Washington, Nov 13 : Archaeologists have discovered a labyrinth filled with stone temples and pyramids in 14 caves, some of which are underwater, on Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, which according to Maya myth, might be the portal to hell.
According to a report in National Geographic News, the discovery has experts wondering whether Mayan legend inspired the construction of the underground complex, or vice versa.
Maya myth said that 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 that 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.
In addition to plunging deep into the forest to reach the cave openings, Maya builders would have had to hold their breath and dive underwater to build some of the shrines and pyramids.
Other Maya underworld entrances have been discovered in jungles and aboveground caves in northern Guatemala Belize.
"They believed in a reality with many layers," Saturno said of the Maya. "The portal between life and where the dead go was important to them," he added.