Robot-car Tlaloque I is prepared to enter the tunnel located below the Temple of the Feathered Serpent Temple. Photo: Melitón Tapia/INAH.
MEXICO CITY.- The first images of the interior of the tunnel found under the Feathered Serpent Temple, in Teotihuacan, captured by a small robot introduced by archaeologists of the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), were presented to the media due to the relevance of the event in the history of Mexican archaeological research.
This is the first time a robot is integrated to archaeological exploration in Mexico; a similar devise was used in Egypt 10 years ago to explore a tomb.
Tlaloque 1, named after the mythological beings that helped Tlaloc, covered the first stretch of a tunnel that has not been walked for 1,800 years. Images reveal that the passageway built more than 2,000 years ago to represent the underworld, is stable enough to be explored by archaeologists soon.
During the presentation of the images to communication media representatives, the INAH national coordinator of Archaeology, Salvador Guilliem, was present. It was mentioned that this robotic device adds up to the technologies used by archaeologists in this project. Several weeks ago, geo radar was used to determine with precision that the tunnel conducts to 3 chambers, where the remains of important characters might have been buried.
Archaeologist Sergio Gomez Chavez, director of “Tlalocan Project: Underground Road”, informed that this is the first time that this kind of device is used in Mexico; “Apparently it had been used in Egypt, and us, as INAH researchers, are the first ones to develop it and use it in our country”.
Tlaloque 1 is a 30 by 50 centimeters by 20 in height, 4x4 traction vehicle. It is equipped with 2 remote-controlled camcorders that are able to do 360 degree turns; one at the front and the other at the back. The device has its own illumination source and transmits images to a computer monitor in the exterior.
Gomez Chavez mentioned that 3 months ago, it was programmed to use a device that could get into the tunnel and capture images of the interior, to evaluate the risks of entering the tunnel, since it has remained closed for thousands of years.
“The robot was designed and built especially for this investigation by engineer in Robotics Hugo Armando Guerra Calva, who obtained his degree at the National Polytechnic Institute of Mexico (IPN). Fifteen days ago the first tests were conducted and it worked well, but we noticed that we needed to reduce the height of the devise and provide it with more potent lamps.
“In the first test the robot advanced a few meters through a small space between the vault and the debris used to fill the tunnel. Images were very important to determine the conditions of the interior: the conduct was excavated in the rock; in some parts, the marks of tools used by Teotihuacan masons are still evident. The roof presents an arched form, and, at least the part explored by the robot, appears stable, giving us many possibilities to explore it physically in the next weeks”.
Although the tunnel was intentionally filled up with rocks and debris, Tlaloque 1 was able to cover a few meters through a 25 centimeters high space. Excavations must be conducted in order to clear the entrance. “We calculate we will be able to enter the tunnel in early December 2010”, declared archaeologist Gomez.
He declared that the device also captured details of the great carved rocks inside the tunnel: apparently they are sculptures or perfectly carved rocks, of great weight and dimensions, introduced by Teotihuacan people to close the entrance between 200 and 250 of the Common Era, nearly 1,800 years ago”.
The surface to be passed by the robot is covered with fine dust and sand, which provoked it to skid, so it was decided to increase the potency of the 4 engines to improve traction.
Two months after INAH announced the discovery of the tunnel, archaeologists have achieved to unblock the mouth of the Prehispanic passageway. After getting to the floor, it was confirmed with the help of a geo radar device, that it is nearly 2.5 meters high 4 meters wide and 100 long.
“Studies conducted with geo radar by Dr. Victor Manuel Velasco, from the Geo Physics Institute of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), have detected 3 chambers in which the remains of important personages of the city might have been buried; this hypothesis must be confirmed with exploration”.
The tunnel was discovered in late 2003 by archaeologists Sergio Gomez and Julie Gazzola, but its exploration has required years of planning and resource negotiation so the most advanced technology can be used. A laser scanner device, which belongs to the INAH National Coordination of Historical Monuments, has also been used to conduct the 3-dimensional register of the tunnel.
Investigations –part of the celebration of the first 100 years of archaeological exploration and inauguration of public visits to Teotihuacan – have allowed to verify that the tunnel was constructed before the Feathered Serpent Temple and the Citadel, structures that were the scenario of rituals linked to original creation myths, while the tunnel must have been related to the underworld concept.