Warrior Lord - stone decorative block on the Popul Na, the War Council House, North Acropolis.

Excavations at Structure 6F-3

Structure 6F-3 is a massive, primary, truncated pyramidal substructure that is the focus of the triadic core of pyramids on the North Acropolis at Yaxuna. The earliest documented phase of the pyramid, Str 6F-3/5th, was built in conjunction with the deposition of an Early Classic king in a tomb, Bu 23, on the centerline of the upper plaza surface. Subsequently, The pyramid was overbuilt with a much larger one containing sub-surface corridors running within the substructural mass below the level of the new upper plaza surface. These corridors were accessed by a doorway into the pyramid centered on the southern face. We postulate these unlighted subsurface corridors were functionally analogous to labyrinthine corridors and chambers inside substructural masses which have been discovered at other Maya sites such as Oxkintok, Palenque, and Tonina. We postulate that these designs pertained to royal accession ceremonies (Suhler dissertation, Freidel and Suhler, in press, Freidel, Suhler and Ardren 1995). Subsequently, 6F-3 was further modified to include a sub- surface sanctuary chamber in front of the corridors. Following more modifications, including possibly acts of ritual destruction and rebuilding, the pyramid was terminated in conjunction with human sacrifice and the roofs of the subsurface chamber and corridors brought down. We think that throughout its use history, this pyramid served as a place of accession for rulers at Yaxuna.

The 1995 excavations on Structure 6F-3 were essentially continuations of the work which we have carried out since 1993. Our goal on this structure is to investigate, and then to consolidate for display, a sufficiently large portion of the building to illustrate its design and its function as a place of royal burial and accession. The centerline stairway, sanctuary, and subsurface passageway have been largely consolidated and stabilized under the direction of Ricardo Velasquez of the CRY INAH. Eventually, excavated and consolidated architecture will extend for approximately 6m on the western side of the centerline from base to summit and on the east will continue to the southeastern corner of the structure. During the 1995 field season we worked in the area of the summit plaza, the subsurface passages, the Chamber/Southern Corridor and along stairs A and B (Fig. 1).

The Summit Plaza

On the surface of the summit plaza itself we placed a test pit on the northern side of the summit plaza. This unit was placed on the approximate centerline of the major secondary substructure on the summit of the primary pyramid with the northern edge of the exposure against the basal stair. Final dimensions of this excavation unit were 4m x .80-1.20m (long axis north-south) with a final depth 2.6m below the modern surface of the summit plaza (Figs. 2, 3).

The first 20cm was composed of surface humus, roots, and small rocks. Below the humic layer was a 15-20cm layer of gravel and gray earth. This deposit rolled up against the basal tread of the staircase of the large secondary substructure on the north side of the acropolis summit. Because of this I believe the gravel and gray earth layer to represent the eroded remains of the summit plaza surface. Therefore, it appears the summit superstructure was built in conjunction with the massive construction which resulted in Structure 6F-3/4th. Under the eroded surface was a 15-20cm deposit of white marl chunks which gave the appearance of underflooring. Ceramics were plentiful from the eroded floor and underflooring, a field quick field analysis shows them to date to the Early Classic (Yaxuna IIa or IIb-more likely the former). The final level in the trench was composed exclusively of large cobble and boulder dry core fill, from 30 - 60cm in size with no visible break in the stratigraphy. Due to safety concerns and a lack of time to expand the unit we ended excavation before encountering any earlier buried architectural construction within the exposure.

The stratigraphy in this summit plaza test was remarkably similar to that seen in the excavation above the Burial 23 tomb, several meters to the south and east. The lack of any architectural features (such as wall stubs or plat form edges) in the test pit leads to the conclusion that the earlier Structure 6F-3/5th was an open raised plaza surface which was then covered over by the very different and complicated Structure 6F-3/4th. A qualification to this interpretation is that there could be Structure 6F-3/5th architecture below the mass of the summit secondary substructure to the north of this exposure. Only further investigation in this area will address that possibility.

