Posted by: Johan Normark | January 14, 2010

9/11 and the underwater caves of Yucatan

Deep Sea Productions make TV documentaries on underwater research and diving. One of its staff members is Martin Widman, an archaeologist and journalist who has produced several documentaries on archaeological topics. I know the exact date when we first came in contact. It was on September 11, 2001 around 10 A.M. Swedish time. A few hours later the planes crashed into WTC and this gives me a good reason to remember that first contact. At that time I worked at El Pilar and he was interested in doing a documentary on the Maya for SVT (Sweden’s television). The documentary was never made and we also had a brief contact a few years later.

Yesterday I was contacted by another of Deep Sea Productions staff members (Björn Hagberg). SVT want them to make a documentary on the underwater caves along the Quintana Roo coast in Mexico. They will interview me about the Maya and their relation to caves.

These underwater caves are fascinating formations and they reveal some interesting archaeological data. Since they now are filled with seawater it means that they were formed when the sea level was much lower than today (during the Late Ice Age). Remains of humans, ancient fire places and extinct terrestrial animals such as giant sloths, elephants, camelids, giant armadillos and horses located within horizontal passages (and not under a vertical passage) are likely very old. The later Maya deposited objects from the surface into the vertical passages (cenotes).

National Geographic has reported on a female skeleton dubbed Eva de Naharon found near Tulum which is believed to be 13,600 years old. At least three other skeletons (roughly dated to between 11,000 to 14,000 years BP) have been found in such caves along the Caribbean coast of Mexico. Minerals in seawater can alter the 14C content of bones so the dating is problematic. However, since the remains were found 15 m below sea level they must have ended up at the present location long before the sea level rose due to the melting of polar ice caps 8-9,000 years ago. If the dating of her skeleton is accurate the sea level was 60-100 m lower than today. At that time the Yucatan peninsula was a dry prairie.

Eva’s skull indicates that her ancestors may have arrived from South Asia rather than North Asia and this of course is a problem for the Bering Strait migration hypothesis. There is even another skeleton found in the Chan Hol cave that may be older than Eve. These skeletons bear no resemblance to the Maya who live in the area today.



  1. your article is interesting.I learn a lot from your articles. Thank you for sharing your knowledge.

  2. I will see if I can learn to cook Malaysian/Indonesian food other than nasi goreng from your blog.

  3. I love that picture!

    • I would love to do such a dive myself but I have no license.

  4. […] See original here: 9/11 and the underwater caves of Yucatan « Archaeological Haecceities […]

  5. You have a great blog here. I like reading unique blogs like yours. I have a site myself which provides information on popular vacation destinations. I want my site to be a place where anyone from around the world can come and have that vacation spirit or “vacation feeling” as you can tell from my domain name.

    I’d like to exchange links with you to help spread some traffic around between each other. Please let me know if this is possible.


    • Sure, I need to develop the travelling section on my blog as well. You are welcome to exchange links.

  6. I saw a program on the BBC about these caves, it was very interestin, as is your blog. You must have one of the best blogs on the go.

    • Thanks, the problem is always to come up with a perspective that someone else has not covered yet.

    • Hi, What was the name of the BBC program? I’ve learned to cave dive this past year. My favorite dives are at Nohoch and Aktun Ha near Tulum.

      • Donald probably refers to this one (in two parts on Youtube):

        or this one in five parts on Youtube:

  7. I am curious as to whether these remains are tied to a defined culture from the area of modern Mexica as they seem to significantly predate the Olmecs (the oldest culture of the area that I am aware of).

  8. We usually do not find this old material at surface sites in the Maya area. Our knowledge of these remote people are scarce indeed. Based on cranial form (not the best measure) these people seem not related to the later Maya. We need more DNA analyses.

  9. I was under the impression the cenotes in the Yucatan penninsula were fresh water? Matter of fact the ones I dived were. It is worth noting as well the visibility in the fresh water cenotes is very good and there is very little life.

    I believe your picture is a fresh water cenote… Perhaps it’s Cenote Dos Ojos?

  10. The cenotes are indeed fresh water but this water floats above salt water. In the water filled caves we are dealing with salt water since they are now located below sealevel.

  11. […] Some of the most fascinating (and dangerous) archaeological environments in the world are the underwater caves along the east coast of the Yucatan peninsula. INAH reports on the moving of a roughly 10,000 […]


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