Written in K’umarkaaj shortly after the arrival of the Spanish, the more than nine thousand lines of the Popol Vuh detail the cosmology, mythology and traditional history of the K’iche’. The first of the two parts of this sacred poem is an account of the K’iche’s creation by their god, who is known as Heart of Sky. According to the Popol Vuh, at first there was only water and sky; the creator then formed earth and mountains, plants and trees. Heart of Sky turned his attention to animals, and created creatures of the forest including deer, birds and jaguars. Unsatisfied with these animals, the creator fashioned humans from corn paste after twice failing to make man from mud and wood. The Popol Vuh then recounts the adventures of the ancestors of mankind, the hero twins (or wizard twins) Hunahpú and Xbalanqué, which culminate in an epic struggle with the death lords of Xibalbá, the Maya underworld. The twins ultimately triumph, and the cycle of creation is born.
The Popol Vuh’s second half describes the wanderings of the K’iche’ ancestors as they migrate south from the Toltec area of Mexico and settle in the highlands of Guatemala. Evidence gathered by archeologists and epigraphers strongly supports the accuracy of this part of the epic. The book concludes with a history of K’iche’ royalty, and suggests a shared lineage with these kings and their gods. Dennis Tedlock’s translation of the Popol Vuh (see Wildlife and the environment) is regarded as the definitive text.