By Fabio Esteban Amador
Explorers have discovered what might be the oldest evidence of humans in the Americas.
Alex Alvarez, Franco Attolini, and Alberto (Beto) Nava are members of PET (Projecto Espeleológico de Tulum), an organization that specializes in the exploration and survey of underwater caves on the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico.
Alex, Franco and Beto have surveyed tens of thousands of feet of mazelike cave passages in the state of Quintana Roo. The team's relatively recent explorations of a large pit named Hoyo Negro (Black Hole, in Spanish), deep within a flooded cave, resulted in their breathtaking and once-in-a-lifetime discovery of the remains of an Ice Age mastodon and a human skull at the very bottom of the black abyss.
After trekking through the jungle, carrying multiple scuba cylinders, and traveling thousands of feet inside the Aktun-Hu cave system, PET/GUE Member Alex Alvarez discovered a human skull. Photo by Daniel Riordan-Araujo
Beto recalls the amazing day of the discovery of Hoyo Negro.
"We started the exploration while following the main tunnel and progressed relatively fast by using scooters to cover more terrain.
"After about 1,500 feet [450 meters] we began to see the light of another entrance, so we headed towards it and surfaced.
"After taking a moment to chat and laugh about what a great dive we were having, we dropped down to continue the work.
"After about 400 feet [120 meters] the tunnel narrowed to form a circular shape, almost like a huge cement pipe. I made one tie-off and, while waiting for Franco to complete his surveying effort, I took a good look at the strangely shaped tunnel.
"All I could see was the whiteness of the cave walls along the sides, and beyond that it was all black. I thought to myself that this is either the largest tunnel I have seen or there is something unusual at the end of it.
"After Franco caught up, we continued for another 200 feet [60 meters] and eventually reached the end of the tube-shaped tunnel. To our surprise the floor disappeared and all we could see was blackness in all directions. It felt like we had reached a big drop-off or the edge of a canyon wall.
"We tried to slow down our heart rates as we were not really sure of what to do next."