The scientific tourist #180 — The Temple of the Inscriptions

Well, while we’re on the subject of Palenque and royal tombs, I thought it’d be a good time to talk about the “granddaddy” of them all — the tomb of Pakal the Great (a.k.a., The Temple of the Inscriptions) at Palenque:

Temple of the Inscriptions

Pakal the Great essentially rebuilt Palenque in the 7th century, after it was severely damaged in a series of devastating losses in battles with more powerful neighbors. Ultimately he reigned for 68 years, dying at the remarkable age of 80 (when his less fortunate compatriots rarely lived past 50), after overseeing an explosion of art and architecture.

The Temple of the Inscriptions served as Pakal’s tomb — although this wasn’t known until 1952, some 200 years after exploration of the site began. At the time, nobody could explain why a stone in the center of the temple’s floor had holes drilled in it, along the edges of the flagstone. Eventually Alberto Ruz (at the time, the site’s director of research for Mexico’s Instituto Nacional de Antropologia y Historia) realized the holes had been used to lift the slab into place. After the slab was removed, and two years spent removing rubble filling a stairway, the tomb chamber was found.

Unfortunately, visitors are no longer allowed to climb this pyramid, much less descend to see Pakal’s tomb within it. But reproductions of the the tomb are open to viewing in (much more comfortable conditions in) museums both in Palenque and Mexico City. The archaeology museum in Mexico City includes Pakal’s skeleton, along with a beautiful jade mask he was buried with. At Palenque’s museum, you’ll need to content yourself with reproductions of both Pakal’s tomb and his grave goods (but the pyramid is absolutely real!).

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