions of Tikal were recorded by Sylvanus Morley as part of his pioneering study of Maya hieroglyphic texts in the early 1920's.

In 1956 the University Museum of the University of Pennsylvania initiated the Tikal Project, which was to continue for fifteen years under Edwin Shook initially, with William Coe the field director for the last seven years.

"Judged by almost any standard, the Tikal Project was conducted on an unprecedented scale for Maya archaeology. By its final year, in 1970, its professional staff over the years had totaled one-hundred-thirteen archaeologists.

After 1970, excavations of the buildings and their consolidation continued under the direction of two expert Guatemalan archaeologists, C. Rudy Larios and Miguel Orrego, working under the auspices of the Instituto de Antropologia e Historia de Guatemala."

Robert Sharer, The Ancient Maya, pp. 272-273

Construction layers from various time periods are exposed in the North Acropolis

Tikal: North Acropolis
Cross Section Diagram of Tikal North Acropolis

Click on colored areas to see photos of buried tombs

George Stuart called the North Acropolis "the most complicated layer cake of ancient architecture ever excavated in this hemisphere".

At the front-center of the North Acropolis is Structure 5D-33, probably the most intensively explored and excavated temple at Tikal, if not in the whole Maya area. Three structures, one built over the other, are partially visible today.

The last built, 5D-33-1st (yellow structure on right of diagram) was in poor condition and was largely dismantled except for parts of its base. Originally it towered close to 110 feet above the plaza and was built before Temples I and II, around A.D. 600.

Beneath it were found two magnificently embellished Early Classic temples, 5D-33-2nd (pink), and beneath it, 5D-33-3rd (orange), both of which are partially accessible today.

Click to pan left or right

Tikal: North Acropolis

[pan left]                     [center]                     [pan right]

"The Classic Maya use of free-standing sculpture was restricted to low relief compositions upon tall slabs and prisms of stone (called stelae by transfer from Greek archaeology) as well as on low blocks, drums, and boulders, often associated with the stelae.

The term altar is a misleading transfer from European liturgy, where it conveys a table of sacrifice, rather than the pedestal of rank it signified for Maya peasants and nobles.

At Tikal the stelae are aligned like gravestones along the sides of the courts, but they do not stand at the center."

Kubler, p. 248

A sample of the stelae and altars arrayed in front of the North Acropolis

Stela and Altars fronting the North Acropolis

Stela 10 shows the 19th ruler of Tikal, Kaloomte' Bahlam

Stela 10 of Kaloomte; Bahlam

The 19th ruler of Tikal, Kaloomte' Bahlam. Probably dedicated in AD 527

The early nickname of this ruler was Curl Head, descriptive of his then untranslated name glyph which was later translated as his title, "Ruler Jaguar".

The stela refers to a "cutting and chopping" event against Maasal in 486 AD and shows him standing atop a high value prisoner taken in that battle.

Altar featuring beautiful carving of the old God N

Altar with God N, North Acropolis

This altar in front of the North Acropolis represents God N, one of the old gods of the underworld who is shown in the right hand photo emerging from a conch shell.

The clover-leaf design which surrounds him represents the mouth of a cave leading to the underworld. God N was also a patron of writing and art.

Front and side of Stela 40

Stela 40 of Yellow Pecory

The 12th successor to the rulership at Tikal was Yellow Peccary, who was mentioned on two stelae (9 and 13). "Jones interpreted the eroded "father" glyph on Stela 13 as reading Stormy Sky, making Yellow Peccary the direct line 12th successor. The iconographic style of Yellow Peccary's two monuments bears no resemblance to the carved works of his father, specifically Stela 31. However, this perception was completely changed by the dramatic discovery in July 1996 of a new carved stela, Stela 40.

This stela was dedicated by K'an Ak [Yellow Peccary] and contains a stunning new series of dates for the lives of both his father, Siyah Chan K'awil [Stormy Sky] and of himself. New facts and dates in the lives of both rulers were revealed. The text goes on to say that K'an Ak acceded to power in Tikal on 24 August AD 458, 15 days following his father's final interment and that the Stela 40 itself was dedicated by K'an Ak on 20 June 468.

The dedication date is set at only 23 years after the dedication of Stela 31 and the styles are so closely shared as to suggest the same hand carving them. This is extremely helpful in understanding the succession as the inscriptions referring to K'an Ak on Stelae 9 and 13 are short and offer little information with few dates, in stark contrast to the historic record on stela 31. Some change in manner of presentation took place even though the descent line is intact. From a date on Stela 9, we know that K'an Ak was still ruling in AD 475 but no other dates for his reign are secure.

Peter Harrison, The Lords of Tikal, p. 92

Stela 5, erected by Yik'in, names his parents as Hasaw Chan K'awil and Lady 12 Macaw of Calakmul

Stela 5 of Yik'in Chan K'awiil, North Acropolis

Stela 5 was dedicated in AD 744, and is a portrait of ruler Yik'in Chan K'awil, 27th ruler in the succession of rulers of Tikal. "Large portions of the front of the stela are battered and stained. Beneath the encrustations, however, is another sensitive and finely-detailed work of art, from the swirling feathers of the ruler's headdress and backframe to the beautiful glyphs on the sides. Yaxkin Caan Chac [Yik'in Chan K'awil] stands in full profile, his eroded face looking to the viewer's left. A jaguar tail curls down from in front of his earplug over a wide collar of heavy jade beads trimmed with a fringe of feathers. His left hand hangs at his side holding the handle of a pouch...Behind his feet, with their high-backed sandals and elaborate ankle ornaments, lies a belly-down prisoner. The prisoner's feet kick and twist in the air amid the long feathers swirling down from the backframe."

Glyphs on the side of the stela give Yik'in's parentage. "The following decipherment is taken from Jones (1984), identifying the glyphs row by row from the seventh through the twelfth rows: Child of mother, Lady Uinal of the Serpent Site, Twelve Macaw of Caracol? Child of father, Ah Cacao [Hasaw Chan K'awil] Caan Chac, Four-Katun Batab, ruler of Tikal.

Genevieve Michel, The Rulers of Tikal: A Historical Reconstruction & Field Guide to the Stelae, p. 124

Stela 11 in North Acropolis, the last monument erected in Tikal

Stela 11 in North Acropolis

Stela 11 records the latest date found at Tikal -- it was dedicated in AD 869. However, the ruler who performed this dedication remains unknown, for the glyphs comprising his name are too badly eroded to be read. "Maudslay's 1882 photograph of Stela 10 shows also the upper half of Stela 11 lying face-down on the ground to the right. The base of the stela had remained in place when it broke, and the whole has been re-erected at that spot in the center of the second row of monuments on the Great Plaza.

Genevieve Michel, The Rulers of Tikal: A Historical Reconstruction & Field Guide to the Stelae, p. 135

Str. 5D-22 detail, North Acropolis Temple 33-2nd, Snake Mountain Representation, North Acropolis U4-A, Temple 5D-33-3rd, North Acropolis Stucco panel flanking entrance to Temple 5D-33-2nd Tikal North Acropolis Structure 5D-22 Tikal North Acropolis Burial 85 Tikal North Acropolis Structure 5D-33 Tikal North Acropolis Structure 5D-33-2nd and 1st Trenching Tikal North Acropolis Structure 5D-33-3rd Tikal North Acropolis Stela 31 Tikal North Acropolis Stormy Sky's Burial Chamber