Underground sanctuary found under Chichen Itza

It is one of the most important findings to understand the history of Chichen Itza; the Great Maya Aquifer project found hundreds of objects and offerings; access to the cave is very limited, there are no more than four people working inside.

Specialists of the Great Maya Aquifer Project (GAM), through its study line Chichén Itzá Subterráneo, rediscovered Balamkú, "the cave of the jaguar god", inside which they found hundreds of archaeological objects and offerings.

This space is located 2.7 kilometers east of the Pyramid of El Castillo or Temple of Kukulcán, and was discovered fortuitously in 1966 by ejidatarios of the San Felipe community: Eleuterio, Mariano and Esteban Mazón; Ermilo, Jacinto and Pascual Un Noh.

The cave remained unchanged for more than five decades, given that the archaeologist Victor Segovia Pinto -who received the site's report- considered to the wall the entrance of the cave shortly after its discovery. Last year, Luis Un, the boy who accompanied the ejidatarios and who is now a 68-year-old adult, led the GAM team to this underground sanctuary, providing a great opportunity for exploration under a methodology that will avoid altering ritual contexts. which houses.

Guillermo de Anda, researcher at INAH, and James Brady, professor at California State University and co-director of the initiative, agree that this is the biggest discovery in the area since the discovery of the Balamkanché cave, in the decade of the 50, from which about 70 censers were extracted, among other materials, without carrying out its analysis. That led to the loss of invaluable information, which is why Balamkú represents an unmissable opportunity for archeology in deep cavities.

Because Balamkú is a true treasure of information, he indicated that they will go very cautiously and that they collect the mud because it can also say a lot.

Access to the cave is very limited, there are no more than four people inside working. In addition, oxygen is very scarce and it is increasingly difficult to enter to record everything. However, it is great luck to have been in this place because it means a second chance in archeology, "he said.

He added that Balamku will help rewrite the story of Chichen Itza, in Yucatan. The hundreds of archaeological artifacts, belonging to seven offerings documented so far, are in an extraordinary state of preservation. "Because the context remained sealed for centuries, it contains invaluable information related to the formation and fall of the ancient City of Water Wizards, and about who were the founders of this iconic site," he said.

The difficult access and morphology of the cave exacerbate the sacred qualities of the cave, which suggests that it is a purely ritual context, said archaeologist Pedro Francisco Sánchez Nava, national coordinator of Archeology at INAH, at the meeting with the media. of communication, which was also chaired by Roberto Junco, head of the Sub-Directorate of Underwater Archeology.

The hypothesis from which the GAM team departs is that towards the Late Classic (700-800 AD) and Terminal Classic (800-1000 AD) periods, the north of the Yucatan Peninsula experienced an unusual drought that forced its inhabitants to make requests for rain, going to the bowels of the earth, to the underworld, where the deities of fertility resided.

That explains the enormous effort that the ancient Mayans made to deposit the offerings in the recondite and restricted galleries of the Balamkú cave, "one of the most sacred spaces of Chichén Itzá": cajetes, grinding stones, winches and miniature metates, and census lids with representations of jaguars.

Among the countless ceramic remains that can be seen in the seven recorded offerings, there are at least 200 censers, many of them with the representation of the god of water, Tlaloc (characteristic for his mustache and blinders), a divinity whose cult, in some time still not specified, "traveled" from the center of Mexico to the Yucatan Peninsula.

The censers and vessels that appear concreted with stalagmites, still retain charred remains, food, seeds, jade, shell and bones, among other elements offered that will serve to date not only with greater accuracy these deposits, since the presence of contexts is not ruled out more ancient to the Late Classic-Terminal period, but the ritual activity of the Itzáes by means of the botanical hair.

De Anda commented that the Balamkú cave is a kind of "worm" due to its serpentine morphology, and it is starting from the 400 meters, after walking chest ground, when some galleries and cameras begin to open, the largest of them with 3.80 m height, which is just where the great offerings are.

Because many of the censers seem to have been intentionally destroyed, a second hypothesis suggests that they were "ritually killed", or part of an action to desecrate space, perhaps in the decline of Chichen Itza.

So far, said the owner of the GAM, only a preliminary exploration has been carried out and no excavation has yet been carried out, so the possible presence of a wide variety of materials, including human bone, remains, is not ruled out. , under the mud and sediments.

The Balamkú cave represents a long-term research project, which will lay the foundations to create a new standard in the study of archaeological caves in Mexico. It will be a very delicate work that will be done little by little, given that the place represents a wealth of unrepeatable scientific information.

The first phase of the exploration includes the creation of a 3D model of the cave, and the context will not be modified in any way, given the thoroughness with which the digital record will be made and the mapping of the entire cave system. It is worth mentioning that this underground sanctuary has been covered in about 450 meters, which would be equivalent to a third of its extension.

Recently, the GAM researchers assessed the water table, from where the underwater exploration of the cave will begin. Getting to that point was complex because of the narrowness of some passages - which in some cases are cracks of no more than 40 centimeters - that forced them to crawl 90 percent of the time.

The Chichen Itzá Subterráneo research line of the Gran Maya Aquifer project consists of a large multidisciplinary expedition to the bowels of Chichén Itzá, and its main purpose is to investigate this ancient city through its extensive and scarcely studied subterranean geography.

The cave is being duly sheltered by INAH, in collaboration with the ejidatarios of the area.

The project of the National Archeology Coordination of INAH also has the financial support of the National Geographic Society and the California State University, in Los Angeles.

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