The Interior Northern Corridor

Work in this area consisted of final consolidation details on the western end of the Interior Northern Corridor; specifically the final stabilization of the stairs which exit the corridor. To the east, our work all took place behind the blocking wall across the corridor. We needed to investigate the breach in the northern wall of the corridor east of the blocking wall which we first encountered in 1993. This work entailed removal of the 1993 backfill from the corridor behind the eastern blocking wall and then excavation of the remaining fill. The in situ fill which we removed from the corridor in 1995 was of the same bright, white pure marl as that seen in 1993. Again I was struck by the unusual consistency of this material, its presence certainly was not the result of an everyday construction event.

We did find the end of this version of the Interior Northern Corridor, located 3.80m from the interior edge of the blocking wall. The corridor ended at a masonry face which was the interior of a 1.10m thick wall. Time constraints prohibited us from doing any more than just exposing the exterior finished face of this wall, therefore we have no way of knowing the shape of the structure to which it pertains. Logically, this exterior face should be part of the outer wall of the original Structure 6F-3/4th architecture. There fore it should corner to the south of our limited exposure with the outer face of the southern wall which was also original to Structure 6F-3/4th (Fig. 1).

In an attempt to further understand the breach in the northern wall of the corridor we placed a test immediately behind the basal preserved course of the northern wall (Fig. 4). This test offered no further revelations as to the purpose of the cut and there appeared no features which could have pertained to the cut and fill episode. What the test did offer was further evidence sup porting our interpretations of the events surrounding the construction of Structure 6F-3/4th and the re-entry of the Burial 23 tomb chamber. As can be seen in the profile of the exposure, the U-shaped construction pen was in place on the Structure 6F-3/5th floor before the dry core fill for the corridors was laid down. This is additional proof that the re-entry of the Burial 23 tomb chamber was a deliberate and planned event undertaken in conjunction with the construction of original Structure 6F-3/4th subsurface summit plaza architecture.

Interior Connecting Passage

Activity here consisted of a sub-floor test placed to straddle the seam between the original southern face of Structure 6F-3/4th from the added wall of the centerline subsurface sanctuary chamber in Structure 6F-3/3rd. The stratigraphy of the unit did indeed confirm this interpretation (Fig. 5). Below Floor 1 of the Passageway the Structure 6F- 3/4th architecture was built on top of a foundation of dry core fill. This dry core fill was laid on top of a 10cm thick white marl lens which itself had been placed on top of a hard, polished plaster floor (Floor 2). Floor 2 was the Structure 6F 3/5th raised plaza floor which originally sealed Burial 23. This floor was also seen in the test behind the collapsed wall section east of the blocking wall in the Interior Northern Corridor. As Floor 2 ran south it sloped downwards 10 to 15cm, perhaps to meet stairs descending to a lower front terrace level. Our limited exposure precluded investigating this possibility. In any case, as in the other places we have tested on the summit, the Structure 6F-3/4th architecture is shown to have been built directly on top of the Structure 6F-3/5th raised plaza floor which sealed Burial 23. The scale of construction indicated by Structure 6F-3/4th was quite large and must have marked an event of some import at Yaxuna, one we would hypothesize as a royal accession on the basis of architectural design.

Continuing below Floor 2 in the passageway, we found there were two more floors of the same general type, each separated by a layer of sub-floor chich. The bottom most of these floors (Floor 4) was laid on top of large cobble and boulder dry core fill and we ended the excavation at a little over a meter into this dry core fill. We have no counterparts to Floors 3 and 4 elsewhere on the summit and can only say that they should pertain to phases of Structure 6F-3/5th prior to the interment of Bu 28, or to a postulated Structure 6F- 3/6th.

