BRIEF HISTORY OF
Around 4000 years ago, south of the Yucatan Peninsula, in the general area of Guatemala, Honduras and Chiapas, a culture arose displaying what nowadays we think of as distinctive Maya features. Current thinking is that the first Maya inhabitants settled at Yaxunah between 2750 and 2500 years ago -- well over a thousand years after Maya civilization arose farther south. Here are major events in the history of the Maya at Yaxunah:
To the people of Yaxunah, each of these events had profound effects, as discussed below:
The oldest buildings at Yaxunah are situated along a north-south axis, suggesting that the structures were built for ceremonial purposes, probably for ancestor worship. Usually such temples are built only when there's an elite group within a population, such as a royal family.
The museum in Yaxunah's Community Center features a reproduction of a burial from this early time, excavated at Yaxunah ruins. The burial appears to be of an important person, maybe a king. Objects found in the tomb indicate that he had been an important person buried with care, and that he had been made ready for his journey into the afterworld. Not much more is known about this burial. You can see part of the burial's reproduction at the left.
Yaxunah's early pottery style slowly evolved and then stayed the same, and the population continued to grow, until around A.D. 400. That suggests that during this time no successful invasions from the outside took place at Yaxunah.
To date, the most spectacular discovery at Yaxunah is Burial B -- also called Burial 24 or Tomb 24 -- dated between 400 and 500 A.D. The burial holds the remains of eleven men, women and children, apparently Yaxunah's royal family who appeared to have been tortured and publically killed. The king's head had been removed, and the bodies appear to have been thrown into the tomb haphazardly. This and objects left in the burial were to make the point that the old dynasty had ended and that a new one was being established.
Evidence at Burial B suggests that the people who killed the royal family had knowledge that only someone close to the royal family would have known. Perhaps those who took power were cousins of the royal family. Much mystery still surrounds the dramatic events relating to Burial B.
Pottery fragments indicate that up to this point in Yaxunah's history, Yaxunah maintained strong ties with other Maya settlements, mostly with the traditional Maya homeland to the south. The people who killed the royal family in Burial B didn't maintain these contacts. After the power change, pottery from Ek Balam to the north appeared. Most construction ended at Yaxunah, but the little that did occur used local sources. After the royal family was killed and dumped in Burial B, then, Yaxunah society seems to have suffered a certain isolation and impoverishment.
Despite the obvious importance of these events, archaeologists find it hard to agree on the story of who did what to whom, and why. A good guess is that at this time Cobá was competing for power in the Peninsula with other Maya kingdoms, and obliged Yaxunah to be part of its military alliance. Later the city of Uxmal joined the alliance. Probably this alliance was felt necessary because of the ever-growing power and militaristic nature of Chichén Itzá only 20kms to the north.
Yaxunah's increased population may have come about through colonization from Cobá and other cities in the alliance. Also, in the ancient heart of Maya power -- in Guatemala, Belize and Chiapas -- classic Maya society was "collapsing," with great cities being abandoned. Maybe refugees from that still-unexplained event may have worked their way north and settled at Yaxunah. Wherever they came from, the new settlers built wherever they could find space, even in what earlier had been considered sacred ground, so clearly Yaxunah's society changed dramatically with the occupation of Cobá.
BY CHICHÉN ITZÁ
Apparently Chichén Itzá had no interest in colonizing Yaxunah, for their
forces remained only briefly, maybe less than a year. This was probably because Chichén
Itzá had its own problems. Around 1200-1300 A.D. or so, Chichén Itzá itself was
conquered by people using pottery from Mayapan, the last significant Maya center of power.
With this defeat, Chichén Itzá lost much of its population and no longer remained a
force to deal with.