Kʼinich Janaabʼ Pakal

Kʼinich Janaab Pakal I (Mayan pronunciation: [kʼihniʧ χanaːɓ pakal]), also known as Pacal or Pacal the Great (March 24, 603 – August 29, 683),[N 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 July 615 and ruled until his death. Pakal reigned 68 years[N 2]—the fifth-longest verified regnal period of any sovereign monarch in history, the longest in world history for more than a millennium,[N 3][2] and still the longest of reign of any monarch in the history of the Americas. During his long rule, Pakal was responsible for the construction or extension of some of Palenque's most notable surviving inscriptions and monumental architecture.[3] He is perhaps best known in popular culture for his depiction on the carved lid of his sarcophagus, which has become the subject of pseudoarchaeological speculations.[4]

Kʼinich Janaab Pakal I
Kʼuhul Baakel Ajaw
(Divine Lord of Palenque)
Kʼinich Janaab Pakal's portrait on occasion of ascension from Oval Palace Tablet
King of Palenque
Reign27 July 615 – 29 August 683
Coronation27 July 615
PredecessorSak Kʼukʼ
SuccessorKʼinich Kan Bahlam II
Born24 March 603[N 1]
Palenque (now in Chiapas, Mexico)
Died29 August 683(683-08-29) (aged 80)
SpouseLady Tzʼakbu Ajaw of Uxteʼkʼuh[1]
IssueKʼinich Kan Bahlam II
Kʼinich Kʼan Joy Chitam II
Tiwol Chan Mat (probable)
FatherKʼan Moʼ Hix
MotherSak Kʼukʼ
ReligionMaya religion
SignatureKʼinich Janaab Pakal I's signature


Kʼinich Janaab Pakal I's glyphs.

Pakal's full name, Kʼinich Janaab Pakal ("Radiant Corn-Flower (?) Shield"[5]), is rendered in Classic Maya as KʼINICH-JANA꞉B-PAKAL-la, KʼINICH-JANA꞉B-pa-ka-la, or KʼINICH-ja-na-bi-pa-ka-la.[6] Before his name was securely deciphered from extant Maya inscriptions, Pakal had been known by various nicknames and approximations, including Sun Shield and 8 Ahau.

In modern sources Pakal's name is also sometimes appended with a regnal number,[N 4] to distinguish him from other rulers with this name who 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 (died c. 612), who also bore the name 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 American rulership, Kʼinich Janaab Pakal II (ruled c. 742) and Janaab Pakal III, the last-known Palenque ruler (ruled c. 799).[7]

Early life

Mounted funerary jewelry of Kʼinich Janaab Pakal I.

Kʼinich Janaab Pakal was a Palenque native, born on (March 603) to Lady Sak Kʼukʼ of the ruling Palenque dynasty and her husband Kʼan Moʼ Hix.

Pakal's birth came during a particularly turbulent time in Palenque's history. Palenque had been sacked by the powerful Maya state of Calakmul just four years earlier, and another catastrophic attack was led by Calakmul ajaw Scroll Serpent during Pakal's early childhood in 611. The deaths the following year of both the ruling Palenque ajaw Ajen Yohl Mat and his heir Janahb Pakal (Pakal's maternal grandfather and namesake) triggered a crisis of succession; eventually Pakal ascended to the rulership of Palenque on (July 615), at the age of twelve, after an interim regency by his mother Lady Sak Kʼukʼ.[8]



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.[9] On (March 626), he married Ix Tzʼakbu Ajaw, a descendant of the former ruling Toktahn dynasty from Palenque's satellite settlement of Uxteʼkʼuh; during their long marriage, they had at least two sons—Kan Bahlam (b. 635) and Kʼan Joy Chitam (b. 644)—and probably a third, Tiwol Chan Mat (b. 648).[10]

In 628, one of Pakal's officials (aj kʼuhuun), 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 ceded power until she died in September 640. In 659 Pakal captured six prisoners; one of them, Ahiin Chan Ahk, was from Pipaʼ, generally associated with Pomona. Another lord of Pipaʼ was slain by Pakal in 663; at this time he also captured six people from Santa Elena.[11]

The Palace of Palenque.

