The Path of Life:

Towards a Functional Analysis of Ancient Maya Architecture

David Freidel and Charles Suhler
Southern Methodist University

Precolumbian Maya architecture is a legacy to the world, declaring the beauty, in form and scale, master-builders can achieve with simple tools and good organization. But as archaeologists, we are not content to witness, document and admire this legacy. We study ancient Maya buildings to know why they were made and what functions they served for the people who made them. These functions are, in many cases, neither obvious nor familiar. Their investigation is an open-ended process of discovery, one requiring us to shrug off what we think we already know about the relationships between form and function and to learn from what the Maya did and continue to do. Fortunately, we do not have to proceed in ignorance. There are many Maya sources of insight into the subject, including painted and carved pictures of buildings being used, Classic period (200-900 A.D.) glyphic texts describing what buildings were made for, eye- witness accounts of how buildings were used in the period of the European encounter (sixteenth century), and detailed documentation of how and why the millions of Maya people today, descend- ants of the master-builders and their crews, make buildings. What we intend to do here is offer one object lesson in this process of discovering the functions of Maya architecture.

We have been working at the ruined city of Yaxuna, next to the modern village of the same name, for six summer field sea- sons. Yaxuna is in the northern lowlands, about 20 km south of the famous site of Chichén Itza. We still do not know the full extent of the old community, but we have mapped more than 640 mounds, large and small, within an area of 1.75 square km. In 1990, and as part of a examination of the settlement patterns of the site, Charles Suhler began excavation on a rather small (3 m high) mound near one of the major acropolis groups in the ceremonial center (Suhler 1992, Fig. 3:1). Judging from the contours, he thought Structure 6E-53 might be an elite residence platform dating to the Terminal Classic period (750- 1000 A.D.)--one of the major periods of occupation at Yaxuna. The postholes he encountered while clearing the summit encouraged him to think he might have the remains of a perishable superstructure of pole and thatch up there, but then his Maya workmen from Yaxuna village exposed beige, plastered walls that extended down from the summit into the heart of the mound.

David Freidel came on site soon after this. By then Suhler knew he had Late Preclassic (300 B.C.-200 A.D.) ceramics associated with the building, and that whatever the postholes were, this was not looking like a Terminal Classic perishable residence. While the workmen patiently stripped back the summit surface to expose a pattern of plastered walls defining corridors over it, all descending into the mound, Suhler and Freidel tried to make sense of the situation. By digging from the known down into the unknown, excavating within areas defined by the plastered walls, they began to see an unthinkable pattern (Fig. 3:2). The building did not fit into either of two standard categories in Maya architecture of this scale: it was neither an ordinary solid platform suitable for supporting a superstructure of perishable materials, nor was it a ground-level masonry super- structure. To be sure, the outside of the building was designed as a modest stepped platform; but the inside was a labyrinth of sub-surface corridors linking doorways piercing the basal terrace of the pyramid to a sanctum chamber buried within its center (Fig. 3:3). Even more bizarre, there was a stairway leading out of one of the corridors to what could only have been a horizontal trap-door in the summit of the platform.

Structure 6E-120 immediately challenged us to think about Maya building function in new ways. The main point of the design was evidently to enter into what would normally be a solid plat- form or pyramid. Beyond this peculiar violation of expectation, the usual means of getting up and down such a platform, an outer stairway, was here replaced by an internal stairway and the trap- door on the summit. Obviously, what mattered to the master- builders who put up 6E-120 was that people were to move through the platform as they went up and down it. What might be taken for a prosaic act, going up and down a stairway to get from the bottom to the top of a platform, was here explicitly designed as an elaborate journey. It was this journey that we had to understand and explain. To this end, we needed to marshal an array of information on how Maya used platforms and got up, down, into and out of them.

We found one spectacular example of a hidden chamber in a performance platform from an early Spanish observation described in English by Michael Coe (1989 161-162)

"Similar dramatic performances almost surely took place in the great cities of the Classic Maya, and persisted in the highlands following the Spanish conquest. One such display is documented for the Q'eqchi' [K'ekchi'] Maya (Estrada Monroy 1979: 168-174) and was tied into an assertion of suzerainty by a local Maya dynast, a "cacique of all caciques" named Ah Pop'o Batz' (Lord Howler-monkey). This was held under the auspices of the Dominican friars of Verapaz on Sunday, 24 June 1543, to celebrate and affirm the foundation of a new town, San Juan Chamelco, and to consolidate the power of the native ruler. Lord Howler-monkey was seated upon a dais covered with monkey skin, while two warriors draped a quetzal-feather cape over his shoulder. After he had been duly baptized, and a Christian mass sung, the Q'eqchi' drama began, to the sound of shell trumpets, turtle carapace, and other instruments. This was the Dance of Hunahpu and Xbalanke, the Hero Twins, and their defeat of the Lords of the Underworld, Xibalba.

The performance opened with the appearance of two youths in the plaza, wearing tight-fitting garments and great black masks with horns. They proceeded to a platform covered with clean mats and adorned with artificial trees; a small brush pile covered a hidden exit. After conversing with two nahuales named Xul Ul and Pakan . . they came into the presence of other masked beings--the dread Lords of Xibalba. The Xibalbans tried to kill the Hero Twins, but they evaded the dangers and emerged unscathed to the discomfiture of their enemies.

The youths then began to dance before the Underworld lords, the dance becoming progressively more violent and frenzied; little by little the lords became fascinated, until they also were caught up in it. Hunahpu and Xbalanke appeared to fly above bonfires set around the periphery of the dance ground. Suddenly, unsuspected by the Xibalbans, they lit a multitude of incensarios, and in the midst of dense smoke they set fire to the grove of trees and to the mats. Everything turned into a great conflagration. Facing one another, with extended arms, Hunahpu and Xbalanke hurled themselves into the fire, which consumed the trapped Xibalbans as well. The smoke from the copal obscured all that was taking place in the bonfire, and even those "in the know" were frightened by the cries of the dying lords. When the smoke cleared, only ashes remained.

