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K'inich Janaab' Pakal


K'inich Janaab' Pakal

For other persons with this name, see Pakal.
K'inich Janaab Pakal I
Ajaw of Palenque
Pacal the Great.
Reign July, 615 – August, 683
Predecessor Sak K'uk'
Successor K'inich Kan Bahlam II
Regent Sak K'uk'
Born - March 603
Died - August 683 age 80
Burial Temple of the Inscriptions, Palenque
Spouse Lady Tz'akbu Ajaw
Issue K'inich Kan Bahlam II
K'inich K'an Joy Chitam II
Tiwol Chan Mat?
Father K'an Mo' Hix
Mother Sak K'uk'
Religion Maya religion

K'inich Janaab Pakal I[N 1] (Mayan pronunciation: , also known as Pacal, Pacal the Great, 8 Ahau and Sun Shield, (March, 603 - August, 683)[1] was ajaw of the Maya city-state of Palenque in the Late Classic period of pre-Columbian Mesoamerican chronology. He acceded to the throne in Jul, 615 and ruled until his death. During a long reign of 68 years, longest known regnal period in Western Hemisphere history, and the 30th longest worldwide, Pakal was responsible for the construction or extension of some of Palenque's most notable surviving inscriptions and monumental architecture.[N 2][2][3]


  • Name 1
  • Biography 2
  • Burial 3
  • Iconography of Pakal's sarcophagus lid 4
  • Pseudoarchaeology 5
    • Erich von Däniken's "Maya Astronaut" 5.1
    • José Argüelles' "Pacal Votan" 5.2
  • Notes 6
  • Footnotes 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9


Before his name was securely deciphered from extant Maya inscriptions, this ruler had been known by an assortment of nicknames and approximations, including Pakal or Pacal, Sun Shield, 8 Ahau, and (familiarly) as Pacal the Great. The word pakal means "shield" in the Classic Maya language.[4]

In modern sources his name is also sometimes appended with a regnal number,[N 3] to distinguish him from other rulers with this name, 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". Reference to him as Pakal II alludes to his maternal grandfather (who died c.612) also being named Janahb Pakal. However, although his grandfather was a personage of ajaw ranking, he does not himself appear to have been a king. When instead the name Pakal I is used, this serves to distinguish him from two later known successors to the Palenque rulership, K'inich Janaab Pakal II (ruled c. 742) and Janaab Pakal III, the last-known Palenque ruler (ruled c.799).[5]


K'inich Janaab Pakal I.

K'inich Janaab Pakal I was born on March 23, 603. He was born at a particularly violent time in the history of Palenque. Two years later, in 605, Palenque was attacked by Kaan, and a new ruler was instated. Then again when he was eight and nine in 610 and 611 Palenque was sacked by Kaan. In October of 612 Pakal's mother, Sak K'uk', was installed as Ajaw of Palenque.[6] in the Maya calendar, was a day that should have been celebrated as a period ending. Instead of celebration "Satay k'uhul ixik, satay ajaw" "Lost is the divine lady, lost is the lord" was recorded in the history of Palenque. The meaning of this text is disputed.[7]

Pakal ascended the throne at age 12 in July, 615 and lived to the age of 80. He expanded 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.[8]

In 626 Pakal married Ix Tz'akbu Ajaw who was born in Uxte'k'uh. Tz'akbu Ajaw was a descendant of the Toktahn dynasty, the original dynasty of Palenque. In 628, one of Pakal's officials (aj k'uhuun), was captured by Piedras Negras. Six days later Nuun Ujol Chaak, ajaw of Santa Elena, was captured and taken to Palenque. Santa Elena became a tributary of Palenque. Having been appointed ajaw at the age of twelve, Pakal's mother was a regent to him, over the years she slowly lost power. By the time Sak K'uk' died in September 640. In 659 Pakal captured six prisoners, One of them, Ahiin Chan Ahk, was from Pipa'. Pipa' is generally associated with Pomona. In 663 another lord of Pipa' was killed by Pakal. At this time he also captured six people from Santa Elena.[9]

The Palace of Palenque.

In 647 K'inich Janaab Pakal began his first construction project (he was 44 at the time). The first project was a temple called [10][11]

The monuments and text associated with K'inich Janaab Pakal I are: Oval Palace Tablet, Hieroglyphic Stairway, House C texts, Subterranean Thrones and Tableritos, Olvidado piers and sarcophagus texts.[12]


A reconstruction of Pakal's tomb in the Museo Nacional de Antropología.

