The pyramid at Mexico’s Mayan ruin site of Palenque, known as the Temple of Inscriptions, is famous for the carved stone sarcophagus in which the Mayan ruler Pakal was buried. The image of Pakal on the tomb looks to many like he’s at the controls of a spaceship with flames coming out of it. Archeologists digging at the site announced this week that they have found an underground water tunnel and indications that, while Pakal may have traveled, he didn’t go off into space.
The dig, led by archaeologist Arnoldo Gonzalez, began in 2012 when researchers believed there was a hole or a fault line under the pyramid that was threatening to cause it to collapse. After careful excavation, his team found three fitted stone coverings on top of the entrance to a tunnel, which was directly under Pakal’s tomb.
Gonzalez was not surprised to find water in the tunnel since it was believed by many experts that the pyramid was positioned over an underground spring when it was built between 683 and 702 AD. Another Mayan pyramid has also been found built over flowing water, but the reason was unclear. Gonzalez found a set of stone earplugs with carvings that explained why.
(A god) will guide the dead toward the underworld, by submerging (them) into the water so they will be received there.
Pedro Sanchez Nava, director of archaeology for the National Institute of Anthropology and History, thinks it the water symbolizes “where the cycle of life begins and ends.”
What about the spaceship? That connection was most likely first made by Erich von Daniken in his book Chariots of the Gods? where he compares the position Pakal is depicted in on the sarcophagus to the tilted seating astronauts once assumed in space capsules. What he compared to flames are believed instead to be an image of the Mayan “Tree of Life” whose roots grow down to the underworld.
And that is where Pakal went, not to the stars or another planet.