Two underwater caverns in eastern Mexico were connected by a group of divers to divulge what is believed to be the world’s biggest flooded cave. This discovery could help shed new light on the ancient Maya civilisation.
The Gran Acuifero Maya (GAM), a project designed for in-depth study and preservation of the subterranean waters of the Yucatan peninsula, stated the 347-km (216-mile) cave was identified post months of exploring a maze of underwater channels.
Fourteen years ago, when the cavern was rediscovered it was thought to match the tunnel network of Ox Bel Ha, which measured 167.9 miles. But the GAM team has now found that the cave connects two underwater systems – Sac Actun and Dos Ojos – making it the longest in the world at 216 miles.
Inside, remnants of thousands of years of Mayan culture, preserved due to the fresh water, have been found by the researchers.
Based on a statement given by GAM, near the beach resort of Tulum, the cave system known as Sac Actun, once measured at 263 km, communicated with the 83-km Dos Ojos system. Consequently, Sac Actun now absorbs Dos Ojos.
GAM director and underwater archaeologist Guillermo de Anda said the “amazing” find would aid in comprehending the development of the rich culture of the region, which was dominated by the Maya civilization prior to the Spanish conquest.
“It allows us to appreciate much more clearly how the rituals, the pilgrimage sites and ultimately the great pre-Hispanic settlements that we know emerged,” he told Reuters. Guillermo added that the cave’s origins can in all probability be traced back to somewhere between the Pleistocene period and the era of the ancient Mayans, indicating it could be over 12,000 years old.
The Yucatan peninsula is studded with monumental relics of the Mayans, whose cities drew upon an extensive network of sinkholes linked to subterranean waters known as cenotes. Some cenotes acquired particular religious significance to the Mayans, whose descendants continue to inhabit the region.
Intact human skulls, bones from elephants, bears, tigers along with now-extinct plants were also found.