In 647, at the age of 44, Pakal began his first construction project, the temple today called El Olvidado (The Forgotten) in Spanish due to its distance from Lakamhaʼ. Of all Pakal's construction projects, perhaps the most accomplished is the Palace of Palenque. The building was already in existence, but Pakal enlarged it greatly by adding monument rooms onto the old level of the building. He then constructed Building E, called Sak Nuk Naah "White Skin House" in Classic Maya for its white coat of paint rather than the red used elsewhere in the palace. The east court of the palace is a ceremonial area marking military triumphs. Houses B and C were built in 661 and house A in 668. House A is covered with frescos of prisoners captured in 662.[12][13] The monuments and text associated with Pakal are: Oval Palace Tablet, Hieroglyphic Stairway, House C texts, Subterranean Thrones and Tableritos, Olvidado piers and sarcophagus texts.[14]

Pakal was widowed when Tzʼakbu Ajaw, his wife of 47 years, died on (November 672). Eight years later, Pakal also saw the death of Tiwol Chan Mat (his third son), and presided over his burial ceremony.[15]

Death and burial


Pakal died on (August 683), at the age of 80, having ruled Palenque for 68 years and 33 days.[16]

After his death, Pakal was deified as one of the patron gods of Palenque.[17] He was survived at least by his two sons Kan Bahlam and Kʼan Joy Chitam—each of whom subsequently also became Palenque's kʼuhul ajaw in his own right[18]—and two grandsons, Ahkal Moʼ Nahb (successor of Kʼinich Kʼan Joy Chitam II as kʼuhul ajaw of Palenque) and Janaab Ajaw, a royal official inaugurated under the reign of Kʼinich Kʼan Joy Chitam II.[19]

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

Pakal was buried in a colossal sarcophagus within the largest of Palenque's stepped pyramid structures, the building called Bʼolon Yej Teʼ Naah "House of the Nine Sharpened Spears"[20] in Classic Maya and now known as the Temple of the 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.[21] His skeletal remains were still lying in his sarcophagus, 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.[22]

The Temple of the Inscriptions.

Initially, it was hotly debated whether the bones in the tomb were really those of Pakal. The skeleton's comparatively minor degree of dental wear suggested the owner's age as some 40 years younger than the age recorded for Pakal in the inscriptional texts, leading some—including the tomb's discoverer Alberto Ruz Lhuillier—to contend that the texts must have referred to two people with the same name or used a non-standard method of recording time. Epigraphers, on the other hand, insisted that allowing for such possibilities would go against everything else that is known about the Maya calendar and Maya written history, and asserted that the texts clearly state that it is indeed Kʼinich Janaabʼ Pakal entombed within, and that he did in fact die at the advanced age of 80, after reigning for 68 years. More recent morphometric analysis of the rest of the skeleton demonstrates that the entombed individual could not have lived less than fifty years and most likely died in their eighth or ninth decade of life, consistent with the textual evidence rather than the younger age estimates of early researchers.[23][24] The disparity between the dental wear and the skeletal morphology is likely due to Pakal's aristocratic status, which would have allowed him access to a softer, less abrasive diet than the average Maya person so that his teeth naturally acquired less wear. Unusually large accumulations of dental calculus on his teeth are also consistent with such an interpretation.[25][26]

Further archaeological explorations have continued to shed light on Pakal's burial site. In 2016 an underground water tunnel was discovered under the Temple of Inscriptions; a stucco mask depicting an elderly Pakal was subsequently found in August 2018.[27][28]

Pakal's sarcophagus

Carved lid of the tomb of Kʼinich 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.[clarification needed] 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.[29] 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.[30] Interpretation of the lid has raised controversy. Linda Schele saw Pakal falling down the Milky Way into the southern horizon.[31]



Pakal's tomb has been the subject of ancient astronaut speculations since its appearance in Erich von Däniken's 1968 best-seller Chariots of the Gods? Von Däniken reproduced a drawing of the sarcophagus lid (though incorrectly labelling it as being from Copán) and compared Pakal's pose to that of Project Mercury astronauts in the 1960s; he interpreted drawings underneath Pakal as rockets, and offered the sarcophagus lid as possible evidence of an extraterrestrial influence on the ancient Maya.[32][33] Such an interpretation is almost universally denounced by archaeologists, epigraphers, and art historians of the Maya, who point out that von Däniken's claim relies solely upon visual inspection, paying heed neither to the broader archaeological context nor to a wealth of additional research on Classic Maya artistic conventions, symbolism, cosmology, and written history.[34]

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 would 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 "Pacal Votan" for Pakal.[35]


  1. ^ a b In the Maya calendar: born, 8 Ajaw 13 Pop; died, 6 Etzʼnab 11 Yax (Tiesler & Cucina 2004, p. 40).
  2. ^ In the Maya calendar: acceded, 5 Lamat 1 Mol; died, 6 Etzʼnab 11 Yax (Martin & Grube 2008, p. 162).
  3. ^ Pakal's record was surpassed in June 1711, by Louis XIV of France; Louis's record still stands as of today.
  4. ^ Maya rulership titles and name glyphs themselves do not use regnal numbers; they are a convenience only of modern scholars.


