SACRED SPRINGS OF YUCATAN
(14-10-10) Since summer 2009, underwater archaeologists keep exploring and studying deeply the systems of caverns and underwater cenotes in northern Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico, the greatest system of connected caves in the world.
A huge network of tunnels, channels, cracks and cameras extends on the lime soil of the Yucatan Peninsula, East Mexico. Experts consider it the greatest system of connected caves in the world. It is thousands of km long, but no one knows it exactly.
When the sea level fell during the ice age, the carbonate rock was exposed. There was karstification and intense weathering of the rock under the terrestrial surface. The karstification explains the almost absolute lack of rivers and lakes in the north of the peninsula.
Rainwater flows here underground through a vast system of caves. However, the karstification is observable on the surface through numerous well-shaped holes in the ceilings of limestone caves called “cenotes”.
The word comes from Yucatec Maya “d`zonot”, which means “sacred spring”. Through the cenotes it is possible to access to groundwater currents. In Yucatan there are over 3,000 cenotes; they were important to humans already in prehistory.
We can see that, for example, in the fires and human bones found in the long labyrinths by underwater archaeologists in their expeditions. Charcoan is 8,400 years old, according to the investigations carried out at the Leibniz Laboratory for Radiometric Dating and Stable in Kiel. With these data the date of the arrival of the first inhabitants to the peninsula might have brought forward regarding to what was thought according to the existing knowledge.
At that time it was possible to lay a fire, as the sea level was about 65 meters lower than what it is now. The underwater labyrinth excavated by rainwater was dried then, as it is proved by stalactites and stalagmites in the crystalline waters.
At the end of the last ice age glaciers melted and water flooded the caves, what conserved these relics of antiquity. In the caves there is constant temperature at 26º C, the current is weak, the darkness complete.
OF VITAL IMPORTANCE FOR THE MAYAS
In the Classical Maya Period the cenotes had a high water level, as it depends on sea level. Cenotes were of vital importance for the Mayas, since in Yucatan there are almost no major rivers.
But the Mayas had there not only their source of drinking water. The offerings to gods were thrown to these deep holes: dead and alive. Just in the biggest hole in the city Chichen Itza more than 120 human skeletons have been found.
Underwater archaeologists of the Working Group of Maritime and Lake Archaeology (AMLA) of the Institute of Pre and Protohistory of Kiel University, along with the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), are exploring since summer 2009 the system of caves and underwater cenotes (sinkholes) in the north Yucatan Peninsula, in Mexico.
The underwater researchers of Kiel are experienced and have enough knowledge for these complicated underwater expeditions. The cooperation with their Mexican colleagues has the purpose to register, investigate and preserve the findings in the widely ramified caves system in the States of Yucatan and Quintana Roo.
Since the investigations started many archaeological material has been registered, such as bones of the fauna of the Ice Age, campfires and prehistoric graves and sacred and profane remains of the Mayas.
Since the last year, the cenotes are the central point of the investigations of the archaeological team of Florian Huber (AMLA), but an excursion to Contoy Island is also planned as part of the work programme. In the marine waters of the National Park Contoy Island the underwater investigators will make a general idea of the sites, of important objects of different historic periods.
Text: G. Romero / Kunz / AMLA / INAH