Mitla’s underworld – “Place of the Dead” has been discovered by archaeologists

Archaeologists from the Lyobaa Project are carrying out a new study to explore the underground world of the Mitla archaeological site.

The Place of the Dead

Mitla is an archaeological site associated with the Zapotec culture, located in the Oaxaca Valley in the present-day state of Oaxaca in southern Mexico.


Mitla was first inhabited by the Zapotecs during the Classical Period (AD 100-650), which first developed from a fortified village into a major religious center.

The Zapotecs believed that Mitla served as a gateway between the living and the dead to bury the Zapotec elite, whose Nahuatl name Mictlán, meaning “place of the dead” or “world of the dead” underworld”. The land of spirituality, where the living and the dead meet.

Research on the underworld

The study site consists of five main groups of structures built on the valley floor — Grupo de las Columnas (Group of Columns), Grupo de las Iglesias (Church Group), Grupo del Arroyo (Group of Arroyo), Grupo de los Adobes (Adobe Group), and Grupo del Sur (Southern Group).

As part of a new study by the Lyobaa Project, with support from the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), researchers are using geophysical exploration techniques to identify acknowledge the existence of previously undiscovered underground passages and chambers beneath Mitla.


The research team will apply ground-penetrating radar, subsurface resistivity tomography, and seismic noise refractive tomography to identify cavities and underground spaces such as tunnels or tombs, as well as support support area conservation through mapping and seismic risk prevention.

“They are complementary technologies,” said INAH archaeologist Denisse Argote Espino. GPR sends waves underground; electron tomography studies changes in the electrical properties of objects below the surface; and seismic noise reduction tomography analyze how and how fast sound travels”.

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