Then, on the ground, a compartment opened up, from which issued an emissary cloaked in a feather cape: in one hand he carried an incensario, while with the other he indicated the open chamber. As drums, shell trumpets, and the like sounded, the Hero Twins appeared from the compartment, covered with beautiful feather capes, wearing on their brows ornaments appropriate to great lords. Their former masks had been replaced with those of two handsome youths. The Twins proudly greeted the populace, which acclaimed them for their victory over the fearsome Xibalbans. (Coe 1989: 161-162, brackets ours).

The story of the Hero Twins and their father, Hun Ahpu, or Hun-Nal-Ye in the Classic period, was central to Precolumbian Maya religion (Freidel, Schele and Parker 1993). Essentially, it is a story about the triumph of the human gods over death and the gods of death through the ability of human beings to experience not only death but also birth. For the ancient Maya, and for many of their descendants today, souls could be recycled through death and back into life. In the K'iche' drama described above (and as detailed in the Popol Vuh, their Book of Council, see D. Tedlock 1985) the lords of the spirit world are defeated not because the twins are immortal, but because they are able to return to life after being sacrificed or killed. The special correspondence between the design of the K'iche' platform and the one that we had excavated at Yaxuna led us to formulate an initial hypothesis of function based on analogy, or like-in-kind argument. Because of the formal similarities, perhaps the Yaxuna platform, like the K'iche' one, was used to perform a journey into death and back into life, a journey represented in the K'iche' case by going down into the platform while its summit shack of poles and mats burns and then up again unscathed, literally rising from the ashes.

To be useful, an hypothesis has to lead to new possibilities of observation, analysis and interpretation. The idea that this platform might have served as a place of ritual death and resurrection led us to look at other aspects of its design from this vantage. One of the things about the design that intrigued us was the way that the corridors undulated around the sanctum chamber. While this undulation had no practical value as far as we could discern, it did give the corridors an overall horizontal pattern that looks much like a quatrefoil symbol. A similar quatrefoil was very much part of Classic Maya thought. It represented a crack in a great cosmic turtle's back, a turtle floating in the heavens, out of which the Maya First Father, Hun-Nal-Ye, was reborn to reorder the world after his sacrifice. Hun-Nal-Ye was helped in this rebirth by his Hero Twin sons in Classic period imagery and mythology. The name of this quatrefoil in Classical Mayan glyphs was Ol. Ol can mean the heart of a place, but in modern Yucatec there is also a related word, Hol, which means portal or doorway. So here the horizontal pattern inside the platform signified a place where the Hero Twins facilitated the resurrection of their father. So far, so good.

One problem we faced with this platform was that it was evidently unique in its specific design. That is, no other archaeologists had ever reported buildings that looked quite like it. We were disabused of the uniqueness the following field sea- son, when Suhler excavated Structure 6E-53, a nearby mound of similar size, and found that it was nearly identical to 6E-120 (Suhler, 1993, Fig. 3:4). So now we had two of these platforms with subsurface corridors, trap-doors and sanctums, right next to each other, and both dated to the Late Preclassic period. This was grounds to identify this platform design as a type, albeit as a special one. But we were not content to think that the people of Yaxuna had dreamed up a special kind of platform at the dawn of Maya civilization, particularly in light of the prospects that the K'iche' were using similar platforms in the sixteenth century on the other side of Maya country.

So we started looking for Precolumbian Maya buildings that might have had related designs and functions to the Yaxuna plat- forms. The most dramatic example we came up with is a magnificent Late Classic temple perched high above the trees at the site of Copan in Honduras. Tatiana Proskouriakoff (1946) drew a magnificent restoration perspective of Temple 11 at Copan, a major Late Classic period structure. We think it fits the essential design we were looking at in a period in between the Yaxuna dance platforms and the K'iche' one. Temple ll (technically dubbed Structure 10L-11) is perched on top of the acropolis of Copan in the southeastern zone of the lowland Maya country. It is designed as a solid platform pierced by north-south and east-west oriented corridors which open onto doorways on each side of the rectangular building. From what we have preserved on our two Late Preclassic platforms at Yaxuna, these too had doorways on the four sides leading into the corridors. Where the corridors meet at the center of Temple 11, there is a throne bench with an elaborate decoration in carved masonry. Flanking the throne bench on both sides, there are stairways leading up to trap-door entrances. Not enough of Temple 11 was preserved at the time of initial professional inspection to be absolutely sure that the roof area above the platform was open rather than a second story of masonry or wood, but Proskouriakoff regarded it as a open sum- mit and it is certainly a reasonable possibility.

Temple 11 illustrates the other two major sources of information on the function of Maya buildings which we outlined at the beginning: symbolic decoration and glyphic texts. Thanks to intensive work by specialists in Mayan glyphs who have been working at Copan recently, we know quite a bit about what the Maya thought this building was made for (see Schele and Freidel 1990:322 and Fash 1991:168 for brief summaries). Inscriptions carved on stone plaques set into the entranceways of the building mention the accession of king Yax-Pak, the last great king of Copan, on July 2, 763 A.D. The inscriptions suggest that the building was dedicated on September 26, 776 A.D. and that it was one of the first major construction projects of this king.

