The Secret Skull of Pakal the Great: An Academic Cover-Up?

By Mark Andrew Carpenter

In 1952, deep within the smoldering cedar and mahogany forests of southern Mexico, and after four years of arduous toiling, the archaeologist Alberto Ruz Lhuillier finally finished removing the rubble from the stairway in order to gain access to the hidden tomb of Pakal the Great . On finding the intact sarcophagus of the Maya ruler, Ruz went down in history for having made the most spectacular discovery ever uncovered in Mesoamerica, unrivaled even to this day. Ruz described the spellbinding burial chamber in his journal:

“Out of the dark shadows emerged a fairy-tale sight, a fantastic and transcendental view of another world. It looked like a magic cave sculptured out of ice, the walls shimmering and bright like crystals of snow… It gave the impression of an abandoned chapel. Bas-relief stucco figures were walking along the walls. Then my eyes looked at the floor, which was taken up almost completely by a huge, perfectly preserved carved stone.”


The mysterious site now known as Palenque, has been steeped in conflict both in ancient and modern times. The step pyramid within which Pakal’s sarcophagus was discovered is today known as the Temple of the Inscriptions due to the ornate, iconographic glyphs that adorn it. These glyphs were finally deciphered in the seventies and they tell ominous tales of warfare and human sacrifice.

Adjacent to the Temple of Inscriptions is another, less impressive step pyramid, called Temple XIII, in which another Maya dignitary crypt was discovered in 1994. The mystery woman’s identity remains controversial as there are no discernable glyphs on her pyramid, sarcophagus, or within her tomb. She is known simply as the Red Queen, owing to the thick layer of cinnabar (mercury ore powder) that encased her bones, identical to the cinnabar found on Pakal’s remains.

A Site of Constant Controversy

Enigmas and controversies stack up so quickly at Palenque, it’s difficult to keep up. The spectacular megalithic structures themselves raise eyebrows. They were allegedly constructed by a people who had advanced knowledge of astronomy, yet had only basic stone tools and had failed to invent the wheel. Palenque is home, according to the mainstream academics, to the world’s most ancient, pressurized aqueduct and its purpose is a complete mystery.

Underground water tunnels have been discovered directly beneath the Temple of the Inscriptions, mirroring recent discoveries at the equally bizarre Mesoamerican site Teotihuacan, known as “the place where men become gods.” The burial chambers of both Maya elites are odd in terms of the mercury sulfide powder and the crystal/mineral stalactites described by Ruz. All of this, and more, has aroused the amateur alternative history community who insist that when turned horizontally, the icon on Pakal’s sarcophagus lid depicts him operating what they claim may be an interstellar vehicle.

Asaf Braverman / Flickr 

Not only did Palenque witness mortal combat, rival kidnappings, and ritualistic killings in ancient times, but today it is an intellectual war zone. Within the mainstream academic community, two primary factions arose in heated debates regarding the biographical information decoded from the glyphs and anthropological analyses of the remains. The epigraphers challenged the original findings reached by the physical anthropologists once they cracked the Maya lexicon and were able to retrieve basic biographical information about the ruler entombed therein. There were two major points of contention. On the one hand, there was Pakal’s age, since the glyphs indicate he was over eighty years old, while the anthropologists believed him to be around forty. On the other, his lack of anatomical deformities gave rise to questions since the epigraphers insisted that the iconography of Pakal’s entire bloodline revealed that this ruling class were carriers of unique genetic traits passed down from generation to generation.

Deformation or Defamation? The Hunt for Malformations within Pakal’s Family

A potential match between the depictions of Janaab’ Pakal’s deformity and the skeletal evidence was established during the Second Palenque Round Table. In their work, Greene, Rosenblum, and Scandizzo conclude from the sculptured portraits of the ruler that he suffered from a severe unilateral clubfoot. They argue that the full-figure portraits of Pakal on the Simojovel Plaque, on Piers B and D of House D in the Palace, and on the sarcophagus lid show a twisted foot. They say a similarly malformed foot is displayed on the Dumbarton Oaks Panel 2, attributed to Pakal’s grandson Hok.

