Pacal the Great ruled over the Mayan city of Palenque, in what is now southern Mexico, during the seventh century. Upon his death, he was buried inside a pyramid called the Temple of Inscriptions. The intricately carved lid of his sarcophagus has become a classic work of Mayan art—and an oft-cited piece of evidence for ancient alien theorists. In their view, Pacal is pictured in a spaceship during takeoff, with his hand on a control panel, his foot on a pedal and an oxygen tube in his mouth.
1300 years ago
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.
Pakal’s tomb has been the focus of attention by some “ancient astronaut” enthusiasts since its appearance in Erich von Däniken’s 1968 best seller, Chariots of the Gods?. Von Däniken reproduced a drawing of the sarcophagus lid (incorrectly labeling it as being from “Copan”) and comparing Pacal’s pose to that of 1960s Project Mercury astronauts, interpreting drawings underneath him as rockets, and saying it is supposed evidence of extraterrestrial influence on the ancient Maya.