The proper name of the building in glyphic Mayan includes the phrase "pat chan", which means "underside of the sky" or "constructed sky". These allusions to the sky are commensurate with the sculpture which adorned the outside of the building. Great statues of Pawahtunob, old gods of the four quarters, held up a massive serpent that flowed across the top of the front or north side of the temple. We think this serpent represents the Cosmic Monster, the ecliptic path of the sun and the major constellations (Freidel, Schele and Parker 1993). The design of the building was thus such that when the king went from inside the corridors up through the trap-doors to the summit, he symbolically entered into the sky.

The symbolism inside the building is equally telling. The throne bench at the crossing place of the corridors is framed by a mosaic sculpture of the maw of the White Bone Dragon. This image represents the deadly doorway between the world of the gods and ancestors and the world of the living. As Linda Schele showed in her brilliant analysis of the celestial imagery of the Classic Maya (Freidel, Schele and Parker 1993:87), the maw of the White Bone Dragon also represented the Milky Way when it rimmed the southern sky, the sky lying down upon the horizon before it rose again in triumph as the Stood-Up-Sky Milky Way in one of its two north-south positions. This is pretty complicated material and the complete argument requires a lot of preparation. Suffice it to say here that there is powerful evidence to show that the image surrounding the throne bench inside Temple 11 represented the place of the lying down sky, of the black place of oblivion out of which First Father was resurrected as a soul at the beginning of the Maya creation. This throne or bench sanctuary area inside Temple 11 at Copan was further decorated along its base with 20 seated figures, 16 of which were the kings of the Copan dynasty. These ancestors were depicted coming out of the portal of death to witness and to accompany Yax Pak as he sat in this place of death before ascending into the sky as First Father had before him.

In our view, Temple 11 at Copan strengthens the hypothesis that the design we are investigating, sub-surface corridors with sanctuary spaces, trap-door stairways, functioned to allow impersonators of the gods to perform the journey out of the place of death in the earth up into the place of rebirth in the sky. Temple 11 elaborates that hypothesis by implicating the design in the rituals of accession of kings. For although Temple 11 was built following Yax-Pak's accession to the throne of Copan, its texts mention this event and the array of his royal ancestors on the throne bench in the building also shows the transfer of authority to this king. This very important role for the building also makes sense of its location, for Temple 11 covers an earlier structure that David Stuart discovered was called a holy Copan house of the founder of the royal dynasty, Yax-K'uk-Mo' (see Schele and Freidel 1990 for discussion).

Another Late Classic building, House E of the Palace at Palenque, shows relationships to this general design. Palenque is on the far western side of the Maya lowlands, as Copan is on the far southeastern side. Nevertheless, these communities not only shared general ideas of royal government, they also had royal marriage ties late in their history (Schele and Miller, 1986). House E of the Palace at Palenque was the coronation throne room for the later dynasty of that site (Robertson 1985). The front room of this building contained a wall panel displaying the accession of the great king Pakal II in the presence of his mother, the monarch Zak-K'uk. House E contains a trap-door stair- way that leads down into a subterranean labyrinth of corridors and rooms inside the platform supporting the Palace. This is a design element shared with the platforms we have been discussing. Additionally, the Cosmic Monster appears as a design over the one of the doorways of House E, identifying it with the sky as in the case of the facade of Temple 11 at Copan. Intriguingly, out in front of House E, a late king of the community raised a remark- able free-standing masonry tower. We think this tower is an effigy of a wooden scaffold of a kind used by kings to metaphorically enter into the sky in the course of major ritual events, including their accessions to power. If we are right in this supposition, then the House E complex included a scaffold, an important element of the design found in the sixteenth century K'iche' example and implied by post-holes in Structure 6E-120 at Yaxuna: scaffolding of poles and other materials.

Unfortunately, real wooden scaffolds do not preserve in the archaeological record of the Maya area. Nevertheless, there are indeed other depictions of these perishable buildings. At the site of Piedras Negras on the Usumacinta River, there is a series of carved stone stelae depicting kings acceding to power seated inside niches on top of scaffolds that they have used ladders to climb up into (see Taube 1988 and 1994 for discussion of these scaffolds and their function in accession rituals). The Piedras Negras scaffolds are decorated with cosmologically significant symbols: Cosmic Monsters decorated with sky bands along their bodies frame the seated kings; headless caiman effigies lie at their feet. There is reason to regard these as images of kings entering into the sky.

Indeed, there are special features of Classic Maya temple architecture, called cresterias or roof combs (see Griffin 1978), that we think might also be masonry monuments to wooden scaffolds used by kings to enter the sky. At Palenque, Merle Greene Robertson's reconstruction of the roof comb composition on the Temple of the Sun (Griffin:1978:Fig. 19) shows a lord seated inside a scaffold of masonry decorated with the Maya sky band as in the case of the royal niche figures on stelae at Piedras Negras. Bearing in mind that this is a reconstruction based upon fragmentary evidence, it still shows remarkable potential for understanding the architecture it graces. A further parallel between these two compositions is the presence of a magical bird's head directly over the head of the lord on top of the sky band. This bird is Itzam-Ye, the Magic-Giver bird, an important mythical being in Maya cosmology (Freidel, Schele and Parker 1993:23l; Taube 1994:673). Below the seated lord is a monster head with a cleft in its forehead, the image of witz (Stuart 1987) or mountain. This cleft in the head of the mountain is a profile of the quatrefoil ol, or portal place, in the back of the celestial turtle we talked about earlier. It is pretty clear compositionally that the lord, presumably king Chan-Bahlum the patron of the temple, has come out of the mountain-turtle and up into the sky scaffold.

This is actually an old and wide-spread architectural com- position among the Classic Maya. There is a wonderful example in modeled and painted stucco on the roof of a spectacularly well preserved Early Classic period palace recently discovered at the site of Bahlum-Ku in southern Campeche. There, the seated lord is not just coming out of a clefted mountain head, but his several images are literally being burped out of squatting creatures sitting in the clefts of witz monsters. One of these creatures is clearly a frog. The up-facing head of a frog is the Mayan glyph for "to be born" and that is what we think this Early Classic image at Bahlum-Ku intends to convey: the birth of the lord in the sky.

Back at the Temple of the Sun, the seated lord is flanked by four dancing divinities. Spirit companions are sometimes portrayed with Maya kings, climbing on their regalia or floating around them (Schele 1985). The heads of four other divinities decorate the cross-beams of the scaffold, riding on snakes' bodies or functioning as their heads as they undulate along the beams. Disembodied heads decorate other examples of scaffolds in Classic Maya art, but they are evidently human sacrificial victims rather than gods. The most spectacular architectural expression of this theme is found at Tonina on an elaborate modeled stucco frieze decorating one of the massive terraces of that mountain center. The stucco frieze depicts a scaffold on which individuals are being sacrificed (see Stuart and Stuart 1993:98 for a picture of this facade). A great dancing skeletal figure is named on the frieze as a holy lord of Pia, an historical polity northeast of Tonina. The skeletal figure carries a freshly severed human head in one hand. We will return to this relationship between scaffolds used to display seated monarchs and those used to display sacrificial victims.

The register of the decoration applied directly to the roof of the Temple of the Sun depicts a lord seated on a throne framed by the White Bone Dragon as a double headed serpent. This throne is compositionally directly underneath the clefted mountain, that is to say, in the position of being inside it. The notion that this scene represents the inside of the mountain is supported by the presence of a second double-headed framing snake, within the frame formed by the White Bone Snake. This inner snake has as its heads two supernaturals. The heads of these same supernaturals float on the Panel of the Sun on the back wall of the sanctuary inside the Temple of the Sun. Linda Schele suggests that these heads represent supernatural localities (Freidel, Schele and Parker 1993:Fig.s 4:28, 6:11, 7:13) and at least in one other case one of them is associated with the White Bone Dragon.One of the glyphic names given the sanctuaries inside of the Temples of the Cross Group, including the Temple of the Sun, is pib-nail "underground house". The other reason for positing that the seated lord on the roof is represented inside of that "underground house" or alternatively kunil ,"magic/throne house", is the presence of two kneeling lords flanking the throne and displaying two deity effigies, of the Flint-Shield and of K'awil. These same deities are displayed by king Chan-Bahlum and his father, Pakal the Great, on the Panel of the Sun inside the sanctuary.

In sum, we think that the imagery of the roof shows the scene inside the Mountain, that is, inside the "underground house" with one important substitution. On the Panel of the Sun, the throne hold the impaled severed head of a jaguar, representing sacrifice in war, while the roof image shows a seated lord, presumably the king himself. This substitution is commensurate with the con- vergence of sacrifice and "seating" in other locations, including scaffolds. The association of this seated lord with the White Bone Dragon inside the mountain parallels the imagery inside Temple 11 at Copan as described above. The White Bone Dragon maw is a major portal between this world and the Otherworld of the gods and ancestors. Concomitantly, we think that the roof comb depicts the sky scaffold into which the king climbs after being in the mountain, inside the ground, showing his ability to experience rebirth as First Father did in the sky (see Freidel, Schele and Parker 1993: Chapter 2).

The Temple of the Sun, the central of the three buildings raised by king Chan-Bahlum at Palenque, has no decoration left on its roof comb. Nevertheless, its interior sections are preserved and still carry smooth plastered surfaces. One can walk inside the roof comb, and Linda Schele observed (Griffin 1978:145; personal communication 1994) that there are still the stone outset braces for a wooden ladder that led from the roof surface to the an opening in the top of the roof comb. Although Griffin supposed that this was designed for maintenance of the roof comb, we think that it allowed the roof comb to actually function literally as a scaffold to be ascended by the king like the kings of Piedras Negras ascended their ladders into their niche-thrones.

There is a remarkable real throne at the site of Tonina in Chiapas which strongly resembles the Piedras Negras plan. Dating to the Late Classic period and part of the discoveries made by Mexican archaeologists carrying out conservation at the site, this throne is on in a dramatically roofed niche containing the raised dais. This niche is reached by a narrow stairway that spans over a corbeled arch. The stair looks a lot like a medieval flying buttress on a cathedral. It is as close as one can possibly get to replicating in stone the effect of the wooden ladder in front of the throne-niche. Freidel had the pleasure of accompanying Linda Schele in 1993 on a tour around Tonina as she explained that the stuccoed figures behind the throne represented a giant Venus glyph in front of the two Peccaries--the constellation Gemini. This throne place was surely meant to be up in the sky. But right behind the throne is an entrance into a labyrinth of subterranean corbel-roofed corridors inside one of the massive terraces built against the side of Tonina's mountain. In this case, the underground place is situated right behind the sky place.

So far, we have compared several Late Classic examples of Maya art and architecture, combined with glyphic inscriptions, showing that Late Classic Maya lords practiced ritual journeys from underworld places to sky places. What we are contemplating here is not some simple and constant building design, some readily recognizable "temple" or "palace", but rather an array of examples all intended to facilitate, or to declare visually, a common performance strategy: a path for a journey from the underworld to the sky. It isn't that we think that Maya master masons were unaware of the differences between small buildings with constricted interior spaces and big buildings with ample interior spaces--"temples" and "palaces"--but in fact they could call such buildings by the same name, witz, mountain (Stuart 1987; Freidel 1991). They did not have a simple one-to-one corridor- relation between named categories of buildings and forms. Public buildings served many functions at the same time. While they facilitated activities, they also symbolized powerful ideas or mythical events (Freidel and Schele 1988). What we are working towards here is a category of "path places" that encompasses a variety of formal designs. These are related by their symbolically expressed intentions and by their physical expression of a vertical path leading from an underground or interior sanctuary to above ground, to a roof area, and, ideally, a scaffold in the air.

