A Brief Summary of the Monuments in the Izapan Ballcourt


John Major Jenkins. http://alignment2012.com


Adapted from previous research published in The Center of Mayan Time (1995), Izapa Cosmos (1996), Maya Cosmogenesis 2012 (1998), and Galactic Alignment (2002). More detailed online version of this piece is at: http://alignment2012.com/Izapa.html



Diagram 1. The monuments of the Izapan ballcourt (Group F), looking southeast to the rise position of the December solstice sun.


1. Throne. Has solar god head emerging from between legs on east face. Four short pedestal legs. No carving on top, but might be eroded. Throne 1 in Group B has an elaborate cross design on top. Thrones denote the cosmic center.


2. Ball and ring. Referential to ballgame. Analogous to nearby “sun between legs” of throne (the “seed in cleft” image which is the hieroglyph for the ballgame).


3. Serpent head, upside down, probably had solar ball or sun-face in its open mouth. These were sometimes used in ballcourts or on buildings as corner markers. The sun-in-mouth image is analogous to the throne’s sun-head and the ball-in-ring carvings.


All three of these symbol complexes relate to the same archetypal image of the sun in “a cleft.” This could be a mouth, a goal-ring, or a birth canal. The throne points down the lengthwise axis of the ballcourt toward the sunrise position of the December solstice sun.


4. Six stone viewing seats. That the solstice sunrise sightline was significant is strongly suggested by these council seats, which afforded an elevated view of not only the ballfield, but the December solstice sunrise. Anyone sitting on these seats would look over the following two carvings (5 and 6) on the far eastern end of the ball court.


5. Stela 60. Depicts one of the Hero Twins standing over a fallen Bird Deity. The carvings and orientation of Group A indicate that this Bird Deity represents the Big Dipper to the north, rising and falling over Tacana volcano. In the Maya Creation Myth, the Big Dipper is Seven Macaw, the vain and false ruler of the previous World Age. The Hero Twins facilitated his downfall so that their father, One Hunahpu (a SOLAR lord), could be resurrected. Given the viewing orientation of the viewing seats and anyone standing in front of Stela 60, we are justified in suspecting that the solar rebirth will be found happening over the solstice horizon. And the December solstice itself is the rebirth of the sun in the annual cycle. But the Creation Myth, which is the subject of these carvings, is concerned with the shifting of World Ages, implying we must be sensitive to recognizing a much larger cycle of solar rebirth (a new “Sun” or “Age”).


6. Ball and ring, in front of Stela 60. This, like the one on the opposite end of the ball court, refers to the ballgame and the set of “sun-in-cleft” references. In the predawn sky over the solstice horizon, a cleft feature on the Milky Way would have been observed 2,100 years ago, during Izapa’s heyday. This is the “Black Road” or “Great Cleft” formed by interstellar dust in the region of the Milky Way’s “nuclear bulge” or Galactic Center. This was known to the Maya as the Xibalba be (the Road to the Underworld), which could also be portrayed as the mouth of a jaguar or sky dragon (as on Izapa Stela 25). In ballgame symbolism, the ballcourt was associated with the Milky Way and the goal-ring was associated with the Great Cleft. Some 2,100 years ago, the solstice sun and the Great Cleft were separated by about 30 degrees. Today, they have converged via the precession of the equinoxes. In other words, the solstice sun and the Great Cleft are joined in the years around 2012 AD. The profound implications of this are the primary focus of my research.


7. Sky Lifter carving. Very eroded, but identifiable via similar characteristics with a Sky Lifter carving found in the nearby village of Tuxtla Chico. An Olmec Sky Lifter, recovered from the cone of San Martin Volcano near the Gulf Coast, was interpreted as a being who lifts the Milky Way into place as the Axis Mundi—a dawn-time Creation event. He holds a bar that he turns upward, from horizontal to vertical. This suggests a movement of the Milky Way. This carving was found in the middle of the south wall of the ballcourt. Directly opposite, in the middle of the north wall, Stela 67 was found.


8. Stela 67. Similar to Stelae 11 and 22. Here, a solar lord sits in the middle of a cosmic canoe. Incised bones from Tikal reveal that celestial canoes represented the Milky Way. His outstetched arms indicate a “period ending” event. He is probably the Hero Twins’ father, One Hunahpu, who is resurrected at the end of the Age, after they defeat Seven Macaw and the Lords of the Underworld. The sun located in the middle of the Milky Way canoe is compelling. Combined with the emphasis on the solstice sun via the ballcourt’s orientation, and other arguments omitted here, this solar deity (One Hunahpu) is probably the December solstice sun lord. The seating declivity of canoes could easily be seen to be analogous to the Great Cleft of the Milky Way, which shares this astronomical  identification with so many other mythological adumbrations. In such a scenario it becomes difficult to avoid deducing that the entire complex of carvings in the Izapan ballcourt express the alignment of the solstice sun lord with the Great Cleft in the Milky Way. Such a rare alignment occurs via precession, and it happens in the era of the 13-baktun cycle’s ending date, December 21, 2012.          


