Evidence of A 2,300-Year-Old Mesoamerican State Society? Immense Palace Complex May Rewrite Mexican History
The remains of an ancient royal palace in have been unearthed in southern Mexico. It is considered to be the oldest royal structure ever excavated in the area – dating back 2,300 years – providing evidence of the ancient rise of centralized power in Mesoamerica.
Could this be a Key Discovery?
Discovering evidence for the rise of early state societies in Mesoamerica has always been a great challenge for archaeologists and the newly found royal complex could be an important key that opens many doors for them. Excavations completed in 2014 at the site of El Palenque in Mexico’s Valley of Oaxaca revealed a palace complex with separate areas where a ruler handled affairs of state and lived with his family, as archaeologists Elsa Redmond and Charles Spencer, both of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, claim. "This 2,300-year-old palace is the oldest multifunctional palace excavated to date in the Valley of Oaxaca and is a key indicator of the early state society that emerged there at this time,” the archaeologists told the International Business Times.
According to the conclusions of the experts examining El Palenque in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, only a ruler of a bureaucratic state (a system of government in which most of the important decisions are taken by state officials rather than by elected representatives) could have managed the construction of this centralist seat of power.
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El Palenque royal palace is the oldest palace uncovered to date in this area of Mexico. (Elsa M. Redmond and Charles Spencer)
Oldest Multifunctional Palace in the Area
The palace complex at El Palenque is the oldest multifunctional palace excavated thus far in the Valley of Oaxaca. The well-preserved remnants of the palace complex dated by associated radiocarbon samples and ceramics to the Late Formative period or Late Monte Albán I phase (300–100 BC), the period of archaic state emergence in the region. The El Palenque palace displays specific architectural and organizational features similar to the royal palaces of much later Mesoamerican states described by Colonial-period sources.
The excavation data documents a multifunctional palace complex covering a maximum estimated area of 2,790 sq. m. (30031.31 sq. ft.) on the north side of the site’s plaza, consisting of both governmental and residential constituents. A central staircase is connected to an inner courtyard, which could have served as “conference hall” for the ruler and his advisors.
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A painted stucco relief in the museum at Palenque showing King U Pakal K´inich. (Jacob Rus)
Additionally, a system of paved surfaces, drains and other features for collecting rainwater runs throughout the palace, a fact that indicates that the palace complex was designed and built as a single construction as Science News reported. Ultimately Redmond and Spencer said that El Palenque’s palace contains no tombs, which means that the ancient ruler of the site was possibly buried off-site, at a ritually important location.
Water shrine, where a stone-lined drain descending from ruler's residence supplied a cistern with rainwater. (Elsa M. Redmond and Charles Spencer)
Top Image: Aerial view of the El Palenque royal palace location. This is the oldest palace uncovered to date in this area of Mexico. (Elsa M. Redmond and Charles Spencer) Insert: King K'inich Kan Balam II of Palenque, Temple XVII panel. Detail. (Public Domain)