Archaeologists who were exploring the largest underwater cave system in the world have found ancient Mayan artifacts and fossils of extinct animals including giant sloths, an ancient elephant-like species called gomphotheres, and bears.

Archaeological Importance Of World's Largest Underwater Cave System

The Underwater Exploration Group of the Great Maya Aquifer Project (GAM) last month connected two of the world's largest flooded cave systems in Mexico, which made the Sac Actun System the largest cave system in the world.

GAM director Guíllermo de Anda, an underwater archaeologist, noted the archeological importance of the site.

"This immense cave represents the most important archaeological site in the world, since it has more than a hundred archaeological contexts, among which are evidence of the first settlers of America, as well as extinct fauna and, of course, the Mayan culture," de Anda said

On Monday, Feb. 19, Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History revealed that nearly 200 artifacts were found at the site, most of which appear to be from the ancient Mayan civilization.

de Anda said that the find can provide a better understanding of the development of the culture of the region, which was dominated by the Mayan civilization prior to the arrival of the Spanish.

"It allows us to appreciate much more clearly how the rituals, the pilgrimage sites and ultimately the great pre-Hispanic settlements that we know emerged," he said.

Mayan Civilization Artifacts

The divers found burnt humans bones, ceramics, and wall etchings. The explorers also discovered a shrine to the Mayan god of commerce along with a staircase that can be accessed through a sinkhole. Some of the bones appear to be at least 9,000 years old.

de Anda said that the humans found in the cave likely went down there during period of drought to find water. The Mayan artifacts suggest that a drought likely caused the water levels to plummet around 1,000 AD, which sent communities deeper insider the caves to look for water.

Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) said that at the end of the Ice Age, water levels rose 100 meters flooding the cave system, and this provided the ideal conditions that preserved the remains of the extinct animals 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 artefacts inside, and the level of preservation is also impressive," de Anda said.

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