The construction of Structure 6F-3/3rd is quite apparent in this area. In the first place there is a definite seam between the architecture of 6F-3/4th and that of the later 6F-3/3rd. The Structure 6F-3/3rd interior connecting passage walls are also footed on a large rock/gray soil mixture at a higher level than the original walls with the northern interior wall of the chamber forming the southern boundary of this later Structure 6F-3/3rd addition. Based on the absence of any type of feature which would have provided access into the Structure 6F-3/4th interior connecting passage and the fact that Floor 2 ended before it reached the southern limit of the Structure 6F-3/3rd north chamber wall I believe a portion (perhaps the outer wall and some backing) of Structure 6F-3/4th Interior Connecting Passage architecture was removed during the Structure 6F-3/3rd extension of the Interior Connecting Passage and construction of the Chamber.

The Chamber/Southern Corridor

Work in the Chamber consisted of a test pit placed in the threshold of the southern entrance between the two jambs. Almost immediately this test began yielding concentrations of disarticulated animal bones. This bone deposit continued to a depth of 21cm below the surface of the threshold. At this point we came upon the face and arm of two different censers. Typologically the censers are assigned to the Chen Mul ceramic complex and therefore date to the Postclassic (Smith 1971?edit, Robles 1990). Chronologically the censers could date anywhere from 1200 to 1500 A.D.

Below the censers there was another layer of bone which contained "a small medium sized mammal, possibly a cat of some sort." (J. Ambrosino, Structure 6F-3 field notes 1995). This indicates the placement of the censers occurred at the same time as the laying of bone in the area of the Chamber/Southern Corridor. This is significant because in 1994 we recovered a large concentration of animal bones in the southwest corner which included (based on a rough sort in the field) the bones of "iguana, fetal deer, rabbit, and rodent" (Suhler 1995:8). We always assumed this deposit was related to the large amount of animal bone associated with Burial 19, itself placed into the "floor" of the Southern Corridor and directly in front of the southern entrance to the Chamber.

Burial 19 was excavated in 1993 and contained an adult male on his side within a 60cm deep and unsealed oval hole cut into the surface of the Southern Corridor. Faunal remains with this individual included two deer skulls, a bird skeleton, a small rodent skeleton, and portions of a snake. The individual was tightly flexed and his hands may have been tied (Bennett 1994). There was also a portion of a ceramic censer in with this sacrificial. Although we believed Burial 19 and the faunal concentrations in the southwest corner were related (Suhler 1995:8) we had no way to connect the two; the discovery of the faunal material in the thresh hold test provides this connection. The thresh hold ceramics, however, present a problem with our current interpretation.

Originally we had typed the non-descript Burial 19 incensario as Sisal Burdo, a type found in the Sub-Complejo Piza at Coba (Robles 1990). This complex is a specialized Sotuta feature which appeared in very restricted con texts at Coba, in my opinion it most likely marked by subjugation of the city by the forces of Chichén Itza some time after the fall of Yaxuna. With the Burial 19 ceramics dated to this termination ritual performed by Chichén Itza forces following their victory over Yaxuna. The presence of the Chen Mul materials in this same stratigraphic deposit requires a re-determination.

Based on the new ceramic data the placement of Burial 19, the deposition of faunal remains, and the placement of the Chen Mul incensarios occurred sometime during the Postclassic. My personal belief is that these censers date to the early part of this time range (+/- 1200 A.D.) and that they still represent terminal activities which took place in the Chamber/Southern Corridor area of Structure 6F-3/1st. Clearly my interpretation requires a post- Cehpech occupation of Yaxuna.

The only logical contender for such an occupation would have been Sotuta using peoples from within the sphere of Chichén Itza. Although we have yet to find hard evidence of such occupation, the work of Dave Johnstone in the plaza north and west of the ballcourt has provided tantalizing hints and may eventually provide evidence of Sotuta occupation at Yaxuna. If such is indeed the case then the final termination of Structure 6F-3 was undertaken by people using the same ceramics as those used in the final termination of Chichén Itza at around 1200/1300 A.D. (Suhler and Freidel 1995).

