Tikal: Twin Pyramid Complex

Twin Pyramid Complex Q

Twin Pyramid Complexes were built as stages for rituals surrounding Maya calendar k'atun ending celebrations, a k'atun being a twenty-year ritual period observed by the Maya.

Complex Q was built to celebrate the Long Count period ending date of 9.17.0.0.0 or January 20, 771 AD. More on the Maya calendar can be found here.

The stela enclosure is on the north side (top) with a nine-doorway palace on the south side. The flat-topped pyramids mark the east/west axis of the plaza.

"An emphasis on the world directions in twin-pyramid groups is obvious. The four structures are always placed in their proper sides of the plaza, so that no group is found in which the enclosure, for example, is to the south, east or west.

The four-stairwayed pyramids are flat topped and do not favor any one direction. In themselves, they are fit stages for the ritualization of the four directions."

Christopher Jones, The Twin-Pyramid Group Pattern: A Classic Maya Architectural Assemblage at Tikal, Guatemala, 1969, p. 134


Tikal: Twin Pyramid complex

East Pyramid, Twin Pyramid Complex Q

"Clemency Coggins has shown how the Twin Pyramid Groups at Tikal, built to host katun-ending ceremonies, were representations of the Maya cosmos. As such, these architectural groups simultaneously symbolized the threefold and fourfold aspects of the universe.

The pyramids on the east and west represent the earthly plane and mark the cycles of time, specifically the [daily] birth and death of the sun.

The nine-doorwayed building on the south represents the nine-layered underworld.

And the walled enclosure on the north, open to the sky, represents the celestial domain, a fitting place for the stela and throne stone of the sponsoring ruler to reside."

Robert Sharer, The Ancient Maya, p. 524


Tikal: Twin Pyramid complex

East Pyramid, Twin Pyramid Complex Q

"The twin-pyramid groups seem well suited as stages. Their ceremonies could be big, sumptuous, and involve a large percentage of the total community.

I believe there is some reason to suggest that the twin-pyramid groups were built, not only to mark a katun [twenty year ritual period], but to serve as a stage for ceremonies directed toward the god of the katun. There are several approaches to this argument.

The groups are suited for public ceremony; the succession of the groups reflects the succession of the katuns; and finally, there are some parallels between the form of the groups and the form of katun-worship in the 16th century Yucatan."

Christopher Jones, The Twin-Pyramid Group Pattern: A Classic Maya Architectural Assemblage at Tikal, Guatemala, 1960, p. 137


Tikal: Twin Pyramid complex

East Pyramid, Twin Pyramid Complex Q


Tikal: Twin Pyramid complex

Stelae and Altars in front of the East Pyramid

Eight uncarved stela and altar pairs are ranged in front of the eastern pyramid. A ninth stela and altar were placed in front of the stairway directly behind (to the left of) the row of eight stelae pictured here.


Tikal: Twin Pyramid complex

North Enclosure, Twin Pyramid Complex Q

"The architectural focus of the twin-pyramid group seems to be the north stela...this monument is centered north of but between the pyramids, enclosed in a separate little courtyard.

The enclosure can be entered by only one door, which forces one to look directly at the face of the stela...the stelae depict humans as their central motifs, presumably the rulers of Tikal."

Christopher Jones, The Twin-Pyramid Group Pattern: A Classic Maya Architectural Assemblage at Tikal, Guatemala, 1960, p. 136


Tikal: Twin Pyramid complex

North Enclosure, Twin Pyramid Complex Q

"The east complex, the largest of all and lettered Q, occupies a raised platform covering an area of over 5 acres. It is here that the composition of these special groups can best be appreciated, for the monuments have been re-erected, and the east pyramid, south palace, and north enclosure have been largely restored.

Stela 2 and Altar 10, discovered in 1956, are within the enclosure and are superb examples of Late Classic Tikal sculpture. They were carved and erected in 9.17.0.0.0 or A.D. 771.

As in so many cases of monuments not destroyed by the Classic Maya, the visitor will note the mutilated face of the sculptured personage on the stela. Even the face on a garter has been intentionally mutilated. One can only guess that this was done by Postclassic people who thought that by doing so they would somehow weaken the lingering power of the stela or of the person depicted on it."

William R. Coe, Tikal: A Handbook of the Ancient Maya Ruins, p. 85


Tikal: Twin Pyramid complex

Twin Pyramid Complex Q, North Building

Complex Q was built by Yax Ain II, one of the last three known rulers of Tikal, and it is Yax Ain II who is represented on Stela 22.

Twenty years later he built another twin pyramid complex (Complex R) to celebrate the next katun. Stela 19 in Complex R is badly eroded. Its companion altar differs from Altar 10 in that it shows four dignitaries on it side rather than four bound prisoners.


Tikal: Twin Pyramid complex

North Building, Twin Pyramid Complex Q

Although badly eroded, Altar 10 of Twin Pyramid Complex Q shows bound prisoners with a rope design and woven mat pattern.


Tikal: Twin Pyramid complex

North Building, Twin Pyramid Complex Q


Tikal: Twin Pyramid complex

South Building, Twin Pyramid Complex Q

According to Clemency Coggins, the nine-doorwayed building on the south represents the nine-layered underworld.


Tikal: Twin Pyramid complex

South Building, Twin Pyramid Complex Q

"The use of the number nine in twin-pyramid group activities is immediately suggested by the south building which always had nine doorways.

One can imagine the appearance of the nine "Lords of the Night" or of priests carrying nine items for sacrifice, and so forth."

Christopher Jones, The Twin-Pyramid Group Pattern: A Classic Maya Architectural Assemblage at Tikal, Guatemala, 1969, p. 134


Twin Pyramid Complex Q South Building Twin Pyramid Complex Q Stela-Altar Pairs in front of Eastern Pyramid Twin Pyramid Complex Q North Courtyard with Stela Twin Pyramid Complex Q East Radial Pyramid