Ek Balam - Ancient Ruins of the Yucatan
Ek Balam was an important political and commercial center from the pre to post classic periods (700 – 1100 AD) before it was abruptly abandoned. Although Ek Balam sits only 25 km (16 miles) north of Valladolid and 56 kilometers (35 miles) northeast of Chichen Itza, Ek Balam sees far fewer tourists.
The site’s significance has only recently been revealed. The Acropolis at Ek Balam, a large pyramidal structure, houses the tomb of the great shamanic King Ukit Kan Lek Tok’, (Father of Four Flints) where the original plaster is still well preserved with intense, powerful detail. Restoration work at the site only really began in the 1990s, and soon after they discovered a well-preserved stucco frieze hidden under a mound.
Since then, Ek Balam has become a fascination of Maya scholars and travelers alike, even more so because so much of this largely unstudied area remains a mystery.
The Meaning of Ek Balam
The name Ek Balam is of Yucatec Maya origin. Ek translates to “black” or “dark” but can also mean “star” while Balam translates to “jaguar.” Thus the name “Ek Balam” translates to some variation of “Black Jaguar” or “Star Jaguar,” or perhaps as a combination of both.
Ek Balam is the name given to the site by archaeologists. The name is based on the site’s emblem glyph. However, the capital city may have belonged to the Maya kingdom of “Talol,” founded by the shamanic ruler, Ek’ Balam, or Coch Cal Balam, before being dominated by the Cupul family.
The History of Ek Balam
Archeologists believe that it was founded around 300 BC, becoming an important commercial center when its influence peaked between 700 – 1100 AD.
Ek Balam’s architecture is pure Maya. Unlike neighboring Chichen Itza – showing signs of Toltec fusion, Ek Balam was never merged. The sites ancient architects employed and adapted a Northern Petén style, similar to other regional cities at the time. As Ek Balam maintained its independence so too did the architectural style maintain its Maya roots.
Symbolism in Stone
Ek Balam is surrounded by two concentric walls, which are rare in Maya cities. Becan and Tulum, two other Maya cities, built defensive walls to protect against invading groups, but Ek Balam’s walls are too low, so the archaeologists believe it is more likely they were used to enforce divisions within the society. However, rather than serving a functional purpose, it is possible the circular enclosure is purely symbolic.
When I explored the site myself, I also noticed shim-stones that were deliberately worked into the masonry to resemble a serpent-like pattern, reinforcing the idea that the walls were symbolic.
After my discovery of the serpent symbolism on the defensive walls at the site, we began taking a closer look. During one of our Mysteries of the Maya tours of the Yucatan, our expedition group discovered a serpent-like pattern wrapping around the entire exterior of the Acropolis. To date this information has not been published anywhere else online. More detail is published in my book, Water Wizards.
Pursuing this further, we can see a symbolic serpent stela featured at the base of the Acropolis before catching a glimpse of the so-called unusual winged warriors discovered at Ek Balam.
Mayan hieroglyphs carved into the serpent’s split tongue can be read horizontally. The message provides a warning for visitors that approach the stairway of the ruler, Ukit Kan Le’k Tok, sacred king of Talol.
The very last glyph refers to all of the previous text. It conveys a meaning similar to “So mote it be”, a ritual phrase used by the Freemasons, in Rosicrucianism.
Some of Ek Balam’s most notable structures include:
- The Acropolis
- The Entrance Arch
- The Oval Palace
- The Ball Court
- The Twins
What is to be Discovered at Ek Balam?
The more adventurous explorers travel here when they want to feel that “Indiana Jones” sense of adventure. Many of the ruins, including the largest, raised platforms and several mounds on-site, are still unexcavated to this day. There are potentially countless well preserved historical artifacts yet to be discovered. What lies below the piles of rubble?
One thing you will find there is the Sacbe, meaning “White Road,” which stem off the center in the four cardinal directions, symbolizing the concept of a “four part cosmos.”
You can spend some of your time climbing the Acropolis. The Acropolis houses El Trono (the Throne), which is the location of the king Ukit Kan Leʼk Tok’ tomb who ruled at beginning of the city’s peak. Some notable features are restricted from view. For example the Mural of the 96 Glyphs, a fascinating and calligraphy rich wall painting and a wall painting with a hunted dear, part of a mythological story about the origin of death, and a series of vault capstones depicting K’awiil, the lightning deity are all hidden inside the Acropolis.
Making up for what you don’t see inside the Acropolis is what you do see with the view from the top. It is said that on a clear day, from the top one can see the temples of Coba and Chichen Itza on the horizon. I’ve been to the top many times and I’m yet to see either. However, in the distance one can see mounds that may be pyramids or temples buried by dense vegetation.
Ek Balam remains a place of immense fascination. It was rediscovered in the late 1800s by Désiré Charnay, mapped in the late 1980s by Bill Ringle and George Bey III, and the Acropolis excavated by Leticia Vargas de la Peña and Víctor Castillo, but to this day there is so much that remains undiscovered, and to those that take an esoteric approach to exploration, so much that we can learn from it as well.