Apart from clubfoot malformations, Greene and her colleagues propose from the broad nose, finger clubbing, elongated jaw, and large head in the portrait of Lady S’ak’K’uK’, that Pakal’s mother must have suffered the disfiguring effects of advanced acromegaly. Kan B’alam, Pakal’s son and heir to the throne, had a sixth toe and finger, as depicted in his palace portrait (Pier D, House A). Additional examples of polydactyly come from the Temple of the Inscriptions , the Temple of the Foliated Cross, and the Temple of the Sun, all ascribed to Pakal’s successor. Pakal himself is proposed to have been affected by polydactyly as well. Greene, Rosenblum Scandizzo, and Scandizzo encountered what they consider to be hints of his affliction on the sarcophagus lid, which they suggest depicts Pakal’s split left fifth toe.

Although there is still no unanimous agreement, the consensus amongst the experts is that Pakal was indeed of a very advanced age and no genetic deformities are attributed to him. It is however universally agreed that both Pakal and the Red Queen had deformed skulls and teeth. These deformations they insist, are the result of artificial cranial / dental modification. Their skeletons are described as “robust” and the skulls as “tabular oblique” in shape.

Finding the Lost Evidence: An INAH Cover-Up?

Excluding Alberto Ruz and all the epigraphers, whose work is beyond reproach, the current regime seems more concerned with paradigmatic damage control and running data interference rather than legitimate discovery. Any objective research exploring the cranium of Pakal, the DNA analyses of either dignitary, or the radiocarbon dating analyses of the remains, is rendered impossible by these authorities.

In this digital age, anyone can seek out information and images of anything and everything online. Any and everything, except for photographs and diagrams of Pakal’s skull, the corresponding DNA, and radiocarbon test results. All of these absolutely do exist, as is established by the conspicuous and contradictory information provided by their own reports.

Within the numerous reports spanning the sixty-eight years since the discovery of the hidden tomb of Pakal the Great, there are many direct references to photographic documentation and the removal of the skull for laboratory analysis:

“During the following three days, (November 1952) a support team was entrusted with the exploration: medical doctor and physical anthropologist Eusebio Davalos Hurtado, art expert Jose Servin Palencia, and Arturo Romano Pacheco, who had been commissioned to take photographs and assist in the general tasks of onsite recording and analysis. For the occasion, heavy photographic and lighting equipment and specialized osteometric tools were brought in from Mexico City in preparation for a detailed, up-to-date exploration. Several intensive working days of detailed onsite recording ensued until interrupted by the holiday season. It was decided that only the objects of personal attire were to be lifted from the tomb, along with the dignitary’s skull, which was to undergo a thorough lab analysis.”


These photographs have never seen the light of day and neither has any “thorough lab analysis” of the skull. The skull was not returned to the sarcophagus until November of 1978 and this was only after the epigraphers finally managed to translate the glyphs and had been demanding a reexamination for nearly a decade. This reexamination did not actually occur until 1999, close to half-century after the initial find, with conclusions not formulated until 2005.

This means the skull was in the possession of the INAH (National Institute of Anthropology and History) for twenty-six years. Given the global fascination that was sparked with the initial discovery, it is highly suspicious that more attention and study was not paid to the skull during this period, especially due to the fact that the initial reports were being challenged. This discrepancy is even acknowledged in a recent report:

“In light of the ongoing debates, it is surprising that the original investigation was not followed up by a second thorough in situ study of the skeleton during the 1970s, designed to resolve the increasingly irreconcilable arguments. In the time between the discovery of the sarcophagus in 1952 and our recent study in 1999, it was reopened at least two more times.”

Yet another puzzle needs to be pondered from the same statement, thanks to the phrase “reopened at least two more times.” At least? It seems the INAH is not exactly sure how many times they have opened the twelve-foot-long, five-ton sarcophagus lid to tamper with these precious remains. When the skull was returned in 1978, yet another round of photographs was taken, which remain under lock and key. “Facing the advanced progress of deterioration, Solano proceeded with photographic recording and resolved to inject the bones in situ with Paraloid B-72, diluted with thinner.” Surprising would be one way to describe the situation. Highly suspect is however much more appropriate, considering the scientific magnitude and voracious public interest.

To put this all into context, the original discovery came thirty years after Pakal’s Egyptian counterpart King Tut had been exhumed. It is utterly inconceivable that the collective scientific community, combined with the general public, was not clamoring to get a peek at this skull. Lord Pakal the Great should be an archeological rock star and the face of Maya civilization, with his image plastered all over millions of glossy magazine covers and fawned over by multitudes. But instead, he is a ghost of obscurity.

