Notes on Palenque’s “Del Rio Throne”

The elegant carved throne that once stood inside of Palenque’s House E, in the center of the Palace complex, exists today mostly as a few battered fragments stored in the archaeological bodega at the ruins. In 1787, the explorer Antonio del Río came across the throne (although he was not the first), which he described as a “plain rectangular block, more than two yards long by one yard and four inches broad and seven inches thick, placed upon four feet in the form of a table, with a figure in bas relief in the attitude of supporting it.”  The throne was clearly in situ as del Río described it; he and his Maya laborers quickly set about dismantling the monument so that he could send one of the supports back to Spain, thus offering material proof of his remarkable discoveries at the ruins. The throne itself was probably broken and damaged at this time, and its fragments no doubt suffered considerably more in the ensuing years, strewn about the floor below the famous Oval Tablet. At some more recent point a few of the remaining fragments were taken to the Palenque bodega, where Peter Mathews and Linda Schele eventually photographed them. They published this useful drawing of the throne and its carved faces and supports, shown here (by Schele, from Mathews and Schele 1979). 

The modern reconstruction drawing offers a reasonable view of the throne’s form, but I would like to suggest some modifications that might convey a better sense of its original design. Schele positioned the fragments so that the inscription opens on the front, with a record of K’inich Janab Pakal’s accession to office, on the famous day 5 Lamat 1 Mol (marked as columns A and B in her drawing). This of course makes good sense, except for the fact that the inscription almost surely began on the left side of the throne, not on the front. As we see in Schele’s drawing, the surviving right front corner of the throne shows the hieroglyphic text running around onto the right side; without a doubt, then, the inscription must have had a corresponding section on the left side of the slab. I therefore suggest that columns A-F still are the initial portions of the text, but that they originally were found on the throne’s left face.

It seems reasonable to suppose that there were four such equal sections of the inscription placed around the throne — one on each side and two on the front, making a total of 24 columns. The two front portions of the text originally flanked a central rectangular image of a person wearing a heron headdress, perhaps the ancestor Pakal himself. Of the front text panels, only the right-hand portion remains, which I suppose might now be designated as columns M-R. All told, much more of the text seems to be missing than previously supposed.

To summarize the arrangement of the incomplete text:

Left side: columns A-F

Front: columns G-L (missing) and M-R (formerly G-L)

Right side: columns S-X (formerly M and N, with U-X missing)

At first I considered that a second profile may have originally been part of the central image, facing the portrait one that now partially survives. But Almendáriz’s drawing, inaccurate as it is, clearly shows just one head in the central location between the glyph panels. Also, taking the old drawing into account, along with the new placement of A-F glyph columns, I think we can extend the width of the original throne slightly more than Schele showed in her published drawing, perhaps another by 10-20 cms., if not more. This would accomodate the somewhat larger iconographic image that is indicated by Almendáriz’s sketch.

All these ideas remain speculative until one can again directly examine the stored fragments at Palenque, but until then I think we may have a slightly better understanding of the throne’s original look and format.

Source cited:

Mathews, Peter, and Linda Schele. 1979. The Bodega of Palenque, Chiapas, Mexico. Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks.

4 thoughts on “Notes on Palenque’s “Del Rio Throne”

  1. Jorge Pérez de Lara January 10, 2011 / 11:29 PM

    More than a comment, I would like to post a question: how much of the remaining text is readable and from this is it possible to know whether the Oval Palace Tablet is a monument from Pakal’s time or a posthumous one?

    • David Stuart January 16, 2011 / 2:15 PM

      Hola Jorge,

      The Oval Tablet is certainly from Pakal’s own time, and the style of the carving suggests to me that it’s probably from the same time more or less as House E itself, soon after the K’atun ending. It’s also around the same time as the inscribed Tableritos that came from the corridor leading down to the subterraneos of the Palace. As for the throne’s text, it’s pretty unreadable, but some time looking it with a flashlight might produce some new details.

      • Jens Rohark May 17, 2020 / 1:42 AM

        The throne must be later. You can see the date of Pakals accession, then a distance number 0.8.(9).8.2. connecting to the accession of Kan Balam, also the date of K´an Joy Chitams accession 5 Lamat 6 Xul is visible.