Entrance to underworld? Mysterious tunnels, chambers found beneath ancient church in Mexico
Using state-of-the-art modern equipment and technology, archaeologists in Southern Mexico have unearthed an intricate structure of chambers and passageways, hidden beneath an ancient church, representing an 'entrance' to the underworld.
The labyrinth was discovered at the Mitla site, an important archaeological site related to the Zapotec culture, located in the state of Oaxaca. Zapotecs inhabited the region for over 2,200 years until the arrival of the Spanish in 1521.
The discovery was made possible by a joint venture between the Mexican National Institute of History and Anthropology (INAH), the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), the Association for Archaeological Research and Exploration and the ARX Project.
To locate the underground structures precisely, the researchers used electrical resistivity tomography, ground-penetrating radar and seismic noise tomography as the three main scanning methods.
After obtaining the data and combing it, the team managed to produce a comprehensive map of what lay 5-8 metres (16-26 feet) below the church's surface. The Catholic building was built after missionaries arrived in the area and conceals the entrance to the now-mapped forbidden underground network.
Notably, the Zapotecs were firm believers in the underworld. They were polytheistic and believed in ritual, including when someone died.
Evidence of the hidden temple
According to experts, when the Zapotecs placed the buildings underneath, they would have been used as a religious temple, known as the Lyobaa - the 'place of rest'. The ruin was believed to be a portal to the realm of the deceased. It is suspected that the entrance to the underground passages may be located beneath the church’s main altar, which forced the church representatives to close it, in order to keep the 'satan' away.
The missionaries who built the church over it documented that they had indeed sealed the entrance to the Lyobaa.
“In 1674, Dominican father Francisco de Burgoa described the exploration of the Mitla ruins and their subterranean chambers by a group of Spanish missionaries. Burgoa’s account describes an expansive subterranean temple consisting of interconnected chambers, housing the tombs of high priests and kings of Teozapotlán," the ARX Project noted in a statement.
The archaeologists say they have barely scratched the surface regarding the discoveries. The team of 15 multidisciplinary researchers working under Project Lyobaa has additional scans and studies in the area planned for the years ahead.