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Elusive Red Queen of Palenque still holds ancient secrets

red queen-remains

The remains of the Red Queen of Palenque were discovered in a tomb in the city of Palenque. It is believed that the mysterious Red Queen lived between 600 and 700 AD.

Mexican archaeologist Arnoldo Gonzalez Cruz discovered the tomb in 1994. The tomb is located inside Temple XIII, among the ruins of the ancient Maya city of Palenque. Excavations were carried out at the temple to discover its construction sequence and the methods used in building it. Works began in 1973 by a team led by Jorge Acosta. He located the space which he called the burial chamber.

The team started to clean the area they believed to be the tomb and discovered a small blocked-up door on the vertical section of the substructure’s second level, about 2.80 meters (9.19 ft.) over the level of the Temple Plaza.

When they removed the block, they saw a six meter (19.69 ft.) long corridor which led to one of the best preserved galleries discovered in Palenque to date. A few meters later, between the other magnificent corridors and chambers there was a treasure waiting – one which overwhelmed the researchers.

A Burial Full of Treasures

When the researchers opened the tomb in the 1994, they were shocked. In front of them appeared the most incredible discovery they had ever made. In the heart of the historical city of Palenque they found an incredibly beautiful tomb. As Arnoldo González Cruz described his first impressions after making an opening to the chamber:

”Through the perforation, we could look into a perfectly vaulted chamber measuring 3.80 x 2.50 meters, most of the surface of which was occupied by a rectangular limestone sarcophagus. To the south, we could make out the main door of the chamber, as well as five steps that gave access to it. Upon thus discovering the main access to the tomb through the perforation we had made, we assumed that the sealed doorways at the ends of the gallery might take us to it by locating an access gallery. Thus, we decided to explore the gallery’s southeastern and southwestern doorways, since they displayed the same orientation as the main access to the tomb. After 15 days of explorations, we were able to ascertain that the doorways led to inner, ascending stairways which originally gave access to a construction built above. Through the use of test pits, we tried to locate the access to the chamber from the outside, but we had to abandon this endeavor after having excavated down for eight meters with negative results.”

Inside the tomb, archaeologists discovered a sarcophagus. Inside the coffin, they found the remains of a noblewoman and other objects covered with red cinnabar powder.

The skeleton was decorated with an impressive collection of pearls, jade, shells, and bone needles. The skull was originally enhanced with a diadem made of flat circular jade beads. The woman’s chest was covered with flat obsidian and jade pieces as well. The face was covered with a funeral mask made of malachite pieces. Inside the sarcophagus, archaeologists also discovered a seashell with a small limestone figurine inside of it.

Apart from the female remains, a man was also buried inside the chamber. He is thought to have been her servant, and it is assumed he was sent to the afterlife with his queen.

Who Was the Red Queen?

The researchers called the woman found in the tomb the ”Red Queen”. Her remains were transported to the laboratory of the Mexican National Institute of Archaeology and History. Researchers found that she lived between 600 and 700 AD – a date suggested by the pottery discovered inside the tomb.

Analysis included carbon 14 testing and facial reconstruction. With this, the team found that the woman died when she was about sixty years old and had osteoporosis. Moreover, her diet was revealed to be based mostly on meat. She also had very healthy teeth, something that was not typical for the Maya people during that time. Although the burial was a magnificent discovery, the researchers couldn’t hide their disappointment: Inside the chamber, they did not find any inscription or indication which could allow them to confirm her name.

The researcher Arnoldo Gonzalez Cruz believes that she was Tz’ak-bu Ajaw, the wife of Pakal and the grandmother of the last Mayan king. Currently,  the team is looking for the tombs of Pakal and his sons. Comparing the DNA of the woman with Pakal’s sons could help them with this hypothesis.

The remains of the Red Queen returned to Palenque in June 2012. She couldn’t be reburied in her original tomb due to the high humidity inside the pyramid. However, she was reburied in a different location close to her ancient home.


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