I hate to play the autodidact, but it seems clear to me where the tomb is. It is where the Indians had traditionally focused their piety and where, as a consequence thereof and in keeping with the almost universal practice of the Church it had appropriated a pagan holy place to the use of the new faith. It is the only significant area of the ancient site that may not be examined as it was in pre-Hispanic times. Its entrance, first sealed by the agitated friars “con cal y canto” was later sealed up definitively and is now utterly beyond our reach because it has a very heavy 18th Century church sitting on top of it. The entrance to the Tomb of the Zapotec Kings, the great entrance to the Underworld at Mitla, is underneath the church of San Pablo on the patio of the northern-most ruins, the Group of the Catholic Establishment.
We know as surely as we know anything of the pre-Hispanic period that there was such an entrance to the Underworld at Mitla and this would appear to be the only place it could have been. Burgoa, a native of nearby Oaxaca, thought it a natural feature, and all of the details of the friars’ adventure are of the entrance into a deep, natural feature. No man-made structure is going to be deep enough to give rise to a wind that would blow out their torches, a chill wind that had been a long time underground.
As you stand in the nave of the church of San Pablo you may be only ten or twenty yards from the entrance to the Lost Tomb of the Zapotec Kings, but it might as well be on the moon. You cannot go from there to there.
The Church, so much abused in Mexico, is not disposed to idle burrowing. Ground-penetrating radar will almost certainly reveal underground chambers, but the geology of the area is such that natural concavities will show up most anywhere, and the tomb is almost certainly a natural concavity.
So how do we get to the tomb, this Lost Tomb of the Zapotec Kings?
If we give any credence to Burgoa’s account it would appear that the tomb lies at an entrance to a vast underground system. It is situate in an area whose geology -- lava flows overlaying limestone -- ought be rife with underground chambers formed by flowing lava and underground waterways cutting through natural limestone.
Lava flows cool on the top and insulate the heated flow within, which continues one, eventually leaving an empty tube. There is one in Hawaii fifty miles long. There are many lava tubes in Mexico. And one tube can break through into another. And rainwater seeping into limestone can dissolve out passageways hundreds of miles long.
Can it be reasonable to think that an underground passageway that broke surface at Mitla has no other entrance? Particularly if it is a lava tube, as these tend to be close to the surface. And that these entrances have not been noticed?
(the story will continue . . .)