Naranjo is a Pre-Columbian Maya city in the Petén Basin region of Guatemala. It was occupied from about 500 B.C. to 950 A.D, with its height in the Late Classic Period.[1] The site is part of Yaxha-Nakum-Naranjo National Park. The city lies along the Mopan and Holmul rivers, and is about 50 km east of the site of Tikal. Naranjo has been the victim of severe looting.[2][3] The site is known for its polychrome ceramic style[2]

View of Naranjo
Location of the site
Naranjo (Guatemala)
LocationPetén Department, Guatemala
RegionPetén Basin
Coordinates17°08′0.95″N 89°15′43.81″W
PeriodsMiddle Preclassic to Early Postclassic
CulturesMaya civilization
Site notes
ConditionIn ruins

"Naranjo" in Spanish means "Orange Tree." The emblem glyph of the Naranjo is transliterated as Sa'aal “the place where (maize) gruel abounds.” The Naranjo dynastic rulers are said to be the "Holy Lords of Sa'aal."[4]

Layout of Site

The area of Naranjo covers at least 8 km² with the urban center covering about 2.25 km².[2] There are currently 389 recorded buildings in the central area and over 900 around the center.[1]

The epicenter consists of six triadic complexes, two ballcourts, two palace compounds, and one E-group. C-9 is the largest triadic complex in the city. Structure C-9 is the complexes main pyramid, and the Largest at the site. Because it occupies the top of a natural hill with a cave located inside, it is a perfect place to be categorized as a ‘sacred mountain’.[4]

A hieroglyphic stairway, that is believed to have been taken from Caracol, was added to structure B-18 sometime in the seventh century AD.[5]

Archaeological Preservation Work

The site was first mapped and photographed by Teoberto Maler in 1905, who was sent by The Peabody Museum of Harvard University.[6] In 1908 Maler excavated the hieroglyphic stairway from structure B-18,[5] parts of which are now housed in the British Museum[7] in London. In the 1910s, further investigations of the site were made by Sylvanus G. Morley and Oliver Ricketson.[6]

Investigations of the site of Xunantunich suggests that it was part of Naranjo's realm.[3]

By the 1920s, many of the ancient sculptures had already disappeared. The problem worsened in the 1960s, when many of the site's large sculptures were smashed into fragments by looters in order to sneak them out of the country.[2]

In 1972-1973, 19 stela were taken from Naranjo by the Department of Prehispanic Monuments of the IDAEH to be protected from looters.[2]

From 1997 to 2001 the site was controlled by looters. From 2002 to 2004, a project was undertaken to evaluate the extent of the looting which found about 270 tunnels and trenches. Archaeologist Vilma Fialko has been instrumental in this project.[2]

A conservation project by the Ministry of Culture and Sport began in 2002. In 2006 Naranjo was added to the World Monuments Watch.[1]

In 2013, a building from about 600 AD was found at nearby Holmul with a giant stucco frieze showing a central ruler and two flanking ones in repose. The frieze is very well preserved. Below it runs a long inscription from which it appears that the construction was commissioned by Aj Wosal of Naranjo. At the time, Naranjo was subordinated to the Kaanul dynasty of Dzibanche and Calakmul.[8]


The history of Naranjo includes several major disturbances in the dynastic rule when allegiances and identities of local kings were subject to change. Texts at the site record a mythical founding of the city by its patron god.[3]

Not much is known about the site before the ruler Aj Wosal who came to power in 546 AD.[4] The sites of La Sufricaya and Holmul 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 AD 378. It is plausible to assume that Naranjo might also be under the sway of Siyaj K'ahk's hegemony and later Tikal rulers. If there were any monuments from that time, they were destroyed and/or cached.

