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Friday Feature: Front Face of a Stela

In this Friday Feature, we will take a behind-the-scenes look into the discovery of Stela 34, or what museum visitors may know as Front Face of a Stela, pictured below, courtesy of the CMA's Curator of Pre-Columbian and Native North American Art, Susan Bergh.

Stela

In 2012, archaeologists working at Waka’—an ancient Maya site also known as El Perú—excavated a tomb that likely contained the remains of Lady K’abel, a queen who reigned in the late seventh century. The same Lady K’abel appears on Stela 34, a limestone monument from Waka’ in the museum’s collection.  

The stela—a free-standing monument originally more than eleven feet tall—was erected to mark the passage of a k’atun, a twenty-year period that was the Maya equivalent of a decade. Lady K’abel’s stela once stood alongside another that depicts her husband, Kinich Balam II.  (His stela is now at the Kimbell Museum of Art.) Their marriage was a political alliance in which she held higher rank because she was a member of the ruling dynasty at Calakmul, another Maya site that was much more powerful than Waka’. Stela 34’s hieroglyphs refer to her as kaloomte’ (warlord), a prestigious title that she may have inherited from her family.  

On the stela, Lady K’abel is dressed in full royal regalia, including a headdress formed by the head of a mythical celestial being and a splendid spray of iridescent, green feathers from the quetzal bird. Her lavish jewelry and the beaded network on her garment probably were made of jade or shell, both precious materials. She grasps a royal scepter in one hand and a circular shield in the other. The hieroglyphic text commemorates the “planting” (erecting) of the stela at the end of the k’atun on March 15, AD 692.  

Front Face of a Stela Behind-The-Scenes

This video outlines the process of the discovery of Lady K’abel’s tomb along with some of the tomb's contents and the relationship of these finds to Stela 34’s imagery. The video is narrated by Olivia Navarro-Farr, who directed excavation of the tomb in collaboration with Griselda Pérez Robles, a Guatemalan archaeologist.  

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Christopher Moore

The Cleveland Museum of Art

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