In 1993, as we thought through the implications of the "dance platforms" discovered in 1991 and 1992,, we found our- selves the following year excavating a related architectural design. Structure 6F-3 is the largest pyramid of a triadic group of buildings that anchor the northern acropolis at Yaxuna (Suhler and Freidel 1994 (Fig. 3:5)). We had seen a depression in the summit that ran parallel to the southern edge and we thought it might be a tomb. As it turned out, it was a subterranean corridor with a collapsed corbeled roof, inside the pyramid. Upon excavation in 1993, this corridor opened up to the south, along the centerline of the pyramid, into a subsurface chamber. This chamber, in turn, had a doorway into another corridor that ran east-west. This final corridor ran underneath a stairway that sprang over it to the raised plaza area on top of the pyramid. Here was an amazing and complex design in a place where one might have expected to find a simple stairway leading to the summit of the building (Fig. 3:6).

Superficially, Structure 6F-3, could not be more different from the little dance platforms at Yaxuna, Structures 6F-52 and 6F-120. Structure 6F-3 is a massive pyramid, the largest in the northern part of the site and the apical feature of the north- south axis of Yaxuna's civic-religious plan during its Early Classic heyday. Nevertheless, our 1993 excavations revealed that the centerline design of this pyramid looked a lot like the dance platforms: an underground sanctuary and labyrinth corridors. What the design lacked was the trap-door access to the summit, but then we had not completely excavated the design by the end of the field season. We hypothesized in our 1993 season report that we would find trap-door accessways to the raised plaza of the pyramid somewhere in the labyrinth corridors as we continued to clear them. In 1994, we found that the western part of the corridor- ridor inside the body of the pyramid had a tall ledge on the western end, turned a corner to the north, and stepped up onto the summit. The soffit spring-stones of the corbel-vaulted roof ended just east of the ledge and were replaced by straight vertical walls. Although access to this labyrinth must have required a short ladder, it was indeed a trap-door entrance from the upper plaza down into the labyrinth. So all of the vital design criteria for our path place type are also met by Structure 6F-3 in its main Early Classic phase.

If Early Classic Structure 6F-3 at Yaxuna in the northern lowlands functioned like the Late Classic examples from the southern lowlands we discussed above, then we would expect to find other evidence that it was associated with royalty and--at best--with accession rituals. In the northern Maya lowlands this is no mean task. Unlike the southern lowland Maya, the northerners wrote few public glyphic inscriptions on their monuments before the Terminal Classic period. Yaxuna is no exception to this rule. We have found one fragment of a carved monumental text and that is in a Terminal Classic setting. Nevertheless, we have found ways of extrapolating from the richer southern lowland record on royalty into northern lowland contexts at Yaxuna and they do confirm the use of Structure 6F-3 by Early Classic kings.

In 1993, while exploring the eastern arm of the corridor inside Structure 6F 3, Charles Suhler discovered an internal masonry wall north of it, descending to a lower plastered plaza level of an earlier version of the pyramid. This internal wall mason's wall was of rough blocks laid without any grout in the shape of a U with the open end on the east (Fig. 3:7). The plastered floor of the earlier version of the pyramid within this large u-shaped pen had been cut through in antiquity and then refilled with packed marl and rubble. Above the level of this floor, laborers had filled the pen up with loose rubble and earth and then completed the pyramid phase that included the labyrinth. Upon excavation, the hole in the floor turned out to be directly over the antechamber of a vaulted tomb directly to the west. The stratigraphy showed that this tomb had been originally sealed under the plaster floor of the earlier pyramid and then reopened and resealed by the person who built the later pyramid covering it.

The elaborate nature of these activities was clearly war- ranted by the contents of the tomb: a single male individual in his fifties with rich mortuary furniture. Even before he entered this tomb, Charles Suhler had a good idea that this was a king. For he had found in the marl and rubble blocking the antechamber a small polished greenstone head, pierced for suspension. This head had a trefoil headdress of a kind Linda Schele long dubbed the "Jester God", now deciphered in Classical Mayan as Sak-Hunal, White Eternity, White Oneness. It is the royal insignia par excellence. We know that individuals who were high elite but not kings might also wear this jewel under some circum- stances, particularly when they were Sahal, a Late Classic aristocratic status in the Usumacinta river drainage. Nevertheless, it is also certain that the crowning of Maya kings regularly involved the placement of this jewel, or the white headband it represented, on the forehead of the king.

We found more evidence that the man in this tomb, burial 23 at Yaxuna, was a king as excavation by forensic anthropologist Sharon Bennett proceeded to reveal the artifacts and contexts. In the southwestern corner of the tomb, she found yet another Sak- Hunal jewel near the head of the man. The man had been laid out on a bed of white earth sprinkled with sea shells on the western end, head to the west. Ritualists had placed a rough stone under his head, a second stone by his groin, and a third stone at his feet. For the Classic Maya, and for their descendants, the Milky Way is the White Path. In the hypothesis proposed by Linda Schele in Maya Cosmos (Freidel, Schele and Parker 1993: chapter 2) the First Three-Stone-Place was a triangle of stars representing the hearth of heaven. The central star of this triangle was also the central star in the three stars which line up to make the belt of Orion, in our reckoning, or the great turtle in Maya cosmology. Recall that the Maya First Father was born out of a crack in the celestial turtle, the Ol, the portal place. We think that the white bed of marl in this tomb represents the Milky Way and that the three stones represent the Three-Stone-Place and the Turtle. A confirmation that the people of Yaxuna thought this way in the fourth century is found in the intense fire which a later lord built on the central stone when he broke through the plaza floor and re-entered this tomb to carry out more rituals there.

