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K'inich Janaab' Pakal
Ajaw of Palenque
Pacal the Great
Reign July 29, 615 – August 31, 683 CE
Full name K'inich Janaab' Pakal
Born March 26, 603(603-03-26)
Died March 31, 683 (aged 80)
Buried Temple of the Inscriptions, Palenque
Predecessor Sak K'uk'
Successor K'inich Kan B'alam II
Offspring K'inich Kan B'alam II
K'inich K'an Joy Chitam II
Father K'an Mo' Hix
Mother Sak K'uk'

K'inich Janaab' Pakal (23 March 603 - 28 August 683)[1] was ruler of the Maya polity of Palenque in the Late Classic period of pre-Columbian Mesoamerican chronology. During a long reign of some 68 years Pakal was responsible for the construction or extension of some of Palenque's most notable surviving inscriptions and monumental architecture.



Before his name was securely deciphered from extant Maya inscriptions, this ruler has been known by an assortment of nicknames and approximations, common ones including Pakal (or Pacal), "Sun Shield", "8 Ahau", and (familiarly) as "Pacal the Great".

In modern sources his name is also sometimes appended with a regnal number,[2] to distinguish him from other Janaab' Pakals that either preceded or followed him in the dynastic lineage of Palenque. Confusingly, he has at times been referred to as either "Pakal I" or "Pakal II". The reference to him as Pakal II takes into account that his maternal grandfather (who died in 612) was also named Janaab' Pakal. However, although his grandfather was a personage of ajaw ranking most recent inscriptional interpretations hold that he probably did not himself hold the actual rulership position over the Palenque city-state. When instead the name Pakal I is used, this serves to distinguish him from two later known successors to the Palenque rulership, Upakal K'inich Janaab' Pakal (ruled c. 742, aka "[K'inich Janaab'] Pakal II") and Wak Kimi Janaab' Pakal (aka [Janaab'] Pakal III), the last-known Palenque ruler who acceded in 799.


Pakal ascended the throne at age 12 on July 29, 615, and lived to the age of 80. The name pakal means "shield" in the Maya language.

Pakal saw expansion of Palenque's power in the western part of the Maya states, and initiated a building program at his capital that produced some of Maya civilization's finest art and architecture.

He was preceded as ruler of Palenque by his mother Lady Sak K'uk'. As the Palenque dynasty seems to have had Queens only when there was no eligible male heir, Sak K'uk' transferred rulership to her son upon his official maturity.

After his death, Pakal was succeeded by his son Chan Bahlum II. A younger son, Kan Xul II, succeeded his brother Chan Bahlum II.

After his death, Pakal was deified and said to communicate with his descendants. Pakal was buried within the Temple of Inscriptions. Though Palenque had been examined by archaeologists before, the secret to opening his tomb—closed off by a stone slab with stone plugs in the holes, which had until then escaped the attention of archaeologists—was discovered by Mexican archaeologist Alberto Ruz Lhuillier in 1948. It took four years to clear the rubble from the stairway leading down to Pakal’s tomb, but was finally uncovered in 1952 [2]. His skeletal remains were still lying in his coffin, wearing a jade mask and bead necklaces, surrounded by sculptures and stucco reliefs depicting the ruler's transition to divinity and figures from Maya mythology.

That the bones within the tomb are really those of Pakal himself is under debate due to the fact that the analysis of wear on the skeleton’s teeth places the age of the owner at death as 40 years younger than Pakal would’ve been at his death. Epigraphers insist that the inscriptions on the tomb indicate that it is indeed K'inich Janaab' Pakal entombed within, and that he died at the age of 80 after ruling for around 70 years. Some contest that the glyphs refer to two people with the same name or that an unusual method for recording time was used, but other experts in the field say that allowing for such possibilities would go against everything else that is known about the Maya calendar and records of events. The most commonly accepted explanation for the irregularity is that Pakal, being an elite, had access to softer, less abrasive food than the average person so that his teeth naturally acquired less wear [3]. Despite the controversy, it remains one of the most spectacular finds of Maya archeology. A replica of his tomb is found at the National Museum of Anthropology and History in Mexico City.

Carved lid of the tomb of K'inich Janaab' Pakal in the Temple of the Inscriptions.

Pacal's sarcophagus lid

The large carved stone sarcophagus lid in the Temple of Inscriptions is a famous piece of Classic Maya art. The widely accepted interpretation of the sarcophagus lid is that Pakal is descending into Xibalba, the Maya underworld. Around the edges of the lid are glyphs representing the Sun, the Moon, Venus, and various constellations, locating this event in the nighttime sky. Below him is the Maya water god, who guards the underworld [4]. Beneath Pakal are the "unfolded" jaws of a dragon or serpent, which Pakal is escaping from, ascending towards the world tree. This is a common iconographic representation of the entrance to the underworld. Other examples of this imagery are found in sculpture on Monument 1 "El Rey" and Monument 9 at the Olmec site of Chalcatzingo, Morelos, on Altar 4 at the Olmec site of La Venta, Tabasco, and in recently discovered murals at the Late Preclassic Maya site of San Bartolo, Guatemala.[citation needed]


Erich von Däniken's "Maya Astronaut"

Pakal’s tomb has been the focus of attention by some enthusiasts since its appearance in Erich von Däniken's 1968 best seller, "Chariots of the Gods?". Von Däniken reproduced a drawing of the sarcophagus lid (incorrectly labeling it as being from "Copan") and comparing Pacal's pose to that of 1960s Project Mercury astronauts, interpreting drawings underneath him as rockets, and saying it is supposed evidence of extra-terrestrial influence on the ancient Maya.

In the center of that frame is a man sitting, bending forward. He has a mask on his nose, he uses his two hands to manipulate some controls, and the heel of his left foot is on a kind of pedal with different adjustments. The rear portion is separated from him; he is sitting on a complicated chair, and outside of this whole frame, you see a little flame like an exhaust.

Von Däniken's claim is not considered a credible interpretation by any professional Mayanist. For example Ian Graham responded, "Well I certainly don't see any need to regard him as a space man. I don't see any oxygen tubes. I see a very characteristically drawn Maya face"[3]

José Arguelles' "Pacal Votan"

Another example of this carving's manifestation in pseudoarchaeology is José Argüelles' identification of "Pacal Votan," of whom he claims to be an incarnation named "Valum Votan," who will act as a "closer of the cycle" in 2012 (an event that is also significant on Arguelles' "13 Moon" calendar). Daniel Pinchbeck, in his book 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl (2006), also uses the name "Votan" in referring to Pakal. However, this name is not used for Pakal by Mayanist researchers such as academic archaeologists, epigraphers, and iconographers. Arguelles claims a connection between Pakal and the semi-historical Toltec figure Topiltzin Ce Acatl Quetzalcoatl, but this is not supported by archaeological or epigraphic evidence. New Age interpretations of Pakal's tomb are a cornerstone of contemporary Mayanism.


  1. ^ These are the dates indicated on the mayan inscriptions : in Mesoamerican Long Count calendar, and (Tiesler & Cucina 2004, p. 40).
  2. ^ Maya rulership titles and name glyphs themselves do not use regnal numbers, they are a convenience only of modern scholars.
  3. ^ [1]


External links

Preceded by
Sak K'uk'
King of Palenque
July 29, 615–August 31, 683
Succeeded by
K'inich Kan B'alam II


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