After his death, Pakal was succeeded by his son K'inich Kan B'alam II. A younger son, K'inich K'an Joy Chitam II, succeeded his brother K'inich Kan B'alam II. After his death, Pakal was deified and was said to communicate with his descendants; he 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 it was finally uncovered in 1952.[13] 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. Traces of pigment show that these were once colorfully painted, common of much Maya sculpture at the time.[14]

Whether the bones in the tomb are really those of Pakal is under debate because analysis of the wear on the skeleton’s teeth places the age of the owner at death as 40 years younger than Pakal would have 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 aristocrat, had access to softer, less abrasive food than the average person so that his teeth naturally acquired less wear.[15]

Iconography of Pakal's sarcophagus lid

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

The large carved stone sarcophagus lid in the Temple of Inscriptions is a unique piece of Classic Maya art. Iconographically, however, it is closely related to the large wall panels of the temples of the Cross and the Foliated Cross centered on world trees. Around the edges of the lid is a band with cosmological signs, including those for sun, moon, and star, as well as the heads of six named noblemen of varying rank.[16] The central image is that of a cruciform world tree. Beneath Pakal is one of the heads of a celestial two-headed serpent viewed frontally. Both the king and the serpent head on which he seems to rest are framed by the open jaws of a funerary serpent, a common iconographic device for signalling entrance into, or residence in, the realm(s) of the dead. The king himself wears the attributes of the Tonsured maize god - in particular a turtle ornament on the breast - and is shown in a peculiar posture that may denote rebirth.[17] Interpretation of the lid has raised controversy. Linda Schele saw Pakal falling down the Milky Way into the southern horizon.[18]


Erich von Däniken's "Maya Astronaut"

Pakal’s tomb has been the focus of attention of some ancient astronaut 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 "Copán" and comparing Pacal's pose to that of Project Mercury astronauts in the 1960s, interpreting drawings underneath him as rockets, and offering it as possible evidence of an extraterrestrial influence on the ancient Maya.[19]

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.[20]

José Argüelles' "Pacal Votan"

Another example of this carving's manifestation in pseudoarchaeology is the identification by José Argüelles of "Pacal Votan" as an incarnation named "Valum Votan," who will act as a "closer of the cycle" in 2012 (an event that is also significant on Argüelles' "13 Moon" calendar). Daniel Pinchbeck, in his book 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl (2006), also uses the name "Votan" in reference to Pakal.


  1. ^ The ruler's name, when transcribed is K'INICH-JANA:B-PAKAL-la, translated "Radiant ? Shield", Martin & Grube 2008, p. 162.
  2. ^ These are the dates indicated on the Maya inscriptions in Mesoamerican Long Count calendar, Born: 8 Ahaw 13 Pop, Acceded: 8 Lamat1 Mol and Died: 6 Etz'nab 11 Yax, Martin & Grube 2008, p. 162.
  3. ^ Maya rulership titles and name glyphs themselves do not use regnal numbers, they are a convenience only of modern scholars.


  1. ^ and (Tiesler & Cucina 2004, p. 40)
  2. ^ Skidmore 2010, p. 71.
  3. ^ Martin & Grube 2008, pp. 162-168.
  4. ^ Skidmore 2010, pp. 71-73.
  5. ^ Skidmore 2010, pp. 56-57, pp. 71-73, p. 83, p. 91.
  6. ^ Martin & Grube 2008, pp. 161-162.
  7. ^ Skidmore 2010, pp. 62-63.
  8. ^ Martin & Grube 2008, pp. 162-165.
  9. ^ Skidmore 2010, pp. 71-73.
  10. ^ Martin & Grube 2008, pp. 162-168.
  11. ^ Skidmore 2010, pp. 71-73.
  12. ^ Martin & Grube 2008, p. 162.
  13. ^ Mathews, p. 1.
  14. ^ Stokstad, p. 388.
  15. ^ Mathews, p. 1.
  16. ^ Schele & Mathews 1998, pp. 111-112.
  17. ^ Stuart & Stuart 2008, pp. 174-177
  18. ^ Freidel, Schele & Parker 1993, pp. 76-77
  19. ^ Finley, p.1
  20. ^ von Däniken, pp. 100-101, line drawing between pp. 78-79.


  • Finley, Michael. "Von Daniken's Maya Astronaut". SHAW WEBSPACE. Retrieved 18 October 2015. 
  • Freidel, David A.; Schele, Linda; Parker, Joy (1993). Maya Cosmos: Three Thousand Years on the Shaman's Path. New York: William Morrow and Company.  
  • Mathews, Peter. "WHO'S WHO IN THE CLASSIC MAYA WORLD". Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies, Inc. (FAMSI). Retrieved 18 October 2015. 
  • Schele, Linda; Mathews, Peter (1998). The Code of Kings: The Language of Seven Sacred Maya Temples and Tombs. New York: Touchstone.  
  • Skidmore, Joel (2010). The Rulers of Palenque (PDF) (Fifth ed.). Mesoweb Publications. Retrieved 12 October 2015. 
  • Stokstad, Marilyn (2008). Art History Fourth Edition. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall.  
  • Stuart, David; Stuart, George (2008). Palenque: Eternal City of the Maya. Thames & Hudson.  
  • von Däniken, Erich (1969). Chariots of the Gods?: Unsolved Mysteries of the Past. Bantam Books.  

External links

  • Mesoweb's description of the discovery of Pakal's tomb
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Sak K'uk'
King of Palenque
July 26, 615 – August 28, 683
Succeeded by
K'inich Kan Bahlam II
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