As eternal guards watching over the deceased ruler, nine warriors were modeled on the walls of the funerary chamber in bas-relief. They represent the Lords of the Night, who were the regents of the nine levels or tiers, into which according to ancient Maya belief, the underworld was divided. (-Palenque Museum)
The sarcophagus of Maya ruler K’inich Janaab’ Pakal (Late Classic period, 603-683), Palenque’s greatest ruler. His tomb is located beneath the Temple of Inscriptions, and lay undetected for more than a century of explorations before being discovered by Alberto Ruz Lhuillier in the mid-twentieth century. The burial chamber contained the bones of one women and four men as sacrifices.
A mammoth limestone sarcophagus, its sides carved with portraits and hieroglyphs, filled most of the chamber. Inside lay the skeletal remains of Pakal, covered with jade beads, a disintegrated jade mosaic mask, and other offerings.
The most stunning object in the tomb was the magnificently carved sarcophagus lid, depicting Pakal’s apotheosis, emerging like the sun at sunrise from the jaws of the underworld, reclining on the mask of the partially skeletal sun god, marking the transition from death to life. The implication of this association is clear, for like the sun, Pakal mastered the forces of death and was reborn as a deity, just as the sun is reborn each day at sunrise. The pathway of their ascent is marked by the world tree, shown sprouting from behind Pakal. In its jeweled branches rests the double-headed serpent bar, the cosmic symbol of Maya rulership, and its crown sits the celestial bird. The entire scene is framed by a sky band containing the symbols of the most important celestial deities, including the sun, moon, and Venus.
-R. Sharer, The Ancient Maya, page 453.
+ For those interested, this drawing shows the details of the sarcophagus lid spoken of.
Courtesy & currently located at the Palenque Museum, Mexico. Photos taken by Maya Portrait Project.