News Home
Quick Bites
News Archive
News Channel
Special Features
On AirNewsClassical
School Closings
WKSU Support
Funding for WKSU is made possible in part through support from the following businesses and organizations.

Northeast Ohio Medical University

Don Drumm Studios

Levin Furniture

For more information on how your company or organization can support WKSU, download the WKSU Media Kit.

(WKSU Media Kit PDF icon )

Donate Your Vehicle to WKSU

Programs Schedule Make A Pledge Member BenefitsFAQ/HelpContact Us
Science and Technology

Exploradio: The Mayan queen
An archeologist from the College of Wooster uncovers the remains of a Mayan queen in Guatemala whose portrait is housed in Cleveland
This story is part of a special series.

Reporter / Host
Jeff St. Clair
Olivia Navarro-Farr teaches anthropology at the College of Wooster. She led the excavation of the tomb of Lady K'abel, a Mayan queen who ruled from 672-692 AD, and is still revered by her people.
Courtesy of Jeff St.Clair
Download (WKSU Only)
In The Region:

A professor from the College of Wooster this summer uncovered the remains of a Mayan empress in Guatemala.  The discovery also has a Cleveland connection.

In this week’s Exploradio, WKSU’s Jeff St.Clair explores a new understanding of the role of women in this ancient culture.

Exploradio: The Mayan queen

Other options:
Windows Media / MP3 Download (3:57)

(Click image for larger view.)

A royal tomb
The ancient Maya inhabited the northern part of Central America - today’s Guatemala, Honduras, Southern Chiapas, Mexico, and the Yucatan.  The Mayan empire peaked from around the third century AD until about a thousand years ago.  But the people remained long after the empire crumbled.  They resisted the Spanish conquistadors, and Mayan culture and languages persist today.

While much of Mayan history remains hidden among the ruins of cities covered by tropical growth, the life of one figure has suddenly come into focus.

College of Wooster anthropology professor Olivia Navarro-Farr describes the moment this summer when she first saw the symbolic shield of a warrior atop bones buried beneath a temple in the Mayan city of El Peru-Waka'.

“There was an audible gasp, ‘Look at what is here!’”

She was the first person to view the body in nearly 1,500 years.

“We knew it was a person of royal import, a royal individual, a ruler.  We didn’t know whether it was male or female at this point; we hadn’t excavated the remains.”

Signed: Lady Snake Lord 
Buried with the body, Navarro-Farr discovered an alabaster sculpture of a woman emerging from a tiny conch shell.

“But it wasn’t until we picked it up … and turned it around and, … ‘Oh my God, there’s a line of glyphic text on the back.”

 It reads… “Ix Kan Ajaw,  or Lady Snake Lord.”

Stanley Guenter is an expert in Mayan hieroglyphics and one of the investigators in the project.  He teaches anthropology at Idaho State University.  He says the vessel discovered with the body identifies her as from the ruling family of Calakmul, the main seat of power in the Mayan world.

He says, “though she ruled with her husband at El Peru, she was always referred to as a princess from that site to the north.”

Calakmul, 120 km north in what is now Mexico, was the seat of the Mayan emperor. 

Olivia Navarro-Farr agrees: “Her place as a princess of Calakmul, her role was one of very profound political cache.”

Navarro-Farr began her exploration of the temple nearly a decade ago as a student of David Freidel, an archeologist from Washington University in St. Louis.

Freidel says the woman discovered this summer at El Peru-Waka was more than a princess, more than even a queen.

“She was the military governor of the Snake Empire in the west.”

The warrior queen
The Mayan called this rank the ‘Kaloomte'’. Lady Snake Lord, or Lady K’abel in her language, was more powerful than her husband.  He was a king, but still a vassal of her father, the emperor.  She was Kaloomte', the supreme political and war leader.

Freidel says a comparison can be made between Lady K'abal and another warrior queen, Cleopatra.

Freidel says Lady K’abel ruled at a critical time in the region’s history.   Her empire was locked in a centuries old civil war with the neighboring city-state of Tikal.  Her empire was eventually overthrown by Tikal, but not while Lady K’abel lived. 

Mayan queen in Cleveland
Freidel says Lady K’abel still radiates power in a detailed sculpture that’s part of the Pre-Columbian collection at the Cleveland Museum of Art.

“She is portrayed as a serene and beautiful woman facing to her right.  She holds in her right hand a magic wand, she holds on her left arm a battle shield.”

The same battle shield that Olivia Navarro-Farr uncovered this summer at El Peru-Waka’.  She says, discovering the tomb of Lady K’abel at the base of the temple complex explains why, throughout a decade of study, she and her team have found dozens of other people buried nearby.

“This building represents the ultimate ancestor shrine…for everybody’s ancestral legacy.”

Navarro-Farr says the memory of Lady K’abel still inspires reverence among the Maya of Guatemala.  Her image in Cleveland will be back on display when the museum completes its restoration at the end of next year.  

Listener Comments:

Very interesting!

Posted by: Rex Field (San Antonio) on February 16, 2015 7:02AM
Add Your Comment


E-mail: (not published, only used to contact you about your comment)


Page Options

Print this page

E-Mail this page / Send mp3

Share on Facebook

Support for Exploradio
provided by:

Stories with Recent Comments

Kasich campaign evokes dark images of a Trump presidency

Backers of legalizing marijuana in Ohio promise to be back in 2016
We should be aloud to grow more than 4 plants and not have to register with the state considering it will be a free market.

Akron says it's had no second thoughts about welcoming refugees
What business does Councilman Neal own on North Hill? I'd love to support him. I am so glad to have the refugees in our neighborhood. I have lived here for 25 ...

Scarborough says the University of Akron is trying to rebuild relationships
In order for the University of Akron to grow and become a desirable place for students across Ohio and elsewhere, it must address the crime problem in the Akron...

Ohio Sen. Cliff Hite wants to end pay-to-play sports fees at Ohio's schools
You can bet Hite and Husted will also rush to the rescue of the Academic Challenge team, the speech-and-debate squad, the Science Olympians and the chess club. ...

Ohio lawmakers consider new gun bills
States that have gun restrictions/cities have reduced gun violence is false. CHICAGO has some of the toughest gun laaws/restrictions but yet fun violence is off...

Cleveland's public transit system considers fare increase for 2016
I work with individuals with disabilities. Yes some of my folks need more help than the average person. As a whole, the group I work with however can manuver ju...

Community group sues to re-open part of Wadsworth hospital
My father was part of the founding group of citizens which started the "new" Wadsworth/Rittman Hospital. For some reason the leadership for the future of the ho...

The Cleveland Museum of Art presents painters who loved their gardens
brilliant masterpiece, Greetings from

Copyright © 2015 WKSU Public Radio, All Rights Reserved.

In Partnership With:

NPR PRI Kent State University

listen in windows media format listen in realplayer format Car Talk Hosts: Tom & Ray Magliozzi Fresh Air Host: Terry Gross A Service of Kent State University 89.7 WKSU | NPR.Classical.Other smart stuff. NPR Senior Correspondent: Noah Adams Living on Earth Host: Steve Curwood 89.7 WKSU | NPR.Classical.Other smart stuff. A Service of Kent State University