Hidden Passage Discovered Underneath Chichén Itzá
After two months of investigations using state of the art non-invasive imaging equipment, as well as the good old-fashioned technique of crawling through tight spaces on hands and knees, archaeologists conducting surveys at the Chichén Itzá site have announced the discovery of a passageway underneath the 1000-year-old temple complex.
Deep Vision Technology
Researchers from the Great Mayan Aquifer Project, led by underwater archaeologist Guillermo de Anda, have been using an impressive array of technology to survey the area, including LIDAR to detect surface features, radar to penetrate surfaces around the ruins, and a relatively new technology called tri-dimensional electric resistivity tomography', or 'ERT-3D'. With this surveying technique they have been mapping the subterranean features around the temple and hope to produce a 3D map of the suspected ‘elaborate underworld’ as reported in an Ancient Origins article in October.
Two years ago, René Chávez and a team of researchers of the Geophysics Institute of the UNAM used a similar technology which revealed Kukulkan temple is constructed directly above a cenote (sinkhole). In an announcement reported by El Universal, Great Mayan Aquifer has now not only confirmed the existence of this cavernous cenote, but the researchers believe a passage they have found leads to a previously unexplored cavern below the temple pyramid.
Images detecting the cenote underneath Kukulkan by Rene Chavez and his team in 2015 (Image: UNAM)
The newly detected tunnel runs through a previously mapped burial chamber referred to as the ‘Ossuary’ (meaning a small space for the burial of bones). Although currently blocked off, the tunnel looks as though it could give access to a cenote under Kukulkan temple.
“Through the Ossuary we can enter the cave beneath the structure and there we found a blocked passageway, probably closed off by the ancient Mayans themselves; we will
enter again and, this time, we will try to open it to see if the passageway leads us to the entrance of the cenote beneath the Castle,” said the Guillermo de Anda reports The Yucatan Times.
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The passage that has been found at the Ossuary (El Osario) could lead to the cenote under Kukulkan (El Castillo) © Museo Nacional de Antropologia and Denisse Argote / IKONOS satellite
Access to a Subterranean Complex?
This is exciting news as the cenote near this passage has until now only been shown by imaging devices. To find an established route to gain access to explore it physically would be a massive breakthrough and could reveal untold secrets of the temple. It could even provide access to the underground labyrinth of local legend that is being sought as one of the project’s objectives.
“With this data, I believe we will conclusively find out if the local legends of an elaborate underworld are true,” Guillermo de Anda told National Geographic in an earlier report regarding the first extensive survey of the location for 50 years.
But first the team will need to break through into the tunnel and see where it might take them.
"We will enter again and this time we will try to open it to see if the passageway leads us to the entrance of the cenote beneath the pyramid," de Anda more recently stated as The Yucatan Times reports.
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Maya cenote named Samula near Valladolid, Mexico. (Igor Pardini / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 )
The Cenotes of Kukulkan
The pyramid temple, also known as El Castillo (the castle) is thought to be dedicated to the Mayan deity Kukulkan, an infamous feathered snake deity. An Ancient Origins report recently described how, during equinoxes, sun on the pyramid creates the illusion of a snake moving down the pyramid steps. This is just one carefully calculated astronomical feature of the alignment of the surface buildings.
Kukulkan at Chichen Itza during the Equinox. The famous descent of the snake. March 2009 (Public Domain)
If access to the cenote is found, there are potentially some amazing discoveries to be made there as these cenotes were thought in the Mayan religion to be the most important of several portals to Xibalba, the world of the dead.
According to a previous Ancient Origins article, when another cenote underneath El Castillo was dredged in the past, many items were found:
‘a whole manner of objects was found including wooden objects (preserved by the water), tools, and idols as well as large selection of jewelry and precious metals such as gold, silver, copper, and most of all, jade. A lot of the objects appear to have been intentionally broken before being thrown into the cavern below, perhaps suggesting a ‘killing’ of the object that was to be sacrificed to the gods of death. Excavations have also revealed many human bones that show wounds indicating human sacrifice. The corpses are of men, women, and children, with many of the younger victims being male.’
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Lead archaeologist, Guillermo de Anda investigating one of the tunnels in the temple complex (Youtube screenshot)
The next step is to find out where the passage leads and if it accesses further underground structures at the complex.
As they continue their survey, the team hopes to discover which elements of the cave system are natural formations and which (if any) were purposefully created by man, what routes there are to be found underground connecting the surface structures and, of course, any sites which were used by Mayans and search for artifacts or other evidence. This will give further insight into how this intricate Mayan construction functioned and which of their religious practices it served.
The research is supported by National Geographic Society, the Mexican National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), and researcher of the California State University and pioneer in Mayan cavern exploration, James Brady.
Top image: Kukulkan temple pyramid is being surveyed with multiple imaging technologies (Image: Chris Millbern/ INAH/GAM)
By Gary Manners