Category Archives: MEXICO

Archaeologists in Mexico Discover Treasure of Mayan Civilization and Giant Sloth Fossils in a Vast Underwater Cave

Archaeologists in Mexico Discover Treasure of Mayan Civilization and Giant Sloth Fossils in a Vast Underwater Cave

This undated photo released by Mexico’s National Anthropology and History Institute shows divers from the Great Mayan Aquifer project (L) exploring the Sac Actun underwater cave system, where Mayan and Pleistocene bones and cultural artefacts have been found submerged, near Tulum, Mexico.

Following 10 months of intensive exploration, Mexican scientists discovered the largest flooded cave system – and it’s truly an underwater wonderland.

This sprawling, sunken labyrinth, stretching an astounding 347 km (216 miles) of subterranean caverns, is not only a stunning marvel but also a significant archaeological find that can uncover the forgotten mysteries of the ancient Mayan civilization.

“This enormous cave is the world’s leading archaeological submerged site,” said Guillermo de Anda, an underwater archaeologist at the National Institute of Anthropology and History of Mexico.

The largest underwater cave in the world was discovered in Mexico by explorers from the Gran Acuífero Maya.

“There are more than 100 archaeological contexts, among which are evidence of the first settlers of America, as well as extinct fauna and, of course, the Maya culture.”

De Anda heads up the Great Maya Aquifer Project (GAM), a research effort which for decades has explored underwater caves in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo, located on the Caribbean coastline of the Yucatán Peninsula.

The region hosts a stunning 358 submerged cave systems, representing some 1,400 kilometres (870 miles) of flooded freshwater tunnels hidden under the surface.

A diver from the Great Mayan Aquifer project looking at human remains believed to be from the Pleistocene era, in the Sac Actun underwater cave system, near Tulum, Mexico.

Amongst this sprawling network, a new leader emerged last week. Called the Sac Actun System, this gargantuan passage is so big it was actually thought to be two different cave systems.

Before now, another system called Dos Ojos (‘two eyes’) spanning 93 kilometres (57.8 miles) was thought to be distinct from Sac Actun, but an exhaustive 10 months of underwater probing proved the two were actually one giant continuous cavity.

“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,” GAM exploration director Robert Schmittner told Mexican newspaper, El Pais.

“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.”

That effort paid off, and under the rules of caving, Sac Actun now absorbs Dos Ojos (and its former length), meaning at 347 kilometres long Sac Actun is now the world’s largest known underwater cave – beating out the former frontrunner, the Ox Bel Ha System, also in Quintana Roo, which stretches for 270 kilometres.

But the search isn’t over yet. Sac Actun stands to grow even larger, with the researchers saying it could be connected to three other underwater cave systems – provided further dives can show the caverns do indeed link up.

Photos by: Gran Acuifero Maya
A Mask of the Mayan god of trade in the Gran aquifer of Sac Actun in Quinta Roo state, Mexico.

Those dives won’t just shed light on how deep the fish hole goes, either.

As footage in the researchers’ video and photos show – untold volumes of preserved Maya artefacts and human remains are just waiting to be discovered and analysed from within this unprecedented cave system.

Ultimately, the scientific implications could be just as massive as the cave itself.

“We’ve recorded more than 100 archaeological elements: the remains of extinct fauna, early humans, Maya archaeology, ceramics, and Maya graves,” de Anda told the Mexican media.

“It’s a tunnel of time that transports you to a place 10,000 to 12,000 years ago.”

“Ancient Rocket” Found Beneath Pakal’s Tomb

“Ancient Rocket” Found Beneath Pakal’s Tomb

King Pacal’s stone Sarcophagus lid created considerable controversial hypotheses, one of which is Traditional scholars claiming the inscriptions tell of King Pacal on a journey to the underworld, but ancient astronaut theorists claim that the king is represented at the seat of a spacecraft’s controls and have dubbed him the Palenque astronaut.

