Sak K’uk – The Controversial Queen of Palenque

Sak K'uk, daughter of Yohl Ik'nal, Ahau of Palenque

Sak K’uk, daughter of Yohl Ik’nal, Ahau of Palenque

Controversy about who became ruler of Palenque after Aj Ne Ohl Mat


In 611 CE, Palenque (Lakam Ha) suffered a devastating defeat by Kalakmul (Kan).  The two cities were enemies for years and had skirmished frequently.  In the 611 attack, Kalakmul destroyed the Sak Nuk Nah (White Bone House) , the most sacred shrine of Palenque and left the city in chaos.  The current ruler, Aj Ne Ohl Mat was captured and killed.  What happened next in Palenque succession is surrounded by mystery and controversy.

In the “king list” put together by Simon Martin & Nicolai Grube, Chronicle of the Maya Kings and Queens (2000) the next ruler is Muwaan Mat.  This ancestral deity and progenitor of Palenque’s three supernatural patrons ruled for 3 years, and was unable to perform full rituals at the end of the 9th Katun.  They suggest that the god’s name was a pseudonym for a new queen called Sak K’uk, mother of K’inich Janaab Pakal who ascended in 615.


Leading Palencophiles David & George Stuart took a different stance in Palenque: Eternal City of the Mayas (2008).

They think Muwaan Mat was male, both as a deity from creation mythology and as a short-time ruler.  He took the god’s name because of Palenque’s troubled times, to demonstrate a parallel situation of creating a new political order (akin to the creation of the current era).  Previously, scholars such as Linda Schele and David Freidel had thought Muwaan Mat was an alternative name for Sak K’uk.

Muwaan Mat Name Glyph

Muwaan Mat Name Glyph

The most incisive view comes from Gerardo Aldana in The Apotheosis of Janaab Pakal (2007).  He analyzes the argument of Schele and Freidel and dismisses their inference that Sak K’uk became the next ruler.  Aldana did his own readings of glyphs in the Temple of the Inscriptions, concluding that Muwaan Mat as the primordial female deity did take “charge of the city’s ceremonial needs while no suitable mortal ruler was available.”

Sak K'uk Name Glyph

Sak K’uk Name Glyph








The glyphs say:

On the back of the ninth katun, god was lost; ahau (lord) was lost.

She could not adorn the Lords of the First Sky; she could not give offerings. . .

Muwaan Mat could not give their offerings.  Muwaan Mat gives the bundle of her god.


Perhaps she could not perform full rituals due to her lack of mortality, or because the portal to the gods collapsed when the sacred shrine was destroyed.  Sak K’uk was an ahau but not a human ruler in the same sense as her predecessors.  In my story of Sak K’uk, she invokes the goddess Muwaan Mat to co-rule with her until Pakal can assume the throne.  His mission is to restore the collapsed portal so Palenque can again “adorn the gods” and give proper gifts.

Sak kuk Final Cover eBook(1)


Leonide (Lennie) Martin, retired California State University professor, former Family Nurse Practitioner. Currently author and Maya researcher, my books bring ancient Maya culture to life in historical fiction about real and fictional Maya characters. My books draw upon extensive research of scientific and indigenous perspectives, and are based upon archeological knowledge of Maya sites and historical persons. Apprenticing with Maya elders, I became a Maya Fire Woman and Solar Initiate.

Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,