Exploring the Sac Actun submerged caves in Quintana Roo, Mexico.

A Mexican Underwater Cave System is the Largest in the World…and Filled with Archaeological Value

(Read the article on one page)

The largest known flooded cave system in the world is also a major source of archaeological interest. After 10 months of intensive exploration, divers have declared that 347 kilometers (216 miles) of submerged caverns in Quintana Roo, Mexico are the longest continuous stretch of underwater caves on earth. They also hold a wealth of ancient Maya artifacts.

The massive cave system is called the Sac Actun System and researchers used to believe it was two separate cave systems, according to Science Alert . The smaller section was previously known as Dos Ojos and it spans 93 kilometers (57.8 miles). When it was discovered the two parts are connected, Dos Ojos was absorbed into the larger Sac Actun system, thereby losing its name. This finding means that the Ox Bel Ha System, also in Quintana Roo, has lost its standing as the largest flooded cave system.

Sac Actun cave system is called a system of flooded caves because it is comprised of a huge network of cenotes, also known as flooded sinkholes, connected to underwater caves.

A cenote in Tulum, Mexico.

A cenote in Tulum, Mexico. (Christine Rondeau/ CC BY 2.0 )

Robert Schmittner, the director of explorations, has been exploring the Sac Actun underwater cave system for 14 years and recognizes how difficult it was to find the current results, saying,

“We came really close a few times. On a couple of occasions, we were a metre from making a connection between the two large cave systems. It was like trying to follow the veins within a body. It was a labyrinth of paths that sometimes came together and sometimes separated. We had to be very careful."

Much care has to be taken while exploring the Sac Actun underwater cave system. (Herbert Meyrl/Proyecto Gran Acuifero Maya )

While the size of the underwater cave system is impressive, it is worth remembering how important the archaeological finds still waiting in the underwater caves can and have been. Human remains, extinct fauna, and a wealth of Maya artifacts are said to be within. Guillermo de Anda, director of the Great Maya Aquifer Project (GAM), and a National Geographic explorer, says,

"We've recorded more than 100 archaeological elements: the remains of extinct fauna, early humans, Maya archaeology, ceramics, and Maya graves. It's a tunnel of time that transports you to a place 10,000 to 12,000 years ago."

GAM is a research project which has been exploring the submerged cave systems of Quintana Roo in the Yucatán Peninsula for more than a decade. To date, they have explored some 358 underwater cave systems, totalling 1,400 kilometers (870 miles) of flooded tunnels.

Archaeologists have made many discoveries in the underwater caves in the area over the years. For example, between May 2014- September 2015, archaeologists found well-preserved skeletons, ranging in age from 9,000 to 13,000 years in a cenote near Tulúm. April Holloway wrote on the discovery for Ancient Origins : “at least one of the individuals is believed to have accidentally fallen in the cenote […] while at least two of the skeletons were intentionally deposited. Cenotes were later used by the ancient Maya for sacrificial offerings.” The intriguing aspect to these Ice Age skeletons is the obvious difference between the prehistoric skull shapes in comparison to current indigenous people of Mexico. Some experts have argued that the dissimilarity between the prehistoric and modern samples is evidence for more than one wave of migration into the Americas.

Ancient Origins reported in September 2017 on another discovery related to the peopling of what is now Mexico. A prehistoric human skeleton which is at least 13,000 years old was found in the Chan Hol Cave near Tulúm. This marks an unexpected find because it has been uncommon to find human bones older than 10,000 years old anywhere in the Americas. This find goes against the mainstream hypothesis claiming that the first migration into the Americas took place about 12,600 years ago via the ice-age Bering Land Bridge between Siberia and Alaska. (Note: a large amount of evidence has been piling up to challenge this date and idea of peopling of the Americas as of late.)

Prehistoric human skeleton in the Chan Hol Cave near Tulúm on the Yucatán peninsula prior to looting by unknown cave divers.

Prehistoric human skeleton in the Chan Hol Cave near Tulúm on the Yucatán peninsula prior to looting by unknown cave divers. ( Tom Poole/Liquid Jungle Lab )

Register to become part of our active community, get updates, receive a monthly newsletter, and enjoy the benefits and rewards of our member point system OR just post your comment below as a Guest.

Top New Stories

Aristotle’s Masterpiece Completed in Two Parts.
A perverted "sex manual" featuring shocking magical and mythical X-rated content will be sold at a UK auction next month. The first edition of this sordid book entitled Aristotle's Masterpiece Completed In Two Parts, The First Containing the Secrets of Generation, was published in London in 1684.

Myths & Legends

Human Origins

Silhouettes (Public Domain) in front of blood cells (Public Domain) and a gene.
Most people who have the Rh blood type are Rh-positive. There are also instances, however, where people are Rh-Negative. Health problems may occur for the unborn child of a mother with Rh-Negative blood when the baby is Rh-Positive.

Ancient Technology

The Lycurgus Cup.
A strange chalice made its way into the British Museum’s collection in the 1950s. It is a 1,600-year-old jade green Roman artifact called the Lycurgus Cup. The image on the chalice is an iconic scene with King Lycurgus of Thrace...

Ancient Places

The highly-decorated tomb is built in a distinctive ‘L’ shape
A mysterious ancient tomb with “unusual and rare” wall paintings has been discovered in Egypt. Antiquities Minister Khaled al-Enany told BBC reporters the discovery of a 4,400-year-old tomb found during excavation work in Giza’s western cemetery “likely belonged to Hetpet, a priestess to Hathor, the goddess of fertility, who assisted women in childbirth.”

Our Mission

At Ancient Origins, we believe that one of the most important fields of knowledge we can pursue as human beings is our beginnings. And while some people may seem content with the story as it stands, our view is that there exists countless mysteries, scientific anomalies and surprising artifacts that have yet to be discovered and explained.

The goal of Ancient Origins is to highlight recent archaeological discoveries, peer-reviewed academic research and evidence, as well as offering alternative viewpoints and explanations of science, archaeology, mythology, religion and history around the globe.

We’re the only Pop Archaeology site combining scientific research with out-of-the-box perspectives.

By bringing together top experts and authors, this archaeology website explores lost civilizations, examines sacred writings, tours ancient places, investigates ancient discoveries and questions mysterious happenings. Our open community is dedicated to digging into the origins of our species on planet earth, and question wherever the discoveries might take us. We seek to retell the story of our beginnings. 

Ancient Image Galleries

View from the Castle Gate (Burgtor). (Public Domain)
Door surrounded by roots of Tetrameles nudiflora in the Khmer temple of Ta Phrom, Angkor temple complex, located today in Cambodia. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Cable car in the Xihai (West Sea) Grand Canyon (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Next article