2002 September 20 Friday
It Wasn't All Peace And Harmony before Columbus?

In an article entitled "Newly Revealed Hieroglyphs Tell Story Of Superpower Conflict In The Maya World" a tale is told of superpower rivalry that eventually resulted in the collapse of a civilization:

Written on the staircase is the actual history of Dos Pilas. It begins on the central section of the pyramid's stairway with the birth of a king, Balaj Chan K'awiil, on Oct. 15, 625, and the establishment of Dos Pilas as a military outpost by the great city of Tikal, about 70 miles to the northeast, in 629. Dos Pilas was important to Tikal for its proximity to the middle stretch of the Pasión River, the superhighway of the Maya world. A stronghold in Dos Pilas allowed Tikal to exert control over this major trade route between the highlands and lowlands for coveted items such as jade, obsidian, quetzal feathers, and shells from the Caribbean.

As told by the glyphs, Balaj Chan K'awiil was installed as ruler of Dos Pilas by Tikal at the age of four. "Balaj Chan K'awiil became a very big warrior," says Fahsen. "He almost never stopped fighting and for many years was loyal to Tikal." According to the translations, the central section of the steps also tells the ceremonies that the young man went through, always as a friend of his brother, the ruler of Tikal, not as an enemy as previously believed.

Then, when the king was in his early 20s, Calakmul attacked and defeated Dos Pilas. After capturing Balaj Chan K'awiil, Calakmul put him back on the Dos Pilas throne as a "puppet king" who was allowed to keep his land in exchange for allegiance.

The degree of involvement of Calakmul came as a surprise to Fahsen. "When I read those glyphs, I had to blink to make sure I was reading it correctly," he says. "I had never heard of Calakmul actually invading and defeating the king of Dos Pilas. We thought that, at most, they may have had a weak alliance of some type."

The record continues to describe how Balaj Chan K'awiil, now loyal to Calakmul, launched a decade-long war against Tikal that ended in his victory. His forces sacked Tikal and brought its ruler — his own brother — and other Tikal nobles to Dos Pilas to be sacrificed. "This west section of the steps was very graphic," says Fahsen. "It says, 'blood was pooled and the skulls of the thirteen peoples of the Tikal place were piled up.' The final glyphs describe the king of Dos Pilas 'doing a victory dance,'" he adds. Following the victory over Tikal, Dos Pilas embarked on a campaign of conquest with Calakmul's backing and became a major regional power.

"Rather than being an independent actor as previously thought, it now appears that Dos Pilas was a pawn in a much bigger battle," says Arthur Demarest, Ingram Professor of Anthropology at Vanderbilt University, which helped sponsor the effort at Dos Pilas. "In today's terms, Dos Pilas was the Somalia or Vietnam of the Maya world, used in a war that was actually between two superpowers."

No doubt the fight was really about rival models of sustainable development for living in perfect harmony with nature.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2002 September 20 03:03 PM 


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