The funerary mask of K’inich Janaab’ Pakal, one of the Maya civilization’s best-known rulers, is made of jade. Hector Montano / INAH. Researchers in Mexico say they have decoded the hieroglyphic name on the Palenque tomb of ancient Maya King Pakal, revealing it to read “The House of the Nine Sharpened Spears,” more than 60 years after the crypt was discovered.
Mexican archaeologist Alberto Ruz Lhuillier discovered the burial crypt in 1948 — and new research led by Guillermo Bernal from the National Autonomous University of Mexico made a link between an inscription in the tomb and other hieroglyphics of the same form. The key to deciphering the name was a hieroglyph that looked like a jaguar molar and was interpreted to mean “edge,” as in a sharp-edged spear.
This is a name linked with war, and an aspect which was not previously known as the hieroglyphic [could not be] deciphered until now,” Bernal, from the university’s Mayan Studies Center, told a news conference in Mexico City on Monday. “‘The House of the Nine Sharpened Spears’ is a denomination represented by the nine warriors in the walls of the tomb.”
The Maya civilization, which developed hieroglyphic writing, a calendar and astronomical system, reached its peak of influence between the year 250 and 900, extending its reach over what is now Guatemala, Belize and Honduras.
Born in the year 603, King K’inich Janaab’ Pakal is said to have ascended to the throne at the age of 12. He led a prosperous government in the ancient city of Palenque and is believed to have been behind the building of its finest architecture. Pakal and his sarcophagus also have fueled decades’ worth of speculation about “ancient astronauts.”