During a long reign of some 68 years Pakal was responsible for the construction or extension of some of Palenque’s most notable surviving inscriptions and monumental architecture.
Pakal ascended the throne at age 12, on July 29, 615, and lived to the age of 80. He saw the expansion of Palenque’s power in the western part of the Maya states, and initiated a building program at its capital that produced some of Maya civilization’s finest art and architecture. He was preceded as Ruler of Palenque by his mother, Lady Sak K’uk’. As the Palenque dynasty seems to have had Queens only when there was no eligible male heir, Sak K’uk’ transferred rulership to her son upon his official maturity.
Pakal was succeeded by his son Chan Bahlum II. whom was succeeded by a younger son Kan Xul II. After his death, Pakal was deified and said to communicate with his descendants. Pakal was buried within the Temple of Inscriptions. Though Palenque had been examined by archaeologists before, the secret to opening his tomb—closed off by a stone slab with stone plugs in the holes, which had until then escaped the attention of archaeologists—was discovered by Mexican archaeologist Alberto Ruz Lhuillier in 1948. It took four years to clear the rubble from the stairway leading down to Pakal’s tomb, but was finally uncovered in 1952.
His skeletal remains were still lying in his coffin, wearing a jade mask and bead necklaces, surrounded by sculptures and stucco reliefs depicting the
ruler’s transition to divinity and figures from Maya mythology. That the bones within the tomb are really those of Pakal himself is under debate due to the fact that the analysis of wear on the skeleton’s teeth places the age of the owner at death as 40 years younger than Pakal would have been at his death. Epigraphers insist that the inscriptions on the tomb indicate that it is indeed K’inich Janaab’ Pakal entombed within, and that he died at the age of 80 after ruling for around 70 years.
Some contest that the glyphs refer to two people with the same name or that an unusual method for recording time was used, but other experts in the field say that allowing for such possibilities would go against everything else that is known about the Maya calendar and how they recorded events. The most commonly accepted explanation for the irregularity is that Pakal, being elite, had access to softer, less abrasive food than the average person so that his teeth naturally acquired less wear. Despite the controversy, it remains one of the most spectacular finds of Maya archeology. A replica of his tomb is found at the National Museum of Anthropology and History in Mexico City.