Divers along the Caribbean coast of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula have discovered what appears to be one of the oldest human skeletons in the Americas. Arturo Gonzalez said his team from Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History have just made public the discoveries in 2001 and 2002 of at least three skeletons.
Gonzalez posits that the bones must pre-date the time that waters gradually seeped through the caves 8,000 to 9,000 years ago, as the Ice Age glaciers melted and sea level rose by about 400 feet worldwide. Indeed, tests on charcoal found beside one female skeleton seem to support this, placing it at least 10,000 years ago. The discovery helps prove that humans inhabited the Yucatan at least 5,000 years before the famed Maya culture began building monuments at sites such as nearby Tulum. Gonzalez suggests the skeleton does not morphologically appear to be Mayan, but with no tools yet found, almost nothing is known of those first inhabitants.
The project began after Gonzalez, himself a long-time diver, heard other cave divers mention underwater skeletons. He set about convincing skeptical officials to finance a survey of the water holes that dot the Yucatan, a limestone shelf. The task of surveying the caves proved arduous. One of the skeletons was found 404 yards into a cave, more than 65 feet below sea level. It took repeated trips to record the sites and excavate the bones, which then required two years of preservation.
Team co-director Carmen Rojas told how the divers had 40 minutes to wind their way through the cave to the site, 20 minutes to work there and 40 minutes to swim back, followed by 20 to 60 minutes of decompression time. Clearly, their efforts have been worthwhile. To date, the Americas have only produced 25 bones or skeletons dated to over 8,000 years ago.

News – Nadia Durrani; nadia@archaeology.co.uk


This article is an extract from the full article published in World Archaeology Issue 7. Click here to subscribe

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