In the chamber itself we cleaned up the Burial 19 cut in order to further investigate the relationship between the architecture of Stair B, Chamber, and terrace upon which the Chamber sits. The absence of any plaster flooring in this area presents severe difficulties in attempting architectural sequences. However, the masonry box which supports Stair B appears to have been built on a brown soil/marl level located some 35cm below the present day ground surface. This soil/marl lens was very close to the same elevation as the marl cap found on top of the buried terrace within and below the Stair B masonry box (Suhler 1995). Thus it appears the stratigraphy of the Southern Corridor does not contradict our assertion that Stair B and the masonry box (Structure 6F-3/2nd-Yaxuna III) were built on top of an earlier construction which did not have a central staircase.

Stair B

Work at Stair B involved only consolidation of the final courses to the level of preserved Stair A fill. In 1994 we consolidated the first 18 stairs from the top, during 1995 we consolidated 9 more steps for a total of 27, the rest of Stair B is covered by the fill of Stair A. One interesting find during clearing for consolidation was a carved and painted stucco fragment (Fig. 6). This fragment clearly came from a painted stucco facade, much like the stone found in the eastern blocking wall of the Interior Northern Corridor (Suhler and Freidel 1994). Since both of these features have been interpreted as Yaxuna III (Late Classic) constructions the use of such stones may mark the utilization of stones from portions of the building desecrated during the Yaxuna IIb/c termination of Structure 6F-3.

Stair A

During the 1995 season we completed clearing and consolidation of Stair A from the main plaza surface to its highest preserved risers. During the 1993 and 1994 field seasons we found collapsed Puuc-style veneer stones at the western edge of Stair A. The presence of these stones led us to conclude Stair A represented an uncompleted Terminal Classic (Yaxuna IVa) construction. This season when we began clearing of the basal portion of Stair A we again recovered a large mass of Puuc-style veneer stones at the base of the stairs. From this we were able to confirm our dating of the staircase and realize that what we have consolidated of Stair A is the stair core itself, originally this core was covered by another skin of Puuc-style veneer stones. This possibility was first presented to us by archaeologist Peter Schmidt of CRY-INAH in 1993 and we concur with his interpretation.

Our 1995 excavations gave no cause to change our opinion concerning the ultimate state of Stair A; we still believe it was not completed and no treads rose much above the semi-intact 14th step. The work this season concentrated on the base and we did indeed complete clearing of the base of Stair A.

When finally cleared the base of Stair a revealed itself to contain five terrace step-ups from the main plaza surface. The southernmost of these (Terrace Step #1) is composed of large monolithic blocks much like the western basal staircase of Structure 6F-4. Therefore I believe this terrace step is the Early Classic basal perimeter of Structure 6F-4 and predates by a considerable margin the rest of the terrace steps. These other terrace steps are quite distinctive, each having been built of very well made Puuc-style veneer stones.

The first three are of the same general width, approximately 80cm, while the fourth is almost two meters wide. The fifth terrace step is a little over 50cm wide to the stair core, when the facing tread would have been in place Terrace Step #5 would have become essentially another riser in Stair A. A well preserved section of polished plaster floor along the face of Terrace Step #4 leads us to hypothesize the entire staircase was originally covered with such a plaster. This plaster is thinner than that of the Early Classic and is quite like the other Terminal Classic floors around Structure 6F-68.

While clearing Terrace Step #5 archaeologists recorded a concentration of smashed ceramics some 2m from the eastern edge of Stair A (Fig. 7). There were a number of fire- cracked rocks mixed in with the vessel(s). Chronological determination will have to await ceramic analysis of the sherds. If this deposit had been found at Structure 6F-68 we would have immediately classified it as part of the hostile termination of that structure at the end of Yaxuna IVa. However, at Structure 6F-3 it stands rather alone, lacking further deposits which could point the way to a determination of the feature's purpose. Until the evidence is found such judgements concerning the pot drop's tenor of deposition will have to be put on hold.

