A 7.1-magnitude earthquake that shook central Mexico in September 2017 caused extensive damage and killed 369 people. In July 2018, archaeologists announced that the earthquake has also led to the discovery of an ancient, hidden temple.
The temple sits inside a double pyramid at the ancient site of Teopanzolco, whose name roughly translates to “in the old or abandoned temple.” The site is located 43 miles south of Mexico City in the state of Morelos.
Archaeologists date the hidden temple to approximately 1150 A.D., and say it’s likely connected to the Tlahuica civilization, which built the main structures of Teopanzolco in the 1200s. Experts already knew that the outer pyramid was built over an older pyramid that sits inside, and that the Tlahuica commonly built new structures on top of older ones.
Still, it wasn’t until scientists from the Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History scanned the double pyramid for earthquake damage that they realized there were traces of an even older temple inside both pyramids, reports the BBC.
The Tlahuica were Aztec peoples who lived in Morelos centuries ago. They became subjects of the Aztec Empire in the 1400s, and abandoned the Teopanzolco site when the Spanish arrived in the 1500s. Supposedly, it was lost to time until soldiers stumbled upon it in 1910 during the Mexican Revolution.
The hidden temple is believed to be dedicated to the rain god Tláloc, who became very important during the Aztec period. Tláloc had the power to send rain down to water crops, but he could also cause drought, strike lightning and stir up hurricanes. To appease Tláloc, worshipers ritually sacrificed children on the first month of their 18-month calendar.
Researchers found ceramic shards and an incense burner among the remains of the temple, and estimate that the structure was originally 20 by 13 feet. They also discovered that the earthquake had indeed damaged the core structure of the pyramids it sits inside.
The 2017 earthquake damaged many other historic sites, including multiple churches and Monte Albán, the ancient capital of the Zapotec people. Last month, the World Monuments Fund granted Monte Albán $1 million for restoration.