After 10 years of spectacularly difficult work, scientists working with the Great Maya Aquifer Project have just been rewarded with the discovery of a hidden connection between two enormous underwater caverns in Mexico, making it the largest known underwater cave system on the planet at 215 miles long.
As fascinating as this unique underwater world may be, scientists were in for another surprise when they spotted a wealth of pre-Hispanic artifacts from the Maya civilization, along with animal and plant species never seen before.
As the project’s director Guillermo de Anda explained, he believes these underwater caverns in the Yucatan Peninsula hold the world’s most important and valuable subterranean treasures.
“This immense cave represents the most important submerged archaeological site in the world, as it has more than a hundred archaeological contexts. Along this system, we had documented evidence of the first settlers of America, as well as extinct fauna and, of course, Maya culture.”
According to Smithsonian Magazine, the discovery of the cave system in Mexico is the product of divers exploring the Dos Ojos and Sac Actun systems last year and looking for some kind of connection between the two underwater caverns. After months of searching for this connection, they finally located it close to Tulum. Interestingly, in the traditional protocol of naming caves, the smaller Dos Ojos system will now be considered part of something much larger and renamed Sac Actun.
This 215-mile sunken freshwater labyrinth is a trove of ancient Maya artifacts. https://t.co/JGbI1PI6Qy
— Smithsonian Magazine (@SmithsonianMag) January 19, 2018
Scientists at the Great Maya Aquifer Project have spent an astonishing amount of time exploring underwater caverns in Quintana Roo, with decades worth of research conducted in this area. This is no small feat, especially considering the fact that there are 358 different cave systems in this region that stretch for 870 miles, as Science Alert reports.
Of the most recent discovery of the connection between the two underwater caverns, GAM exploration director Robert Schmittner admitted that the team was extremely lucky to have finally found the connection, especially considering how close they had been on previous occasions without having actually found it.
“We came really close a few times. On a couple of occasions, we were a meter from making a connection between the two large cave systems. It was like trying to follow the veins within a body. It was a labyrinth of paths that sometimes came together and sometimes separated. We had to be very careful.”
Besides the discovery itself of the largest underwater cave system in the world, these caverns are almost like a time machine, where ancient 10,000- to 12,000-year-old relics still reside with a secret life of their own.
Caves were once considered extremely hallowed sites to the Maya civilization where priests believed that they could speak to the gods. As such, rituals were commonplace, as evidenced by the Midnight Terror Cave in Belize, which holds thousands of bones of small children, all victims given over to the god Chaac.
From Maya skulls and graves to ceramics, archaeologists will soon be on the scene in Mexico to investigate the ancient relics found inside of the massive Sac Actun system, the largest and most expansive subterranean underwater cavern ever to be discovered.