In news that will likely delight Apollo 11 deniers, Roswell frequenters, and Illuminati enthusiasts alike, archaeologists have discovered hundreds of mysterious, once-metallic spheres buried deep beneath an ancient pyramid in Mexico City. And we have absolutely no idea what they're for.
Described by Jorge Zavala, an archaeologist at Mexico's National Anthropology and History Institute, as an "unprecedented discovery," the orbs have called one of the most important temples an ancient, pre-Hispanic city home for the past 1,800 years.
But this wasn't just your average ancient township; the city, Teotihuacan, was once one of the biggest in the world, boasting over 100,000 residents at a time when the Earth itself only held around 200 million. And it's this relatively massive population that makes the city's total abandonment for "mysterious reasons" in 700 AD all the more puzzling.
Plus, it seems that the Teotihuacans knew damn well they weren't coming back. Before fleeing the famine and/or alien invasion that consumed their home, people had filled their beloved temple's tunnels with so much debris and ruins that it took scientists several years of planning alone before they could dig their way in.
The fruit of all that prepatory labor? A team of wireless robots working together to offer a glimpse into an increasingly esoteric past.
The robotic system, dubbed Tlaloque, includes a larger rover to take over carpool duty for two smaller mechanisms it chauffeurs around the ruins' dilapidated tunnels. Once the trio arrives at an actual chamber, one vehicle will break off and take infrared shots of the entire space while its smaller, flight-enabled drone friend zooms around to capture video footage. In this case, it's the infrared scanner that stumbled upon the orb-loaded chambers, which held hundreds of the clay-cored, yellow-tinted balls currently stumping scientists.
The yellow colour comes from jarosite, which forms as pyrite—or fool's gold—oxidises. So back in 300 AD, when the Teotihuacanos used with these variously sized (1.5 to 5 inches) balls in whatever ceremonies or rituals they engaged in, they were looking at what might have seemed like beautiful, glimmering balls of gold.
As George Gowgill, professor emeritus at Arizona State University told Discovery News:
Pyrite was certainly used by the Teotihuacanos and other ancient Mesoamerican societies. Originally the spheres would have shown brilliantly. They are indeed unique, but I have no idea what they mean.
As the walls themselves were also dusted with pyrite—giving a lovely golden sheen to the potter and crystal-covered masks scattered around the room—the archaeologists believe that "high-ranking people, priests, or even rulers went down to the tunnel to perform rituals."
What these golden-ball-requiring rituals might have entailed, though, remains just as inconclusive. As Zavala succinctly and ominously states: "No one can establish their function."
It seems entirely possible, though, that they served some sort of religious purpose; Teotihuaca—translation: the place where men become gods—began as a religious centre for the region, and the site has been thought to include a burial ground. The Teotihuacan people worshipped eight gods, and were known to practice human sacrifice during the dedication of buildings like, say, giant temples. All of which would have looked quite compelling against a gleaming gold backdrop.
Full answers may still come, and soon; there are still three chambers left for the researchers (and their robot friends) to go digging through. That last one might yield an even bigger surprise, its thick walls were demolished about 1,800 years ago so that the Teotihuacan people could deposit "something very important" in the safest part they could. Forget golden orbs; we might just be in for crystal skulls. [Mexico National Institute of Anthropology and History via Discovery News]