King K’inich Janaab’ Pakal also known as Pacal was the Maya king of Palenque (today- Mexico).  He was most famous for raising the city of Palenque from relative obscurity to great power, his building projects in the city (especially the Temple of the Inscriptions), and his elaborately carved sarcophagus lid which has been interpreted as an ancient astronaut riding on a rocket ship. Pacal assumed the throne of Palenque at the age of 12, in 615 CE, and ruled successfully until his death at the age of 80.

Pacal was the son of Lady Sak K’uk who reigned as Queen of Palenque from 612-615 CE. She ruled for three years until her son reached maturity which, at that time, was the age of 12.

Pacal almost instantly began building enormous and elaborately worked monuments in order to celebrate both the city’s past and his family’s legitimate claim to rule.

Temple of the Inscriptions:

Temple of the Inscriptions pyramid was constructed in 675 CE and it was built as the tomb of Pacal. The Temple of the Inscriptions is a pyramid with a small building at the top inscribed with the second-longest continuous Mayan text yet uncovered in Mesoamerica.


For a century after Palenque was discovered, the pyramid was thought to be a religious center in the city (as the inscriptions were undecipherable) until the Mexican Archaeologist Alberto Ruiz recognized that the walls of the small temple continued down below the floor.

He discovered that the platform of the floor had drill holes, which had been sealed by stone plugs, and surmised that the Maya had lowered the floor into place with ropes, perhaps, to seal a royal tomb.

Between 1948 and 1952 CE, Ruiz worked with his team, excavating the temple and, finally, discovered the tomb of Pacal the Great. He shone his flashlight down into the tomb.

Whatever he has seen, he writes like this-

“Out of the dim shadows emerged a vision from a fairy tale, a fantastic, ethereal sight from another world. It seemed a huge magic grotto carved out of ice, the walls sparkling and glistening like snow crystals. Delicate festoons of stalactites hung like tassels of a curtain, and the stalagmites on the floor looked like drippings from a great candle.

The impression, in fact, was that of an abandoned chapel. Across the walls marched stucco figures in low relief. Then my eyes sought the floor. This was almost entirely filled with a great carved stone slab, in perfect condition.”

Pacal’s Sarcophagus:

The Sarcophagus’ lid measures 3.6×2 meters (12×7 feet) and shows king Pacal sitting in some kind of spacecraft. He is at an angle like modern-day astronauts upon lift-off. He is manipulating some controls.

He has some type of breathing apparatus or some type of a telescope in front of his face. His feet are on some type of pedal. And you have something that looks like an exhaust with flames.

His upper hand is manipulating some controls. From the lower hand,  he is turning something on. The heel of his left foot is on a kind of pedal and, outside the capsule, you see a linking flame. This is incredible. This is absolute proof of extraterrestrials.

The most famous symbol in this picture is that of the “World Tree”- Shows a man tilting backward at the base of a tree, with a bird high at the top, either falling into or springing out of what appears to be a large urn. Glyphs and symbols run around the edges of the lid, all representing important components of Mayan cosmology.

The World Tree, which the Maya believed had its roots in the underworld, trunk on the earthly plane, and branches high in paradise, and Pacal’s relationship to it in death.

The king is depicted either at the moment of his death falling from the earthly plane down into Xibalba or at the moment of his resurrection from the underworld, climbing up the World Tree toward paradise.

The adornments along the edges represent the sky and other glyphs the sun and moon and, still others, past rulers of Palenque and Pacal’s place among them. The bird at the top of the tree is the Bird of Heaven (also known as The Celestial Bird or Principal Bird Deity) who represents the realm of the gods in this piece, and the `urn’ beneath Pacal is the entrance to Xibalba.

The celestial bird represented the heavens and thus was pictured on the top of the World Tree. Roots of the World Tree extending into the underworld which is not just typical for depictions of the World Tree, it’s pretty much a requirement. In the underworld, we see a picture of the Mayan sun monster which Pacal is riding into the underworld. So Pacal is hitching a ride on the sun into the underworld.

