Who was ‘Reina Roja’ and how did her discovery change Mexican history?

On April 11, 1994, the remains of an ancient Mayan ritual and three hidden chambers were discovered in the heart of the Temple of Palenque, located inside the Lacandon Jungle of Chiapas. The expedition was led by archaeologist Arnoldo González Cruz , who was the first to see what appeared to be the remains of a Mayan aristocrat.

The find was also chaired by the archaeologist Fanny López Jiménez, who for several years had investigated the remains and epigraphic inscriptions that have provided information on the identity “Reina Roja” (Red Queen), the name given to the skeleton because its remains were covered by a layer of carmine-colored pigment belonging to cinnabar, a mineral used by the Mayans for the preservation of human remains.

According to the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), from the moment of the discovery, the researchers undertook the task of identifying the skeleton that was found in the Palenque burial chamber along with a luxurious trousseau built base of 700 pieces of jade. In the 1994 expedition, while the uprising of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) was taking place nearby, Arnoldo González and Fanny López determined that she was a queen and aristocrat of the Mayan city.

However, it wasn’t until 2018 that INAH announced that an interdisciplinary team managed to give the “Red Queen” an identity after several theories pointed to the fact that she was the mother of Pakal II, ruler of the ancient Mayan city or that it was the remains of his wife. Finally, that year it was confirmed that the remains belonged to the sovereign’s spouse, whose name was Ix Tz’akbu Ajaw, who gave birth to at least four male children who sought to turn Palenque into a regional power.

The remains of the Mayan aristocrat were discovered with a layer of red mineral called cinnabar and with approximately 700 pieces of jade (Photo: Twitter @ jablancob19)

They also pointed out that the “Red Queen” lost her life on November 13, 672, and was buried with her most elegant ornaments and with a mask, made of malachite, obsidian and jade; that reproduced her features as accurately as possible.

According to Juan José Solórzano Marcial, director of the INAH Chiapas Center, the discovery was about “transdisciplinary knowledge that today allows us to approach the cosmogony and the imaginary of those who, before us, inhabited this space” and, from previous years, It was pointed out that the archaeological find allowed to open new perspectives in the knowledge about the funeral practices that were carried out by the ancient Mayans in the city of Palenque.

In addition, it also opened the discussion about the importance of the “Red Queen” within society, as well as the concepts and rites related to her death. The archaeologist Arnoldo González told the Discovery Channel that on one side of the sarcophagus where the skeleton of Ix Tz’akbu Ajaw rested, there were two corpses that fulfilled the function of granting a contribution of new, fresh blood for the Queen’s renewal”.

“The discovery of the Red Queen also corroborated the equal status among the Maya, without distinction of gender, where women also ruled, since it is known that in other territories such as Yaxchilán, in Chiapas, and Calakmul, in Campeche, there were women rulers, warriors, and doctors,” said Carlos Cal and Mayor Franco, director of the State Council for the Cultures and the Arts of Chiapas.




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