MEXICO CITY (AP) – A prehistoric human skeleton has been found in a cave system that was flooded at the end of the last ice age 8,000 years ago, according to a cave diving archaeologist on Mexico’s Caribbean coast.
Archaeologist Octavio del Rio said he and fellow diver Peter Broger saw the fractured skull and skeleton partially covered in sediment in a cave near where the Mexican government plans to build a high-speed tourist train through the jungle.
Because of the distance from the cave entrance, the skeleton could not have been there without modern diving equipment, so it must be over 8,000 years old, Del Rio said, referring to the era when the sea levels were rising underwater in the caves.
“That’s it. We don’t know if the body was deposited there or if that’s where this person died,” Del Rio said. He said the skeleton was located about 8 meters (26 feet) underwater, about half a kilometer (one-third of a mile) into the cave system.
Some of the oldest human remains in North America have been found in sinkhole caves known as “cenotes” on the country’s Caribbean coast, and experts say some of these caves are threatened by the Mexican government’s Maya Train tourism project.
Del Rio, who has worked with the National Institute of Anthropology and History on past projects, said he reported the discovery to the institute. The institute did not immediately respond to questions about whether it intended to inspect the site.
But Del Rio said Tuesday that institute archaeologist Carmen Rojas told him the site was registered and would be investigated by the Holocene Archeology Project of the institute’s Quintana Roo state branch.
He emphasized that the cave – which he did not reveal its location for fear of disturbing the site – was near where the government has cut a line of jungle to lay train tracks, and that it could be is dropped, corrupted or closed. at the construction project and subsequent development.
“There’s a lot more study that needs to be done to properly interpret the discovery,” Del Rio said, noting that “dating, some kind of photographic study and some collection” would be needed to determine its age. exactly what the skeleton is. .
Del Rio has been exploring the region for the past thirty years, and in 2002, he participated in the discovery and cataloging of the remains of what is known as Mrs. Naharon, who died around the same time, or perhaps earlier, than Naia – a skeleton almost all of it. a young woman who died around 13,000 years ago. It was discovered in a nearby cave system in 2007.
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is racing to complete his Maya Train project in the remaining two years of his term due to protests from environmentalists, cave divers and archaeologists. They say that her hast will give her some time to study the ancient remains.
Activists say the high-speed heavy rail project will divide the coastal jungle and often pass over the fragile limestone caves, which – because they are flooded, complex and often extremely narrow – could take years long to explore them.
Caves along part of the coast have already been damaged by construction on top of them, and cement piles are used to support the weight above.
The 950-mile (1,500-kilometer) Maya Train line is planned to run in a rough loop around the Yucatan Peninsula, connecting beach resorts and archaeological sites.
The most controversial stretch cuts a more than 68-mile (110-kilometer) swath through the jungle between the resorts of Cancun and Tulum.
Del Rio said the route through the jungle should be abandoned and the train should be built over the already affected coastal highway between Cancun and Tulum, as originally planned.
López Obrador abandoned the highway route after hotel owners voiced objections, citing concerns about cost and traffic disruptions.
“What we want is for them to change to a way at this location, because of the archaeological discoveries made there, and their importance,” said Del Rio. “They should take the train out of there and put it where they said they were going to take it before, on the highway … an area that’s already hit, destroyed.”