The occupant of this tomb signaled his status in other ways. He wore large and elaborate ear-flares of carved orange/red spondylus shell. These particular ear flares are insignia of two gods, First Father and Chak. First father we have already discussed; the Classic period Chak gods were guardians of the celestial portal and also beings responsible for cracking open the turtle shell with their lightening axes to release First Father at rebirth. So here this individual was laid out on the White Path, next to the Three-Stone-Place, wearing the insignia of the god born there. His body was tightly bound, presumably in a shroud, and the cloth was decorated with jade and shell sequins. His hands were directly over his loins, clutching three large jade beads. We think these were strung on the strap of a bundle, for directly below his hands were a concentration of jewels in shell and stone that were probably inside the bundle-bag. These included a profile greenstone head wearing the white headband of lordship, another expression of the royal status. There were two small full-figured dancers dubbed "charlie chaplins" in Maya archaeology. These in southern lowland monumental imagery are companions on the sky-snakes, back racks, and celestial scaffolds accompanying kings. Finally, the bundle contained the face of a young lord with his hair cut into sweeping scrolls on the sides and a square patch in the middle. The sweeping forward of the hair in a scroll is diagnostic of the ancestral hero twins in Classic iconography. Scrolls can represent clouds in Maya and even earlier Olmec art (Reilly 1993) and recently Taube has made the case that such head scrolls as found on the Yaxuna carving represent the rain gods, the Chaks. Finally, the image wears a grand handlebar moustache, a fashion of some Maya kings of this part of the Early Classic period. In the last analysis, this is what Linda Schele and Jeffrey Miller called an Ahaw Pectoral (1983), another insignia of kings and other high elite.

We think this shell visage represents the deceased as he imagined himself reborn in the sky after his journey into the underworld. In addition to the Three Stone-Place patterns, we have one other piece of relevant evidence. Up against the north- western wall of the tomb the ritualists had placed a turtle shell. For the Classic Maya, the turtle constellation descended into the northwestern horizon as a prelude to the rising of the Stood-Up-Sky, world tree, form of the Milky Way. The setting of the turtle marked the sacrificial death of First Father in the underworld; the rising of the Stood-Up-Sky north-south oriented form of the Milky Way was associated with the act of entering the sky or entering the white path by First Father and subsequent Maya kings. So not only do we propose that the occupant of this tomb was a king, but we also think that he was arranged in the midst of his final performance on the path that led from down inside the world up into the sky above it.

So an earlier version of Structure 6F-3 was the resting place for a Maya king, a man placed right on the centerline of the structure in a resurrection pose. How does this relate to the later building with its centerline path plan? We cannot be absolutely certain of how the connection worked at this phase of research because we have not finished excavating the corridors of the labyrinth. Nevertheless, there is surely a direct relation- ship between the earlier building and its patron and the later building and its patron. We can say this because the person who commissioned the creation of the new building phase also built the u-shaped enclosure over the plaza floor sealing the antechamber of the tomb. During the course of the construction of this new pyramid, when the labyrinth corridors were raised to about half their final height, ritualists broke through the floor of the antechamber area and re-entered the tomb. There they lit a fire inside a ceramic container on the central stone of the three stones. They also piled freshly quarried stones into sloping heaps on both sides of the body, careful not to disturb it or the 13 vessels in the tomb. In this way, with the same stones they were using to create the new great mountain over the old one, they made a miniature clefted mountain inside the tomb with the dead king in its center.

They took some things from the tomb in this ritual. We found one polished Sak-Hunal greenstone jewel in the antechamber debris in 1993. Amazingly, in 1994 while we did stabilization on this tomb area, one of the Maya masons discovered another Sak-Hunal jewel on the back dirt pile. Evidently this had been missed in the screening of excavated dirt in the previous season. So actually there were three royal jewels, and this is how the Maya preferred to depict the royal crown from Preclassic times onwards (Freidel 1990, Freidel and Suhler, n.d.). Ritualists had taken two of the jewels from inside the tomb and cast them into the construction fill of the antechamber area and above it as they resealed the tomb area. We think that they did this in order to tie the king in the tomb into the new pyramid that they were building over it. We tend to think of construction as an activity that is distinct from the uses of buildings when they are completed. For the Maya, the performance of construction was itself ritualized and continuous with the uses of the completed structure (Freidel and Schele 1989).

In the case of this pyramid, the man who built the new, grander version of the structure literally went into an underground house, the tomb of a predecessor, by means of a great horizontal u-shaped cleft in the mountain. Then he came out of that underworld and went up onto the surface of the new mountain by means of his uncompleted labyrinthine corridors. He finished his building with a permanent subsurface labyrinth, a doorway into the front, centerline, face of the pyramidal mountain, and at Copan displayed his ancestors on his sanctuary throne inside the death portal of the White Bone Dragon. At the center of the panel depicting these kings and other ancestors, the founder of the Copan dynasty, Yax- K'uk-Mo', is shown displaying a scepter to Yax-Pak. Inside the sanctuaries of the Cross Group at Palenque, Chan-Bahlum depicted himself in communion with his dead father, wrapped in his shroud. They both display unwrapped bundles containing powerful images of the gods, including the Sak-Hunal. We think that the Yaxuna patron of the labyrinth in Structure 6F-3 was performing just such rites, only with a real body and with real insignia.

