El Castillo, Chichen Itza
El Castillo, Chichen Itza, from the Thousand Columns

National Geographic is one of many sources reporting on an exciting new discovery of ritual objects in a cave beneath the Maya site of Chichen Itza in the northern Yucatan. The objects were found in a cave system called Balamku (Jaguar God). Caves had special importance for the Maya, who considered them passages to the underworld. Among the reasons for this is the geology of the Yucatan, with its limestone cenotes and extensive caverns. Until fairly recently, archaeologists saw caves as relatively minor adjuncts to the grand ceremonial structures that remain above ground. Now it is possible to image the cave system as equal in importance to the world above.

Many of the objects represent the Toltec rain god Tlaloc. Others reference the Tree of Life, the ceiba, which spans the subterranean, earthly, and celestial realms. National Geographic writes that “Balamku remained sealed for more than 50 years, until it was reopened in 2018 by National Geographic Explorer Guillermo de Anda and his team of investigators from the Great Maya Aquifer Project during their search for the water table beneath Chichén Itzá. Exploration of the system was funded in part by a grant from the National Geographic Society.”

Reports say the objects have been untouched for a thousand years, but I don’t know how that can be known for certain. We do know that archaeologist Víctor Segovia Pinto knew of the entrance to the caves and had it sealed up in 1966, for reasons that National Geographic implies are mysterious. So they have been untouched for more than fifty years anyway.

There is an embedded video about the discovery in the National Geographic site (linked in the first paragraph above. Be warned it is prefaced by a long commercial, and the clock restarts if you scroll to read on.

The image at the head of the post (which I took in 2007) is El Castillo, the central pyramid in the Chichen Itza complex, viewed from the Thousand Columns (which was a large covered space). The newly explored caves were within two miles of it.