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Palenque Mexico

The Secret of the Astronaut

Temple of the Inscriptions in Palenque

Most passionate about unsolved mysteries care very little that the temple city of Palenque, located in the Sierra Madre de Chiapas, Mexico, is one of the most interesting examples of Mayan architecture and, above all, sculpture. Their attention is fixed only on the mysterious astronaut engraved on the sarcophagus lid of an equally mysterious character: Pacal the Great.

The tomb of Pacal the Great

It is known that Pacal was, in the 7th century, the king of Palenque, in whose honor a pyramid was built to serve as his eternal residence. This construction, also called Temple of the Inscriptions, is accessible by a steep staircase which leads to its summit. This is where the access to the crypt which houses its sarcophagus is located. When in 1949 Mexican archaeologist Alberto Ruz Lhuillier entered it, he discovered numerous skeletons of victims sacrificed during the burial of Pacal. He then visited the crypt which, according to his account, “seems to be dug in the ice. A kind of cave, whose walls and ceiling are so smooth that they seem to have been sanded. It is also reminiscent of an abandoned chapel, the dome of which is draped with stalactites, while stalagmites, thick as the drops of wax from a candle, rise from the ground”.


The place was fully decorated, and the body deposited in the tomb was adorned with jade jewels. One object particularly attracted the attention of the archaeologist: the jade and obsidian mask, made of mosaic, which covered the face of the deceased. This work, of extraordinary finesse, underlined the authority of the character identified as Pacal.

The secret of the astronaut

Sarcophagus lid of Pacal the Great

Historically, the greatest enigma of the tomb of Palenque concerns the sarcophagus lid. On this 5 tons stone is represented a man dressed according to Mayan custom. The man appears to be sitting inside a strange vehicle, and many claim that it is a flying machine.

The representation is indeed quite ambiguous, especially because of the absence of perspective which gives the impression that the body of the man is in close contact with the objects engraved on the stone. It is this peculiarity that makes everyone see in the Palenque tombstone what their imagination suggests. Thus, what according to Mayan religion can be reasonably identified with the sacred tree, becomes, thanks to the imagination, a space shuttle.


Today, archaeologists have dismantled the astronaut's thesis, pointing out that the representation engraved on the stone of the sarcophagus lid of Pacal the Great is only a depiction of the afterlife: there are all the symbolic elements, easily identifiable in the images illustrating the journey of the soul of the deceased to the world of the dead. Despite official denials, many still believe that this strange figure, dressed like a Mayan warrior, is an alien whom the men of Palenque encountered and immortalized on stone 2,000 years ago.

If some myths have trouble disappearing, it may be because they help maintain a strange hope (and a worry at the same time): they offer the opportunity to believe that a very long time ago, somewhere in the universe, beings have left to colonize populations whose secrets remain locked in their pyramids and in their impenetrable sculptures.


The metropolis found

Palenque and its surroundings

By exploring the jungle that surrounds Palenque, archaeologists have uncovered many buildings which suggest that a large urban center existed around the temple city. The site was inhabited from the year 200 to the year 900. According to researchers, it had an elaborate water supply system (one of the most complex aqueducts built by the Mayans), which provided the entire city with running water. One day, perhaps, the numerous archaeological testimonies discovered, as well as those which have not yet been discovered, will make it possible to know the origins of this city, which came out of nowhere, and of which we still ignore many things.