The next patron of Structure 6F-3 modified this path plan by adding a sanctuary room on the centerline in front of the original doorway into the labyrinth. This new subsurface sanctuary echoes the sanctuaries in the Late Preclassic dance platforms at Yaxuna. The new front of the centerline replicated the massive terrace design of the original labyrinth doorway, a clear declaration that the doorway led not into a free-standing stone superstructure, but directly into the interior of the pyramid-mountain. Intriguingly, the doorway from the new sanctuary into the old labyrinth corridors was not at floor level, but set 1.2 meters above it. Moreover, the old doorway was severely narrowed into a niche just large enough for a person to stand or sit in. We think that is precisely what was intended: a niche set above floor level, suitable for entry by means of a short ladder. That is the design displayed on the Piedras Negras accession stelae. Recall that the stone version of this stairway- niche design at Tonina has the doorway into the labyrinth inside the terrace right behind it. We have only design evidence so far, but it suggests that Structure 6F-3 was used by a succession of kings during the Early Classic period for rituals of journeying along the path from the underworld to the upper world.

The general meaning and sacredness of this design must have survived the time of great kings at Yaxuna. Much later, during the Terminal Classic period, this old and abandoned pyramid was refurbished by new lords. They made a new subsurface corridor in front of the sanctuary door, cut back the terraces on each side of the sanctuary so that it was literally an underground house, and sprung a stairway over the centerline. What they did with this design we cannot say with certainty, although kings at Uxmal in the nearby Puuc region designed the Temple of the Magician in the Terminal Classic period and so they evidently understood the path plan. Later still, enemies cursed and destroyed the centerline sanctuary and corridors in Structure 6F-3 at Yaxuna with elaborate sacrificial rituals, including the killing of a hapless ordinary worker as they brought down the corbeled roofs.

We have reviewed examples of the path plan design dating from the Late Preclassic period, the Early Classic period, the Late Classic period and the Conquest period. This suggests to us that we are dealing with a very old and enduring function for public architecture in the lowlands. There are many other Maya buildings that might also be usefully scrutinized from this functional vantage. We might be accused, were we to expand our discussion here, of seeing path plans everywhere. Actually, the sample of documented literal "underground" houses or labyrinths giving access to above surface areas that might have supported perish- able or masonry scaffolds is not that large. The problem is that there are some clear metaphorical facsimiles of the literal plan in such buildings as the Cross Group temples at Palenque. When dealing with such symbolic variations on the theme, we run into the problem that there are equally valid other ways of conceiving the function of such places. For example, Stephen Houston (n.d.) has recently proposed that the sanctuaries in the Cross Group at Palenque were symbolic sweatbaths, another "underground house" reading. Karl Taube (1994:661)) makes a cogent case for identifying the coronation room of the North Palace at Palenque as a metaphorical birthing hut. The magic bird above the sky band inside that building carries a rope in his mouth similar to the rope slung over a roof beam and clung to by birthing Maya women. Sweatbaths are places for curing people, preparing them for rituals or carrying them out, or helping women recover from giving birth. Birth enclosures, small dark sanctums, are still made inside some Maya houses today to prevent exposure to evil winds (Grace Bascope, personal communication 1994). Birth is an integral feature of our own understanding of the path plan journey from the sanctuary into the scaffold, the pivotal act of resurrection by First Father. We believe that the Maya understood and cultivated multiple meanings for public buildings, multiple symbolic functions, and that this quality reinforced the transcendent power of such places and the actions carried out in them. So the path plan might be a literal design for a building, and under such circumstances the journey from death back into life was probably the major ritual there. But it could also be a symbolic aspect of a building not literally designed for it, alluding to that journey while other performances of a different kind were enacted.

The Maya path plan, in our view, was primarily designed into public buildings in order celebrate the accession of rulers to the kingship. The journey of First Father into the world of the dead, his sacrifice, his resurrection in the middle of the sky, was enacted in such buildings by the holy lords who followed him. If we are right in this functional hypothesis, then the little dance platforms we found at Yaxuna should be such accession facilities. So far, we have no direct evidence for royal use of these two platforms. They do conform in many respects to a pattern of "throne-seats" (Schele n.d.) and scaffolds that is emerging in Maya research. This pattern requires some more background information. As Schele shows (Freidel, Schele and Parker 1993), the First Three-Stone-Place where First Father was reborn in the sky was composed of three "throne-seats", kunob, in Maya. The glyph for the Three-Stone-Place is made with a cluster of three round stones. At Copan, William Fash has discovered a remarkable round bas-relief carved marker deep inside of Structure 10L-26 (see Stuart and Stuart 1993:37). This marker, framed in the quatrefoil Ol or portal place symbol, shows the founder of the Copan dynasty and his first successor. One passage in the glyphic text makes reference to the "smoking" of a kun or throne-seat (Schele n.d.). The Maya word for smoke, butz, also means spirit and likely here refers to the consecration and ensouling of this stone. If so, then this stone is itself the throne-seat mentioned in the text. On top of this stone, Fash discovered a burnt offering, in the midst of which were three large round stones laid in a triangle (citation). So here is a quatrefoil Ol associated with the founder of a royal dynasty depicted on a throne-seat such as characterized the birth place of First Father with three real stones on top of it.

Structure 6E-53 at Yaxuna, the second dance platform we excavated there, had an undulating quatrefoil pattern of corridor- ridors around the sanctuary. Our test excavation through the floor of the sanctuary revealed an offering of a large Late Preclassic red bucket with a plate lid. Inside this bucket was a single large, round stone smoothly pecked from local limestone. Underneath this round stone ritualists had placed a greenstone axehead nestled into a greenstone mirror. The axe is associated with the god K'awil and also with the god Chak--the Chaks used axes to open the turtle in some images of the resurrection of First Father. The mirror is associated with the Sak-Hunal, the White Eternity, and also with Tzuk, a glyph meaning partition and having to do with the centering and ordering of the world (Freidel, Schele and Parker 1993:140). We propose that this offering marks the structure as a kun, a throne-seat, and as an effigy of one of the first three throne seats marking the place where First Father was reborn.

