April 22, 2013 at 11:59 PM ET
A diminutive robot helped researchers make a substantial discovery during preliminary tests conducted in a tunnel running under the Temple of Quetzalcoatl at the archaeological site of Teotihuacan, the team said Monday.
The team expected to find only one chamber in the last section of the tunnel — but instead, they found three, team leader Sergio Gomez said in a report published by the Mexican newspaper El Universal. The chambers are thought to have been used by Teotihuacan's rulers roughly 2,000 years ago for royal ceremonies or burials, but they're so choked with mud and rubble that they haven't been explored in modern times.
That's where the 3-foot-long (1-meter-long) robot known as Tlaloc II-TC comes in: The robot is designed to drive through the tight spaces leading to the back of the tunnel beneath the Temple of Quetzalcoatl, also known as the Temple of the Feathered Serpent. It's equipped with a video camera as well as mechanical arms to clear obstacles.
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." The city was once an influential center of Mesoamerican culture, but little is known about its rulers. Archaeologists have not yet found any depictions of a ruler, or any tomb of a monarch.
El Universal quoted Gomez as saying that the configuration of the space beneath the temple appears to be similar to that of the tunnel running beneath Teotihuacan's Pyramid of the Sun, where four chambers were explored in the 1970s. About 76 meters (250 feet) of the Quetzalcoatl tunnel have already been uncovered, leaving 30 meters (100 feet) or so in the last section. After a round of robotic reconnaissance, archaeologists intend to clear out that section for exploration.
More about Mexican archaeology:
Alan Boyle is NBCNews.com's science editor. Connect with the Cosmic Log community by "liking" the log's Facebook page, following @b0yle on Twitter and adding the Cosmic Log page to your Google+ presence. To keep up with Cosmic Log as well as NBCNews.com's other stories about science and space, sign up for the Tech & Science newsletter, delivered to your email in-box every weekday. You can also check out "The Case for Pluto," my book about the controversial dwarf planet and the search for new worlds.