In 546 AD Naranjo came under the control of Calakmul whose ruler Tuun Kab Hix appointed Aj Wosal. This was a deliberate move by Calakmul to take allies away from Tikal. In 626 two attacks were made on Naranjo by Caracol. Naranjo was then retaken by Calakmul in 631. Naranjo defeated Caracol in 680 AD in a "star war" sending Caracol into a hiatus period.[3]

In 682 AD, Calakmul sent Lady Six Sky, also known as Wak Chanil, to reestablish the Naranjo dynasty.[3] Her arrival is written on stela 24 found in front of Structure C-7.[4] Lady Six Sky was the daughter of the Dos Pilas ruler B'alaj Chan K'awiil. While never officially made a ruler, Lady Six Sky performed as a ruler, possibly as regent for her son K'ak' Tiliw Chan Chaak who acceded in 693 AD at the age of five, although no known inscription explicitly establishes this relationship. Between 693 and 698 AD Naranjo carried out a series of at least eight attacks, likely under the rule of Lady Six Sky, defeating Tikal in 695 AD and Ucanal in 698 AD. K'ak' Tiliw Chan Chaak began another series of attacks in 706 AD including the defeat of Yaxha in 710 AD. Lady Six Sky died in 741 AD, she is depicted on stelas 3, 18, 24, 29, and 31.[3]

Naranjo was defeated by Tikal in 744 AD and the ruler, Yax Mayuy Chan Chaak was taken captive and likely sacrificed during Tikal's victory celebrations.[3]

Naranjo's downfall may have been the result of political turmoil and a severe drought dated to 810 AD.[3]

Known rulers[3]

Tzik’in Bahlam Stela 45[4]
??? 475 AD Stela 41 Ruler
Naatz Chan Ahk
K'inich Tajal Chaak
Aj Wosal 546-615 AD 35th Ruler, Altar 1, Stela 16, 17, 25, 27, 38
??? 626 AD Defeated by Caracol
??? 631 AD Defeated by Calakmul
??? 680 AD Victory over Caracol
Lady Six Sky 682 AD Lady Wac Chanil Ahau, Lady of Dos Pilas, Stela 3, 18, 24, 29, 31
K'ak Tiliw Chan Chaak 693-728 AD Smoking Squirrel, 38th Ruler, Victory over Tikal, stela 1, 2, 21, 22, 23, 26, 28, 30
Yax Mayuy Chan Chaak 744 AD Defeated by Tikal and sacrificed
K'ak' Yipiiy Chan Chaak 746-748 AD
K'ak' Ukalaw Chan Chaak 755-780 AD Stela 6, 13, 19, 33, 36
Bat K'awiil
Itzamnaaj K'awiil 784-810 AD Victory over Yaxha, stela 7, 8, 10, 12, 14, 35
Waaklajuun Ub'aah K'awiil 814 AD

References and sources

  1. "Naranjo | World Monuments Fund". Retrieved 2015-12-03.
  2. Fialko, Vilma (2009). "Archaeological Research and Rescue Project at Naranjo; Emerging Documentation in Naranjo's, Palacio de le Realeza, Peten, Guatemala" (PDF). FAMSI.
  3. Sharer, Robert J.; Traxler, Loa P. (2006). The Ancient Maya. Stanford University Press.
  4. Tokovinine, Alexandre; Fialko, Vilma (2007). "Stela 45 of Naranjo and the Early Classic Lords of Sa'aal". The PARI Journal.
  5. Tokovinine, Alexandre (2007). "Of Snake Kings and Cannibals: A Fresh Look at the Naranjo Hieroglyphic Stairway". The PARI Journal.
  6. Morley, Sylvanus G. (1909). "The Inscriptions of Naranjo, Northern Guatemala". American Anthropologist. 11 (4): 543–562. doi:10.1525/aa.1909.11.4.02a00020.
  7. British Museum Collection
  8. Giant Maya Carvings Found in Guatemala. AUGUST 07, 2013,
  • Lothrop, S. K. (1941). "A Chronological Link Between Maya and Olmeca Art". American Anthropologist. 43 (3): 419–421. doi:10.1525/aa.1941.43.3.02a00050.
  • Morley, Sylvanus G (1909). "The Inscriptions of Naranjo, Northern Guatemala". American Anthropologist. 11 (4): 543–562. doi:10.1525/aa.1909.11.4.02a00020.
  • Rice, Don S.; Prudence, M. (1980). "The Northeast Peten Revisited". American Antiquity. 45 (3): 432–454. doi:10.2307/279858.
  • "El Naranjo" Guatemala-Cradle of the Mayan Civilization, 28 Jan. 2011 Web. 29 Apr. 2012
  • "Naranjo, Central highlands." Guatemala-Cradle of the Mayan Civilization, 28 Jan. 2011 Web. 29 Apr. 2012
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