Zapotec's Ancient Underworld Temple in Mexico


| LAST UPDATE 07/27/2023

By Stanley Wickens
Zapotec ancient temple Mexico
MWayOut via Getty Images

Archaeologists have made a breathtaking discovery at the Mitla site in southern Mexico, reminiscent of a scene straight out of an Indiana Jones film. They've unearthed a labyrinth of chambers and passageways beneath an old church, which is believed to symbolize an 'entrance' to the underworld.

Over 1,000 years ago, this intricate network was likely part of a religious temple created by the ancient Zapotec civilization. Known as the Lyobaa, or 'place of rest', it is thought to include several tombs and sits approximately 5-8 meters below the surface. To locate these hidden structures, the researchers employed three cutting-edge scanning methods. These included ground-penetrating radar, electrical resistivity tomography, and seismic noise tomography. The combined data from these techniques have helped to create a detailed map of the subterranean world. Interestingly, the site now houses a church built after missionaries arrived in the region. The church's altar ingeniously conceals the entrance to this underground network. Historical records from 1674, penned by Dominican father Francisco de Burgoa, describe an expansive underground temple in this location, complete with interconnected chambers and numerous caverns.

ancient civilization history temple
Stefano Barzellotti via Getty Images
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The rediscovery of this ancient 'place of rest' is intriguing. The Zapotecs were devout believers in the underworld and practiced elaborate rituals, particularly during funerals. This temple was likely operational until the late 15th century when the region came under the control of the Aztecs and subsequently, the Spanish. The unveiling of this labyrinth is only the beginning of Project Lyobaa. The multi-disciplinary team of 15 researchers, ranging from archaeologists to engineers, plans further scans and studies in the coming years.

The team also unearthed more evidence of the Palace of the Columns, the area's most significant ancient monument. Discovering an earlier construction phase will contribute invaluable insights into the history of the Zapotec people. But this project isn't just about uncovering ancient monuments. It's also about evaluating the potential seismic and geological risks to these historical sites. This proactive approach ensures the preservation of these monuments for future generations, enabling us to maintain our connection with thousands of years of human history.

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