Recall that the other dance platform, Structure 6F-120, had evidence of postholes suitable for scaffolding on its summit surface. Remember also that the sanctuaries inside the Cross Group temples at Palenque are called kunul, magic houses, throne-seat houses; and that there are masonry scaffolds on the roofs of these same temples. The main text of the Temple of the Cross pertains to the consecration and dedication of the world as the house of First Father, the Raised-Up Sky place, the eightfold partition place. We suspect that there is a significant cosmological relationship between throne-seats, scaffolds, and First Father. There is an important image on Classic Maya painted vases called the Holmul Dancer, after the site of Holmul in Guatemala (see Reents-Budet 1994 for a review of this imagery). This com- position depicts the resurrected First Father dancing in his finery. Typically, the god wears an elaborate backrack that, as Linda Schele describes it (n.d.), has a celestial band arching across the top, the magic bird, Itzam-Ye, perched on this band marking it as a "conjuring house" or kunul, and usually a witz or mountain (pyramid) personified mask at the base. One of these Holmul Dancer vases (Kerr 3400) has a text referring to one of the dancers that reads Wak-Chan-Nal Ch'akte'tan kun Kan Ahaw. Schele (n.d.) deciphers this text as "Six-Sky Maize chakte in the seat of the snake lord" (king of Calakmul, a great southern lowland kingdom). However, Nikolai Grube and Werner Nahm (1994) have suggested the reading of scaffold for ch'akte' and Schele (personal communication 1994) accepts this reading. Moreover,
Wakah-Chan-Nal, a very close statement to that given on the vase, is deciphered elsewhere by Schele (Freidel, Schele and Parker 1993:71; fig. 2:8) as Raised-Up-Sky Place, one of the names of the world when First Father ordered it as his house at the beginning of this Creation. It is the place First Father set in order when he entered the sky and was reborn in the Three-Stone- Place. So we would gloss this text as "Raised-Up-Sky Place scaffold in the throne-seat of the snake lord (the king of Calakmul)". For us, this image represents the king of Calakmul dancing as First Father at the place of his throne and scaffold.

As social scientists working with material evidence of architecture, how can we pursue such hypothesized functions at Yaxuna? We think we can make predictions on the basis of such ideas and then carry out research to test them in the field. In the case of the dance platforms we offer the following observations and predictions. First of all, the reason we could document the two dance platforms is because they were carefully and ritually destroyed, then completely abandoned for the rest of the occupation at Yaxuna--more than a thousand years. The corridors and sanctuaries were packed with the debris from the summit and upper levels of the stepped platforms. Before bringing down the roofs, enigmatic niches and holes in the corridors were packed with debris and sealed with plaster plugs.

We postulate that these dance platforms were ritually terminated because their patron was deceased. At first, we thought perhaps the patron was buried inside one of these two platforms. But thorough excavation revealed no evidence for a penetration through the floors or walls for the insertion of a tomb or cyst burial. With analysis, however, we could see that these two platforms could not conform to our understanding of Maya cosmology or spatial pattern by themselves. The dominant Late Preclassic ceremonial pattern is the triadic arrangement of pyramids (see Schele, this volume). Moreover, that is the dominant pattern at Yaxuna. Cosmologically, the triad is the primordial pattern of the Three-Stone-Place, the place of First Father's birth. We have already found one of the "stones" in one of the sanctuaries, Structure 6F-52. As we carry out stabilization and consolidation in Structure 6F-120, we predict that we will find a duplicate offering with another round stone in it under the floor of the sanctuary.

But if these dance platforms are as we identify them, throne- stone-scaffold places, we think that there might well be three of them rather than the two we can see on our topographic map. The pattern of the three-stone-places in architecture is a triangle. To complete a more or less equilateral triangle with the existing dance platforms, there ought to be a third one on the western side--underneath the main pyramid of the eastern acropolis at Yaxuna. That great pyramid forms another triad with two pyramids to its west on the raised surface of the acropolis. We postulate that this pyramid was built to bury the remains of the patron of the dance platforms, remains that are in the sanctuary, the "stone-throne" place, of a third and western dance platform which was ritually destroyed at the same time as the other two dance platforms which we have investigated. We further predict that when we excavate into the back side of the pyramid and discover this third dance platform, that the person buried in the sanctuary will have among his mortuary furniture insignia jewels of the kingship. We could, of course, be proven wrong upon excavation in this area. We might not find what we predict. While that would not disconfirm the overall functions we ascribe to the dance platforms, it would tell us we were wrong in some important particulars--notions of symmetry in civic planning at Yaxuna, for instance. But we correctly predicted the highly improbable feature of the "trap door" entrance out of the labyrinth on Structure 6F-3 onto the raised plaza of that pyramid. Working from the Maya perspective, a third dance platform would be consistent with what they think about such matters. One cannot prove the validity of ideas this way, but it does show reasonable connections between interpretations and evidence.

Maya architecture ranks among the finest in the Precolumbian world, some would say in the world as such. More than a simple gauge of organized social energy, it is a rich resource for insight into how this ancient society thought about the human and natural cycles. We have argued that some Maya buildings were designed not simply as static monuments to the power of their patrons, but as places for the performance of transcendent events linking those rulers to their constituencies--both human and supernatural. We have a long way to go on the Maya path of life, but we are confident that we are on it.