WHAT’S BEING CLAIMED:
- Explorers in Mexico have discovered the largest known underwater cave in the world near the beach resort of Tulum.
- The cave is located in the Yucatan Peninsula where treasures from the ancient Mayan civilization can still be found.
- This recent discovery could shed more light on the pre-Hispanic ancient community that lived in that region.
After decades of touring hundreds of miles of underwater caves in Mexico, the world’s largest underwater cave is discovered by a team of explorers who call themselves Gran Acuífero Maya (GAM).
It has two connecting underwater caves, called Sac Actun and Dos Ojos, stretching across 216 miles. Before the connection between the two caves was discovered, the world’s largest underwater cave was the Ox Bel Ha, which stretched 168 miles long, according to the National Speleological Society.
Discovering the massive cave would have required “painstaking exploration,” according to marine biologist Thomas Iliffe.
“These are really maze-like systems,” said Iliffe who studies marine life in underwater caves from the University of Texas A&M at Galveston.
Underwater caves are frequently linked to sinkholes or deep natural wells, known in Mexico as cenotes. The Sac Actun cave is a large system of cenotes that are basically flooded sinkholes. Hence, the caves are called flooded caves.
According to Reuters, the network of cenotes throughout the Yucatan Peninsula has valuable relics from the ancient Mayan community. National Geographic reported that human bones were found in a cenote in 2014, where archaeologists believe was an ancient cemetery. The caves hold artifacts including jade beads, water pitchers, shells and stone tools.
GAM director Guillermo de Anda told Reuters that the discovery “allows us to appreciate much more clearly how the rituals, the pilgrimage sites and ultimately the great pre-Hispanic settlements that we know emerged.”
“This immense cave represents the most important submerged archaeological site in the world,” de Anda said in a statement. This cave system has “documented evidence of the first settlers of America, as well as extinct fauna and, of course, the Mayan culture.”
Exploration director Robert Schmittner said, “Now, everyone’s job is to conserve it.”
GAM hopes to find a link between Sac Actun and another 11-mile cenote system which has been dubbed “the mother of all cenotes,” located north of the Sac Actun cave.