Alberto Lhuillier and Pakal's Tomb

Archaeologist, Alberto Ruz Lhuillier, was born in France on January 27, 1906. He moved to Mexico, becoming a nationalized Mexican on September 3, 1940. Ruz took much pride in his Mexican identity and acquired an admiration for Mexico’s history. In 1938, he began studying anthropology at the Escuela Nacional de Antropologia e Historia (ENAH) in Mexico City. Ruz graduated from ENAH in 1945, becoming one of the first people in Mexico to acquire the professional title of “archaeologist.” In February of 1949, Ruz was assigned head of the excavation team at the Palenque ruins by the director of the Instituto Nacional de Antropologia e Historia (INAH), which is where he landed his great discovery.

With a height of 65 feet, the Temple of Inscriptions is the tallest structure found at the Palenque ruins. It possesses a wide frontal stairway that leads up to the temple where the three panels, covered in 620 carved hieroglyphs, are located. It was revealed by scholars that the hieroglyphs are dates of important events that occurred in Palenque, such as enemy attacks on the city and the rise of a new ruler to the throne, with the latest of the hieroglyphs dating back to 692 A.D. What intrigued Ruz about the Temple of Inscriptions was its flagstone flooring, as no other structure’s floor in Palenque was made of this type of material. He became particularly interested in the double row of holes that one of the stone slabs possessed. Ruz’s close observations of the temple allowed him to notice a valuable detail, it appeared the temple’s walls did not end at the floor.

Upon lifting the stone slab with the double row of holes, Ruz discovered an underground stairway that led into the center of the structure, but the entry had been purposefully blocked with large stones. From 1949 to 1951, Ruz and his team spent three seasons working countless hours that consisted of digging and removing stones from the hidden stairway.

In their fourth excavation season of 1952, they finished uncovering the stairway’s seventy-one stair steps, which led directly to a barred stone doorway. After digging through the doorway, Ruz and his team discovered a second blockaded door and in front of it was placed a box containing seven jade beads and earplugs with three red painted shells. Behind the second doorway, they found yet another box, which held the remains of six human skeletons. To their astonishment, Ruz and his team came across a third doorway that entered into a 29 ft. long by 13 ft. wide room, in which their great discovery was accomplished. The walls of the mysterious room were adorned in stucco figures that appeared to be nine men dressed in ancient attire. It is unclear whether these men were the Nine Lords of the Night from Maya theology or ancestors of the deceased. In the room, there was also a large rectangular stone slab, decorated in carved hieroglyphs, that was thought by Ruz to be an altar for Maya priests.

In mid November of 1952, Ruz solved the mystery of the hidden staircase in Palenque's Temple of Inscriptions after he ordered to have the large stone slab lifted and beneath it was found the tomb of the great Palenque ruler, K’inich Janahb Pakal. Pakal had ascended the throne when he was twelve years old and ruled the city of Palenque until his death in 683 A.D., at the age of eighty. Inside his sarcophagus, Pakal was found adorned with several pieces of jade jewelry, including a burial mask made of numerous jade fragments, shells and stones. Ruz’s discovery of Pakal’s tomb in the Temple of Inscriptions allowed for advancement in the understanding of ancient Maya culture and inspired Mexican archaeologists to further explore the intricate Maya architecture.