20 Photos Of The Historical Discovery Of The Tomb Of Pakal, Palenque's Last Ruler

20 Photos Of The Historical Discovery Of The Tomb Of Pakal, Palenque's Last Ruler

By: Storyteller -

The bone remains found were the ultimate clue about the most important discovery in Mayan history: they were located across the tomb of K'inich Janaab' Pakal, the last Mayan ruler of Palenque.


20 Photos Of The Historical Discovery Of The Tomb Of Pakal, Palenques Last Ruler 1

Right in the middle of the jungle in the Mexican Southeast, the Mayan city of Palenque remained hidden for over 500 years, from the time it was abandoned until the end of the 18th century, when it was rediscovered by the first Spanish colonial expeditions, whose members found some stone blocks and the remains of ancient structures lost in the middle of the jungle.

20 Photos Of The Historical Discovery Of The Tomb Of Pakal, Palenques Last Ruler 2Palenque's Castle (1863). Photo by Désiré Charnay. From Désiré Charnay, Cités et ruines américaines, Mitla, Palenqué, Izamal, Chichen-Itza, Uxmal , Paris, Librarie Gide.

It is probable that these explorers have never imagined that each step put them closer to uncovering the remains of dozens of temples, public squares, palaces, tombs, and aqueducts that existed in the capital of a powerful empire that ruled over 8 thousand people.

On June 15, 1952, the most important archeological discovery in Mexico took place.

20 Photos Of The Historical Discovery Of The Tomb Of Pakal, Palenques Last Ruler 3Worker inside a tunnel leading to the Tomb of Pakal (c.1952). Fototeca Nacional, Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, México.

20 Photos Of The Historical Discovery Of The Tomb Of Pakal, Palenques Last Ruler 4Entrance to the Tomb of Pakal. Fototeca Nacional, Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, México. 

20 Photos Of The Historical Discovery Of The Tomb Of Pakal, Palenques Last Ruler 5Entrance to the Tomb of Pakal. Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, México.

20 Photos Of The Historical Discovery Of The Tomb Of Pakal, Palenques Last Ruler 6

After locating a large slab of stone on top of the Temple of The Inscriptions, a team of archeologists led by Alberto Ruz Lhuillier set out to find a hollow space inside the pyramid. It took them three years of hard work removing rubble to clear a path to the bottom of the temple where, after 42 stone steps, the team reached the 21-square-meter burial chamber.

The remains of six people confirmed then one of the main hypothesis about the site: it was the tomb of K'inich Janaab' Pakal, the last Mayan ruler of Palenque. 

20 Photos Of The Historical Discovery Of The Tomb Of Pakal, Palenques Last Ruler 7Pakal bas-relief, tombstone, Temple Of The Inscriptions (1950). Fototeca Nacional, Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, México.

20 Photos Of The Historical Discovery Of The Tomb Of Pakal, Palenques Last Ruler 8View of the Tomb of Pakal, detail (1950). Fototeca Nacional, Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, México.

20 Photos Of The Historical Discovery Of The Tomb Of Pakal, Palenques Last Ruler 9View Of The Tomb of Pakal, detail (1950). Fototeca Nacional, Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, México.

20 Photos Of The Historical Discovery Of The Tomb Of Pakal, Palenques Last Ruler 10Pakal Tombstone in situ, Temple of the Inscriptions (c.1952). Fototeca Nacional, Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, México.

However, in order to reach the casket, they had to overcome another obstacle: a 7-ton tombstone inscribed with a mysterious and detailed bas-relief that depicted the ruler in his journey to the underworld, a pictorial description of Mayan cosmogony and ideas about what happens after death.

When the researchers presented these findings to the press, the tombstone was misinterpreted and conspiracy peddlers promoted the idea that it depicted a space ship or a plane control dashboard, and Pakal became known as the Mayan "astronaut" from Palenque.

20 Photos Of The Historical Discovery Of The Tomb Of Pakal, Palenques Last Ruler 11Bas-reliefs of Pakal Tombstone, detail (1950). Fototeca Nacional, Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, México.

20 Photos Of The Historical Discovery Of The Tomb Of Pakal, Palenques Last Ruler 12Pakal Torso, detail in bas-relief in the tombstone (c.1952). Fototeca Nacional, Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, México.

20 Photos Of The Historical Discovery Of The Tomb Of Pakal, Palenques Last Ruler 13Tomb of Pakal Tombstone (c.1952). Fototeca Nacional, Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, México.

20 Photos Of The Historical Discovery Of The Tomb Of Pakal, Palenques Last Ruler 14Bone remains of Pakal when they were discovered (c.1952). Fototeca Nacional, Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, México.

20 Photos Of The Historical Discovery Of The Tomb Of Pakal, Palenques Last Ruler 15Bone remains of Pakal, view  (1952). Fototeca Nacional, Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, México.

20 Photos Of The Historical Discovery Of The Tomb Of Pakal, Palenques Last Ruler 16Details of the bone remains of  Pakal (1952). Fototeca Nacional, Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, México.

20 Photos Of The Historical Discovery Of The Tomb Of Pakal, Palenques Last Ruler 17View of Pakal bones (1952). Fototeca Nacional, Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, México.

20 Photos Of The Historical Discovery Of The Tomb Of Pakal, Palenques Last Ruler 18Pakal Funerary Mask  Pakal, side view (1952). Fototeca Nacional, Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, México.

20 Photos Of The Historical Discovery Of The Tomb Of Pakal, Palenques Last Ruler 19Portrait of  Alberto Ruz L'Huillier in the funerary chamber of the Tomb of Pakal, under the tombstone. Temple of the Inscriptions. (c. 1952). Archive Prof.  Celia Gutiérrez, widow of Ruz L'Huillier

The bone remains were laid side by side with burial offerings including a jade necklace, ear flares, rings, and bracelets. His face was covered in a mask made with over 300 pieces of jade. These valuable items were supposed to accompany him in his journey to the underworld.

Almost seven decades after its discovery, the entrance to Pakal's Tomb is still closed to the public to prevent its further decay, considering the millions of tourists who have visited the site ever since it opened to the public. However, you can view replicas of the tomb in the site museum and in the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City.

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