  1. ^ Skidmore 2010, p. 71.
  2. ^ Skidmore 2010, p. 7.
  3. ^ Martin & Grube 2008, pp. 162–168.
  4. ^ Wade, Lizzie (2019-04-09). "Believe in Atlantis? These archaeologists want to win you back to science". Science | AAAS. Retrieved 2019-04-14.
  5. ^ Skidmore 2010, pp. 71-73.
  6. ^ Martin & Grube 2008, p. 162.
  7. ^ Skidmore 700, pp. 56-57, pp. 71-73, p. 83, p. 91.
  8. ^ Martin & Grube 2008, pp. 162-165.
  9. ^ Martin & Grube 2008, pp. 162-168.
  10. ^ Tiesler, Vera (2006). "Life and death of the ruler: recent bioarchaeological findings". In Tiesler, Vera; Cucina, Andrea (eds.). Janaab' Pakal of Palenque: Reconstructing the Life and Death of a Maya Ruler. University of Arizona Press. pp. 21–47. ISBN 978-0-8165-2510-2.
  11. ^ Skidmore 2010, pp. 71-73.
  12. ^ Martin & Grube 2008, pp. 162-168.
  13. ^ Skidmore 2010, pp. 71-73.
  14. ^ Martin & Grube 2008, p. 162.
  15. ^ Tiesler, Vera (2006). "Life and death of the ruler: recent bioarchaeological findings". In Tiesler, Vera; Cucina, Andrea (eds.). Janaab' Pakal of Palenque: Reconstructing the Life and Death of a Maya Ruler. University of Arizona Press. pp. 21–47. ISBN 978-0-8165-2510-2.
  16. ^ Tiesler & Cucina 2004, p. 40.
  17. ^ Guenter, Stanley (2007). "The Tomb of K'inich Janaab Pakal: The Temple of the Inscriptions at Palenque" (PDF). Mesoweb Articles. p. 5. Retrieved 2 September 2022.
  18. ^ Tiesler, Vera (2006). "Life and death of the ruler: recent bioarchaeological findings". In Tiesler, Vera; Cucina, Andrea (eds.). Janaab' Pakal of Palenque: Reconstructing the Life and Death of a Maya Ruler. University of Arizona Press. pp. 21–47. ISBN 978-0-8165-2510-2.
  19. ^ Stuart, David (2005). The Inscriptions from Temple XIX at Palenque. The Pre-Columbian Art Research Institute. pp. 117–119, 152–153. ISBN 0-93-405110-0.
  20. ^ Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Mexico
  21. ^ Mathews, p. 1.
  22. ^ Stokstad, p. 388.
  23. ^ Buikstra, Jane E.; Milner, George R.; Boldsen, Jesper L. (2006). "Janaab' Pakal: the age-at-death controversy revisited". In Tiesler, Vera; Cucina, Andrea (eds.). Janaab' Pakal of Palenque: Reconstructing the Life and Death of a Maya Ruler. University of Arizona Press. pp. 48–59. ISBN 978-0-8165-2510-2.
  24. ^ Stout, Sam D.; Streeter, Margaret (2006). "A histomorphometric analysis of the cortical bone of Janaab' Pakal's rib". In Tiesler, Vera; Cucina, Andrea (eds.). Janaab' Pakal of Palenque: Reconstructing the Life and Death of a Maya Ruler. University of Arizona Press. pp. 60–67. ISBN 978-0-8165-2510-2.
  25. ^ Mathews, p. 1.
  26. ^ Tiesler, Vera (2006). "Life and death of the ruler: recent bioarchaeological findings". In Tiesler, Vera; Cucina, Andrea (eds.). Janaab' Pakal of Palenque: Reconstructing the Life and Death of a Maya Ruler. University of Arizona Press. pp. 21–47. ISBN 978-0-8165-2510-2.
  27. ^ "Incredible Maya discovery: Ancient king's mask uncovered in Mexico". Fox News. 29 August 2018.
  28. ^ "This Haunting Mask Could Be The Face of The Longest-Reigning Ancient Maya King". Science Alert. 30 August 2018.
  29. ^ Schele & Mathews 1998, pp. 111-112.
  30. ^ Stuart & Stuart 2008, pp. 174-177
  31. ^ Freidel, Schele & Parker 1993, pp. 76-77
  32. ^ Finley, p.1
  33. ^ von Däniken, pp. 100-101.
  34. ^ Turner, Derek D.; Turner, Michelle I. (2021). ""I'm not saying it was aliens": an archaeological and philosophical analysis of a conspiracy theory". In Killin, Anton; Allen-Hermanson, Sean (eds.). Explorations in Archaeology and Philosophy. Springer. pp. 7–24. ISBN 978-3-030-61051-7.
  35. ^ Daniel Pinchbeck 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl (2006), p. 226


Regnal titles
Preceded by King of Palenque
July 27, 615 – August 29, 683
Succeeded by