A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America
Recent excavations on the jungle-cloaked South Acropolis at the Late Classic (ca. A.D. 379-799) Maya city of Palenque in Chiapas, Mexico, have yielded a tomb decorated with the first painted murals ever found at the site, a 12-foot-tall sculptured support pier bearing the portrait of a king, and a limestone throne inscribed with more than 200 glyphs.
Project codirector Alfonso Morales and field director Christopher Powell of Mexico's Instituto Nacional de Antropología y Historia found the tomb while investigating anomalies detected using ground-penetrating radar atop an unexcavated pyramid known as temple XX. "Our first clue that this was a tomb," says project codirector Merle Greene Robertson of the San Francisco-based Pre-Columbian Art Research Institute (PARI), "came when we found the capstone shortly after we began digging a test trench. We removed the capstone and peered inside. With the aid of a flashlight, we could see that the walls were decorated with murals, which include an image of God K, the celestial lightning god. Eleven intact pottery vessels and numerous pieces of jade were scattered about the chamber floor." Excavation and stabilization of the tomb is likely to take several months.
Work undertaken in a nearby mound, known as temple XIX, yielded a 12-foot-tall sculptured support pier with portraits of a ruler and his subjects, and a rectangular bench or platform, possibly a throne, which is in pristine condition save for a break in the center of one side. Carved on the sides of the platform, which measures five by nine feet, are 12 figures and more than 200 glyphs. The figure depicted on the front is Kinich Ahkal Mo' Nab, ruler of Palenque from ca. A.D. 721 to 764. The inscription tells us that the king was an incarnation of an important primordial Maya god, whom scholars call GI and who, according to the newfound inscription, began his mythical reign on March 10, 3309 B.C.
"We have found what is perhaps the most important Maya inscription to come along in years," says project epigrapher David Stuart. "It records mythological history before the birth of the site's three patron gods, known as the Palenque Triad. Moreover, it underscores the importance of a king's relationship to the site's founding deities."
On the floor of temple XIX, archaeologists found part of what may be a second pier with the head of an important person, perhaps a ruler, beautifully carved in limestone. More information on recent work on the South Acropolis is available on PARI's web page.