In Mayan art whenever you see a so-called “traveler”- which is a person in transition from one world to the next – there must be something that is making that travel possible.

Sometimes it is a twisted umbilical cord, but almost always it is a serpent, often a double-headed serpent. In other words, being in the mouths of a double-headed serpent was a symbol of transition from one world to the next.

You can see that the so-called smoke is actually the traditional serpent’s beard which appears in almost every depiction of a serpent in Mayan art.

3,400-Year-Old Ball Court Found in Mexico’s Highlands

3,400-Year-Old Ball Court Found in Mexico’s Highlands

Two ancient ball courts were found in a remote area of highland in Mexico. This forces experts to reconsider how an important ballgame and cultural custom in ancient Mexico originated. In the evolution of Mesoamerican civilization, the findings also show the importance of highland areas.

In 2015, in the mountains of Oaxaca, southern Mexico, a group of archeologists from George Washington University in Washington D.C. was investigating a site known as Etlatongo.

They were examining an open raised area and believed they were excavating a prehistoric public building or space. However, by 2017, to their astonishment, they had found ancient ball courts.

Location of Etlatongo in Mesoamerica and the setting of its ballcourt.

The archaeologists had found two stone ball courts, the earliest one, dates to about 1374 BC. This was based on the radiocarbon dating of burnt wood found at the site. This means that it is the oldest one ever found in the Mexican highlands, by some 800 years.

According to Science News, “the oldest known ball court dates to about 3,650 years ago at a non- Olmec coast site at Paso de la Amada.”

Both ball courts were made of stone and were walled-in areas roughly about 18 ft wide (6m). Earthen mounds were used to buttress the structures. The courts were quite similar to ball alleys. Most spectators would view the game from the mounds. These courts were regularly maintained and rebuilt, and they were in use for around 175 years. 

Excavations at Etlatongo in southern Mexico probed beneath surface remains of a Spanish hacienda’s threshing floor (shown) to reveal two ancient ball courts, built atop each other.

Jeffrey Blomster an archaeologist from George Washington University, who took part in the excavation told Gizmodo that there were some architectural changes observable between the two sites, “the older court having banquettes [like a long bench] and the younger court eliminating the banquettes and instead of having steeper walls adjacent to the alley.”

These probably reflect changes in the game over a period of time. Some of the courts have not been investigated because of their state. Blomster told Gizmodo that “we tried to be very careful and not expose more of the ballcourts than we needed to, as they are so fragile and delicate.”

Science News reports that the study found that “the second ball court was burnt and taken out of use.” This happened about 1200 BC according to radio-carbon dating and was done most likely by the local inhabitants as part of a ceremony. Why this was done is a mystery, but it seems that there were no ball courts at this site after this date.

An archaeologist, David Carballo, from Boston University stated to Science News that the discovery shows “that some of the earliest villages and towns in the highlands in Mexico were playing a ballgame comparable to the most prestigious version of the sport known as ullamaliztli.”

This was a game that was played by the Aztecs and it was very popular with them, and during their competitions, they would often hold human sacrifices. Similar ballgames were also played by the Maya and other Mesoamerican societies. 

The games often symbolized “the regeneration of life and the maintenance of the cosmic order,” according to Gizmodo. They were also important as religious, social and political gatherings.

Some 2,300 ball courts have been found across Mexico and Central America. The game involved a solid rubber ball and the aim of the game was to keep it in constant motions, like volleyball.

The players used only their hips and bodies to keep the ball in play, which they did by hitting it off the walls. These games could be brutal and there are sources that state that the losers were often sacrificed to the gods.

Depiction of players hitting a rubber ball with their hips in a version of Mesoamerica’s famous ballgame.

Apart from the structures of the ball courts the team also found several artifacts and bones, both human and non-human. They also unearthed 14 fragments of figurines of ballplayers. They were wearing Olmec style clothing such as “thick belts above a loincloth and sometimes a chest plate,” reports Science News. 

