Why Did the Mayans Build the Temple of Inscriptions?

did-mayans-build-temple-inscriptions Credit: Arian Zwegers/CC-BY 2.0

The Mayans built the Temple of Inscriptions as a tomb for K'inich Janaab' Pakal, who ruled Palenque for around 70 years in the 7th century. Construction on the temple began around A.D. 675, in the last decade of Pakal's reign, and ended shortly after he died in 683.

The temple's name comes from the impressive inscriptions on its walls, including several images and 617 Mayan glyphs. These carvings, which show Pakal’s mother, Pakal’s son and successor, K'inich Kan B'alam II, and Palenque's main gods, decorate the structure's five entrances. The Mayans covered the entire temple and the pyramid on which it sits in red stucco, and they painted the carvings blue, red and yellow. As of 2015, however, most of the pigmentation has vanished, though traces are still visible.

Inside the tomb lies Pakal's burial chamber. Discovered in 1952 underneath an interior slab, the large room contains a massive stone sarcophagus covered with an intricate depiction of Pakal's emergence into the afterlife. The room also contained various jade offerings, a stucco portrait of the dead king and a jade death mask. Just outside the burial chamber stood a stone box containing the corpses of six individuals who were sacrificed to accompany Pakal into the afterlife.