Museo de Sitio de Palenque "Alberto Ruz Lhuillier"

The wonderful site museum at Palenque commemorates the archaeologist Alberto Ruz and his 1952 discovery of Pakal's extraordinary tomb at the base of an interior stair within the Temple of the Inscriptions.

The exhibits at the museum underscore Palenque's signature ability to create sensitive personal portraiture, with its ability to keep meticulous dynastic records, and with a penchant to interweave actual historical events with mythical and religious drama.

Pakal the Great, 11th rule of Palenque, in the guise of the young corn god

Modeled stucco head of Pakal the Great, discovered under his sarcophagus

Born March 24, 603 ( Maya longcount), ruled for 68 years & died Aug 26, 683 (

"Palenque sculptors captured the essence of a youthful Pakal the Great in this modeled stucco head, discovered under the sarcophagus in which the king was interred, deep within the Temple of Inscriptions."

Mary Miller & Simon Martin, Courtly Art of the Ancient Maya, p. 214

Pakal ascended the throne in AD 615 at the age of 12 during dark and turbulent times. Palenque had been repeatedly sacked by Calakmul, and Pakal received the kingship from his mother in the absence of other surviving male heirs. Pakal's father was of noble birth but not royal.

During his rule, Pakal extended Palenque's power in the western region of the Maya states and led an artistic and cultural renaissance at home. He ruled for 68 years and was deified after his death.

Maya kings were often associated with the Maize God. Here, Pakal is shown in the guise of the young Maize God. His upswept hair is meant to represent corn leaves on a ripening ear. The flowers adorning his headband have been said to be cacao flowers.

Pakal's son Chan Bahlum, 12th ruler of Palenque, who built the Cross Group

Chan-Bahlum, Stucco Portrait Head

"Chan-Bahlum [ eldest son of Pakal ], who reigned from February 10, A.D. 684 to February 20, A.D. 702, constructed the group of temples called the Group of the Cross to house the panels that recorded his ancestral history, the divine origin of his lineage, his accession and other important rituals that took place during the first ten years of his reign.

Somber and dignified, the portrait depicts Chan-Bahlum in his prime with the intense look of a powerful ruler. His earlobe is pierced, and a square-cut lock of hair survives above his right ear. Once painted in full polychrome, this portrait reveals the artist's excellent understanding of facial anatomy and rivals Roman portraiture in its power and accuracy."

Schele & Miller, The Blood of Kings, p. 64

Portrait of unknown ruler of Palenque, once part of an architectural façade

Palenque Museum: Portrait of unknown ruler

"One of the most affecting and humanistic of personal portraits created by the Maya, this face was once part of an architectural facade, probably set high above the ground. In this context it is likely to depict one of Palenque's rulers. The master stucco artisan has captured a meditative and serene physiognomy that nevertheless suggests intelligence and concentration."

Mary Miller & Simon Martin, Courtly Art of the Ancient Maya, p. 216

Another affecting and sensitive portrait from Palenque

Palenque Museum: Portrait of Unknown Personage

Panel from Temple XIX Throne/Platform

"The exquisite execution of this recently discovered panel sets it among the first rank of Palenque reliefs. Buried for over 1,000 years in the rubble of Temple 21, its excavation exposed an almost unblemished surface to the light; traces of original red pigment remain visible...

The snarling felines at either side--whose titles name them as masked priests or court functionaries rather than actual beasts--hold complex bouquets of cloth, paper, and leaves."

Mary Miller & Simon Martin, Courtly Art of the Ancient Maya, p. 232

Detail of the central figure on the throne, the long-dead Pakal the Great

Portrait of Pakal from Temple XIX platform

At the heart of the scene is not the reigning king himself but the mighty presence of [the long dead] Pakal. His likeness is immediately recognizable, and his hieroglyphic caption confirms his identity. He is dressed in the guise of an ancestral king and holds a stingray spine bloodletter used in personal sacrifice.

Mary Miller & Simon Martin, Courtly Art of the Ancient Maya, p. 232

Ankal Mo' Nabh III, 14th ruler of Palenque and probable grandson of Pakal

Ahkal Mo' Nahb portrait from platform, Temple XIX

Ahkal Mo' Nahb ascended the throne in 721, following his unfortunate uncle K'inich K'an Joy Chitam who was captured by the forces of Tonina 11 years previous

Also identified by caption are the flanking figures of Ahkal Mo' Nahb and his heir Upakal K'inich. Oddly, both lords look away from Pakal, as if averting their gaze from a painfully luminous presence. They too have portraits we can recognize on other monuments, the reigning king's more refined features contrasting with the stronger profile of the king-to-be.

Intriguing portraits of other nobles are represented on the Temple XIX Platform

A fascinating feature of the Temple XIX platform/throne is the ten subsidiary court personages who are also portrayed, along with their name glyphs & titles. Here is a sampling:

The person on the left [Portrait I] is the central figure on the west side of the throne and is identified by the glyphic inscription [above center] as Salaj Bolon. He was involved in three different rites cited in Temple XIX and XXI texts and is referred to as Okib, which David Stuart believes might be a "pre-accession" designation of a future king, someone in line to assume the throne after K'inich Ahkal Mo' Nahb and his son or brother Upakal K'inich. In any case, Stuart believes Salaj Bolon will emerge as a major historical figure in the history of the kingdom, perhaps even as a successor to Upakal K'inich.

