The Temple XX Tomb

by David Stuart

Last year I posted this blog entry on Maya Decipherment concerning the tomb recently opened in Temple XX at Palenque. It’s worth revisiting now in the wake of INAH’s recent announcement of the conservation efforts now going on in the chamber.

Figure 1. View of the Temple XX tomb chamber. INAH photo.

Some sources speculate that the tomb may be that of the dynastic founder, K’uk’ B’ahlam who reigned from 431-435 AD. But this timeframe is probably far too early for the tomb.  As mentioned in the earlier blog entry and also as summarized in our 2008 book, Palenque: Eternal City of the Maya, it more likely dates to the 6th century:

Recent investiagations near the Cross Group have revealed another significant early tomb, as well as a significant archaeological puzzle. Temple XX is located at the southern end of the Cross Group, next to Temple XIX. Approaching the pyramid, it looks to be an imposing structure, but excavations since 1999 have shown that the base is actually a masonry veneer on a small hillock of bedrock. As archaeologists Alfonso Morales Cleveland and Rudy Larrios Villalta have shown, the structure was modified over many years, and the earliest phase seems to date from the first part of the sixth century. After this initial construction later builders demolished part of the upper temple in order to construct a vaulted tomb beneath. The crypt has not yet been entered as of this writing (in 2006), but photographs taken by a camera inserted within the chamber show red-line paintings of nine figures in an unusual style, jade objects, and pottery that looks to be fairly early (Cascada phase), possibly from the sixth century. Its size and elaboration suggests that the Temple XX tomb is a royal burial, but no clues exist to the identity of its occupant. Interestingly, a preliminary assessment of the painted figures indicates that they are portraits of royal ancestors, including Ahkal Mo’s Nahb and Kan Bahlam. If this is the case, then the Temple XX tomb must date to after Kan Bahlam’s death in 583. Could it be the tomb of Ix Yohl Ik’nal, as Merle Greene Robertson has tentatively suggested? Once the tomb is opened, the ceramics within can help greatly to confirm or deny this preliminary dating of the chamber.

Temple XX remained an important building for many years, and intriguingly its final remodeling at the end of the city’s occupation may never have been finished. When archaeologists first began investigating the pyramid, they were greatly confused by the lack of any masonry veneer and terracing on its front and sides; it was an ancient construction site interrupted in mid-project.

The above quotation from Stuart and Stuart (2008:140).

Figure 2. Photograph of standing figure with Kan Bahlam (Snake Jaguar) in headdress, possibly naming the early Palenque ruler who reigned until 583 AD. INAH photo.

Source Cited:

Stuart, David and George Stuart. 2008. Palenque: Eternal City of the Maya. Thames and Hudson, London.

3 thoughts on “The Temple XX Tomb

  1. Damien Marken September 20, 2012 / 2:39 AM

    The Temple XX-sub tomb probably dates to just after the Temple XVIIIa-sub tomb excavated by Ruz. Both have Cascada phase ceramics (500-620AD), though according to Bob Rands the T. XX-sub vessels are a little more nicely made. The murals are also similar styles, but the T.XX ones are, again, a little nicer (and were much better preserved).
    Also there were two phases of construction, the veneer phase mentioned above, and an earlier one constructed of a different type of limestone.

    • David Stuart September 20, 2012 / 2:47 AM

      Gracias for the perspective, Damien, and for relaying Bob’s valuable insights. Yep, I think the Cascada phase vessels fit well with the style as well as those historical clues. I’d be very happy with a placement in the late 500s.