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Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Ancient Mysteries Of The Palenque Ruins

By Frank D Gardner

Spanning the entire Yucatan peninsula and extending into southern Mexico and northern Central America, the empire of the Maya was one of the longest-lived and most accomplished of all ancient Mesoamerican cultures. Though early Pre-Columbian settlements have been dated to almost 5,000 BC, the reign of the Maya began around 2,000 BC, and though they experienced a period of decline around the year 900 AD, Maya civilization still flourished when the Spanish arrived in the 1500s. Today all that is left of this once-proud people are their indigenous descendents, who keep the Maya languages and folklore alive, and the ruins of their great cities, stone monoliths that serve as our major clues as to their lives, architecture, and society.

A site of chief importance in the study and further understanding of Mayan history, not to mention an increasingly large tourist draw, is the city of Palenque. Located in Chiapas, Mexico, huge numbers of archaeologists and anthropologists have unearthed over 2.5 square kilometers of ruins. This is only about one tenth of the territory of the city in its heyday, and many scientists are convinced that thousands of uncovered buildings still lie couched under the steamy jungle canopy. Work to excavate the site and continue decoding its secrets continues side-by-side with the tourists who come to marvel at Palenque's many wonders.

The Palenque Site

Most visitors to Palenque will arrive via the city of Ciudad del Carmen, which lies about 130 kilometers to the north. The road to the site winds ever more deeply into the jungle's heart as your approach, so be sure to roll down your windows and experience your first glimpse of the grey-white stones peering over the treetop canopies as your vehicle closes in on the ancient city's periphery. You may notice many of the buildings are adorned by ornate hieroglyphics, as the Maya were the first Mesoamerican culture to develop a system of writing.

Infiltrated by the Forest

Today, almost the entirety of the archaeological site at Palenque is still held hostage by the jungle, most of its structures enfolded in green, leafy arms and shrouded by mist, vines, and moss. Every crack and crevice has been probed by the jungle's twisting, snaking fingers, making it seem almost predestined that the city's material should be made to blend and merge with that of the natural world.

Palenque is famous as one of the best sites yet uncovered for Maya pottery, writing, and handcrafts. Hundreds of pristine artifacts have been recovered at the site, and the buildings at Palenque include temples covered from floor to ceiling with hieroglyphics, an extensive palace with several buildings and grounds, and many finely-wrought bas-relief carvings. A three-meter-tall aqueduct serves as testimony to the engineering prowess of its constructors; all in all, even the small amount of Palenque that has been excavated is a treasure trove of data for those studying the Mayan culture, a once-in-a-lifetime glimpse backwards into humanity's no-so-distant past.

The priests at Palenque were also some of the first to break rank with established astrological and theological doctrine, forecasting the end of the 13th cycle, popularly believed to be 2012 AD, as not to occur until the more distant future of 4772 AD. This date, they predicted, would see the re-ascension of the King Pascal the Great, one of the most powerful rulers of Palenque, to the throne.

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