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Mexican archaeologists enter, for the first time, a 1,500 year old tomb in Palenque
The murals show said mythical characters wearing headdresses, shields and sandals. Photo: DMC INAH. H. Montano.
MEXICO CITY.- A multidisciplinary team of the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH – Conaculta) entered a mortuary chamber (discovered thirteen years before in Palenque, Chiapas) for the first time. This chamber is thought to contain the remains of one of the first sovereign of this city K’uk Bahlam I, who rose to power in 431 AC, and founded the dynasty to which the celebrated Mayan governor Pakal belonged to.

This tomb is approximately 1,500 years old and it’s located inside the XX Temple of that archaeological zone. It’s at least two centuries older than Pakal’s sepulcher, which was discovered 50 years ago in the same site by archaeologist Alberto Ruz Lhuillier.

Before the group of specialists could enter the mortuary chamber (last Tuesday) the lens of a tiny video camera had been the only one to have captured the interior of this chamber. The first occasion was in 1999, during the work of the Pre-Colombian Art Research Institute (PARI), and it most recently occurred in June 2011 when INAH first circulated images of the chamber to the media.

Arnoldo Gonzalez Cruz – the archaeologist that found the Red Queen’s tomb in 1994, also in Palenque –, is working alongside the archaeologist and restorer, Rogelio Rivero Chong, who will intervene in the XX Temple project, located in the South Acropolis of this ancient territory that should have been called Lakamha or “Place of the Great Waters”.

“Given the dates – indicated Arnoldo Gonzalez – we happen to be in face of the birth of the Palencan dynasty, in the year 400 after Christ. Even though we could be talking about the mortuary chambers of the founder of this dynasty, this doesn’t stop being mere speculation until we commence the archaeological exploration; this chamber could even be an antechamber since we don’t know if there is more below the ground.”

Above the surface, in which no osseous remains of any personage – although it’s most likely these will be discovered once the excavations are started –, eleven vases and about a hundred small pieces, most of which are green stone, likely to be jade, a ring and a pendant have been found along with a mural painting that decorates the funerary space.

Gonzalez Cruz, who is in charge of the Archaeological Project of Palenque, said that it was the PARI project, headed by the archaeologists Merle Greene Robertson and Alfonso Morales, that discovered the tomb in the XX Temple; however, the pyramid’s instability – of 18 meters (59 feet) tall – prevented it’s exploration, which is why they had only obtained images of the tomb through a video camera.

Unlike the funerary rooms of Pakal and the Red Queen, the chamber or antechamber of the XX Temple doesn’t contain a sarcophagus, at least not where the explorations have been made; but it does have mural paintings in lively red tones in its three sides, with representations of the Nine Lords of Xibalba, or the underworld, same which appear, modeled in stucco, in the tomb of the celebrated Mayan governor.

The murals show said mythical characters wearing headdresses, shields and sandals. “The important part about the funerary sites of this epoch, the Early Classical period (400 – 550 AD), is the paintings; we are before one of the few examples of murals discovered in the funerary context of Palenque, which is why this work is so important,” specifies Arnoldo Gonzalez.

That which could only be seen in video, is what is being observed directly by the eyes of archaeologists, restorers, chemists, architects, photographers, graphic designers, among others, plus a team of manual workers – some of which are experienced in archaeology – reunited to preserve the space in the best conditions possible.





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