Tiesler and Cucina

The Camera Never Lies: Photographic Evidence of the Red Queen

Even after the most recent opening of the tomb, still no photographs or diagrams of the skull have been published in scientific journals or made available to the public. The photos and diagrams that have been published, border realms of the absurd, appearing to be part of some infantile deception. The photos (mostly Polaroids) are all angled in such a way that the skull is completely obscured, while the diagrams simply omit the cranium entirely. This lack of transparency is starkly contrasted by the documentation of the Red Queen. She has been thoroughly photographed and these photos displayed in crystal clear, high definition celebrity.

That is not to suggest however, that there are not inconstancies regarding her remains which were entirely removed from her sarcophagus, studied for approximately a decade, and then could not be returned to the sarcophagus allegedly due to humidity issues. Supposedly, her remains were returned to somewhere near to her original resting place. In other words, the current whereabouts of the Red Queen’s skeleton have never been disclosed.

As if this were not all perplexing enough, some basic information about these two Maya elites is questionable, particularly when taking into consideration the credibility void. The measurements of both Pakal and the Red Queen are cast into doubt based on simple observations of the dimensions of the sarcophagi when compared to the official figures regarding their heights. Pakal is said to have been 1.65 meters tall (5.4 ft), but his sarcophagus is 3.01 meters long (9.9 ft). Meanwhile, the cavity within the monolithic coffin seems no more than 0.4 meters (1.3 ft) inwards from each edge. This is only a rough approximation, but if accurate, that would make Pakal over seven feet tall. This estimate is also reinforced by iconography that depicts not only Pakal, but the entire ruling class as distinguishable by their greater size, elongated heads, and other unique physical traits such as supernumerary fingers and toes, or clubbed feet.

Can DNA Analysis Shed a Little Light on the Subject?

Technological advances in the field of DNA analysis are perhaps the greatest tool available to researchers faced with the difficult task of shedding light onto the darker recesses of ancient history. Developing genetic profiles for these Maya elites was supposed to be part of the 1999 study. It’s needless to say that these profiles would be essential to learning more about the cryptic Maya civilization. True to form, the experts entrusted with this task not only fail to publish these profiles, but also contradict themselves as to their very existence:

“Taphonomic changes were noted at both the macroscopic and microscopic level, making both age determination and other analyses problematic, and DNA extraction not possible .”

Within this very same report, compiled from the reopening in 1999 and subsequent studies through to 2005, they clearly state that genetic analysis reveals Pakal and the Red Queen are not directly related. This would be impossible to ascertain if no genetic material had been harvested:

“An effort by Carney Matheson and colleagues to extract and evaluate DNA samples from Pakal and three other individuals from the site, among them the Red Queen, has been fruitful only recently, after overcoming problems related to the poor preservation of the remains and the massive cinnabar covering. The preliminary results reject any genetic relationship between Pakal and the Red Queen.”

It is also important to note that this study was published in 2006. Since then, major advances have been made in the sensitivity and capability of DNA analysis. Furthermore, as Maya remains go, these two individuals were hermetically sealed in stone coffins before being disturbed, and cinnabar coating or not, the forest humidity that rapidly devours ancient bones has not impeded the successful DNA extraction from many similar Maya skeletons that were exposed to the elements. There have been no updated, follow-up, or conclusory results published to date.

Are Any Conclusions Possible with the Evidence at Hand?

What can be speculatively gleaned from this travesty? What exactly are they hiding? It can be reasonably speculated, given the iconographic evidence, that the ruling elite of Palenque constituted a genetically distinct group of humans, and their taxonomy threatens the entire conventional pre-Columbian narrative regarding Maya civilization.

Perhaps Pakal’s skull displays deformities that cannot possibly be caused by artificial cranial deformation. Ancient head-boarding or binding techniques cannot account for abnormalities such as the lack of a sagittal suture, displaced foramen magnum, or greater cranial volume, which have been observed by independent researchers within other pre-Columbian cultures. Maybe the skull shows evidence of even more bizarre features. It is not remotely within the ethical prerogative of any scientific, historic or archaeological authority to deliberately distort human history. This concealment of data constitutes a severe breech of scientific conduct. 

Originally published on Ancient Origins

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