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A Yucatan Discovery Redefines Early Human History

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The Mexican Yucatan today is known as a place of jungles, ancient pyramid tourist sites, and warm beaches with tropical waters. However, centuries ago, it was also a thriving network of civilizations, from ancient small migratory tribes to entire networks of cities and trade from ocean to ocean. Geologically, the area is replete with gaps, dips, caverns, and caves (6,000 plus) as well, which makes the area that much more interesting for explorers. One particular feature is that of the cenote, or underground lake. Created by shelves of hard penetrating stone underneath soil, these caverns form from permeating rainwater that collects until it can finally drain to the oceans. The water is pure and clean, a great source of freshwater, and also a common trap that has captured many living creatures over time. The case of one particular “black hole” cenote has recently produced one of the earliest known samples of human beings in the Americas to date.


In 2007 a cartographer, Alberto Nava, was working on a larger project of tracking and mapping the Yucatan’s many underground caves and waterways. Near Tulum, Mexico, an ancient coastside ruins from Mayan times, Nava found a notably large pit, named El Hoyo Negro, going 100 feet deep. No one had fully explored it yet, so it was a prime location for Nava’s work.
The El Hoyo, the Black Hole of Death, is as dangerous now as it was thousands of years ago. Cave diving in general is dangerous due to the risk of being trapped, falling rock, unstable geological features and more, but people still do it to explore. Nava’s team was no exception.