Liquid mercury found under Mexican pyramid could lead to king’s tomb

An archaeologist has discovered liquid mercury at the end of
a tunnel beneath a Mexican pyramid, a finding that could suggest the existence
of a king’s tomb or a ritual chamber far below one of the most ancient cities
of the Americas.
Mexican researcher Sergio Gómez told Reuters on Friday that
he had discovered “large quantities” of liquid mercury in a chamber below the
Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent, the third largest pyramid of Teotihuacan, the
ruined city in central Mexico.
Visitors look at the archaeological area of the Quetzalcoatl
(Feathered Serpent) Temple near the Pyramid of the Sun at the Teotihuacan
archaeological site, north of Mexico City. Photograph: Henry Romero/Reuters
Gómez has spent six years slowly excavating the tunnel,
which was unsealed in 2003 after 1,800 years. Last November, Gómez and a team
announced they had found three chambers at the tunnel’s 300ft end, almost 60ft
below the the temple. Near the entrance of the chambers, they a found trove of
strange artifacts: jade statues, jaguar remains, a box filled with carved
shells and rubber balls.
Slowly working their way down the broad, dark and deep
corridor beneath the pyramid, battling humidity and now obliged to wear
protective gear against the dangers of mercury poisoning, Gómez and his team
are meticulously exploring the three chambers.
Mercury is toxic and capable of devastating the human body
through prolonged exposure; the liquid metal had no apparent practical purpose
for ancient Mesoamericans. But it has been discovered at other sites. Rosemary
Joyce, a professor of anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley,
said that archaeologists have found mercury at three other sites around Central
Gómez speculated to Reuters that the mercury could be a sign
that his team is close to uncovering the first royal tomb ever found in Teotihuacan
after decades of excavation – and centuries of mystery surrounding the
leadership of the cryptic but well-preserved city.
The mercury may have symbolized an underworld river or lake,
Gómez postulated, an idea that resonated with Annabeth Headreck, a professor at
the University of Denver and the author of works on Teotihuacan and
Mesoamerican art.
The shimmering, reflective qualities of liquid mercury may
have resembled “an underworld river, not that different from the river Styx,”
Headrick said, “if only in the concept that it’s the entrance to the
supernatural world and the entrance to the underworld.”
“Mirrors were considered a way to look into the supernatural
world, they were a way to divine what might happen in the future,” she said.
“It could be a sort of river, albeit a pretty spectacular one.”
Joyce said that archaeologists know that scintillation
fascinated the ancient people generally, and that the liquid mercury may have
held been regarded as “somewhat magical … there for ritual purposes or symbolic
Headrick said that mercury was not the only object of
fascination: “a lot of ritual objects were made reflective with mica,” a
sparkling mineral likely imported to the region.
In 2013 archaeologists using a robot found metallic spheres
which they dubbed “disco balls” in an un-excavated portion of the tunnel, near
pyrite mirrors. “I wish I could understand all the things these guys are
finding down there,” Headrick said, “but it’s unique and that’s why it’s hard.”
Water was also precious to many of the people of
Mesoamerica, who knew of underground water systems and lakes that could be
accessed through caves. Teotihuacan once had springs as well, though they are
now dried out.
Joyce said the ancient Mesoamericans could produce liquid
mercury by heating mercury ore, known as cinnabar, which they also used for its
blood-red pigment. The Maya used cinnabar to decorate jade objects and color
the bodies of their royalty, for instance; the people of Teotihuacan – for whom
archaeologists have not agreed on a name – have not left any obvious royal
remains for study.
The discovery of a tomb could help solve the enigma of how
Teotihuacan was ruled, and Joyce said that the concentration of artifacts
outside the tunnel chambers could be associated with a tomb – or a set of
ritual chambers.
A royal tomb could lend credence to the theory that the
city, which flourished between 100-700AD, was ruled by dynasties in the manner
of the Maya, though with far less obvious flair for self-glorification.
But a royal tomb cold also hold the remains of a lord, which
may fit with a competing idea about the city. Linda Manzanilla, a Mexican
archaeologist acclaimed by many of her peers, contends that the city was
governed by four co-rulers and notes that the city lacks a palace or apparent
depiction of kings on its many murals. The excavation by Gomez my find one of
those co-rulers, under this hypothesis.
Headrick suggested yet more fluid models, in which strong
lineages or clans traded rule but never cemented into dynasties, or in which
the rulers relied on agreements with the military to maintain power, and
authority was vested more in an office than a family. Ancient Teotihuacan was a
city with familiar factions vying for influence: the elite, the military, the
merchants, the priests and the people.
For now, the archaeologists and anthropologists continue
digging and deducing. Gomez says he hopes excavation of the chambers to be
complete by October, and Headrick said that archeologists are looking at the
city from new angles. Some are trying to decipher the paintings and
hieroglyphics around the city, others trying to parse what may be a writing
system without verbs or syntax.

Then there are the thousands of artifacts, some
unprecedented and bizarre, that Gomez and his fellows are disinterring from
beneath the pyramid. “It’s quite the mystery,” Headrick said. “It’s fun.”
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Posted on April 27, 2015, in Useful Information. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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