To enter Maya underworld, Xibalbá, a tortuous road had to be walked; at the end, according to Popol Vuh, the sacred Maya book, there was a lake with houses, where hard tests had to be accomplished.
National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) and Autonomous University of Yucatan (UADY) archaeologists think they may have found this legendary route inside caves and cenotes (sinkholes). Several constructions have been discovered in these underground spaces.
Guillermo de Anda Alanis, director of El Culto al Cenote en el Centro de Yucatan (Cult to Cenote in Central Yucatan) initiative, revealed that finding these buildings has been a pleasant surprise, as they seem to corroborate what historical sources described.
“Caves have been modified to house temples probably dedicated to Xibalba cult; considering they are located in hard to reach places, buildings are complex, some shafts reaching 30 or 40 meters long.”
“In one cave a Sacbe, or ritual roadway has been discovered: it is almost 100 meters long, well cemented and constructed as Chichen Itza one. It runs from East to West, and turns where a body of water is found, to end in front of a stalactite and stalagmite column that reminds a Ceiba tree, Maya symbolic ancestor. This is proof of an intentional trace, similar to Balakanche cave, at Chichen Itza.”
The UADY underwater archaeologist detailed the roadway ends in 3 platforms that reach the water. A model is observed in several caves: a natural doorway bricked up with stones to leave a small access, 1 meter high and 60 cm wide.
Some of these spaces kept burials and offerings, such as earthenware and sculptures; dating ceramic tests reveal they were offered between Pre Classic and Post Classic periods, most of them belonging to Late Classic (750-850 AD) age. Among findings, a 1,900 years old vessel is the earliest piece discovered in Northern Yucatan.
First stage of the El Culto al Cenote initiative was research: one 16th century historical source refers to idolatry persecution, where 17 caves and cenotes where Maya practiced rites are mentioned.
To the present day, the initiative is at in situ check up stage, with Yucatan INAH Center collaboration.