Archaeology Magazine Archive

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

Special Introductory Offer!
Maya Turncoat Volume 56 Number 4, July/August 2003
by Simon Martin

King Hawk Skull was a savvy political player. (Joel Skidmore/

Low-level kings were savvy players of Classic Maya politics, easily switching allegiances with powerful overlords. Or so it would appear from a reanalysis of a hieroglyphic stela from Moral-Reforma, a modest Maya capital in Tabasco, Mexico, that thrived between A.D. 600 and 800.

The inscription on the stela describes two coronations for King Hawk Skull: one in A.D. 662 in the presence of Yuknoom the Great, king of distant Calakmul; and another 30 years later supervised by King Kan Bahlam, ruler of Palenque. Moral-Reforma's rich soil and abundant water made it a prize coveted not just by Calakmul--the most powerful of the 60 or more Maya kingdoms of the day--but also by its western rival, Palenque. Rather than conquering weaker kingdoms through warfare, dominant Maya kings often used diplomacy to control them. The reanalysis provides the first detailed picture of how this system worked.

© 2003 by the Archaeological Institute of America