Naranjo is an ancient city
of the Maya civilization in the
Basin region of the central Maya lowlands.
located in the present-day department of Petén, Guatemala about 10 km west of the border with Belize.
Inscription relating to the reign of king Itzamnaaj
is located within the area of the Cultural
Triangle of Yaxha, Nakum, Naranjo
. It was the capital of the
Classic Maya kingdom of Saal
The ancient Classic Maya language
name for the
city was Wak Kab'nal
. The divine owner
of the city, its patron, and the founder of the dynasty was a deity
with a yet-undeciphered name, nicknamed "Black Square-Nosed
Beastie" (possibly read as Ik' Miin
The history of Saal
is highly interesting in terms of
several major disturbances in the dynastic rule when allegiances
and identities of local kings were subject to change. Nothing is
known about the Early Classic history of Naranjo. The sites of
to the north of Naranjo were involved in the
establishment of the new political order in Peten after the arrival
of Siyaj K’ahk'
in A.D. 378.
plausible to assume that Naranjo might also be under the sway of
Siyaj K'ahk's hegemony and later Mutal (Tikal)
If there were any monuments from that time, they
were destroyed and/or cached.
There was a sudden outburst of inscribed monuments in the reign of
Aj Wosal Chan K'inich
who acceded to the throne as a vassal of another Maya ‘superpower’
– Kanal (Calakmul and Dzibanche) – about the time when it expanded its
political influence at the expense of Mutal. However, within the
next three generations of rulers, Saal did not prove to be a
faithful vassal and was subject to attacks by Kanal and its major
vassal, K'antu' (Caracol).
seems that one of such attacks resulted in a complete interruption
of the royal line of Naranjo about A.D. 680, what led to a
re-foundation of the dynasty by Calakmul that orchestrated a
marriage between a daughter of the ruler B'alaj Chan K'awiil at Dos Pilas (at the time a client state of Calakmul whose rulers
were claimants to the throne of Tikal) and an
unidentified nobleman, possibly of local Naranjo origin.
This woman from the Dos Pilas dynastic lineage—named as (Ix)
Wak Chanil Ajaw
, aka "(Lady) Six
Sky"—arrived in Naranjo in the year 682, to establish (or
re-establish) a regal dynastic line at Naranjo. Wak Chanil is
presumed to be the mother of the next-recorded Naranjo ruler,
K'ak' Tiliw Chan Chaak
acceded in 693, although no known inscription explicitly
establishes this relationship. Given that K'ak' Tiliw Chan Chaak
was five years old when he acceded, it is most likely that his
mother Lady Six Sky was de facto
ruler of the Saal/Naranjo
polity for some time, ruling in his name through the young king's
childhood. It seems that at that time the kingdom
reached the peak of its influence that extended from Lake
Yaxha to Western Belize (west-east)
and from Holmul to Ucanal
(north-south). However, as the power of Calakmul waned,
rulers of Saal had to confront a resurgent Mutal and that
confrontation ended in a complete defeat of Saal in A.D.
744. However, Naranjo once again rose as major regional power in
the last quarter of the eighth century A.D. Eventually, the kingdom
fell in the mid-ninth century A.D. for reasons that are not yet
The regal-ceremonial core of the site of Naranjo, the seat of its
rulers and the houses of its gods, is about 1 km² and includes
over 112 structures grouped in six triadic complexes, two ‘palace’
compounds, one E-group and two ball courts.
The site was rediscovered by Teoberto
in 1905. He spent 3 months exploring, mapping, and
photographing the site. In the 1910s further investigations of the
site were made by Sylvanus G.
and Oliver Ricketson
. There are 45 carved and
inscribed monuments most of which were documented by Ian Graham
who also mapped the central area of
Naranjo was one of the earliest sites to suffer from large-scale
looting, as sculptures were illegally removed for sale to
collectors. By the 1920s, many of the ancient sculptures had
already disappeared. The problem worsened during the 1960s, when
many of the site's large sculptures were smashed into fragments by
looters in order to remove and sell the fragments. Some of the
city's monuments are known today only from photographs taken by the
early explorers; even when the looted monuments are subsequently
brought back into circulation, their uncertain provenance
makes it very difficult for them to be
placed in an appropriate context.
and North American collectors continued to support the removal of
artifacts from the site, the problem intensifying during and after
the Guatemalan civil war of the 1960s and 1970s.
claimed that the military governments of the time were complicit.
Even now, archaeologists
site are from time to time forced to abandon their work because of
the lawless activities of the well armed