Mayan Temple Water Tunnel Complex Discovered: Famed Pakal Engraving Not In 'Spaceship' But On His Way To The Underworld

Archaeologists in Mexico have discovered a water tunnel complex beneath the ancient Mayan Temple of Inscriptions, the famous edifice that contains the equally famous sarcophagus of Pakal, the Mayan ruler who some believe is depicted inside a spaceship headed for the outer space. But that is a misreading of the carving. Although followers of the Ancient Alien belief system will likely be disappointed to learn that the stone carving does not show Pakal in a spaceship, the truth of the matter is that the ancient Mayan ruler was depicted as being on a path to the underworld -- through water.

The Guardian reported on July 25 that archaeologist Arnoldo Gonzalez announced that researchers at the Mayan ruins site at Palenque in Mexico believe that the ancient pyramid was purposely constructed atop a natural spring sometime between 683-702 AD. The tunnels channeled water from beneath the Temple of Inscriptions out to the front of the temple itself, opening up a path for Pakal's spirit to traverse to the underworld.

Gonzalez pointed out, "There is nothing to do with spaceships." To prove his point, the archaeologist noted that carvings discovered on a pair of stone ear plugs were translated as saying that a god "will guide the dead toward the underworld, by submerging (them) into the water so they will be received there".

So, instead of heading off into outer space, the theory now suggests that Pakal's spirit had access to water tunnels, which would lead him to the afterlife in the underworld. All of which makes sense to Pedro Sanchez Nava, the director of archaeology for the National Institute of Anthropology and History. He told The Guardian the theory was credible in that other pre-conquest peoples like the Aztecs had built a water tunnel in Teotihuacan, the massive Aztec metropolis that existed near present-day Mexico City. Sanchez Nava believes the water tunnel holds special significance.

"In both cases there was a water current present. There is this allegorical meaning for water... where the cycle of life begins and ends."
Francisco Estrada-Belli, an assistant professor of archaeology at Boston University who was not involved in the dig, concurred with Sanchez Nava. He wrote, according to the Associated Press, "I believe that building a tomb over a canal certainly does fit with the belief that water and water bodies were entrances to the underworld. Several cases of temples (and the associated tombs) are known to be built over natural caves that may or may not have held water."

The water tunnels were discovered when, after the initial work at the site was begun in 2012, archaeologists came across anomalies in the geo-radar data that were originally feared to be a hole or fault that could eventually cause damage to the temple through subsidence. Digging at the site, however, uncovered a system of three layers of stone covering a tunnel. It resembled the tunnel in Pakal's tomb.

Gonzalez admitted that a connection between the newfound tunnel and the one located in Pakal's tomb had yet to be found, but he added that the system was not yet fully explored. It was too small for anyone to crawl through, so a robot equipped with a camera had been sent in to explore the horizontal passageway.

The engraving of of the Mayan ruler Pakal on the sarcophagus cover and its interpretation as a man set to take off in a spaceship was made famous by Erich von Danniken in his bestselling book, "Chariots Of The Gods." The author posited that Pakal, who seemed to be seated in a contraption with his back toward the ground. According to von Danniken, the carving looked as if it depicted the Mayan ruler in a position similar to that of astronauts, with his hands on mechanical controls and flames emitting from the rear of the "spaceship."

But Erich von Danniken's interpretation, one that fuels the pseudoscience and quasi-religious assumptions of Ancient Alien theorists – a school of thought maintaining that life on Earth was initiated or at least influenced by alien beings made famous by the History Channel's long-running series "Ancient Aliens" – does not jibe with that of the experts. Archaeologists contend that the so-called "flames" are actually depictions of the Maya's "World Tree" or "Tree of Life," the roots of which are believed to extend into the underworld.

The newly discovered Mayan water tunnel (theorized) and the Mayan Temple of Inscriptions at the Palenque ruins is located about 907 kilometers (564 miles) east of Mexico City and roughly 843 kilometers (524 miles) southwest of Cancun. Palenque is a World Heritage Site and a popular tourist attraction covering over 2.5 kilometers (a square mile). It is estimated that less than ten percent of the actual Mayan city has been detected.

[Image via Shutterstock]