Scuba divers taking part in an exploratory expedition into the mostly uncharted aquifers under the Yucatan Peninsula have discovered what they believe is the largest underwater cave system in the world. So far, the cave system stretches for at least 347 km (215 miles) and that just might be the tip of the iceberg.
The news was revealed last week when the team found a tunnel that links the 263 km (163 mile) Sac Actun cave system near Tulum with the 83 km (51 mile) Dos Ojos system. Up until now, the largest underwater cave was believed to be the Ox Bel Ha system, which stretches for more than 268 km (167 miles). That series of submerged caverns is also near Tulum.
When explorers find a link between two cave systems, the larger of the two absorbs the other, which means the Dos Ojos system will eventually disappear from maps, with just the Sac Actun remaining. And, these explorers aren’t done yet. They plan to continue searching for connecting tunnels to other caves in the area, hopefully linking three more. In total, there are at lest 358 cave systems in the region, covering more than 1400 km (870 miles)
Beyond just setting a record for the longest underwater cave, archaeologists expect to find rich evidence of the Mayan civilization in the aquifers as well. The Mayans believed that many of the cenotes and underground passageways that spiderweb across the Yucatan were sacred places, and often made pilgrimages to those caverns. Many settlements and temples were built over or next to what are now sinkholes, meaning much of what was there likely fell into the water and is waiting to be discovered.
It will probably take years to completely explore these caves and find Mayan artifacts under the water there. But, it is still a fascinating story to read about and ponder. This must be an amazing cave system to see in person. I’d love to catch a documentary about what it entails.
For more information check out this story from Nat Geo.
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