The Olmecs were a very influential society and it appears that they influenced the development of the game and had cultural contacts with the Mexican highlands.

Partial ballgame player figurines such as this (shown from the front and side) were unearthed at a mountain site in southern Mexico.

Because the rubber used to make the balls came from the coastal areas, such as those controlled by the Olmecs it was long assumed that the game originated in the southern lowlands. However, the finds of the two ball courts are changing this view.

Gizmodo quotes the team members who made the discovery as saying that they find is evidence that the Mexican highlands were “important players in the origin and evolution of the Mexican ballgame.”

The find also shows that the highlands of Mexico were important in the development and spread of Mesoamerican culture. A variant of the ballgame that was played in the ball alleys is still played in Mexico to this day. Thus, making it possibly the world’s oldest sport.

Ancient Maya kingdom unearthed in a backyard in Mexico

Ancient Maya kingdom unearthed in a backyard in Mexico

A team of archeologists from the backyard of a rancher in Mexico have discovered the site of a long-lost ancient Mayan empire. The town was discovered with the help of a food vendor.

Since 1994, when references to it were discovered at inscriptions on other Mayan excavation sites, scientists have been searching for signs of the ancient Mayan kingdom of Sak Tz’i ‘. Apart from the reference, the kingdom is also mentioned in other sculptures.

It so happens that, in 2014, the University of Pennsylvania graduate student Whittaker Schroder was driving around Chiapas in southeastern Mexico when a man selling carnitas on the side of the highway informed him that a friend, a cattle rancher, had found an ancient stone tablet.

Upon confirming the authenticity of the tablet, Schroder and another graduate student from Harvard, Jeffrey Dobereiner, informed anthropology professor Charles Golden and Brown University bioarchaeologist Andrew Scherer of the find.

From that time, it took years before the team received permission to excavate on the property, with the team making sure that the government would not confiscate the rancher’s land.

This is because, in Mexico, cultural heritage such as Maya sites are considered the property of the state. So, the team worked with government officials to make sure that the rancher would get to keep his land.

The research team believes that the archaeological site unearthed in the rancher’s backyard, Lacanja Tzeltal, is actually the capital of the Sak Tz’i’ kingdom that was first settled in by 750 B.C.

At the site, the team found evidence of a marketplace where goods were sold, a 45-foot pyramid, as well as the ruins of several structures that likely served as the residence of the elites.

The team also found evidence of a ball court and a royal palace, as well as Maya monuments with important inscriptions. Dozens of sculptures were also recovered from the site, although most of them were already degraded. Ultimately, the best-preserved artifact from the site remains to be the tablet from the rancher.

Being a relatively modest kingdom compared to the others, Sak Tz’i’ was surrounded on all sides by more powerful states. This is evidenced by the walls that were possibly built to keep invaders out.

According to Golden, it is possible that mid-sized Sak Tz’i’ kingdom’s survival among the more powerful kingdoms depended not just on its military strength but also on making peace with its neighbors.

That said, little is still known about how the kingdom survived amid the hostilities they likely faced from other, more powerful kingdoms.

For now, the team is planning to go back to the site in June to stabilize the buildings that are in danger of collapsing well as to map the ancient city with modern tools and to look for more artifacts.

Left, drawing of a tablet found at the site. Right, a digital 3D model.
Left, drawing of a tablet found at the site. Right, a digital 3D model.

The study describing the find is published in the Journal of Field Archaeology. 

Mao of the Sak Tz’i’ kingdom excavation site in Mexico. The horseshoe-shaped building on the left is the palace area.

Mexico Returns Bronze Sculpture To Nigeria

Mexican Government Returns Stolen Bronze Sculpture to Nigeria

Mexican customs officials thwarted an attempt to smuggle the ancient Yoruba sculpture into the country.

Mexico returns a smuggled bronze sculpture to Nigeria 🇳🇬 after it was seized by customs officials at an airport. The Yoruba artefact is believed to date back to the 6th Century.

