THE temple of the feathered-serpent Kukulkan is a place embraced by myth. Every spring and autumn, snakelike shadows slither along its stairs. And there are ancient rumours of a lost watery labyrinth beneath its walls.
Archaeologists are attempting to find out if there is more to the 1000-year-old structure than meets the eye, with a hi-tech survey of the World Heritage site.
National Geographic reports the team of scientists and engineers hope to discover more about how the famous step pyramid was built, and what secrets it may yet contain.
JOURNEY TO THE UNDERWORLD
We know ancient Mayan culture regarded caves and tunnels to be the domain of their gods.
We know local legends talk of a dark, watery labyrinth beneath Chichen Itza’s 30m tall temple.
We’re about to find out.
“With this data, I believe we will conclusively find out if the local legends of an elaborate underworld are true,” says archaeologist Guillermo de Anda of Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History.
Any new discovery is likely to involve death.
And human sacrifice.
Hundreds of human bones have been found in Chichen Itza’s Well of Sacrifice (or Sacred Cenote). Some show signs of unhealed wounds that would have happened about the time of death.
Another 3000 such sacrificial well are believed hidden amid the jungles of southern Mexico.
De Anda says this is a sure sign the underworld plays an important part in the Mayan spiritual and administration complex.
“They believed that everything from fertility to rain and lightning originated in this subterranean world,” he says. “The clues they left behind make it clear that they went to great lengths to appease and appeal to the dwellers of this spirit world.”
As with the recent Scan Pyramids project in Egypt, the modern-day explorers will use modern technology to peer deep into the structure without causing any damage.
Ground-penetrating radar has been especially tailored to suit the site. It will be used to search for hidden chambers and passages behind the temple’s stone walls.
This and other remote-imaging technology such as LIDAR (Light detection and ranging) and sonar-equipped kayaks will also attempt to map tunnels and caves around the entire Chichen Itza site.
The work has already produced results.
“A number of anomalies” have been found behind the walls and beneath the floor of the Kukulkan temple’s Red Jaguar throne.
And, in its first week, the survey found two new nearby submerged caves and several new dry caves. One contained a stone carved as a female figurine.
It is hoped an accurate picture of water flows will help reveal the locations of new subterranean passages beneath the historic site — and the mythical labyrinth itself, if it exists.
“We need to wait for the data to be processed to have a better interpretation of what it all means,” ays National Geographic engineer Corey Jaskolski. But I believe that this approach will tell us much more about the structure of the pyramid and what may be hidden behind its inner walls.”