Warrior Lord - stone decorative block on the Popul Na, the War Council House, North Acropolis.
The Battle for Blue Bird House:Yaxuná in Yucatan

Why Yaxuná? In the mid-80s David Freidel had finished up field work at Cerros in Belize and on the island of Cozumel. He was looking for an interesting new project that he and his students at Southern Methodist University could research. In conversation with Mexican archaeologists his attention came to bear on the little known city site of Yaxuná in the heart of the Yucatan.

In the late 1940s and early '50s, UC Berkeley archaeologist, George Brainerd, had surveyed the site and reported a mix of ceramics from the east and west coasts of Yucatan, specifically from Cobá and from the Puuc region of cities respectively. Strangely, although Yaxuná stands just 20 kilometers south of Chichén Itzá, Brainerd found no Sotuta ceramics that are diagnostic of that famous city. In fact, very few Sotuta ceramics have been uncovered at Yaxuná, a small mystery that, after several field seasons of excavation, finally fits into an explanation of the city's history.
The other salient physical fact at Yaxuná is the great 100km(60 mile) long sacbé, the raised causeway that runs straight as an arrow from the center of imperial Cobá and ends among the pyramid platforms in the ceremonial precinct of Yaxuná. The sacbé posed tantalizing questions of raw power politics of ancient Yucatan.

So, Yaxuná seemed to have been at the focus of interest for the eastern and western Yucatan hegemonies; it presented many large monumental buildings; it was a very old city, dating to the Middle Preclassic era; and where were those Sotuta/Chichén Itzá ceramics? Thus, Yaxuná presented many intriguing questions to research. The search for answers could perhaps throw a powerful light on the geopolitics and histories of ancient Maya cities in Yucatan. Gaining permission from the Instituto Nacional de Antopologia e Historia(INAH), the Mexican ministry that oversees all archaeology in the country, David Freidel decided to work at Yaxuná. And to work at Yaxuná meant, among other things, to talk with the Maya people there and propose to work together on the land and in the ruins cared for and owned by Yaxuná village.

The Village. Near the large cenote located on the western edge of the ancient ruins, 400 Maya people live in the modern town of Yaxuná. They make a living the old fashioned way: they grow maize. Following an ancient farming system, they choose a plot of forest that has lain fallow for 20 years, and in the dry season they cut down and burn the 30-40 foot trees, and in the ashes, at the start of the rainy season, they plant corn seed mixed with squashes and beans. Then they pray that the rain falls consistently from the monsoonal thunderheads of the peninsula. If all goes well, they have corn flour throughout the coming year.

Since the beginning of the archaeology project however the village has an added source of income. The villagers work in the excavations and the field research lab. Learning the techniques and methods of modern excavation, they have become good archaeologists. Some have become careful and skilled excavators of the ancient burials while others are learning the mason's craft of restoration and consolidation of the ancient buildings.

In its relations with the village, the project adheres to the old, consensus form of Maya government and meets regularly with their representatives. Much conversation is required to agree on work and other arrangements and smooth out occasional problems or anxieties that arise.
At the beginning of the season and at the end, Don Pablo, the village shaman erects a small altar near the central small pyramid of the ruins and performs a ritual benediction. At the beginning we pray for good luck and safe work. In the end we give thanks and farewell.

The Selz Foundation Standing behind the project work of the archaeologists and Maya villagers is the Bernard Selz Foundation. The foundation funds the annual field season, the administration, and the research and scientific reports of the project.

The Major Excavation Areas

The North Acropolis.
This large platform holds a triad of pyramidal structures, 6F-2 to the west, 6F-3 to the north, and 6F-4 to the east. The foundations of these buildings probably date to the Late Preclassic. (See papers: "Excavations at the 6F-3 Locality" & "Excavations at the 6F-4 Locality")
In the Terminal Classic, onto the south face of 6F-4, conquerors from the Puuc appended a decorated building, the so-called War Council House. This building was the focus of a Termination Ritual by the forces of Chichén Itzá when they conquered and destroyed the city. On a central pier jutting out to the south of the main platform, stands a small building with Sotuta/Chichén Itzá ceramics. We deem this a Chichén Itzá victory monument. Probably in service until the last desperate hours, a siege wall also surrounds the entire platform.
The Yaxuná ballcourt lies 100 meters to the south of the acropolis platform directly on the centerline of both the acropolis triad and the entire ceremonial precinct.