The Mexican government has recently returned a stolen bronze sculpture to Nigeria according to Vanguard.

The ancient sculpture was seized by customs officials at Mexico City Airport following an attempt to reportedly smuggle the artefact into the country.

The bronze sculpture itself is thought to be a 6th-century relic from the southwestern Yoruba City of Ife and depicts a man in woven pants sitting cross-legged and holding an instrument.

While it is still unclear how the artefact was obtained in the first place, Mexico’s Deputy Secretary of Foreign Affairs Julián Ventura Valero says, “We oppose the illegal commercialisation of archaeological pieces, an important cause of the impoverishment of the cultural heritage of the nations of origin, since it undermines the integrity of cultures and, therefore, of humanity.”

Several bronze artefacts ranging from a 19th-century cockerel from Benin City to an 18th-century Ethiopian crown have since been returned to their respective countries over the past few years.

Often the result of looting during the colonial era, the governments of these African countries are now rightly demanding that these stolen pieces of significant cultural history be permanently returned to them and not offered on “long-term loans” as has often been the case.

However, thousands more of these invaluable artefacts from many African countries remain housed in museums across Europe. Revisit our interview with anthropologist and curator Niama Safia Sandy about the politics around the repatriation of African art here.

Modern technology reveals old secrets about the great, white Maya road

Modern technology reveals old secrets about the great, white Maya road

Would one of the greatest cities of the ancient Mayan world, the mighty Queen of Cobá, create the longest Mayan road to invade a smaller, isolated neighbor and gain a foothold against the emerging Chichén Itzá empire?

Traci Ardren, a sociology professor at the University of Miami, has been fascinated by the problem for some time now. Now, she and fellow scholars may be a step closer to an answer, after conducting the first lidar study of the 100-kilometer stone highway that connected the ancient cities of Cobá and Yaxuná on the Yucatan Peninsula 13

Once used mainly by meteorologists to study clouds, lidar—short for “light detection and ranging”—technology is revolutionizing archaeology by enabling archaeologists to detect, measure, and map structures are hidden beneath dense vegetation that, in some cases, have grown for centuries, engulfing entire cities.

This lidar map of downtown Yaxuna reveals many ancient houses, platforms, palaces, and pyramids that are hidden by vegetation.

Often deployed from low-flying aircraft, lidar instruments fire rapid pulses of laser light at a surface and then measure the amount of time it takes for each pulse to bounce back. The differences in the times and wavelengths of the bounce are then used to create digital 3-D maps of hidden surface structures.

The lidar study, which Ardren and fellow researchers with the Proyecto de Interaccion del Centro de Yucatan (PIPCY) conducted in 2014 and 2017 of Sacbe 1—or White Road 1, as the white plaster-coated thoroughfare was called—may shed light on the intentions of Lady K’awiil Ajaw, the warrior queen who Ardren believes commissioned its construction at the turn of the 7th century.

In an analysis of the lidar study, recently published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, the researchers identified more than 8,000 tree-shrouded structures of varying sizes along the sacbe—with enough total volume to fill approximately 2,900 Olympic swimming pools.

The study also confirmed that the road, which measures about 26 feet across, is not a straight line, as has been assumed since Carnegie Institute of Washington archaeologists mapped its entire length in the 1930s, with little more than a measuring tape and a compass.

Rather, the elevated road veered to incorporate preexisting towns and cities between Cobá, which known for its carved monuments depicting bellicose rulers standing over bound captives, controlled the eastern Yucatan, and Yaxuná—a smaller, older, city in the middle of the peninsula. Yet, the isolated Yaxuná (pronounced Ya-shoo-na) still managed to build a pyramid nearly three times bigger and centuries before Chichén Itzá’s more famous Castillo, about 15 miles away.

A drawing of a carving found on a stone monument in Cobá depicts the warrior queen who may have built the great, white road to expand her domain.

