(MEXICO CITY) — Archaeologists at the Mayan ruin site of Palenque said Monday they have discovered an underground water tunnel built under the Temple of Inscriptions, which houses the tomb of an ancient ruler named Pakal.
Archaeologist Arnoldo Gonzalez said researchers believe the tomb and pyramid were purposely built atop a spring between AD 683 and 702. The tunnel led water from under the funeral chamber out into the broad esplanade in front of the temple, thus giving Pakal’s spirit a path to the underworld.
Attention has focused on the heavily carved stone sarcophagus in which Pakal was buried, and which some erroneously believe depict the Maya ruler seated at the controls of a spaceship.
But Gonzalez said carvings on a pair of stone ear plugs found in the grave say a god “will guide the dead toward the underworld, by submerging (them) into the water so they will be received there.”
Pakal, in other words, didn’t fly off into space; he went down the drain. “There is nothing to do with spaceships,” Gonzalez said.
The tunnel, which connects to another, is made of stone and is about two feet (60 centimeters) wide and tall.
The director of archaeology for the National Institute of Anthropology and History, Pedro Sanchez Nava, said the theory makes sense in light of other pre-Hispanic peoples, such as those who lived at Teotihuacan, near Mexico City, where another water tunnel was found.
“In both cases there was a water current present,” said Sanchez Nava. “There is this allegorical meaning for water … where the cycle of life begins and ends.”
The dig began in 2012, when researchers become concerned about underground anomalies detected with geo-radar under the area in front of the pyramid’s steps.
Fearing a hole or geological fault that could cause the pyramid to settle or collapse, they dug at the spot — and uncovered three layers of carefully fitted stone covering the top of the tunnel.
Gonzalez said the same type of three-layered stone covering has been found in the floor of Pakal’s tomb, within the pyramid.
He said there appears to be no shaft or connection between the tomb and the tunnel, but adds the conduit hasn’t been fully explored yet because it is too small to crawl through.
Researchers had to send a robot with a camera down to view much of the underground horizontal shaft.
Francisco Estrada-Belli, an assistant professor of archaeology at Boston University who was not involved in the dig, wrote, “I believe that building a tomb over a canal certainly does fit with the belief that water and water bodies were entrances to the underworld.”
“Several cases of temples (and the associated tombs) are known to be built over natural caves that may or may not have held water,” Estrada-Belli wrote.
Author Erich von Daniken suggested in his 1968 book “Chariots of the Gods?” that Pakal’s stance in the engraving on the stone sarcophagus lid resembled the position of astronauts and that he appeared to be seated in a contraption with flames coming out of it and controls.
Experts say that the “flames” are in fact depictions of the Maya’s “World Tree” or “Tree of Life,” whose roots were believed to reach into the underworld.
Water tunnels beneath Mexican tomb carried ancient Mayan ruler away to the underworld
Not long before his demise in 683 AD, the ancient ruler Pakal ordered what was one of the Mayan’s most ambitious construction projects. The magnificent, nine-level Temple of the Inscriptions went on to house his body for centuries, but it was the intricate stone carvings found in the tomb that have inspired debate about the king’s plans for the afterlife. Archaeologists have now unearthed a network of water tunnels beneath Pakal’s tomb, which they say not only offers an indication of his intentions to float away to the underworld, but reframes theories about how the grand pyramid itself was built.
The stone slab that topped Pakal’s 20-ton sarcophagus was covered with carvings appearing to depict the ruler’s resurrection in the afterlife. It has since become an intensely studied example of classic Mayan artwork. In it, Pakal himself appears tilted backwards in front of a tree, surrounded by glyphs and cosmological signs.
This portrayal caught the eye of certain ancient alien theorists, who interpreted the slab to show Pakal at the controls of a spaceship making his way through the Milky Way (a full-size wooden replica even popped up at the International UFO Museum in Roswell, New Mexico).
But the discovery of the underwater tunnels beneath the Temple of the Inscriptions appears to suggest that Pakal’s spirit was sent down the gurgler (taking the far-fetched spaceship theory along with it). The canals were found by researchers from Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology, who began digging at the site in 2012 after picking up anomalies under the ground with a geo-radar they feared could cause the pyramid to collapse.
The team uncovered stone tunnels measuring around two feet wide and tall, and while they haven’t found a direct connection to the tomb (yet), they believe its close proximity to Pakal’s chamber, about 1.7 m (5.57 ft) below the north wall, is symbolic of his route to the underworld.
This canal network likely predated the pyramid itself, the researchers believe, and possibly indicates a spring that Pakal had chosen to build the Temple of the Inscriptions on top of. This line of thinking dovetails nicely with Mayan epigraphy, iconography of the region and other archaeological data that has associated the burial of people with bodies of water.
The researchers did their early exploring of the tunnels using robotic rovers with cameras attached, and now hope to further study the channels with ground-penetrating radars and yet-to-be developed technologies that could allow a closer inspection.
This canal network likely predated the pyramid itself
The canals were found by researchers from Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology
The team uncovered stone tunnels measuring around two feet wide and tall.
You can take a look at the tunnels and hear from the researchers (in Spanish) in the video below.
Source: National Institute of Anthropology (Spanish) via Phys.org