As reported by Smithsonian, a secret tunnel running underneath a nearly 2,000-year-old pyramid in the Mesoamerican metropolis of Teotihuacán was discovered in the fall of 2003 by chance thanks to a heavy rainstorm. Sergio Gómez, an archaeologist with Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History, noticed that the downpour had brought about a sinkhole at the base of the pyramid known as the Temple of the Plumed Serpent. Baffled by how he would fix this problem, he descended into the sinkhole, only to find himself in the middle of a man-made tunnel. Since then, Gómez and his team have been excavating the tunnel and its rooms, cataloguing and analyzing the 75,000 or so artifacts uncovered so far.

If, Gómez suggested, it was true that the layout of the city proper was meant to stand in for the universe and its creation, might the tunnel, beneath the temple devoted to an all-encompassing aqueous past, represent a world outside of time, an underworld or a world before, not the world of the living but of the dead? Up above, there was the Temple of the Sun and the eternal day. Down below, the stars—not of this earth—and the deepest night.

Gómez told me he had not been prepared for the sheer diversity of the objects he encountered in the farthermost reaches of the tunnel: necklaces, with the string intact. Boxes of beetle wings. Jaguar bones. Balls of amber. And perhaps most intriguingly, a pair of finely carved black stone statues, each facing the wall opposite to the entryway of the chamber.

With just the final sections of the tunnel left to explore, Gómez hopes that their contents will help solve one of Teotihuacán's "most fundamental enduring mysteries": who ruled the city?

Gómez has one more crucial task to undertake: the excavation of three distinct, buried sub-chambers located below the resting place of the figurines, the final sections of the tunnel complex as yet unexplored. Some scholars speculate that the elaborate ritual offerings on display here, and the presence of pyrite and mercury, which held known associations with the supernatural among ancient Mesoamericans, provide further evidence that the buried sub-chambers represent the entryway to a particular type of underworld: the place where the city’s ruler departed the world of the living. Others argue that even the discovery of long-sought human remains buried in spectacular fashion would hardly close the book on the mystery of Teotihuacán’s rulers: Whoever is buried here could be just one ruler among many, perhaps even some other kind of holy person.

For Gómez, the sub-chambers, whether they are filled with more ritual relics, or remains, or something entirely unexpected, might be best understood as a symbolic “tomb”: a final resting place for the city’s founders, of gods and men.

Head over to Smithsonian to read the full article.

Feature image via Janet Jarman/Smithsonian