“The lidar really allowed us to understand the road in much greater detail. It helped us identify many new towns and cities along the road—new to us, but preexisting the road,” Ardren said. “We also now know the road is not straight, which suggests that it was built to incorporate these preexisting settlements, and that has interesting geopolitical implications. This road was not just connecting Cobá and Yaxuná; it connected thousands of people who lived in the intermediary region.”

It was partly Yaxuná’s proximity to Chichén Itzá, Mexico’s most famous Maya ruin which flourished after Yaxuná and Cobá waned, that led Ardren and other PIPCY researchers to theorize that K’awiil Ajaw built the road to invade Yaxuná and gain a foothold in the middle of the peninsula. Coba’s ruler for several decades beginning in 640 A.D., she is depicted in stone carvings trampling over her bound captives.

“I personally think the rise of Chichén Itzá and its allies motivated the road,” Ardren said. “It was built just before 700, at the end of the Classic Period, when Cobá is making a big push to expand. It’s trying to hold on to its power, so with the rise of Chichén Itzá, it needed a stronghold in the center of the peninsula.

The road is one of the last-gasp efforts of Cobá to maintain its power. And we believe it may have been one of the accomplishments of K’awiil Ajaw, who is documented as having conducted wars of territorial expansion.”

To test their theory, Ardren, an expert on gender in ancient Maya society who edited the 2002 book “Ancient Maya Women,” and fellow PIPCY scholars received funding from the National Science Foundation to excavate ancient household clusters along the great white road.

Their goal is to determine the degree of similarities between the household goods in Cobá and Yaxuná before and after the road was built. The thinking, Ardren said, is that after the road linking the two cities, the goods found in Yaxuná would show increasing similarities to Cobá’s.

So far, the researchers have excavated household clusters on the edge of both Cobá and Yaxuná, and they plan to begin the third dig this summer, at a spot informed by the lidar study. It sits between the two ancient Maya cities, on the great, white road that Ardren says would have glowed brightly even in the dark of night.

As she noted, the road was as much an engineering marvel as the monumental pyramids the Maya erected across southern Mexico, Guatemala, northern Belize, and western Honduras.

Although built over undulating terrain, the road was flat, with the uneven ground filled in with huge limestone boulders, and the surface coated with bright, white plaster. Essentially the same formula the Romans used for concrete in the third century B.C., the plaster was made by burning limestone and adding lime and water to the mixture.

“It would have been a beacon through the dense green of cornfields and fruit trees,” Ardren said. “All the jungle we see today wasn’t there in the past because the Maya cleared these areas. They needed wood to build their homes. And now that we know the area was densely occupied, we know they needed a lot of wood. Because they also needed it to burn limestone”—and build the longest road in the Maya world 13 centuries ago.

Mexico earthquake reveals lost ancient temple inside the pyramid

Mexico earthquake reveals lost ancient temple inside the pyramid

The remains of the great pyramid of Teopanzolco have long offered visitors to the southern Mexican site unique insights into the structure’s inner workings while simultaneously conjuring visions of the intricate temples that once arose from its series of bases and platforms.

Today, remnants of twin temples—to the north, a blue one dedicated to the Aztec rain god Tláloc, and to the south, a red one dedicated to the Aztec sun god Huitzilopochtli—still top the pyramid’s central platform, joined by parallel staircases.

Although archaeologists have intermittently excavated the Teopanzolco site since 1921, it took a deadly 7.1 magnitude earthquake to unveil one of the pyramid’s oldest secrets: an ancient shrine buried about six-and-a-half feet below Tláloc’s main temple.

According to BBC News, scientists from Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) discovered the temple while scanning the pyramid for structural issues.

The earthquake, which struck central Mexico on September 19, 2017, caused “considerable rearrangement of the core of [the pyramid’s] structure,” INAH archaeologist Bárbara Konieczna said in a statement.

For local news outlet El Sol de Cuernavaca, Susana Paredes reports that some of the most serious damage occurred in the upper part of the pyramid, where the twin temples are located; the floors of both structures had sunk and bent, leaving them dangerously destabilized.

