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King Pakal's Spaceship


If a strange man were to offer you candy and ask you to get in his car and go for a ride, you would say “NO,” wouldn’t you?


But if you were an ancient Maya ruler and space aliens were to offer you a chance to get into their spaceship and pilot it, what would your answer be?


K’inich Janaab Pakal I – also known as King Pakal (or Pacal), Sun Shield, 8 Ahau, and Pacal the Great – was a Maya King who lived in the 7th century.  He ascended to the throne at the age of 12 and reigned for 68 years.  Only four monarchs in history have reigned longer.


As interesting as that may be, King Pakal’s greatest claim to fame is the stone lid to his enormous sarcophagus, which archaeologists uncovered in 1952.  It depicts the scene shown above.  What is going on?  Well, to put it simply – either King Pakal is operating the controls of a technologically advanced spaceship… or he isn’t.


Erich von Däniken called attention to King Pakal’s sarcophagus lid in his 1968 bestseller Chariots of the Gods?  Von Däniken likened King Pakal’s pose to that of a 1960s US astronaut inside a Project Mercury space capsule, with rocket plumes firing beneath him on both sides:


In the center of that frame is a man sitting, bending forward.  He has a mask on his nose, he uses his two hands to manipulate some controls, and the heel of his left foot is on a kind of pedal with different adjustments.  The rear portion is separated from him; he is sitting on a complicated chair, and outside of this whole frame, you see a little flame like an exhaust.


40 years later, traditional archaeologists David and George Stuart described the same scene quite differently:


The central image is that of a cruciform world tree.  Beneath Pakal is one of the heads of a celestial two-headed serpent viewed frontally.  Both the king and the serpent head on which he seems to rest are framed by the open jaws of a funerary serpent, a common iconographic device for signaling entrance into, or residence in, the realm(s) of the dead.


According to the Stuarts, Pakal’s pose “may denote rebirth.”


With all due respect to funerary serpents, we are siding with Erich von Däniken on this one.


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