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Fifty feet in, we stopped at a small inlet carved into the wall. Not long before, Gómez and his colleagues had discovered traces of mercury in the tunnel, which Gómez believed served as symbolic representations of water, as well as the mineral pyrite, which was embedded in the rock by hand. In semi-darkness, Gómez explained, the shards of pyrite emit a throbbing, metallic glow.
Mercury is often found in Mesoamerican tombs in the form of a powdery red pigment called cinnabar, but its liquid form is extremely rare. So it was with some surprise that Sergio Gomez, an archaeologist with Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History, discovered traces of liquid mercury this year in three chambers under the early-third-century A.D. Feathered Serpent Pyramid in the ancient city of Teotihuacan. Gomez believes the mercury was part of a representation of the geography of the underworld, the mythological realm where the dead reside. The silvery liquid was probably used to depict lakes and rivers.
Precisely the sort of thing you’d expect to find in a royal tomb whose discovery would land you on the cover of National Geographic. But lead archeologist Sergio Gómez spoke to the Guardian recently and sounded pretty downbeat about the whole thing. “At the beginning of this investigation we thought the tunnel was a metaphoric representation of the underworld, the place of creation and transmission of power, and that we would find a tomb of Teotihuacán’s leaders in this very scared place.”