The name caption of the figure on the right [Portrait J] says he is a junior lord from a place or polity designated simply with the bat logogram. Stuart admits that his identity remains a mystery.

David Stuart, The Inscriptions from Temple XIX at Palenque, p. 129 & 131

Other attendants of Ahkal Mo' Nahb decorate the south face of the Platform

Attendants of Ahkal No' Nahb, south face of platform, Temple XIX

The person on the left [Portrait E] bears a title of Yajaw K'ahk', "Lord of Fire." Stuart thinks he was probably a major protagonist associated with Temple XIX, probably serving as a ritual specialist or official for this temple.

Although Portrait F is identified by name, he is not given a title in the inscription, probably likely due to his more junior rank within the depicted gathering of noblemen.

The person in Portrait G [far right] is named Muwaan Chanul Ahn and likewise does not have a title. He seems to occupy the most subordinate position within the gathering of nobles.

His unusual hands probably indicate acromegaly, a syndrome that results in an enlarged head and short wide fingers lacking nails. This condition was first recognized in the portraits of Lady Sak K'uk', Pakal the Great's mother, from her portrait on the side of Pakal's sarcophagus.

David Stuart, The Inscriptions from Temple XIX at Palenque, p. 126 & 127

Ahkal Mo' Nahb is also portrayed on the exquisite facing pier of Temple XIX

Another portrait of Ahkal Mo' Nahb was found in Temple 19:

"A single vertical stone panel, the front facing of a massive pier in Temple 19 may be the most exquisite stone carving known from the ancient New World."

Mary Miller & Simon Martin, Courtly Art of the Ancient Maya, p. 210

Detail of the Temple XIX pier shows the delicate workmanship of the carving

Detail of the tablet from Temple 19. Although badly broken at the time of the building's destruction, this panel displays unsurpassed levels of detail and surface finish.

Note the exceptional quality of the textile border and featherwork on left side of photo.

U Pakal K'inich succeded Ahkal Mo' Nahb and was probably his younger brother

Stucco panel from Temple IXIX at Palenque which portrays U Paka K'inich

U Pakal K'inich governed Palenque from 736 to 742 A.D.

The story of the discovery and restoration of this polychrome stucco panel from Temple XIX is available online from Mesoweb's The Group of the Cross Project and is a fascinating read.

Numerous incensarios found in the Cross Group indicate intense ceremonial life

Incensarios from the Cross Group

"The group of the buildings of the Crosses were the scene of intense ceremonial life, a context in which incense burners were of particular importance. The image of the god represented on this piece [left photo] is that of the nocturnal aspect of the sun, so that the deity has the ears of a jaguar, the animal with which the trajectory of this star was identified in the underworld.

The fact that this deity is one of the most frequently represented tells us that his extensive cult had a very special significance as the ruling class' link with the creative deity of the cosmos.

Thus, as the sun is born, dies, and is reborn again in repetitive cycles Maya kings succeeded one another without interrupting the continuity and order of the world."

Martha Cuevas García, MAYA [Palazzo Grassi], p. 601

The censer on the right represents the day aspect of the sun

Incensario from Temple of the Foliated Cross

Incensarios from the Temple of the FOliated Cross

"This piece, found as a result of explorations carried out between 1991 and 1994, comes from the Temple of the Foliated Cross. The use of composite incense burners in the Maya area has a long tradition that goes back to the Late Preclassic period. The most notable characteristics of these objects are the hollow, cylindrical pedestals with two flanges at each side. These traits are preserved until the Late Classic, a period when decoration becomes more complex.

The examples recovered in the Group of the Crosses at Palenque are characterized by having masks superimposed on the central face as if a headdress; it also includes birds of different types and figurines of deities at the top.

This example displays the face of GIII of the Palenque Triad, a deity that personifies the underworld sun. The bird holds the head of the Maize God in his beak, the same deity who is seen with his head replacing an ear of corn. At the peak stands the image of GII, kawil, a deity related to fertility and one of the most important symbols of the ruling nobility."

Martha Cuevas García, MAYA [Palazzo Grassi], p. 601

Many incensario found in the Cross Group display traces of original paint

Effigy incensarios of noble lords are often found in small residential sanctuaries

"This anthropomorphic head made of clay is an example of the artistic mastery of Palenque artists. It displays typically Maya traits and a mustache. As a headdress, it wears a small mask with the representation of the sun deity.

It formed part of an incense burner base with a complete effigy, an object type which is normally found in small sanctuaries within residential buildings. This piece was executed in the eighth century A.D. and it was placed in so-called Building 2, Group C."

Martha Cuevas García, MAYA [Palazzo Grassi], p. 636

Portrait Incensario found in Temple XV-C excavations

Portrait incensario

"This incense burner base, recovered from recent excavations of Temple XV-C at Palenque, is the example in the best state of preservation and displays the greatest artistic and technical perfection of this ceramic tradition. It is also a representation of complex religious symbolism.

Composite censers are objects used to burn aromatic resins during rituals, for which a bowl was placed in the upper part of the pedestal. They were also temporary receptacles of the deities; therefore the central motif of their decoration are the faces of these numens.

In the piece displayed here are human features without the attributes of supernatural beings, so perhaps it is the image of a deified ruler."

Martha Cuevas García, MAYA [Palazzo Grassi], p. 601

Simon Marin & Nikolai Grube say in "Chronical of the Maya Kings and Queens" that this incensario represents a Palenque queen (p. 170).