On this day in 615, K’inich Janaab Pakal ascended the throne of the Mayan city-state of Palenque at the age of 12. During his 68-year reign, Pakal oversaw the construction of some of Palenque’s most notable architecture and is considered the most famous of Mayan kings. Also known as Sun Shield, 8 Ahau, and Pakal the Great, Pakal was born on 23 March 603. His name means “shield” in the Mayan language. He was born in the southern Mexican Mayan city-state of Palenque, which flourished in the 7th century, during his time. Pakal’s mother, Lady Sak K’uk, preceded him as a ruler. The Palenque dynasty seems to have had queens only when there was no male heir, so upon Pakal’s maturity, power was transferred to him when he ascended the throne on 29 July 615, at the tender age of 12. His mother, still alive, remained a powerful influence in his rule. During his reign, Pakal oversaw the expansion of Palenque’s power into western parts of Mayan states and initiated a building program that produced some of the Mayan civilisation’s finest art and architecture. Many of Palenque’s palaces and temples were built under Pakal’s reign, and the central complex, The Palace, was enlarged and remodeled. Under Pakal, historians note, Palenque flourished as never before. After 68 years of rule, Pakal died at the age of 80, and the throne was passed onto his older son K’inich Kan B’alam. Pakal was deified and buried in the Temple of Inscriptions. There Pakal lay undisturbed until Mexican archaeologist Alberto Ruz Lhuillier discovered his tomb in 1948. Four years of work clearing the rubble from the stairway leading down to his tomb ensued. Lhuillier also discovered how to open the great ruler’s tomb, closed off by a magnificently carved sarcophagus stone slab lid with stone plugs in the holes. The carved sarcophagus lid is a famous piece of classical Mayan art, widely believed to depict Pakal’s descent to the Mayan underworld. Pakal’s skeletal remains were still in the coffin, and he was wearing a jade mask and bead necklaces surrounded by sculptures and stucco reliefs depicting his transition to divinity with scenes from Mayan mythology.
Caption: Mayan king Pakal’s jade funeral death mask.