This season we also cleared the southeast corner of Stair A. Just like the western side the eastern wall of the stairs utilized Puuc-style veneer stones. In this southeast corner we found the same problem as that which had led to the slumping off of a large portion of the western Stair A: the use of a poor grade of construction fill with no internal walls. The veneer exterior walls were unable to support this inner mass and they sheared off as the stairs shifted and settled over the unstable fill. Substantial sections of in situ floor were found abutting these two walls, this flooring is probably the same as that found in front of Terrace Step #4.

A 1.5m2 test pit placed at the juncture between the edge of the terrace steps and another wall line revealed a dense concentration of marl lenses and compact brown soil with a high marl content. There was one plaster floors found in the unit. As can be seen in the profiles of this unit (Fig. 8) the marl and soil/marl lenses were essentially interleaved with the lone floor occurring on top of the third marl lens, 45cm below ground surface. This type of construction is Late Preclassic; similar examples have been found all over the site. At the North Acropolis these construction materials and techniques have been seen in the Structure 6F-4 gallery sub-floor tests (Suhler and Freidel 1994), and below Structure 6F-7 in the southeast plaza of the North Acropolis (Suhler and Freidel 1993). The ceramic samples were almost non- existent from these levels, nonetheless I believe the stratigraphy from this unit represents initial North Acropolis construction dating to the Late Preclassic.

The surface wall line itself is composed of rough and dry laid rocks (30-45cm) two courses in height. This feature is clearly abutted to the Structure 6F-3/1st terraces but a portion of plastered floor in the southeast juncture of the later wall serves to tie the two together at some point in time. At this point in time it is impossible to say whether that time is during the Yaxuna IV(a/b?) use of the building or during Yaxuna V use.


The 1995 investigations at Structure 6F-3 provided important details in the construction history and use of this large and complicated building. The radical shift from Structure 6F-3/5th to 6F-3/4th was extensive, dramatic, and deliberate: centered around the planned re-entry of the Burial 23 tomb chamber and the parallel construction of the subsurface summit plaza corridor. Contextually these are the elements of an accession event, access to the tomb of a revered and powerful ancestor and the construction of the universe.

Here at Structure 6F-3/4th the cosmos was constructed in masonry architecture, essentially creating a replica of the Late Preclassic "Dance Platforms" over 5m above the plaza surface. At other places the universe was built of wooden scaffolds, depicted on the accession stelae of Piedras Negras. In other cases the two can coexist; at Yaxuna Structures 6E-53 and 6E- 120 (Late Preclassic "Dance Platforms") the mountain is an architectural construction with a wooden scaffold built on the summit. We know from the group of the "Dance Platforms" at Yaxuna was specifically a creation/resurrection place I believe the same is true of Structure 6F- 3/4th.

Archaeological evidence for such an event is available for Early Classic period Tikal where a staircase led from plaza surface in front of the desecrated Structure 5D 33-2nd into the subsurface Burial 23 and also to the foot of a wooden scaffold built on the southern end of the Burial 23 tomb cut. In this manner an acceding lord (most likely Animal Skull himself) could have entered Burial 23 (presumably to commune with and derive legitimation from the dead lord) and then exited from the underworld tomb and ascended into the scaffolded sky-travelling the path of creation/resurrection (Suhler, Freidel and Ardren 1995).

Following some period of use Structure 6F-3/3rd was built over 4th. Essentially modifying the existing building Structure 6F-3/3rd saw the stripping away of whatever marked the original entrance to the subsurface labyrinth and the monolithic and massive construction of the components which created the chamber. As shown by ceramics this was also an Early Classic event, however, we cannot say whether it was during Yaxuna IIa or IIb. Whenever it was built, Structure 6F-3/3rd was most likely terminated during the Yaxuna IIb site-wide desecrations. Based in part on information gathered this season from the Interior Northern Corridor and Stair B it appears substantial portions of 3rd were hacked at and removed.

