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In new study, Mexican researchers extract intact DNA from Palenque's Red Queen
The exams estimate that the Red Queen must have died at approximately 60 years age, the physical anthropologist at INAH, Arturo Romano, has said, in a particular manner, that it is difficult for her to have reached that age given her severe osteoporosis. Photo: Michel Zabe INAH.
MEXICO CITY.- The osseous remains of the Red Queen, the enigmatic character from Lakamha, “Place of the big waters”, today known as Palenque, in Chiapas, are being scientifically analyzed in order to date the burial in a more precise manner. It is still unknown as to whether the Red Queen was the wife of the celebrated dignitary Pakal II or if she was a ruler of that ancient Mayan metropolis.

Although it’s not the first time that the Red Queen’s remains have been subject to various studies, the recent investigation initiative, which has the endorsement of the National Institute of Anthropology and History, awaits for the exams (among them DNA mitochondrional exams) to provide new information about the funerary context of this figure in Mayan history. She has been estimated to have died more than 1,300 years ago.

In an interview, Lourdes Muñoz PhD informed that before the remains of the Red Queen returned to Palenque, in June 2012, they extracted a collagen sample from one of her vertebrae for new studies. In that respect, Javiera Cervini, expect in geochemistry at UAM, commented that the preservation state of the collagen fibers present in the vertebrae was impressive and that a clear DNA sample could be gathered.

“The first thing to emphasize in the studies is precisely the state of preservation found in untreated bones. This is when we have to remember that the Red Queen’s body was covered in cinnabar, from which her skeleton acquired the red tone and which is the reason she was named the Red Queen.”

The tombs of the Red Queen and Pakal II are the biggest and most elaborate from the one discovered in the ancient Mayan city of Palenque. Both have been archaeologically dated –by the ceramic offerings found in both– to be between 600 and 700 AD.

Archaeologist Eduardo Ramos recalls the Red Queen to have been linked to lady Tz’ak-b’u Ajaw, wife of Pakal; lady Kinuuw Mat, wife of another dignitary: Batz Chan Mat; and Men Nik, wife of K’inich Ahkal Mo’Nahb’ III. However, the former two have been discarded because of their presence in the VIII century Palencan dynasty.

From former physical anthropology studies, coordinated by Arturo Romano, Vera Tiesler and Andrea Cucina; and other DNA, carbon 14 and facial reconstruction studies made on the mortal remains of this character –which is how they discarded another possible candidate Muwaan Mat, mother of Pakal–, the hypothesis have lead to the Red Queen being Tz’ak-b’u Ajaw, wife of Pakal, mother of two Palenque dignitaries and grandmother of the last Mayan ruler.

In spite of the exams estimate that the Red Queen must have died at approximately 60 years, the physical anthropologist at INAH, Arturo Romano, has said, in a particular manner, that it is difficult for her to have reached that age given her severe osteoporosis.

However, regardless of what the new analysis may provide, all investigators (archaeologists bioarchaeologists, chemists or physical anthropologists) coincide that the Red Queen’s biography is incomplete, and as her discoverer (Arnoldo Gonzalez) points out in his book, The Red Queen, A Real Tomb: “It is possible that in a near future new archaeological data that remains hidden in the subsoil and allows us to relate the queen with another member of her family. For example, in another central part of the city they could find the tomb of Kan B’alam (one of the sons of Tz’ak-b’u Ajaw), which has eluded archaeological excavation and has possibly escaped grave robbers.”



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