History and dynastic politics in a Classic Maya court: Investigations at Arroyo de Piedra, Guatemala

Hector Leonel Escobedo Ayala
Dept. of Anthropology, Vanderbilt University
July, 2006


The Petexbat, a region between the Pasi and Salinas rivers of Guatemala, served as the focus of intensive research by the Petexbat Regional Archaeological Project of Vanderbilt University. This region was home to a Classic Maya kingdom centered on two sites: Tamarindito and Arroyo de Piedra. As part of the Vanderbilt research, I had the opportunity to develop a sub-project at Arroyo de Piedra. The fieldwork targeted three zones: (1) the royal compound; (2) residential groups; and (3) surrounding settlement. The primary conclusion of this research was that Arroyo de Piedra could not be understood in isolation from its larger political and settlement landscape. This conclusion led to the analysis of epigraphic records at Arroyo de Piedra and Tamarindito.

Inscriptions show that the Tamarind ito-Arroyo de Piedra kingdom was a hegemonic polity in the Petexbat during the sixth and most of the seventh century AD. Arroyo de Piedra had many of the earmarks of a small, outlying palace and supporting settlement, perhaps occupied seasonally by the dynasty of Tamarindito. However, by about AD 671, its realm was jeopardized by a child prince, B'alaj Chan K'awiil , and his troops sent from Tikal. The newcomers set up their base at Dos Pilas to secure its western frontier and protect the river route from the then-expanding hegemony of Calakmul. Apparently, they gained control of the Tamarind ito-Arroyo de Piedra territory by means of coercion, as suggested by evidence of intentional destruction of monuments at these two sites. By AD 740, the Dos Pilas dynasty had broke its ties with Tikal and come to dominate most of the Pasi river valley under the hegemony of Calakmul. Thus, the historical events in the Petexbat region were related with broader conflicts between Tikal and Calakmul, and in this particular case for control of the Pasi River trade route. In AD 761, the Petexbat hegemony collapsed due to the defeat of Dos Pilas by Tamarindito. This event was followed by a period of over fifty years of instability and intensive warfare leading to the virtual depopulation of the Petexbat region by the ninth century AD.