9. Stela 69. A carving fragmented in three parts. Enough is left to notice the Seven Macaw Bird Deity, in a state of fleeing or flight from two figures on the left, probably the Hero Twins. As with Stela 25, this carving depicts some episode from the Hero Twin myth, perhaps the arm of Hunahpu being torn off or Seven Macaw being shot at. At any rate, Seven Macaw has not yet fallen, as on Stela 60. A person viewing Stela 69, which is above Stela 67 on the upper tier of the ballcourt, would look to the north, where the Big Dipper rose and fell over Tacana volcano during Izapa’s heyday. In confirmation that this northern sighting direction was part of the ballcourt cosmogony, the pillar monument a dozen yards northwest of the ballcourt faces Tacana volcano.


10. Inverted T-shape stone, in the middle of the south wall. this inconspicuous stone is actually very revealing of how "the middle" of the ballcourt was conceived. The stone is very much like the "container" on Stela 14, (Group C) in which the Hero Twins are enwombed and over which a jaguar-serpent arches. It is also one-half of a quadrated cartouche which symbolizes the portal to the Otherworld (see discussion in part 2 below). This inverted T-shape represents a vessel, a container, and a womb. A viewer could watch the nuclear bulge of the Milky Way pass through the southern meridian on certain nights. In fact, at certain times on certain nights, the Milky Way stretches in a SE-NW orientation which mirrors the orientation of the ballcourt itself.


* * *


This was a concise summary of the most important monuments of the Izapa ballcourt. Much argument and citation has been left out, since longer studies, including my monograph of 1996 and Part 4 in Maya Cosmogenesis 2012 (1998) have been perhaps too long and detailed to allow for a quick grasp of the significance of my thesis. Which is: The monuments in the  Izapan ballcourt encode a knowledge of the solstice-galaxy alignment of era-2012, and that alignment was the intended target anchor for the end of the 13-baktun cycle and thus the placement of the Long Count in real time.


I am very interested in having a dialogue with progressive Mayan scholars on my  reconstruction of Izapan cosmology, as this synthesis of the accepted data is straightforward. The assemblage of different lines of evidence, all converging on the same conclusion, seems to me to eliminate coincidence as a viable alternate explanation for the integrative continuity of these symbol complexes. Please share your thoughts.



John Major Jenkins

January 10, 2006



Carvings 1, 2, and 3 (in the diagram):



Viewing seats (4 in the diagram):




Stela 60 (5 in the diagram):


Not pictured: Number 6 in the diagram is a stone ball in a stone ring.


Sky Lifter deity (7 in diagram):


San Martin Sky Lifter (left); Tuxtla Chico “Danzante” Sky Lifter (middle); Izapa Sky Lifter from ballcourt (right).




Stela 67 (8 in the diagram):


NOTE: For a discussion of the similar and recently restored Stela 22, see discussion below in Part 2.


Stela 69 (9 in the diagram):



10. Miscellaneous Monument 61:



As explained above, this inverted T-shape symbol is found elsewhere at Izapa, including Stela 14, in which it represents the womb containing the Hero Twins:



(Note: The connection here was noted on the May 2008 trip to Izapa.)


Pillar monument facing Tacana volcano to the north (not pictured in the first diagram):






The Izapan ballcourt, aligned with the December solstice sunrise horizon.
Pictures taken February 2001. © John Major Jenkins.

Part 2.
Stela 22: A Tri-level Deity Paradigm

Stela 22 was recently restored with a newly found piece and redrawn by Ayax Moreno. Illustrations below are adapted from Moreno's drawing of it in "Carved in Stone: The Cosmological Narratives of Late Preclassic Izapan-Style Monuments From the Pacific Slope" by Julia Guernsey Kappelman, in Heart of Creation: The Mesoamerican World and the Legacy of Linda Schele (Ed. Andrea Stone, University of Alabama Press, 2002).

Stela 22: A Tri-level Deity Paradigm. by John Major Jenkins. May 2006

Stela 22 has an unusual history. It was found in a discarded location in Group F, in the 1950s. A local person acquired it and recarved the surfaces, to imaginatively deepen the design. The actual lines of the authentic design were thereby obscured and mutilated. Today it stands at the entrance to the Group F ballcourt, an abstract rendition of the original artifact. Luckily, the carving had been photographed, so the original design, although itself somewhat eroded, could be reconstructed. In addition, Kappelman (2002) reported that Ayax Moreno found that a miscellaneous piece of a carving fit the top portion of Stela 22, and he was thereby able to add new details to the design. A photograph and a drawing of the restored virtual carving of Stela 22 follow:

photo from "Izapa" in Hako Magazine, Summer 2002, online at:


The upper portion shows the lower register of a sky band, so we know that we have reached the upper limit of the carving, and thus most of the design is preserved. Several significant things can be said. First, the image is so closely similar to Stela 67, that we should suspect that Stela 67 had iconographic motifs in the same locations of its lost sections. Second, the restored Stela 22 contains three tiers or levels of action. This three-level framework probably mimics the three levels of Izapan cosmography—ocean to the south, the narrow plain of Soconusco in which Izapa itself is situated, and mountains or volcanoes to the north. This division reflects the arrangement of serpent deities and bird deities in Group A and elsewhere, associating birds with the north and serpents or frogs with the south. I've pointed out that this no doubt reflects the orientation of the three main monument groups (A, B, and F) with three cosmic centers (Polar, Zenith, and Galactic). It is therefore possible that Stela 22 preserves, in microcosm, the tripartite cosmic-center paradigm of Izapan cosmology. With this in mind, let's highlight the three levels of Stela 22. Level 1 contains two fish swimming in water, two masks on the far left and right sides, and a solar deity in a canoe in the middle:

This much closely parallels what we also see on Stela 67. Kappelman points out that the masks here on Stela 22 are death heads (note the white bone on cheek). The distinction then, between Stela 22 and Stela 67, is that one relates to the death or descent of the Maize God (who I emphasize is a solar deity, the December solstice sun and One Hunahpu in the Creation Myth) and the other relates to the birth or rebirth of the Maize God / December solstice sun. The second tier is clearly visible on Stela 22, which we will see in the following two illustrations:

I chose to shade, on the left, what appears to be a serpent headed rope that suspends the canoe over the waters. A parallel serpent rope is on the right. The one I've shaded seems to tip a rectangular cartouche upward. The cartouche is an inverted mirror of the canoe below, angled like an opening mouth. The suggestion is that the two have been separated, revealing the Solar Maize Deity. As Kappelman pointed out, joining the two halves creates a familiar image of the four-sided underworld portal cartouche. It thus makes sense that the Solar Maize Deity is dying or being reborn at the portal to the underworld. Riding atop the upper half of the underworld cartouche, we see a crouching jaguar. This being appears in at least two other contexts on Izapan monuments. In one he rides in a sedan carried by two figures, possibly the Hero Twins. This suggests he is an honored royal totem symbol. In another, a jaguar is suspended from sky ropes, apparently being cooked or sacrificed over a fire tended by two figures below. This isn't really surprising, because deity sacrifice was a central feature of Mesoamerican religion.

The jaguar here on Stela 22 occupies the middle tier. Since the upper and lower tiers are associated with the south and north (with the galactic and polar centers), it is tempting to equate the jaguar with the zenith symbology so evident in Group B. The reasons why the jaguar would be associated with the zenith, as well as the Pleiades that cross the zenith on certain days and in the New Fire ceremony, are unclear. Perhaps the jaguar was important because he combined solar and Pleiadian symbolism, since spotted jaguar pelts were identified by Schlak as symbols of the Pleiades, and jaguars were also seen as solar animals. [Schlak, "Jaguar and Serpent Foot: Iconography as Astronomy, in Word and Image in Maya Culture, ed. Hanks and Rice, University of Utah Press, 1989: 265.] Mouths of jaguars were seen as portals to the underworld, and the underworld was accessed at the cosmic crossroads. Still on Level 2, the anthropomorphized figures holding the serpent-head ropes may be possums:

Possums were year-bearer symbols in the Classic Period. They seem to have speech or song scrolls emitting from their mouths. They both have long tails. The one on the right seems to hold the rectangular underworld portal cartouche. In some way they may be standard bearers. At any rate they belong with the jaguar on Level 2. Kappelman demonstrated that the Maize God on Level 1 was enthroned; I suggest that the crouching jaguar is also enthroned. In fact, with the bird deitiy at the third level, three levels of enthronement are probably suggested here, reinforcing my thesis that Izapan cosmography is basically tripartite in nature, with reference to three cosmic centers and their three enthroned deities. Level 3 of Stela 22 shows the sky dragon, or the so-named Principal Bird Deity that is most likely referential to Seven Macaw in the Creation Myth (the Big Dipper in the circumpolar northern sky):

Each of the three levels on Stela 22 has two attendants flanking the central figure. The symbolic intention is probably very similar to the three levels of enthroned deities or rulers depicted on the near-contemporary Kaminaljuyu monument 65:

(drawing by the author, from Maya Cosmogenesis 2012, 1998: 252)

I believe that the three main monument groups of Izapa provide a tripartite template for understanding the manifestation of triad deity relations in later Classic Period Maya sites, including Palenque. In understanding the astronomical basis of these deities, and the variations in solar and stellar phenomena that happen seasonally in relation to the polar, zenith, and galactic centers, we may be able to understand the often conflicting and confusing attributes of the Triad Gods. So, the recent restoration of Stela 22 opens up some interesting considerations and provides a lot to talk about.

John Major Jenkins. Part 2, Copyright. May 6, 2006.

Update, January 2007. I've discovered an old essay by Susannah Ekholm regarding an amazing tri-leg figure found in Mound 30a just west of the ballcourt. Based on her likely reconstruction of the figure, we have yet another confirmation that some kind of trinary concept was utilized, or known, at Izapa. This has meaning in terms of the three primary monument groups at Izapa being referential to the three cosmic centers and three deity-avatars, and also relates to the three levels of Stela 22 discussed above. See my essay on this figurine here: http://Alignment2012.com/izapa-trinary-figure.html

Ceramic head from Izapa.

photo from "Izapa," in Hako Magazine, Summer 2002, online at: