Hunt for ancient royal tomb in Mexico takes mercurial twist

Fri Apr 24, 2015 1:27pm EDT
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By David Alire Garcia

TEOTIHUACAN, Mexico (Reuters) - A Mexican archeologist hunting for a royal tomb in a deep, dark tunnel beneath a towering pre-Aztec pyramid has made a discovery that may have brought him a step closer: liquid mercury.

In the bowels of Teotihuacan, a mysterious ancient city that was once the largest in the Americas, Sergio Gomez this month found "large quantities" of the silvery metal in a chamber at the end of a sacred tunnel sealed for nearly 1,800 years.

"It's something that completely surprised us," Gomez said at the entrance to the tunnel below Teotihuacan's Pyramid of the Plumed Serpent, about 30 miles (50 km) northeast of Mexico City.

Some archeologists believe the toxic element could herald what would be the first ruler's tomb ever found in Teotihuacan, a contemporary of several ancient Maya cities, but so shrouded in mystery that its inhabitants still have no name.

Unsure why the mercury was put there, Gomez says the metal may have been used to symbolize an underworld river or lake. Previously uncovered in small amounts at a few Maya sites much further south, it had never been found in Teotihuacan.

Difficult to mine and prized for its reflective properties, mercury was rare in ancient Mexico. Archaeologists believe may have lent it a supernatural significance for ritual ends.

ROYAL TOMB SOUGHT   Continued...

An undated graphic shows the tunnel that may lead to a royal tombs discovered underneath the Quetzalcoatl temple in the ancient city of Teotihuacan in this October 29, 2014. REUTER/INAH/Files/Handout via Reuters.