When researchers grew concerned about underground anomalies detected near the Mayan ruins of Palenque in Mexico, they began a dig to figure out whether the pyramid was in danger of collapse. This week, researchers announced that what they found was no anomaly but rather a small canal system, reports the AP. They now think the tomb of the ancient ruler Pakal was built atop a natural spring about 700 AD, with tunnels that directed water to the esplanade in front of the temple in the hope of giving Pakal's spirit a way into the underworld. In fact, an engraving at the site reads that the dead gain entrance to the underworld in such a manner via the god Chaac, who will "will guide the dead toward the underworld by submerging [them]."
The site previously gained fame when author Erich von Daniken posited in his 1968 book Chariots of the Gods? that Pakal looked like an astronaut at the helm of a spaceship on a carved stone sarcophagus. But archaeologist Arnoldo Gonzalez says the dig has turned up "nothing to do with spaceships" and that the "flames" of the so-called spaceship engine in fact depict the Mayan "Tree of Life." The main underground tunnel is only two feet wide and two feet tall, and thus too small to crawl through, but the team is exploring it via robotic devices. AFP reports that water was still running through it, so the source is likely a spring, though it has not been found. Also possible is that the tunnels were part of a water-supply system built before the temple. (Mayans may have had a "drought cult.")