MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - A sacred tunnel discovered in the ancient Mexican city of Teotihuacan is filled with thousands of ritual objects and may lead to royal tombs, the lead Mexican archaeologist on the project said on Wednesday.
The entrance to the 1,800-year-old tunnel was first discovered in 2003, and its contents came to light thanks to excavations by remote-control robots and then human researchers, archeologist Sergio Gomez told reporters.
The site is located about 30 miles (50 km) northeast of Mexico City. The ruins have long been shrouded in mystery because its inhabitants did not leave behind written records.
The artifacts found inside the tunnel, located below the Temple of the Plumed Serpent, include finely carved stone sculptures, jewelry and shells.
An estimated 50,000 objects, 4,000 made of wood as well as scores of obsidian blades and arrow heads, provide clues into how the city's priests and rulers conceived the underworld.
"Due to the magnitude of the offerings that we've found, it can't be in any other place," said Gomez, who works for Mexico's national anthropology and history institute, referring to the possibility of finding royal tombs.
"We've been able to confirm all of the hypotheses we've made from the beginning," he added, saying ongoing excavations could yield more major discoveries next year.
One of Mexico's most-visited ancient sites, Teotihuacan is home to massive pyramids, temples and elite residences including many adorned with colorful murals.
The city reached its peak between 100 B.C. and 650 B.C. with a population as large as 200,000, growing rich from a wide-ranging trade in obsidian that in pre-Colombian times was used to make knives and other weapons.
The city had long been abandoned by the time the Aztecs came to power in the Valley of Mexico in the 14th century, yet it continued to play an important role as a destination for religious pilgrimages.
In Nahuatl, the Aztec language still spoken in many parts of Mexico, Teotihuacan means "abode of the gods."
Writing by David Alire Garcia; Editing by Simon Gardner and Cynthia Osterman