Researchers in Mexico find the largest underwater archaeological site in the world

Rejoice archaeology, fans researchers in Mexico have discovered what is considered the largest underwater archaeological site on the planet.

One of the lesser-known corners of the Mayan underworld has finally come to light.

The most extensive system of flooded caves ever recorded has been discovered in Tulum, in the Mexican Riviera Maya.

Some of the artifacts discovered by divers.

A group of explorers of the Mayan Great Aquifer project has found that the Sac Actún and Dos Ojos systems are connected, which has opened a new passage in an underground labyrinth that measures about 347 kilometers. The researchers have found hundreds of archeological objects that show a robust Mayan culture presence in the region, as well as extinct animals.

“This immense cave system represents the most important submerged archaeological site in the world,” says Guillermo de Anda, specialist of the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) and director of the research.

The cenotes (from the Maya word dzonoot), as the immense natural pits, sinkholes or eyes of water are referred to in Mexico, occupied a central place in the Mayan cosmogony.

They were revered as the underworld and the third level of the Mayan universe, after heaven and earth, but without a negative connotation like hell in Christianity.

The ancient Maya considered this a ‘very powerful, magical region, where the supernatural reigns, where the gods and deities lived, where good and bad coexist, and it was also where men came from,’ says De Anda.

The cenotes were, in the words of the researcher, “the main stage of the myth of creation” of that civilization, which extended from the southeast of Mexico to Honduras and El Salvador.

Furthermore, the findings give an account of that mystical sense.

The massive underwater cave system is a treasure trove containing the history of the Yucatan Peninsula. 

Researchers found remains of Mayan pottery vessels, objects that date back to colonial times and funerary or sacrificial contexts, which researchers are still analyzing.

There were also human remains and a large number of animals such as giant sloths, bears, tigers and ancient horses.

“It is a time tunnel, which transports us into a time 12,000 and 10,000 years ago,” says De Anda.

The difficult access to the cenotes has helped that the archaeological materials are preserved in optimal conditions for their study, without alterations or wear by the contact of men.

Researchers at the Great Maya Aquifer needed ten months to decipher the connection between the two flooded cave systems, which they have described as an “intense” work season that began in March of last year.

Some members of the team, such as head diver Robert Schmittner, have spent more than 20 years scouring the underwater galleries and 14 years looking for the connection between the great caverns.

“We had come very close before, we were once a meter away from connecting both systems,” says Schmittner.

“It was like walking the veins of a body, a labyrinth of paths that joined and separated and we had to be very careful,” the diver added while speaking about the water passages, which in some cases were only one meter deep, having also deeper parts reaching 120 meters underground.

Historic discovery. Image credit: Reuters.

The discovery was made on January 10 and being united; the “new” system has adopted the name of Sac Actún (from the Maya ‘white cave’), the larger of the two and the Dos Ojos system has ceased to exist.

Sac Actún was until a couple of days ago the second largest system of cenotes, behind Ox Bel Ha that translates into Spanish as three waterways, which measures about 270 kilometers and is also located in the Riviera Maya.

Despite the finding, the researchers continue exploring the connections of Sac Actún with two other underground systems.

It is estimated that only in the north of Quintana Roo, in the Yucatan Peninsula, there are 1,400 underground kilometers of fresh water, spread over 358 systems, according to the speleological survey of the southern Mexican state. The next steps are the analysis of groundwater and the study of diversity, as well as the adoption of measures to help conserve the site.

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