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Giant Sloth Fossils, Mayan Relics Discovered in World's Largest Flooded Cave
Archaeologists exploring the world's largest flooded cave—discovered last month just outside of Tulum, Mexico—have found an impressive treasure trove of relics.
The vast, 216-mile cave actually connects two of the largest flooded cave systems in the world, the 164-mile-long Sistema Sac Actun and the 52-mile-long Dos Ojos system. Aside from an extensive reserve of freshwater and rich biodiversity, the cave also contains an 11-mile-long, 66-food-deep cavern dubbed "the mother of all cenotes." Cenotes are natural pits, or underwater sinkholes, that are often holy sites in ancient Mayan culture.
Since its discovery, the cave explorers have uncovered an elaborate shrine dedicated to the Mayan god of commerce with a staircase accessed through a sinkhole in the middle of the jungle, AFP reported.
They also found human remains dating back at least 9,000 years, and the bones of extinct animals such as giant sloths, bears and gomphotheres—an ancient elephant-like animal—that roamed Earth during the last Ice Age (the Pleistocene period).
According to Mexico's National Anthropology and History Institute (INAH), water levels in the region rose 100 meters (330 feet) at the end of the Ice Age, flooding the cave system and leading to "ideal conditions for the preservation of the remains of extinct megafauna from the Pleistocene."
"It is very unlikely that there is another site in the world with these characteristics. There is an impressive amount of archaeological artifacts inside, and the level of preservation is also impressive," said De Anda, a researcher at INAH.
"I think it's overwhelming. Without a doubt it's the most important underwater archaeological site in the world," said Guillermo de Anda who is also director of the Gran Acuifero Maya, a project dedicated to the study and preservation of the subterranean waters of the Yucatan peninsula.
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Poverty and violence in Central America are major factors driving migration to the United States. But there's another force that's often overlooked: climate change.
Retired Lt. Cmdr. Oliver Leighton Barrett is with the Center for Climate and Security. He says that in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, crime and poor economic conditions have long led to instability.
"And when you combine that with protracted drought," he says, "it's just a stressor that makes everything worse."
Barrett says that with crops failing, many people have fled their homes.
"These folks are leaving not because they're opportunists," he says, "but because they are in survival mode. You have people that are legitimate refugees."
So Barrett supports allocating foreign aid to programs that help people in drought-ridden areas adapt to climate change.
"There are nonprofits that are operating in those countries that have great ideas in terms of teaching farmers to use the land better, to harvest water better, to use different variety of crops that are more resilient to drought conditions," he says. "Those are the kinds of programs I think are needed."
So he says the best way to reduce the number of climate change migrants is to help people thrive in their home countries.
Reporting credit: Deborah Jian Lee / ChavoBart Digital Media.
Reposted with permission from Yale Climate Connections.
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