Pakal's Sarcophagus [Photo by Jeff Purcell]

"When Ruz stepped through the open door [of the tomb] for the first time, he saw a huge limestone block running south to north that filled the vaulted chamber. Calcium deposits reflected the light in a magical way that is evident even in black-and-white photographs taken on that day. Ruz stood on the threshold of a unique and unparalled example of Maya art. In terms of pottery or jade, richer tombs have since been found, but nothing to equal the sarcophagus in size or imagery is known in all the Americas. Relief carvings adorn the top and edges of the lid, the sides of the sarcophagus, and the blocks on which it stands. Together the images and text give us the most detailed and elegant exposition on Maya concepts of death, resurrection, and the afterlife.

...A great tree emerges from the bowl of sacrifice and rises behind the body of the dying king...Today we know [the tree] represents the Milky Way as it stretches across the sky from the southern horizon to the north. The White-Bone-Snake at the base of this image represents the hole in the southern horizon that is the passageway of souls and ancestors who have been reborn. The Maya name for the Milky Way was Sak Beh, the "White Road."

...Hanab-Pakal's impossibly awkward position declares that this is the moment of greatest transformation in his life. His upturned loincloth and akinbo jewelry rise as he falls into the maw of the White-Bone-Snake. As he falls, he travels down the tree that had its analog as the Milky Way, or Sak Beh. The verb describing the event of death reads och beh, "he entered the road." Death is a journey down the Milky Way tree-road into the Otherworld. "

Linda Schele & Peter Mathews, The Code of Kings, p. 109, 113

NOTE: The world-tree represented on Pakal's sarcophagus lid is the same world-tree as is featured in the central panel of the Temple of the Cross. A stucco portrait of Pacal as a young man in the guise of the corn god was found underneath the sarcophagus.