These include sections of the northern wall in the eastern end of the Interior Northern Corridor and possibly a large piece of the southern wall on the western end of this same corridor. Also removed were large sections of the modular components whose eastern and western extremes formed (respectively) the western and eastern interior walls of the chamber. The presence of stuccoed and painted plaster in later constructions suggests decorated portions of buildings were also desecrated.

The construction of Structure 6F-3/2nd represents a revitalization of Structure 6F-3 but at the expense of the Early Classic design. Structure 6F- 3/2nd is a Yaxuna III (Late Classic) construction. If I am correct in my architectural sequencing (and indeed much work still needs to be done) then Structure 6F-3/2nd in part re-healed the terminated building. Evidence for this may be seen in the very special material used to fill in the hacked areas at both the western and eastern ends of the Interior Northern Corridor. Used here was a very pure and white marl, clearly of a significant and sacred use and diametrically opposed to the scorching and blackening which can mark hostile terminations at Yaxuna. I believe this material and the construction of the eastern blocking wall and the western exit stairs healed the desecrated subsurface passages. Further south the masonry box and Stair B were built in front of the entrance to the chamber. The placement of Stair B was a major departure from the previous version which had a plain southern facade with stairs presumably to the sides.

The arrival of Coba forces at the beginning of Yaxuna IVa may or may not be visible at Structure 6F-3/1st. Clearly Stair A and the associated Terrace Steps are constructions undertaken using Puuc-style masonry and construction techniques. However, as shown at Coba, Chichén Itza, Uxmal, and Mayapan, to name but a few, Puuc-style construction techniques tend to span the ceramic and spatial boundaries. Therefore, construction of Stair A could have happened during Yaxuna IVa, IVb, or even V times. The latter is extremely doubtful, however, since Yaxuna V ceramic materials mark the final termination of the building as seen in the extensive rituals performed in the area of the Southern Corridor and Chamber. Following the sacrifice and internment of Burial 19 and the bone deposits the vaults were collapsed and the use of Structure 6F-3, which began probably during the Preclassic, was brought to an end.

References Cited

Bennett, Sharon
1994 The Burial Excavations at Yaxuna in 1993, in The Selz Foundation Yaxuna Project: Final Report of the 1993 Field Season :89-105. Dallas, Southern Methodist University.

Robles C., J. Fernando
1990 La Sequencia Ceramica de la Region de Coba, Quintana Roo. Mexico, D.F.:Instituto Nacional de Antropologia e Historia

Smith, Robert E.
1971 The Pottery of Mayapan. Papers of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Vol. 66. Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Suhler, Charles K
1995 Investigations at Structure 6F-3, in The Selz Foundation Yaxuna Project: Final Report of the 1994 Field Season:5-12. Dallas, Southern Methodist University.

Suhler, Charles K. and David A. Freidel
1995 The Sack of Chichén Itza: Reinterpreting the Early Stratigraphic Excavations. Paper presented at the 1995 Maya Meeting, Austin, Texas.

1994a Excavations in the Structure 6F-3 Locality, in The Selz Foundation Yaxuna Project: Final Report of the 1993 Field Season:18-37. Dallas, Southern Methodist University.

1994b Excavations in the Structure 6F-4 Locality, in The Selz Foundation Yaxuna Project: Final Report of the 1993 Field Season:38-57. Dallas, Southern Methodist University.

1993 Operation 40: Structure 6F-7, in The Selz Foundation Yaxuna Project: Final Report of the 1992 Field Season:92-98, edited by Charles Suhler and David Freidel. Dallas, Southern Methodist University.

Suhler, Charles K., David A. Freidel, and Traci Ardren
1995 Northern Maya Architecture, Ritual, and Cosmology. Paper presented at the 60th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Minneapolis, Minnesota.