On the first steps leading into the chamber were placed a large brown ceramic plate and two orange vases also made of ceramic. On the next-to-last step a secondary interment was found, made up of long bones and jade-inlaid teeth.

After registering and collecting the elements surrounding the sarcophagus and having begun cleaning the slab lid, a small orifice, roughly 3 cm. in radius, was found to have been drilled in the middle of the slab. This orifice went through the full thickness of the slab, and it afforded us our first view of part of the tomb's funerary accouterments.

We proceeded to remove the monolithic slab that served as a lid to the sarcophagus. Lifting this slab some 20 centimeters from its original resting position took us 14 hours of arduous labor. With the lid out of the way, we were able to look at the contents of the sarcophagus: the remains of an adult female lying on her back with the head towards the north. Her height has been calculated at 1.54 meters and her age at the time of death must have been between 40 and 45 years.

A large collection of jade and pearl objects, bone needles and shells both covered and surrounded the skeleton. Some 1140 pieces were once part of a mask, which complemented other pieces that probably were parts of necklaces, earspools and wristlets adorning the entombed body. Among these objects and worthy of special mention was a diadem made of flat, circular jade beads worn around the cranium, and several rectangular pieces of an apple-green material that also surrounded part of the cranium as well as the chest, and which laboratory tests identified as being made of malachite. Given their distribution, we think they may be parts of a mask.

In the skeleton's chest area was a large concentration of flat jade beads, as well as four obsidian blades. Around both wrists small jade beads were found, possibly belonging to wristlets, and in the pelvis area were located three small limestone axes which, in all likelihood, were once part of a belt. Between the left hand's phalanges and the eastern wall of the sarcophagus, we located a high concentration of jade plaques that were probably once assembled in mosaic fashion. Given their characteristics, they are probably the remains of a small mask. One of the most relevant pieces in this set is an extremely small figurine carved in limestone, which was found inside a bivalve shell at the northeastern corner of the sarcophagus. The walls of the sarcophagus, the body and all its accompanying elements were heavily covered in a red dust which has been identified as cinnabar.


Excavation of the architectural complex has permitted the identification of three building phases. The first phase corresponds to the building we have been referring to here, inside which the tomb was located. Given its characteristics, we think that this first construction was exposed rather than enclosed, given the presence of a cornice on the temple's facade and also considering that it had an original function other than mortuary, as attested by the north door of the central chamber, which was sealed off to allow for it to be used as a mortuary chamber. This building, as we have pointed out, was built on the second level of the substructure, 2.80 meters above the plaza level, and access was gained to it through the use of a narrow stairway.

In the following construction phase, the substructure was elevated an additional 4.15 meters through the building of two additional levels (the third one being 2.05 meters high and the fourth 2.10), in order to construct a second building, which was completed while taking care not to destroy the first. Of this last building, only two piers survive, and given its characteristics it must have had a three-doorway entrance, such as can be observed on the fourth level of the substructure. This second building also had a narrow stairway leading to it, the dimensions of which were similar to those of the first building. It was during this phase that the internal stairways were built descending to the first building, as well as those ascending from the plaza. Afterwards, during this same period the narrow passageway was built and the decision taken to use the original building as a tomb.

In order to achieve this, the ancient Palencanos built the main tomb stairway which, through the use of 13 steps, communicated with the upper building. They also enlarged the narrow passageway leading to its northern facade. The width of this passageway coincides with the breadth of the northern doorway of the central chamber and with that of the sarcophagus, which suggests that the sarcophagus itself was brought into the chamber using this passageway, since the main access to the tomb is much narrower. Once the bodies and their accouterments had been deposited, all passageways were sealed, leaving only the narrow side and north passageways.

During the third and last construction phase, the structure grew an additional 1.80 meters in height through the addition of two more levels (the fifth and sixth, each 0.90 meters high). Thus, the substructure reached a total height of 12 meters. In order to achieve this final height, the Palencanos had to dismantle the previous building's superstructure. The staircase was enlarged, attaining 11 meters in length, and ballustrades were added to it, sealing off the last open passages inside the substructure.

Architecturally, this construction pattern at the site reminds the observer of the Temple of the Inscriptions where, through an inner staircase starting at the center of the temple, it is possible to descend into the funerary crypt. A similar access is found in Temple XV, where a side stairway leads to a substructure comprising three chambers. At a smaller scale, this repeats the inner distribution observed at Temple XIII, down to the use of the central chamber for funerary purposes. Another case of this can be found in the Temple of the Beautiful Relief. Unfortunately, these last two tombs were looted and destroyed towards the turn of the century, for which reason we have next to no information about them.

Final considerations

According to our knowledge of pre-Columbian funerary practices at Palenque, people were buried either directly in the ground, in stone cists or in masonry chambers. The excavations for these were generally under the floor of residences or beneath large temple and palace structures. And we have the unique case of a sarcophagus inside a crypt on top of which the Temple of the Inscriptions was built, covering the remains of Pakal, the most important ruler of Palenque.

The importance of the discovery of the Red Queen's tomb resides mainly in that it affords another example of a sarcophagus inside a mortuary chamber within an architectural complex. Its features make the Red Queen's tomb similar to the tomb under the Temple of the Inscriptions. We think it is signficant that the buildings are adjacent and are both part of the ancient city's Great Plaza. Both buildings have inner stairways leading to the tomb, and both contain a monolithic, lidded sarcophagus inside a mortuary chamber: unique cases in the Maya area. Both tombs include sacrificed secondary characters meant to accompany the tombs' main occupants in their journey to the underworld. Both of the tombs' main occupants wore mortuary masks, diadems, jade beads, pearls and three small axes once forming part of a ceremonial belt. Finally, the insides of both sarcophagi were painted red with cinnabar.

In the case of the Temple of the Inscriptions, the crypt and the sarcophagus present a unique decorative wealth on the mortuary chamber's walls and on the four sides of the sarcophagus proper, not forgetting, of course, the elements that form the complex imagery of the sarcophagus lid. By comparison, the crypt and sarcophagus of the Red Queen are much smaller and are completely lacking in decoration or glyphic inscriptions. The absence of texts prevents us from knowing the identity of the female character laid to rest within it. This unknown personage has thus come to be known by the provisional nickname of "Red Queen". It is evident that her social status must have been very high, particularly when considering that her tomb is, after Pakal's, the most lavish of all tombs found at Palenque. The above notwithstanding, it should not be surprising that the Red Queen's royal tomb displays an absence of glyphic texts. In Palenque, it is the rule rather than the exception that tombs never contain inscriptions. Pakal is exceptional both in being the most important character yet found anywhere in the ancient city and in that his tomb is the only one with extensive texts identifying its occupant.

The sparse ceramic evidence found inside the Red Queen's tomb allows us to tentatively date it, without closing the possibility of refining such dating through the use of new data that may become available in the future. Given the shape and characteristics of the censer, the vases and the plate, we can state that these materials correspond to the Otolum ceramic complex, which has been placed between A.D. 600 and 700, within the Late Classic, as per Rands' classification (1974).