Highway to hell? Researchers find entrance to the Zapotec underworld

Researchers develop a 3D model of what lies beneath a Catholic Church in Oaxaca.
Sejal Sharma
Mitla Church
Mitla Church in Oaxaca

Project Lyobaa 

How spooky would it be if someone told you an entrance to the underworld really exists?

Mexican researchers claim that they have uncovered evidence of caves and passageways underneath a church, considered by the ancient Zapotecs to be an entrance to the underworld or Lyobaa.

As per the press release, the project employed three different geophysical methods for scanning the site – Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR), Electrical Resistivity Tomography (ERT), and Seismic Noise Tomography.

Entrance to the Zapotec underworld

The researchers published their findings of the archaeological site of Mitla, Oaxaca, in which the team has accurately replicated a 3D model of what lies beneath the ground. The 3D models confirm the presence of underground chambers, tunnels, evidence of the construction of the Palace of the Columns, tombs, and buried archaeological structures, which were mentioned by a priest in his accounts of the ruins back in 1674.

The priest, Dominican father Francisco de Burgoa, described the ruins as a vast subterranean temple consisting of four interconnected chambers, a stone door leading to a deep cavern that was intersected by other passages, and its roof supported by pillars. 

The methods adopted by the team to study the ruin confirmed the existence of a large void located right beneath the main altar, which appeared to be connected to another geophysical anomaly. The electrical tomography revealed two passages entering the main void, similar to what the priest had foretold.

A gateway to hell?

Legend has it that while all the other entrances were blocked, there was an entrance beneath the main altar of a Catholic church. The researchers identified a possible blocked-up entrance underneath the main altar.

The site has five groups of buildings: the South, the Adobe, the Arroyo, the Columns or Palace, and the Church or North Group. The team is planning another investigation in September this year at Mitla, focusing on the remaining groups of structures in the West and the South.

The project is the result of a collaboration between the Mexican National Institute of History and Anthropology (INAH), the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), and the Association for Archaeological Research and Exploration, ARX Project, A.C.

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