MEXICO CITY — Mexican archaeologists have discovered a maze of stone temples in underground caves, some submerged in water and containing human bones.
Clad in scuba gear and edging through narrow tunnels, researchers found the stone ruins of 11 sacred temples at the site on the Yucatan peninsula.
Archaeologists say the Maya believed the underground complex of water-filled caves leading into dry chambers, including an underground road stretching about 330 feet, was the path to a mythical underworld known as Xibalba.
According to the Popol Vuh, an ancient Maya scripture, the route was full of obstacles, including rivers filled with scorpions and houses shrouded in darkness or swarming with shrieking bats, said Guillermo de Anda, one of the lead investigators at the site. The souls of the dead were said to have followed a mythical dog who could see at night, he said Thursday.
"It is very likely this area was protected as a sacred depository for the dead or for the passage of their souls," De Anda said.
Different Maya groups who inhabited what is now southern Mexico and northern Guatemala and Belize had their own entrances to the underworld that archaeologists have discovered at other sites, almost always in cave systems buried deep in the jungle.
Excavations at the Yucatan site over the last five months revealed stone carvings and pottery left for the dead. Scientists found one 1,900-year-old ceramic vase, but most of the artifacts date between AD 700 and 850.
"These sacred tunnels and caves were natural temples and annexes to temples on the surface," De Anda said.