In 1952, Pacal's tomb was opened for the first time since his funeral
in A.D. 683. It was this momentous discovery that proved that Maya
pyramids were not simply the bases for temples, but were used as burial
vaults. In the IMAX film, the process of
uncovering his tomb is re-enacted.
The floor inside the imposing Temple
of the Inscriptions at Palenque is covered by massive slabs of
limestone. The highly-regarded Mexican archaeologist, Alberto Ruz, was
curious about one slab which had rows of holes with removable stone plugs.
Removal of the plugs enable Ruz's workmen to pry out the slab (1949).
Underneath was a secret passage leading down; it had been tightly
packed with rocks and rubble to block access.
Over the course of four seasons, 400 tons of this "fill" was
laboriously removed, until a room was reached at about the level of the
base of the temple.
In this anteroom were found the skeletons of several young adults, ritually
sacrificed to accompany Lord Pacal on his journey into the Underworld.
At the far end of the room, passage was blocked by a large stone slab.
Removing this wall, the archaeologists discovered the vaulted funerary
chamber, 9 metres long and 7 metres high. Stalactites and stalagmites
had formed in the room over the centuries since Pacal's corpse had been
Dominating the crypt was a huge sarcophagus, covered with a heavy stone
lid on whose surface was carved a superb work of art. The lid was
carefully raised using automobile jacks.