The House of Darkness & Secret Caverns—The legendary Yucatan Hall of Records found at Yaxchilan? Part II
Far from the crowds of Palenque and other Maya sites, the ruins of Yaxchilan are found today still very much in the same conditions as they were first described by Maudslay and Maler in the early 20th century, at the peak of the “Golden Age” of exploration.
The concept of an ancient, possibly “Atlantean” Hall of Records serving as a repository of occult knowledge, was first popularized by the famous American psychic and clairvoyant Edgar Cayce in the 1930s. In several of his readings, he spoke of the deliberate burial of the records of Atlantean civilization in the Yucatan or Central America.
The ceremonial center at Yaxchilan is one of the largest Maya sites of the Classic period. (Photo: ©Marco M. Vigato)
Whatever the origin of Cayce’s information, there is indeed reference in the ancient Maya writings to a hidden repository of knowledge located somewhere along the Usumacinta River. In the 17th century, the then bishop of Chiapas, Francisco Nuñez de la Vega received a mysterious manuscript in the Tzeltal language. This now lost manuscript or codex, known as the Probanza de Votan (The “Trial of Votan”) tells the story of the arrival of a foreign race on the coast of Yucatan from a mysterious island kingdom to the East. The leader of this race was a demi-god or prophet called Votan, of the lineage of the Chanes or “Snakes”.
A glyph for the third day (Ak'b'al) in the Maya tzolk'in calendar, which among the Tzeltal and some other highland Chiapas groups was known/identified as Votan. (CC BY 2.5)
This Votan was considered a great legislator, a civilizing and cultural hero, who established a great empire of the Tzeltal people called Xibalba. According to the early Mayanist Abbé Brasseur de Bourbourg, this ancient empire once covered all of Mexico and Guatemala and had Palenque as its capital (In the Tzeltal version of the story, the city is called Nachan, "City of the Snakes"). Many have seen in these legends a variation of the familiar story of Quetzalcoatl and Kukulkan, as the hero was known to the Aztec and Yucatec Mayas. Votan, like Quetzalcoatl, was said to have come from a mysterious island kingdom, located beyond the sea, to the East, known as Valum Votan. The name of the Mexican colony of this great maritime empire was Valum Chivim.
Lintel 15, now in the British Museum, depicting one of the wives of Bird Jaguar IV invoking the Vision Serpent in a bloodletting rite. Maya site of Yaxchilan, Mexico. (Michel Wal/CC BY-SA 3.0)
A “House of Darkness” on the Usumacinta River
According to the original manuscript in the possession of Bishop Nuñez de la Vega, the kingdom of Nachan was one of four tributary monarchies of Valum Votan that together formed the empire of Xibalba or Valum Chivim. To the capitals of the other three kingdoms the same manuscript assigns the names of Tulan (Tula?), Mayapan and Chiquimala (near Copán). Various voyages are mentioned between Valum Votan and its colony of Valum Chivim, each under the guidance of a different Votan. After his final voyage, Votan was said to have built a "House of Darkness" on the Huehuetan or Usumacinta River, where he deposited in subterranean chambers all the sacred records of its race, under the charge of holy priests and priestesses.
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It is worth noting that the ancient kings of Palenque similarly bolstered a divine origin dating back to remote prehistory, and to a mysterious land called Matwiil, symbolized by a cormorant bird.
Matwiil was symbolized by a cormorant bird. (JJ Harrison/CC BY-SA 3.0)
According to hieroglyphic inscriptions, the first divine ruler of Palenque was the God “G1 the Elder" or Muwaan Mat, which ascended to the throne in the year 3,309 BC (two centuries before the beginning of the present world age, in 3114 BC, a date that also coincides with the beginning of the Maya calendar). A second divine dynasty began in 2360 BC and comprised three more kings (known as the God G1 the Younger, God G2 and God G3). In honor of their ancestral homeland, the rulers of Palenque of the historical period still boasted in their titles that of "Divine Matwiil Lord". Nothing of this prehistoric homeland is known, but it is possible that another enigmatic place name, Tokhtan (meaning "Mist Center”), similarly occurring in hieroglyphic inscriptions, may as well be associated with it.
Was Valum Votan the same as the mysterious land of Matwiil, to which the kings of Palenque traced the beginning of their first divine dynasties? If so, this would add further credibility to the account contained in the post-conquest Probanza de Votan and, indirectly, to Cayce’s claims of a foreign, possibly “Atlantean” colonization of Yucatan.
The Acropolis of Toniná is the largest in the Maya world and was meant to symbolize the cosmic mountain, including a labyrinth of chambers and hollowed passageways at its base meant to symbolize the dark Underworld. (Photo: ©Marco M. Vigato)
In an interesting turn of events, Bishop Nuñez de la Vega further claimed he had indeed discovered the location of the “House of Darkness” described in the Probanza. The bishop was shown a cave on the Huehuetan River, where he allegedly found a number of inscribed pottery jars and ancient manuscripts. All of these relics he ordered to be burned on the main square of the town of Huehuetan, sometime after 1690. The account of the burning of the records is however in many ways doubtful, for the manuscript of the Probanza de Votan clearly describes the “House of Darkness” as a space constructed underground (i.e. not a natural cave) and consisting of multiple subterranean chambers underneath a “Temple”.
