Octavio del Rio said he and fellow diver Peter Broger found the cracked skull and skeleton partially covered by sediment in a cave near where the Mexican government plans to build a high-speed tourist train through the forest.
Because of the distance from the cave entrance, the skeleton couldn’t have been there without modern diving equipment so it must be more than 8,000 years old, Del Rio said, referring to a time when rising sea levels flooded the cave
“That’s it. We don’t know if the body was deposited there or if this person died there,” said Del Rio.
He said the skeleton was located about 26 feet underwater, about one-third of a mile into the cave system.
Some of the oldest human remains in North America have been discovered in sinkhole caves known as cenotes on the country’s Caribbean coast, and experts say some of those caves are threatened by the Mexican government. Maya Train tourism project.
Del Rio, who has worked with the National Institute of Anthropology and History on projects in the past, said he notified the institute of the discovery.
The institute did not immediately respond to questions about whether it intends to explore the site.
But Del Rio said Tuesday that the institute’s archaeologist Carmen Rojas told him that the site has been registered and will be investigated by the institute’s Quintana Roo state branch Holocene Archeology Project.
He said the cave – whose location he did not disclose for fear the site could be looted or disturbed – is near where the government cut down a section of forest to lay railway tracks, and could collapse, become contaminated or close the building project and subsequent development.
“A lot more studies need to be done to properly interpret” the find, Del Rio said, noting that “dating, some kind of photographic study and some collection” will be needed to determine exactly how long the plot is. .
Del Rio has explored the region for three decades and, in 2002, participated in the discovery and cataloging of the remains known as The Woman of Naharon, who died at the same time, or perhaps earlier, than Naia — the nearly complete skeleton of a young woman who died about 13,000 years ago.
It was discovered in a nearby cave system in 2007.
President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is racing to finish his Maya Train project in the remaining two years of his term over objections from environmentalists, cave divers and archaeologists.
They said his haste would leave little time to study the ancient remains.
Activists say the heavy, high-speed rail project will destroy the coastal forest and often run above fragile limestone caves, which – because they are flooded, winding and often impenetrable -conceived narrowness – can take decades to explore.
The caves on the shore side have been damaged by construction on top of them, with concrete piles used to support the weight above.
The 950-mile Maya Train line is meant to run in a rough loop around the Yucatan Peninsula, connecting beach resorts and archaeological sites.
The most controversial stretch traverses a more than 68-mile swath of forest between the resorts of Cancun and Tulum.
Del Rio said the jungle route should be abandoned and the train should be built over the damaged coastal highway between Cancun and Tulum, as originally planned.
Lopez Obrador abandoned the highway route after hotel owners voiced objections and raised concerns over costs and traffic disruptions.
“What we want is for them to move the route in this area, because of the archaeological discoveries made there, and their importance,” said Del Rio.
“They should take the train out of there and put it where they said they were going to build it, on the highway … an area that was already affected, destroyed.”