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    Hidden tunnel could lead to Mayan ‘entrance to the underworld’

    This month, archaeologists in Mexico will begin excavating a secret tunnel thought to lead beneath a pyramid built by the ancient Maya.
    The tunnel was sealed off centuries ago by the Maya, but archaeologists plan to clear it in order to reach a hidden “cenote” — an underwater cavern that was central to Mayan spirituality.
    Cenotes are water-filled sinkholes and are the only source of fresh water in Mexico’s Yucatan state. The Mayan civilization could not have survived here without them, but as well as sustaining physical life, these deep caverns were a key part of the Mayan cosmology.
    So important were these sites to their beliefs that the Maya practiced human sacrifice here, throwing bodies into their depths in the hope of winning the favor of their fickle rain god, Chac.
    “For Mayans, cenotes were the entrance to the underworld,” says Guillermo de Anda, an underwater archaeologist who is leading the team from the Great Mayan Aquifer Project.
    “The Maya conceived of the cosmos as having three basic layers: heavens, earth and underworld,” he explains. “The underworld was very important — it was considered the origin of life, and if the Mayans didn’t keep a good balance between this layer of the universe and their own it could mean drought, famine or sickness.
    “So they knew they had to keep the peace with their deities of the underworld and this is why sometimes they made offerings.”

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