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"La reina que será un símbolo ancestral para las mujeres contemporáneas como lo fue en su momento para la cultura maya", dijo la secretaria de Cultura mexicana. Photo: National Geographic. 
"The queen, who will be an ancestral symbol for contemporary women as she was in her time for the Maya culture," said the Mexican Secretary of Culture. Photo: National Geographic. 

The mysterious Red Queen, a symbol for Mexican women?

The jade and seashell-covered remains of a Mayan sovereign who lived more than a millennium ago were found at Palenque, Chiapas, in 1994. But who really was…

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She was preserved under a beautiful ceremonial mask of malachite and covered with jade, bone and sea shells — this is how more than a decade ago, a group of archaeologists found the tomb of an aristocrat wrapped in a mystery around 1,000 years old. The discovery happened in Palenque, Chiapas, one of the three most important towns of the Mayan culture along with Chichen Itza and Tikal.  

An enigma that made her travel not only to the Beyond, through a transit ritual, but also to our time, turned into a legend: the Red Queen of Palenque. Her nickname comes from cinnabar, a reddish mineral with which human remains were preserved and that, despite its toxicity, has allowed the corpse of this member of the Mayan royalty to reach our days as well as many of its secrets now on display in the museum of the site. 

Buried in the so-called "Temple of the Skull," we know that the Red Queen was the wife of a 7th century Mayan ruler, Pakal the Great, and that she died in 672 A.D., 11 years before her husband. Although the tomb of the king was found in 1952 by archaeologist Alberto Ruz Lhuillier and that of the Red Queen was discovered more than 40 years later by archaeologists from the National Institute of Anthropology and History. 

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador opened the Red Queen Pavilion last Sunday, in the adjacent museum of the archaeological zone, where the remains were moved and can be admired by visitors, said Mexican Secretary of Culture Alejandra Frausto. 

"We come to inaugurate once again the house of the Red Queen Ixik Tz'aka'ab Ajaw [Lady Ruler of Generations], the queen who will be an ancestral symbol for contemporary women as she was in her time for the Maya culture," Frausto declared

She also added that "the Red Queen will be an inspiration and a symbol for today's Maya girls, adolescents and women," and equally for Mexican women. 

But who really was this Red Queen and why should she represent Maya women and be a symbol for them?

There are several hypotheses about her identity.

Some studies believe that the corpse could be Tz'akbu Ajaw or Ahpo-Hel (Lady of Succession), wife of Pakal the Great and mother of three sons, two of them rulers. In fact, it is believed that she is represented — along with her son Joy Chitam and Pakal — on a board that is in the Dumbarton Oaks Museum, in Washington D.C.

Although other hypotheses have also been considered over the years, such as if she is really Ix Kinnuw Mat (or Hun K'Anleum), also known as Lady Cormorant or Lady Cobweb and wife of the ahau K'an Joy Chitam II, as well as other illustrious noblewomen. 

With her identity still to be confirmed and awaiting the remains of her supposed children to be found for DNA testing, Secretary Frausto's claim that the illustrious mummy is a symbol of Maya womanhood is as superficial as the dust covering the Red Queen's body. At least until history comes to light and lets us know who she was and, above all, why she should inspire us.

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