The palace overlooking the plaza at El Palenque would have been an incredible sight to people living more than 2,300 years ago in Mexico’s Oaxaca Valley.

The area was built up after a fire destroyed another plaza downslope at El Mogote, and everything about El Palenque was grander than El Mogote.

An enormous temple complex bounded the plaza’s eastern side.

To the north, the palace cascaded down the gentle slope in a series of grand stairways, gorgeously paved platforms covered in smoking braziers, and private state rooms.

The king could address his subjects from two airy courtyards facing the plaza.

But this ostentatious display of power was less impressive than what the king’s subjects couldn’t see.
What this palace hid behind its fancy colonnades and altars was the elaborate infrastructure of nascent state bureaucracy.

Behind the public-facing platforms, stairways and corridors led to over half-a-dozen state rooms.

Adjacent to stairs connecting two platforms, archaeologists have recovered the bones of dogs, as if these animals were guarding it. Perhaps that’s because the upper platform served as a throne room where the king met with dignitaries and advisers, sometimes staging a human sacrifice.
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