Pre-Hispanic people in Mexico built canals under a temple belonging to an ancient Mayan ruler so that his spirt could travel to the underworld. The discovery at the ruin site of Palenque in Mexico under the Temple of Inscriptions, which houses the tomb of the Mayan leader Pakal, suggests the tomb and pyramid were constructed on top of a spring to ensure the king could meet up with spirits who guided the dead to the underworld, the National Anthropology and History Institute announced Monday.
Some researchers had previously believed that carvings along Pakal’s grave site showed him at the controls of a spaceship, indicating his people believed he would travel to other worlds after his death. The tomb, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was built in 683-702 AD in what is now the southern Mexican state of Chiapas. For centuries, the area made up one of the biggest and most important Mayan city states.
The stone canals travel from under the funeral chamber into an esplanade in front of the temple. Carvings found in the grave say a god “will guide the dead toward the underworld, by submerging into the water so they will be received there,” Arnoldo González de la Cruz , director of archaeology in Palenque, told reporters in a press conference. “There is nothing to do with spaceships.”
The Temple of Inscriptions dig began in 2012. A camera-equipped robot explored the canals after they were discovered through sonar. The waterway was part of a larger drainage or water supply system for the ancient Mayan people.
"The evidence supports the idea that this temple was built because of the existence of the spring," González said. "They may have reproduced in a symbolic way the sinuous route the king hoped to take to the waters of the Mayan underworld."
Pedro Sanchez Nava, director of archaeology for the National Institute of Anthropology and History, said other pre-Hispanic peoples in Mexico also valued flowing water.
“There is this allegorical meaning for water ... where the cycle of life begins and ends,” he said.