Ancient Model of the Universe Discovered on the Side of a Volcano in Mexico

Artist's interpretation of water on a potentially habitable world. NASA

In Mexico, in the middle of a pond, on the side of a volcano, lie the remains of an ancient stone sanctuary that archaeologists believe was designed to serve as a model of the universe, according to the Associated Press.

Water from nearby springs appeared to have been deliberately diverted to the site in order to create the illusion that the sanctuary was floating, as if on a mirror.

"These visual effects, in addition to the characteristics of the elements that make up the site and the relationship they have with each other, make us suppose that Nahualac could represent a microcosm that evokes the primitive waters and the beginning of the mythical time-space," said Iris del Rocio Hernandez Bautista, an archaeologist with the National Institute of Anthropology and History, according to the International Business Times.

Mexican archaeologists say they have excavated a stone sanctuary in a pond on the side of a volcano east of Mexico City that may have been built as a miniature model of the universe.

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The sanctuary is at an elevation of nearly 13,000 feet, below the Iztaccihuatl volcano, the AP reported. (Don't worry, Iztacchihuatl—which translates to "white woman," so named for its snow-covered peaks—is dormant.)

The National Institute referred to the sanctuary as a teztacualco, the AP reported. The term refers to ancient astronomical observatories built on high mountain slopes.

During the course of excavation, archaeologists also discovered lavish artifacts likely dedicated to the Aztec rain god, Tlaloc. Bautista said ceramics were recovered from the site dating from around 750 A.D. through 1150 A.D., according to the International Business Times.

Bautista explained that the sanctuary recalls certain components of indigenous mythology, according to the AP. In some Mesoamerican creation myths, the Earth monster Cipactli floated on the surface of primeval waters, creating the sky and Earth from his own body.

The carved face of a earth monster Cipactli, with bared teeth, round goggle eyes on top of its head, feathers and jade beads. Brooklyn Museum

Other accounts, though, are a bit darker. According to Ancient Origins, Cipactli was an "asexual sea monster" with a mouth on every joint. So insatiable was its appetite that the gods who created it realized they needed to kill it because it was eating everything they created. They lured it to the site of its death and pulled it apart, freeing the universe it had swallowed.

"Again, here we find another creation myth that centers on an unusual being—created by gods in the midst of nothingness—from which all life erupts," Ancient Origins wrote. Could this be another way of narrating a struggle between foreign beings from the sky, a.k.a. extra-terrestrial?"