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Pakal II's crypt

New cutting-edge techniques help archaeologists study Pakal II's crypt

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Advances in technology are helping archaeologists unravel the mysteries surrounding many archaeological sites around the world. In a recent example, scientists are using new geophysical techniques, which are non-invasive or destructive, to answer many of the questions surrounding Pakal II’s crypt , the great Mayan ruler of Palenque.

K'inich Janaab' Pakal, also known as Pakal II, 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 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.

The secret opening to his tomb was discovered by Mexican archaeologist Alberto Ruz Lhuillier in 1948 and it took another four years to clear the rubble from the stairway leading down to Pakal’s tomb.  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.

The latest analysis of the tomb using georadar for surface penetration and electrical resistance tomography has revealed that the tomb of Pakal does not rest over original rock but may be over a structure built with huge sandstones filled with rock fragments.  This suggests that the funerary chamber was not the starting point of the Mayan construction.

Archaeologist Arnoldo Gonzalez Cruz has expressed that the technology is vital for understanding more about the mysterious tomb.  “It’s true that there is a theory revolving around an access to the tomb of Pakal II by the frontal part of the building”, he said, “but this will not stop being mere speculation until a more formal archaeological work is done in the exterior, and supported in technology based on geophysical prospection”.

Pakal II’s tomb has been the subject of intense controversy, firstly relating to the fact that although he died at the age of 80, the skeletal remains are more similar to that of a 40 year old, and secondly, the intricate carving and inscription found on top of his tomb has led to speculation that he may not have been human at all.

The lid is engraved with Mayan symbols, including the king descending into the underworld and symbols of his rebirth, of planets, constellations and many more. It became the focus of attention of ancient astronaut enthusiasts after its appearance in Erich von Daniken’s 1968 bestseller ‘Chariots of the Gods’. Daniken pointed out that if the lid is flipped horizontally, Pakal appears seated in what appears to be a spacecraft, complete with fuselage, controls, a breathing apparatus and at the very rear is the vehicle’s exhaust. 

While this theory has not been confirmed, it is hoped that new technology will help us to learn more about Pakal and the circumstances around his burial.

By April Holloway

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