Termination Ritual
At Structure 6F-68 the project excavated its most compelling evidence for Termination Ritual at the site. The excavation of Structure 6F-68­dubbed the Popul Na or War Council House by virtue of the decorative pattern of war council iconography­revealed a ritual pattern of interior burning, burned offerings, smashed water vessels, and a deliberate & technical dismantling of this highly symbolic building. (See paper: "Termination Ritual" & "Maya Warfare, Myth & Reality")

Xcan Ha
2 kilometers north of the site center a rock citadel rises up from the plain. Traci Ardren led the excavation of this outpost settlement and here she found that different groups of Maya, associated in some periods with the main center at Yaxuná and perhaps at other times with adversaries of the city, built up residential compounds and small temples and took water from a nearby cenote. In the end the inhabitants piled up labyrinthine entrances and threw up hastily-built walls to fend off attackers.

The Southern Groups

The old, Preclassic center of Yaxuná lies in the southern groups of triad pyramids. Here, Structure 5E-19 stood in Preclassic times as the highest building north of the imperial Peten city, El Mirador. From 1990 to 1994, David Freidel and Traci Ardren undertook several excavations of pyramidal buildings to find the early history of Yaxuná.

Chronology of the Project

(the annual field reports will be available by December 1998)

• During these first years the project reviewed the preceding work & scholarship on Yaxuná and the region, mapped the city, and sample surveyed with test excavation all the major components of the site. (See 1986-1990 field reports.)

• This field season saw more intense excavation of elite residential compounds, the exposure of a Preclassic pyramid structure in the south groups, and the discovery of the first burials.
• Co-director, Traci Ardren, began her investigation of Xcan Ha, a rock citadel 2 kilometers north of the city center.
• Co-director, Charles Suhler, excavated the 1st Dance Platform in the area behind the East Acropolis. (See the paper: "The Path of Life") & (The 1991 Field Report)

• The project began its fortuitous investigations into the north and east pyramidal structures on the North Acropolis and began to develop general theories for Maya war-related ritual from evidence uncovered there. (See Termination Ritual below)
• A rare cache of large jade jewelry was discovered deep in the summit of Structure 6F-3. (See paper: "Crown of Creation")
• Several burials came out of house mound surveys, including a warrior sporting filed & inlaid teeth and a decapitated head between his knees.
• David Freidel continued excavations on Preclassic pyramid structures while Traci Ardren continued in the elevated citadel of Xcan Ha.

• The excavations in the North Acropolis lead to the discovery of the first sealed tomb burials in Yucatan. In Burial 23 or Tomb I, Charles Suhler discovered an Early Classic king.(See Quicktime movie & paper) and Burial 24 in Tomb II, Structure 6F-4 contained the bones of 13 individuals, probably the end of a dynastic line. ( See paper: "Burial 24")
• A number of other burials beneath the floors of rooms in these monumental buildings also came to light.
• Charles Suhler excavated a 2nd Dance Platform (See: "Path of Life")
• Jim Ambrosino continued excavation of the War Council House while Dave Johnstone excavated the Ballcourt.
• Traci Ardren completed the excavation of the citadel of Xcan Ha.

• For the first time, the project undertook extensive consolidation of the main North Acropolis structures. Master masons arrived from the Puuc town of Oxkutzcab to work on the monumental plaza steps, the understair labyrinth of the central pyramid structure, and the rooms of the War Council House.
• David Johnstone discovered an underground sweatbath near the ballcourt while David Freidel and Traci Ardren continued investigations into Preclassic pyramid structures in the south groups.

• The consolidation of North Acropolis structures continued under the hand and eye of the Oxkutzcab masters. This work focused on the stairs and understair labyrinth of the central pyramid Structure 6F-3, the rooms and summit area of Structure 6F-4, and the completion of the War Council House.
• Justine Shaw, Travis Stanton,& Jonathan Pagliaro excavated Burial 25, an enigmatic internment of an elder woman, half of whose body was missing, probably through a desecration ritual during the destruction of the War Council House.

• The consolidation of North Acropolis structures continued while Traci Ardren cleared the Termination Ritual debris from in front of the War Council House.
• Jim Ambrosino oversaw the clearing of the entire North Acropolis Platform, revealing the perimeter siege wall with its built-in sally ports and killing zones.
• Meanwhile, the head mason discovered a deep labyrinth in the eastern summit portion of Structure 6F-3 that was predicted by David Freidel and Charles Suhler two years previously.
• David Johnstone finalized an interim analysis of the ceramics uncovered so far at Yaxuná.

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