Trace of ancient civilizations are often discovered on the ground surface, but underwater explorations are far more intriguing than those found above. Sometimes the biggest of these ancient discoveries occur in some very tight space.
Once such discovery stunned archaeologists in early 2019 when a researcher stumbled upon something he wasn’t ready for, while on a deep dive into the flooder caverns in Yucatán Peninsula, Mexico.
Archaeologist and diver Guillermo de Anda swam and made his way through a very tight spot underwater, that could barely fit an average build person with just 3 feet wide and 1½ high. de Anda said he somehow made his way through it only to discover something very exciting when his headlamp focused on remains of ancient residents of Chichén Itzá and that too very well preserved.
The discovery made it possible for de Anda’s team to form a link between the Sac Actun cave system and the Dos Ojos system, confirming that these two were actually one, forming the longest underwater cave system in the world at 216 miles long (347 km).
de Anda being an investigator with INAH (National Institute of Anthropology and History), recalls the first time when he entered the cave having the sensational feeling to “feel the presence of the Maya, who deposited these things in there” he said.
His team found around 200 spots with more remains including ancient human bones and fossils of extinct animals such as cave bears and ritual objects. de Anda believes that this discovery is just the beginning of more spectacular findings in the future. The long expanding cave is a case of a natural wonder of archeological artifacts and possibly the most important submerged site in the world said de Anda.
While exploring the cave, the team of researchers especially looked for materials like wood, paper, and cloth that remains intact in water inside the caverns.
The finding also included some of the preserved textiles from the Maya’s sacred cenote in Chichen Itza, and the dry areas of the caves also conditioned the preservation of fragile items such as Maya codexes, of which few have been found. Incense burners used to praise the Maya god of commerce, Ek Chuah, were also included in the underwater discovery.
Another interesting remains were of a teenage girl dubbed Naia, which were estimated to be around 13000 year old.
Interestingly, the series of caves, called Balamku was initially discovered in 1966 but was closed on the direction of archaeologist Victor Segovia Pinto who was aware of the presence of a significant amount of archaeological material. Instead of excavating the site, the entrance was closed and any record of the initial discovery seemed to be lost.
But after almost 50 years, the cave was reopened by de Anda and his team of researchers during their search for the water table beneath Chichén Itzá.
“We’re overwhelmed with the significant amount of archaeology,” de Anda said. “But it is going to take years for the registration and documentation of the sites. We know that there’s a huge potential for research”, he added.
de Anda explained how the Maya universe was divided between the underworld, earth, and sky, with the watery sinkholes thought to be portals to the underworld, Maya believed that humans originated from these spaces.
de Anda also believes that this discovery will help in reconstructing and understanding the activity of humans and animals and how they are behaving. He is also looking for measures for the protection of the site from threats such as human disturbance, polluting, and looting since many of the human remains had been previously stolen from another cave system at the Chan Hol cenote where one of the oldest human skeletons were found.
The discovered site, Sac Actun is proposed to be included in the UNESCO World Heritage site status by the team so that its protection can be guaranteed.
“In order to protect something, and to understand the serious scientific process, one must know how the universe works,” de Anda said.