Washington, August 23 : Archaeologists have discovered a labyrinth filled with stone temples and pyramids in 14 caves, some of which are underwater, in Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, which is may be the legendary portal to the Maya underworld.
The discovery has experts wondering whether Maya legend inspired the construction of the underground complex-or vice versa, according to a report in National Geographic News.
According to Maya myth, the souls of the dead had to follow a dog with night vision on a horrific and watery path and endure myriad challenges before they could rest in the afterlife.
In one of the recently found caves, researchers discovered a nearly 300-foot (90-meter) concrete road that ends at a column standing in front of a body of water.
"We have this pattern now of finding temples close to the water-or under the water, in this most recent case," said Guillermo de Anda, lead investigator at the research sites.
"These were probably made as part of a very elaborate ritual. Everything is related to death, life, and human sacrifice," he added.
Researchers said the ancient legend-described in part in the sacred book Popul Vuh-tells of a tortuous journey through oozing blood, bats, and spiders, that souls had to make in order to reach Xibalba, the underworld.
"Caves are natural portals to other realms, which could have inspired the Mayan myth. They are related to darkness, to fright, and to monsters," de Anda said, adding that this does not contradict the theory that the myth inspired the temples.
According to William Saturno, a Maya expert at Boston University, the maze of temples was built after the story.
"I'm sure the myths came first, and the caves reaffirmed the broad time-and-space myths of the Mayans," he said.
Saturno said that the discovery of the temples underwater indicates the significant effort the Maya put into creating these portals.
"They believed in a reality with many layers. The portal between life and where the dead go was important to them," he said.
Archaeologists excavating the temples and pyramids in the village of Tahtzibichen, in Merida, the capital of Yucatan state, said the oldest item they found was a 1,900-year-old vessel.
Other uncovered earthenware and sculptures dated to A.D. 750 to 850.
"There are stones, huge columns, and sculptures of priests in the caves," said de Anda, whose team has been working on the Yucatan Peninsula for six months. "There are also human remains and ceramics," he added.