Archaeologists in Mexico believe they may have unlocked a mystery beneath a Maya pyramid at the Chichen Itza site in Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula. The temple complex was built about 1,000 years ago and was first seen by Europeans when Spanish conquistadors came to Mexico in the early 1500s. Experts have found a secret passageway within the Temple of Kukulcan (Maya for ‘feathered serpent’ and the name of an ancient Maya hero) that leads to massive sinkhole and cave. The temple is also known as "El Castillo" -- Spanish for castle.


Known as a “cenote” in Mexico, a sinkhole formed when weathered limestone covering an underground cavity collapses and thus exposes the groundwater beneath.

The Maya and Toltec ancestors of Mexicans were known to toss sacrificial human victims into such cenotes in apparent efforts at propitiating their gods. An expedition in 2015 found human remains in a cenote below Chichen Itza. Yucatan has dozens of cenotes.

Scans showed what experts believe is a secret passage from a burial chamber in the pyramid to the cenote. Chichen Itza means “at the mouth of the well of Itza.” For the ancient Mexicans, cenotes were holy means of communicating with their gods. 

A team led by underwater archeologist Guillermo de Anda Alanis, the Great Mayan Aquifer Project, found the tunnel linked to the main burial chamber in the pyramid. The team have been exploring the labyrinth inside the temple for about six months. So far, the team know of the existence of the tunnel only because they can see it on scans taken using Light Detection and Ranging (lidar) -- which is a remote-sensing technology that uses pulsed laser light to measure ranges. However, the team claim to have found the entrance to the passage and hope to physically explore it.

De Anda said: “Through the ossuary (burial chamber) 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 pyramid.”

The heyday of the Mayas was between 300-900 AD. Despite not having metal implements or large beasts of burden or the wheel, they built a network of temple-complexes throughout the Yucatan Peninsula and Guatemala. They developed an accurate calendar that allowed them to determine planting seasons. By the time the Spanish conquistadors arrived, the Maya civilization had long before subsided, leaving behind descendants who maintained some of the few temples and cities that had not been abandoned by their ancestors in circumstances that are not fully understood.




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Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat and the editor of Spero News.

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