The Mayans believed that hell was a very specific place located in a network of underground caves beneath the jungles of the Yucatan. More specifically, they believed that the souls of the recently deceased started their journey into the afterlife being led through a pitch black, watery, subterranean maze by a mystical dog that could see perfectly in the dark. The deceased were plagued on every side by unseen creatures, harried and tortured until the death-pooch eventually brought them before a giant column, which sat on the lip of a deep pool that led to Xibalba -- their word for hell.
And that's exactly what the researchers found: an ornate system of caves, full of ancient temples and crumbling pathways that eventually led to a giant column on the edge of a deep, dark pool. Littered all throughout the site, they've found the expected remnants -- statues of priests, ceramics, human remains ...
Hey, this was the Mayans, after all: It just ain't a party until somebody stabs a virgin.
While some of the researchers believed that they'd found the inspiration behind the myth, others think that the belief predates the caves -- that the Mayans found a place that looked a lot like hell, so they just up and built themselves a hell down there. Hired some contractors, released a couple of bats, fed a bunch of carrots to a dog, and Bob's your uncle -- you got yourself a damnation. Either way, just imagine being that first Mayan expert, stumbling down a hole in the jungle and uncovering an elaborate set of ruins. As you trod down the broken concrete road, a sense of deja vu overtakes you. Haven't you heard of something like this before? Something in your studies? Folklore, maybe? When you finally come across the huge column with the human remains and black pool at its base, it clicks: This is hell. This is exactly like the hell the Mayans were talking about in their sacred book.