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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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