A view of the entrance to the ancient Maya labyrinth of Toniná, at the base of the Acropolis, from which it is possible to appreciate the three corbelled doorways that give access to the structure. (Photo: ©Marco M. Vigato)
Additionally, although both the Huehuetan and Usumacinta rivers are mentioned in the document, it seems far more likely that the latter, rather than the first, was the location of this ancient repository, due to its greater proximity to the ancient capital of Nachan (Palenque). Additionally, the Usumacinta, the largest navigable river in Central America, would have provided the easiest access to the interior of the Chiapas province from its mouth in the Gulf of Mexico, near the Laguna de Terminos.
Only two major ancient Maya sites are known along the Usumacinta river: Piedras Negras on the Guatemala side, and Yaxchilan on the Mexican side.
Yaxchilan is one of the remotest Maya sites, on the Mexico-Guatemala border. To this day, the only access to the site is by boat along the Usumacinta river. There are no roads leading to Yaxchilan. (Photo: ©Marco M. Vigato)
Of the two, Yaxchilan seems to have been a much more important and possibly older site. The characteristics of the Labyrinth of Yaxchilan match those of the ancient repository described in the manuscript of the Probanza de Votan as “a Temple…known from its subterranean chambers as the “House of Darkness”. No similar structures are known from Piedras Negras or other Maya sites along the Usumacinta river, and it is even possible that the other Chiapanese and Yucatec “Labyrinths” were mere copies of this one.
There is, moreover, evidence of blocked passageways in the lower levels of the Yaxchilan labyrinth that may lead to a yet unexplored system of chambers and tunnels. It is also possible that this labyrinth, whose deepest portions appear to have been tunneled through the bedrock rather than built out of masonry, may communicate with a large cave system running under much of the ancient city.
A secret cavern?
An additional clue to the existence of immense caverns under Yaxchilan is offered by a number of carved stalactites and stalagmites, measuring up to three meters (nine feet) long, which were erected as stelae in front of some of the major buildings of the ancient city.
Three large temples dominate the Great Acropolis of Yaxchilan. A carved stalactite can still be seen standing in front of one of the temples in the picture. (Photo: ©Marco M. Vigato)
A closer view of the temples with carved stalactite. (Photo: ©Marco M. Vigato)
The famous archaeologist Teobert Maler, commenting on the finding in 1903 of one such carved stalactite in front of Building 33, noted: “I have found similar stalactite columns in front of other structures…which leads to the supposition that there must be an extensive stalactite cave near Yaxchilan from which the ancients procured their columns…This cave, probably concealed in the neighboring mountain range, is at present wholly unknown.” It seems entirely possible that if such a cave exists near or underneath the present-day ruins of Yaxchilan, it may be somehow connected with the lower and still-unexplored levels of the Labyrinth.
Yaxchilan is one of the largest Maya sites of the Classic period. The ceremonial center contains hundreds of structures, many of which still lie buried under the forest.(Photo: ©Marco M. Vigato)
Finally, we know that in 1931, at the same time as Cayce affirmed in one of his readings (440-5) that stones belonging to the Yucatan Hall of Records “were now…during the last few months, being uncovered”, an expedition sponsored by the Carnegie Institution of Washington D.C. and led by the archaeologist Sylvanus Morley was conducting the first systematic excavations at Yaxchilan.
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All this makes Yaxchilan one of the most likely candidates for being the site of the legendary Yucatan Hall of Records.
Yaxchilan ruins deep in the forests.(Photo: ©Marco M. Vigato)
Marco M. Vigato has traveled extensively across Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, South-East Asia, North and South America and is an independent researcher into ancient mysteries and megalithic civilizations. His expeditions and photographs dedicated to ancient history, adventure travel, and archaeology can be found at Uncharted Ruins.
Top Image: Yaxchilan contains hundreds of ancient structures, a labyrinth, tunnels, chabmers. What secrets do they keep? (Photo: ©Marco M. Vigato)
John van Auken and Lora Little, The Lost Hall of Records
Simon Martin and Nikolai Grube, Chronicle of the Maya Kings and Queens: Deciphering the Dynasties of the Ancient Maya. Rev. ed. Thames and Hudson, London, 2008, pp. 155-159
Excerpts of the now lost manuscript of the Probanza de Votan are included in the work of Dr. Paul Felix Cabrera, Description of the Ruins of an Ancient City discovered near Palenque (based on the original from Captain Antonio del Rio), London, 1822
Lewis Spence, The Problem of Atlantis, London, 1924, p. 107
Carolyn Elaine Tate, Yaxchilan, the Design of a Maya Ceremonial City, University of Texas Press, 1992, pp. 182-185
Christopher Helmke, A Carved Speleothem Monument at Yaxchilan, Mexico. [Online] Available at: http://www.mesoweb.com/pari/publications/journal/1704/Helmke_2017.pdf
Sylvanus G. Morley, 1931 Report of the Yaxchilan Expedition, in Year Book, Carnegie Institution of Washington, pp. 132-139