The Exceptional Cuban Underwater City: Prehistoric Ramifications of its Origins – Part II
Submerged over 700 meters (2300 feet) underwater, the submerged Cuban city is thought to have been built originally built at a higher altitude and subsequently sunk to its present depth through tectonic activity—but this hypothesis has not stood up to the scrutiny of the experts. How can the existence of this underwater city at this great depth be reconciled with the well-established consensus that the sea level never dropped so low?
At first glance, this seems to be impossible, for the deepest straits that connect the Caribbean Sea to the Atlantic Ocean are far deeper than 120 meters (395 feet); for instance, the Yucatan Channel, Windward Passage, and the Anegada Passage separating the Yucatan Peninsula from Cuba, Cuba from Hispaniola, and the Virgin Islands from Anguilla have maximum depths of 2800, 1700, and 1915 meters respectively (9186, 5577, 6282 feet); moreover, many of the straits and passages separating the isles of the Lesser Antilles are deeper than 120 meters. Given the fact that the sea level only fell to 120 meters below sea level, as has been previously mentioned, during the entire Pleistocene epoch, let alone during the interval within which Homo sapiens has walked this earth, it seems like an impossibility for the Caribbean Basin to have been isolated, as these straits would have been, even during the maximum drawdown of the seas, still been 2680, 1580, and 1795 meters below sea level.
Map of the Caribbean Sea and Basin ( Public Domain )
An aerial view of Montserrat, in the Caribbean. Representational image. (Flickr/ CC BY-SA 2.0 )
According to the proposition we have established, this would have meant that the Caribbean Basin could not have been isolated from the Atlantic Ocean, as not all parts of the West Indies landmass would have been above sea level—a necessary condition for the Caribbean Basin to have been dry. In spite of this seemingly overwhelming evidence that the Caribbean Basin could not have been isolated from the Atlantic Ocean even during the depths of the Atlantic Ocean, I maintain that it is still possible; I shall present a scenario in which this is so.
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Great Landmass Collapse
Imagine, contrary to the discussion above, that the Caribbean Basin was indeed isolated from the Atlantic Ocean, with the West Indies archipelago being a contiguous landmass entirely above the minimum sea level that was reached during the Pleistocene epoch, namely 120 meters (395 feet) below the present day sea level. This would require the Yucatan Channel, Windward Passage, Anegada Passage, and the many straits separating the Lesser Antilles islands to all have maximum depths lying above 120 meters below the present sea level. Before inquiring as to how this could possibly be, let me finish my line of reasoning.
Aerial view of land in Puerto Rico, in the Caribbean. (Flicker/ CC BY-SA 2.0 )
In this scenario where the Caribbean Basin was isolated, it would have necessarily been dry, as has been established earlier. Now, imagine that some phenomenon, such as an earthquake, or erosion, caused multiple parts of this contiguous landmass to collapse below the sea level. What would be the consequences of such an event? At each point where the collapses occurred, water from the Atlantic Ocean would begin to pour through into the basin through these collapsed points; moreover, the force of the flowing water would carve these collapsed points to ever deeper depths, in turn causing even greater volumes of water to flow through, which would then erode these collapsed points into ever deeper channels, and so on, until finally, the Caribbean Basin was filled to the same level as the Atlantic Ocean, whereupon the inflow would cease. In other words, once the collapse occurred, it would cause a flow of water that would, though beginning as a trickle, would inevitably become a raging torrent that could not be checked by any force, whether human or divine.
What would be the "sill depths" (the maximum depth at which there is horizontal communication between a marginal sea basin and its adjacent ocean) of these channels after the Caribbean Basin was completely filled to its brim? Some, through which only a small amount of water flowed, would not be very deep, whereas others, through which a great deal of water flowed, would be much deeper. Although a precise calculation must entail considering variables such as the erosivity of the material at a particular point where the channels were carved, it seems entirely plausible that the deepest of the channels so carved might end up with sill depths exceeding thousands of meters. Here we have a scenario in which the existence of channels with sill depths greater than the maximum level to which the sea dropped during the glacial period, such as the Yucatan Channel and Anegada Passage, can nevertheless be reconciled with an isolated and hence dry Caribbean Basin during that same epoch.
