Archaeologists have long known the broad strokes, but have debated their meaning for decades. In a recent article for Science magazine, Lizzie Wade sets out to map the positions of a fierce debate in the field of Mesoamerican archaeology, including such notable experts as UT art historian, archaeologist and epigrapher David Stuart.
Wade describes the origins of the controversy:
On 16 January 378 C.E., a stranger arrived in Tikal, a large Maya city in what is now northern Guatemala. His name was Sihyaj K’ahk’ (SEE-yah Kak), or Fire is Born, and he was likely a mighty warrior from a distant land. Many archaeologists think he hailed from Teotihuacan, a metropolis of 100,000 people about 1000 kilometers northwest of Tikal, near today’s Mexico City. And he may have come with an army.
The stone Maya monuments that record Sihyaj K’ahk’s arrival don’t say why he came or how he was received by Chak Tok Ich’aak, or Jaguar Paw, the long-reigning king of Tikal. But the day Sihyaj K’ahk’ marched into the city was the day Jaguar Paw died.
Of present interest is whom Sihyaj K’ahk’ was working for and whether any new evidence can shed light on the nature of the relationship between the cultures of Teotihuacan and the Maya. Initial theories about what happened in Tikal in 378 emerged in the 1980s from the work of epigrapher Tatiana Proskouriakoff. "On the basis of an incomplete reading of the monuments recording the arrival of Sihyaj K’ahk’, she spoke of 'the arrival of strangers' and proposed they were from central Mexico," writes Wade. Stuart would offer a more complete understanding of those texts in the 2000s. Still, advances in deciphering Mayan script today provide an opportunity to revisit previous readings, including the names and relationships of Sihyaj K’ahk’, Jaguar Paw, and Spearthrower Owl. Stuart points Wade toward two pieces of information: Spearthrower Owl’s name is written in a style that echoes Teotihuacan art and a portrait of him at Tikal was carved in Teotihuacan’s unmistakable geometric style. Based on these and other readings, Stuart believes that Spearthrower Owl was the king of Teotihuacan, possibly when the murals at the Plaza of the Columns were destroyed.
Read the full article at Science magazine.