The discovery was made at the Teopanzolco pyramid in Cuernavaca

To begin recovery efforts, archaeologists created wells in the temple dedicated to Tláloc and a corridor separating the two temples.

During this work, the team unearthed a previously unknown structure, which featured a similar architectural style—double facade walls covered in elongated stones and stucco-encased slabs—to that of the existing Tláloc temple.

In the statement, Konieczna notes that the temple would have measured about 20 feet by 13 feet and was probably dedicated to Tláloc, just like the one located above it. It’s possible that a matching temple dedicated to Huitzilopochtli lies on the opposite side of the newly located one, buried by later civilizations’ architectural projects.

The humidity of the Morelos region had damaged the temple’s stucco walls, according to a press release, but archaeologists were able to save some of the remaining fragments.

Below the shrine’s stuccoed floors, they found a base of tezontle, a reddish volcanic rock widely used in Mexican construction, and a thin layer of charcoal. Within the structure, archaeologists also discovered shards of ceramic and an incense burner.

Paredes of El Sol de Cuernavaca notes that the temple likely dates to about 1150 to 1200 C.E. Comparatively, the main structure of the pyramid dates to between 1200 and 1521, indicating that later populations built over the older structures.

The Teopanzolco site originated with the Tlahuica civilization, which founded the city of Cuauhnahuac (today is known as Cuernavaca) around 1200, as G. William Hood chronicles for Viva Cuernavaca. During the 15th century, the Tlahuica people were conquered by the Aztecs, who, in turn, took over the construction of the Teopanzolco pyramids.

Following the 16th-century arrival of the Spanish conquistadors, the project was abandoned, leaving the site untouched until its 1910 rediscovery by Emiliano Zapata’s revolutionary forces.

9,900-year-old Mexican female skeleton distinct from other early Native American settlers

9,900-year-old Mexican female skeleton distinct from other early Native American settlers

According to a research published at PLOS ONE on the 5th February 2020 by Wolfgang Stinnesbeck of the University of Heidelberg, the new skeleton discovered in the submerged caves of Tulum sheds light on the earliest settlers in Mexico.

9,900-year-old Mexican female skeleton distinct from other early Native American settlers
Underwater exploration of Chan Hol Cave, near Tulum, Mexico. Credit: Eugenio Acevez.

Humans have been living in Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula since at least the Late Pleistocene (126,000-11,700 years ago).

We also discovered much of the earliest Mexican settlers from nine well-preserved human skeletons found in the submerged caves and sinkholes near Tulum in Quintana Roo, Mexico.

Here, Stinnesbeck and colleagues describe a new, 30 percent-complete skeleton, ‘Chan Hol 3’, found in the Chan Hol underwater cave within the Tulum cave system.

The authors used a non-damaging dating method and took craniometric measurements, then compared her skull to 452 skulls from across North, Central, and South America as well as other skulls found in the Tulum caves.

The analysis showed Chan Hol 3 was likely a woman, approximately 30 years old at her time of death, and lived at least 9,900 years ago.

Her skull falls into a mesocephalic pattern (neither especially broad or narrow, with broad cheekbones and a flat forehead), like the three other skulls from the Tulum caves used for comparison; all Tulum cave skulls also had tooth caries, potentially indicating a higher-sugar diet.

This contrasts with most of the other known American crania in a similar age range, which tend to be long and narrow, and show worn teeth (suggesting hard foods in their diet) without cavities.

Though limited by the relative lack of archeological evidence for early settlers across the Americas, the authors suggest that these cranial patterns suggest the presence of at least two morphologically different human groups living separately in Mexico during this shift from the Pleistocene to the Holocene (our current epoch).

The authors add: “The Tulúm skeletons indicate that either more than one group of people reached the American continent first, or that there was enough time for a small group of early settlers who lived isolated on the Yucatán peninsula to develop a different skull morphology.

The early settlement history of America thus seems to be more complex and, moreover, to have occurred at an earlier time than previously assumed.”