Although this does not positively prove the existence of a dry Caribbean Basin during the glacial epoch, what it does do is disprove the impossibility thereof. And so the question that follows is naturally: Is there any evidence to support the actuality of this possibility? To this end, I cite a rather obscure myth that I believe has not been interpreted correctly.
Barbados, in the Caribbean. (Flicker/ CC BY-SA 2.0)
Ancient Legends Tell the Tale
The Taino Indians, who have inhabited the Caribbean islands for millennia, tell a story about the origin of “the sea”. In summarized form, they recount:
“In the beginning of time, before the land was surrounded by sea, in a place called Zuania (South America), there stood four great mountains. One of these mountains was called Boriquen, Land of Brave Men. In the village of Coabey on the side of that mountain lived an old man, Yaya, with his wife, Itiba, and their only son, Yayael. Yayael was a skilled hunter.”
While Yayael was out hunting, a great tempest struck the village and its surrounds and Yayael did not return home. His parents searched for him, but to no avail. To honor their son, Yaya and Itiba “reverently placed Yayael's bow and arrows in a large gourd and sat down beside his wife and wept with her.” One day, while the other boys in the village were playing with the gourd, it fell to the floor and breaks, unleashing a tremendous flood:
“Water rushed out of the broken gourd. Yaya and Itiba's hut was instantly flooded. A towering wave swept the boys to the edge of the village and left them choking and gasping at the feet of the villagers.
The water tasted of salt, the boys said, just like the salt of the tears shed for Yayael.
But water continued to pour and to gush from the broken gourd like a raging fountain. A torrent raced down the path toward the valley below. It washed out the villagers' fields and swept away trees and boulders. Fish of all sizes, colors, shapes, and imagining swam out of the gourd and were carried by the current: large fish, small fish, eels, squids, sharks, jellyfish, and all manner of sea creatures swam out of the gourd to fill the salty water with life.
The villagers gathered high on the mountaintop and watched as the waters rose to cover Zuania. When at last the water stopped rising and their old village lay deep under the sea, they saw that the mountain was now an island, surrounded by the endless life of the sea. The villagers dressed themselves festively and celebrated with music and dance. They knew they would never go hungry as long as there were fish in the sea. Yayael, the great hunter, had again provided for his village.
And that is how the sea began.”
Massive carved-stone face of Taino god Cohoba. ( CC BY-SA 2.0 )
If the Caribbean Basin was indeed a dry basin at one time, and it was inhabited, how would we, employing precise scientific terminology, describe such a basin? Like any basin, which is composed of a lower-lying land surrounding by higher lands, we would describe it as ‘concave.’ But how might a pre-scientific culture like the Taino Indians describe a land that has a concave shape? Perhaps they might use a metaphor, as myths often tend to do, to symbolize the concavity of the basin.
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Indeed, it seems like they have done precisely this, for the Taino Indians describe the land whereupon their ancestors dwelt as a “gourd,” an object that is almost archetypically concave! Could this be mere coincidence? What is more, the myth clearly states that the village where Yayael and his family dwelt “lay deep under the sea” when the “water stopped rising.” If the Taino flood myth is equated with the flooding of a once dry Caribbean Basin, we clearly have evidence that the original homeland of the Taino Indians was below sea level, for it would not have been permanently submerged underwater, as it was said to have been in the myth, if it were above sea level.
The Deluge (1834). ( Public Domain )
Finally, when the Taino speak of “how the sea began,” what is the sea that they are referring to? There is only one logical answer: The Caribbean Sea, for the Taino Indians lived for millennia in the Caribbean islands; it would not make sense for them to talk of any other sea than the one that lay next to where they lived.
So the possibility remains of a Caribbean Basin that was once dry and inhabitable—full of cities and a vibrant, flourishing civilization—that was swallowed up when the Atlantic Ocean flooded the basin and formed the sea as it exists today.
Featured image: Reconstruction of a Taíno village in Cuba. ( CC BY-SA 2.5 )
By Brad Yoon