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World’s Largest Underwater Cave System Discovered in Mexico --215-mile Sunken Labyrinth is a Trove of Ancient Mayan Artifacts (WATCH Video)

 

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"This immense cave represents the most important submerged archaeological site in the world, since it has more than a hundred archaeological contexts, among which is evidence of the first settlers of America, as well as the extinct fauna and, of course, of the Maya culture," says Guillermo de Anda, a National Geographic explorer and director of the Great Maya Aquifer Project (GAM). 

Last week, explorers with the GAM Project discovered a connection between two large underwater caverns on the Yucatan Peninsula. When combined, the two systems create a 215-mile-long underground labyrinth—the largest flooded cavern on Earth, reports National Geographic.

 

While the cave itself is an interesting geologic formation, the cave system is also full of pre-Hispanic archaeological sites from the ancient Maya as well as unknown plant and animal species, reports The Smithsonian. “This immense cave represents the most important submerged archaeological site in the world, as it has more than a hundred archaeological contexts,” says Guillermo de Anda, director of the project, according to a translated press release. “Along this system, we had documented evidence of the first settlers of America, as well as extinct fauna and, of course, Maya culture.” In fact, in 2014, divers found the oldest human skeleton discovered in the New World while exploring one of the segments of this submerged cavern, Sac Actun.

 

 

 

As National Geographic reports, the discovery was made after the project’s divers began a new phase of exploring the Sac Actun system and another known as Dos Ojos last March, mapping new tunnels and underground lakes, known as cenotes. They were also looking for a connection between the two. After months of exploration, they finally found it: a subsurface connection near the city of Tulum, Reuters reports. According to cave-naming protocols, the larger system will absorb the smaller system and the whole complex will be known as Sac Actun.

“This is an effort of more than 20 years of traveling hundreds of kilometers of caves submerged in [the Mexican state of ] Quintana Roo mainly, of which I devoted 14 to explore this monstrous Sac Actun System,” the project’s director of exploration Robert Schmittner says in the press release. “Now, everyone’s job is to keep it [up].”

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