This "extraordinary" story could have been published 50 years ago. That's when locals at the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza told an archaeologist about a cave there, but he had its entrance sealed, possibly to safeguard what was inside. The AP reports his brief report on it languished in a government archive. It wasn't until residents approached another archaeologist—this time Guillermo de Anda—about the cave in 2018 that its exploration began. In it: at least 200 well-preserved ceramic artifacts that likely date to 700 to 1000 AD and include incense holders and containers for grinding food. "The place is extraordinary," says de Anda. It's believed the Maya would descend 80 feet into the cave called Balamkú to leave offerings for Tlaloc, the central Mexican god of rain, whose likeness appears on some incense holders.
Da Anda imagines the Maya saw the cave as the "bowels of the gods," per AFP. Similar artifacts were found in the nearby cave Balamkanché, discovered in the 1950s, but the push to make it a tourist site hindered the study of those items, per the Times. Project archaeologist James Brady tells the New York Times the wealth of items in the two caves indicate the subterranean world was more core to Mayan life than perhaps thought. Exploration of the Balamkú cave is only just beginning, with the team having explored 1,500 feet, belly-crawling at times through portions just 16 inches in height. They're unsure of how far it goes—and whether it might ultimately connect to the cenote cave thought to lie under Kukulkan, the famed pyramid at the center of Chichen Itza. It's about 1.7 miles from Balamkú. (Kukulkan is the pyramid equivalent of a Russian nesting doll.)