Exhibits on the Plaza

Pacal's tomb

Pacal was 80 years old when he died. His reign, and that of his son Chan-Bahlum, are credited for inspiring the exceptional beauty of Palenque's art and architecture. The sarcophagus lid weighs as much as five tons and the sarcophagus itself weighs in excess of fifteen tons. Because of its enormous weight and size, it was set in place at the base of the temple before construction began.

The limestone sarcophagus lid is carved with a scene of Pacal at the moment of his death. He is shown falling down the World Tree into the jaws of the Underworld. He is accompanied by an image of the head of a skeletal monster carrying a bowl marked with the sign of the sun. This sign indicates that Pacal would be reborn as a god by defeating the Lords of Death who live in the Underworld. Portraits of his ancestors can be seen around the four sides of his coffin. Each figure is wearing a headdress symbolizing a fruit tree.

(right) Replica of Pacal's tomb
Medium: Limestone
Date: Late Classic Period, 650 A.D.
Location: Temple of Inscriptions, Palenque, Mexico

Maya kings normally inherited their title through their fathers. Pacal's father was not a king, but his mother and great grandmother were both powerful women who ruled as true kings. Although this created a dilemma for the government because of the convention of patrilineal descent, these two exceptional women defied tradition by taking charge of the throne. Pacal established an unshakable claim to the throne even though he was not the son of a king. He explained this change as being preordained by the gods.

To legitimize his claim, he declared his mother to be the living embodiment of the First Mother, who created the gods and humans. This meant that Pacal was the son of a goddess. To add more weight to his argument, he claimed he was born on a day that exactly replicated the birth date of the First Mother. In this way, he secured his position as king.