SCIENCE
04/28/2013 11:53 am ET

Robot Uncovers Ancient Burial Chambers Beneath Teotihuacan Temple

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A small robot has uncovered three 2,000-year-old chambers under an ancient temple in Mexico, archaeologists from the National Anthropology and History Institute announced this week.

The robot, named Tlaloc II-TC after Mexico's ancient god of rain, found the chambers under the Temple of the Feathered Serpent (also called the Temple of Quetzalcoatl) in the Mesoamerican ruins of Teotihuacan, which is just 30 miles from Mexico City. The ancient city, thought to have been established around 100 BC, had more than 100,000 inhabitants at its peak, but had long been abandoned before the Aztecs arrived in the 1300s.

In the 1980s, the remains of over 200 warriors were found in the core of the Temple of the Serpent. Archaeologists found a tunnel under the same temple in 2011 using radar technology. They then deployed the remote-controlled robot, which is equipped with an infrared camera and a scanner that generates detailed maps of the chambers beneath the temple. Three feet long, it can squeeze into tight spaces where a person would otherwise be unable to explore.

Still, exploring the ruins was a tough job for the 77-pound robot,which had to contend with its tires getting stuck in deep mud in the tunnels beneath the temple, said Sergio Gomez, lead archaeologist on the project, in a report published by the Mexican newspaper El Universal.

"In some sections the depth of the sludge was 20 to 30 centimeters," said Hugo Armando Guerra, an engineer with HA Robotics company, in a translated statement.

The team expected to find a chamber at the end of the tunnel -- but not three. Archaeologists suspect that the rooms were burial chambers due to Tlaloc's images that show a series of stone symbols lining the tunnel.

The team has now explored nearly 250 feet of tunnels, and has plans to dig deeper into the underground temple, which was sealed off over 1,800 years ago. According to NBCNews, in 2010 Gomez said there was a "high possibility that in this place, in the central chamber, we can find the remains of those who ruled Teotihuacan."

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