Between the years 1945 and 1952, a Mexican archaeologist named Alberto Ruz Lhuillier worked on a series of excavations in the ancient Maya city of Palenque. In 1948, he came across a stone that he thought led to another chamber inside the Temple of the Inscriptions. He decided to pull the stone slab out of the way and dug his way through the debris. In 1952, his gamble paid off when he hit an archaeological jackpot—he had found the sarcophagus of a Maya nobleman. The large burial chamber, limestone sarcophagus with elaborate carvings, and the jade jewelry buried with the nobleman indicated his position in the Maya hierarchy. His identity remained a puzzle until the inscriptions were deciphered in the 1970s. The man with the magnificent jade mask buried inside an elaborate sarcophagus was K’inich Janaab’ Pakal, the greatest ruler of the Maya kingdom of Palenque. He is recorded on the Biblical Timeline Chart with World History in 683 AD.
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Emperor K’inich Janaab’ Pakal
One of Pakal’s most distinguished ancestors was Lady Yohl Ik’nal (one of the few female rulers recorded in Maya history) who descended from Palenque’s first ruler, King K’uk Balam I. She was followed by Ajen Yohl Mat and later, the Lady Sak K’uk’ who was also the mother of the emperor K’inich Janaab’ Pakal (k’inich alludes to the Maya sun god whole pakal means “shield”). Pakal was born during the reign of Lady Yohl Ik’nal, a time when Palenque experienced various upheavals under the dominance of the city of Calakmul.
As Pakal was still too young to inherit the throne, Lady Sak K’uk became his co-regent and ruled on her son’s behalf until he reached the age of 12. He was inaugurated on 615 AD and reigned for 67 long years (an unusual feat for a Maya ruler) until his death at the age of 80. His accession as king was written on the elaborate carving on the Oval Tablet from the Palace, but the first thirty years of his reign were surprisingly not recorded. According to epigrapher Nikolai Grube, Maya rulers waited until their rule reached stability until they commissioned commemorative monuments and inscriptions. Perhaps the first half of Pakal’s reign were turbulent, which explained why there were no records of these years.
Palenque became one of the most powerful Maya lowland kingdoms thanks to Pakal. The years of his reign were considered as the city’s golden age. Magnificent buildings were constructed, including some parts of the stunning royal palace and his mortuary shrine, and the Temple of Inscriptions. In 675 AD and several years before his death, Pakal commissioned the construction of his mausoleum, the Temple of the Inscriptions, and remodelled the nearby Temple of the Skull. The Temple of the Inscriptions was improved and finished by his son, Kan B’alam II, who succeeded his father to the throne of Palenque. Pakal was buried with luxurious grave goods including a jade mosaic face mask, pectoral plaque, mouth ornament, ear flares, rings, and bracelets—a testament to the Maya king’s greatness and Palenque’s wealth.
Picture By User:Havelbaude – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1656965
Cremin, Aedeen, ed. The World Encyclopedia of Archaeology. Buffalo, NY: Firefly Books, 2007.
Tiesler, Vera, and Andrea Cucina. Janaab’ Pakal of Palenque: Reconstructing the Life and Death of a Maya Ruler. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2006.
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