Unknown: The Sarcophagus lid of King K'inich Janaab' Pakal of B'aakal (A.D. 684)

(Temple of Inscriptions, Palenque, Mexico)


This is probably the most famous Maya object of all, this magnificent object is certainly a testament to the greatness of the civilization. King K'inich Janaab' Pakal (Great-Sun-Shield) or Pakal the Great was a king of the Maya city-state of B'aakal (=bone) with its capital of Lakam Ha (= Great Water) or Palenque as it is called today. Pakal took the throne when he was only 12 and ruled for 68 years, one of the longest known regal periods in history. Under his kingship the city-state of flourished as never before. When he finally died at the age of 80 he was buried in the Temple of inscriptions and placed within a sarcophagus with a death mask of jade.

The Sarcophagus lid is made from a solid piece of limestone and weighs about 5 tons. The image of the lid  shows us the instant of Pakal's death and his fall into the Maya underworld. Around the image there is a skyband with the image of kin ('day' and 'sun') in the upper right corner and akbal ('night' and 'darkness') in the upper left corner. An image of the Sun can on the right side of the skyband in the middle, an image of the moon in on the opposite side on the left. The background of this event is filled with all kind of signs like shells and jade beads.

In the center you can see the 'Wacah Chan', the world tree (the cross like thing). The tree is covered with mirrors and God C-signs which marks it as a thing of brilliance, power and sacredness. The Maya believed that the embodied the four cardinal directions and is a symbolic axis mundi which connects the planes of the Underworld and the sky with that of earth. The top of the tree reaches into the heavens, its roots are in the underworld. On top of this world tree you can see a bird-like creature. This is 'Itzam-Ye' the celestial bird, a symbol of the heavenly realm. The branches of the tree are in the shape of a square-nosed dragons which symbolize flowing blood - the sap of the tree. Wrapped around the branches there is the double-headed serpent bar. This is the symbol of Maya kingship. In the world tree it is also a symbol of the earthly middle world. The body of the serpent is made of jade. In his left mouth there is the head of God K (god of lightning, fire, dynastic descent). From the right mouth emerges the head of the Jester God (god of kings).

Pakal himself sits atop something which is called the 'Quadripartite Sun Monster'. This creature represents the sun as it travels on its journey through the cosmos. The creature is shown in a state of transition between life and death. the bottom half of the creature is skeletal while the upper half is still flesh. The Quadripartite Sun Monster also has the cimi (or Death sign). this means that we are seeing 'the death of sun' or sunset as is plunges into the underworld. On its journey into the underworld it will take Pakal with it. The underworld is represented at the bottom of the image. Joined at the chin, 2 skeletal dragons form a U-shaped container representing the entrance to to Cibalba (the Maya underworld). The snouts of the 2 dragons curve inward as if they are about to close over the falling Pakal.

This lid was made around A.D. 684.

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