A Book Review: Underground

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“The underground reminds us of what our ancestors always knew, that there is forever power and beauty in the unspoken and unseen”.

In “Underground: A Human History of the Worlds Beneath Our Feet”, author Will Hunt explores subterranean places around the world. His journey takes him to numerous locations, including the bowels of forgotten New York City subway systems, the cobweb-infested catacombs of Paris, and an Australian mine that an aboriginal tribe believes is inhabited by an ancient supernatural evil.

In one of the book’s most intriguing segments, Hunt travels to the Le Tuc cave and observes the legendary prehistoric clay buffalo sculptures located inside. The sculptures were created approximately 14,000 years ago by the Magdalenians, an early human society that lived in ancient France. The buffaloes were forgotten for millennia before accidentally being rediscovered in 1912. The Magdalenians did not have a written language and their way of life is mostly shrouded in mystery. No one knows why they decided to create the buffalo sculptures, but their remarkable artistry has a profound effect on Hunt, who confesses to breaking down in tears.

In my favorite chapter, “The Cult”, Hunt travels to the Yucatan Peninsula to explore a cave that had been used for human sacrifices. Roughly 1200 years ago, the thriving and powerful Mayan Empire crumbled when the peninsula experienced a severe drought. The Mayans believed that the weather was controlled by a god named Chaak. This temperamental deity demanded sacrifices in exchange for blessing farmers with rain for their crops. For many years, Chaak was satisfied with simple gifts like pots and shells. The Mayans deposited these small sacrifices inside caves that they believed contained entrances to the underworld. For decades the rain fell, the crops grew, and the Mayans flourished.

Then, suddenly, everything changed. The rain halted, the crops died, and people began to starve. The Mayans tried to appease Chaak by sacrificing animals, but this failed to stop the drought. Finally, starving and desperate, the Mayans resorted to sacrificing people. The victim’s bodies were left inside the caves as offerings. Accompanied by archaeologist Holley Moyes, an expert on the Mayan empire, Hunt views and photographs the eerie “Crystal Maiden”, the perfectly preserved skeletal remains of a young woman who was sacrificed to Chaak.

“Underground” is a fascinating journey that effectively blends history, anthropology, philosophy, and psychology. Hunt delves deeply into the myths and urban legends that are often associated with underground places. He writes compellingly about the locations that he explores, but “Underground” is less about literal underground places and more about the hidden archetypes buried deep within the human psyche. Hunt concludes the book by arguing that Western society has become disconnected from humanity’s natural origins and has lost its appetite for mystery. It’s a thought-provoking way to close one of the most unique and interesting books that I have ever read.  “Underground: A Human History of the Worlds Beneath Our Feet” is strongly recommended for anyone who is interested in history, mythology, and underground places.