Ancient skeleton found in Mexico cave threatened by train

Ancient skeleton found in Mexico cave threatened by train

MEXICO CITY (AP) – A prehistoric human skeleton was found in a cave system that was flooded at the end of the last ice age 8,000 years ago, according to a speleological archaeologist on Mexico’s Caribbean coast.

Archaeologist Octavio del Rio said he and fellow diver Peter Broger saw the shattered skull and skeleton partly covered in sediment in a cave near where the Mexican government plans to build a high-speed tourist train across the river. jungle.

Given the distance from the cave entrance, the skeleton couldn’t have gotten there without modern diving equipment, so it must be over 8,000 years old, Del Rio said, referring to the era when sea level rise flooded the caves. .

“There it is. We don’t know if the body was deposited there or if that’s where this person died,” Del Rio said. He said the skeleton was about 8 meters (26 feet) underwater, about half a mile kilometer (one third of a mile) in the cave system.

Some of North America’s oldest human remains have been discovered in sinkhole caves known as “cenotes” on the country’s Caribbean coast, and experts say some of these caves are threatened by the Mexican government’s Maya Train tourism project.

Del Rio, who has previously collaborated with the National Institute of Anthropology and History on projects, said he informed the institute of the discovery. The institute did not immediately respond to questions about whether it intended to explore the site.

But Del Rio said Tuesday that institute archaeologist Carmen Rojas told him the site was registered and would be studied by the institute’s Quintana Roo state branch Holocene Archeology Project.

He pointed out that the cave – the location of which he did not disclose for fear that the site could be looted or disturbed – was close to where the government cut down a strip of jungle to lay train tracks and could have collapsed, contaminated or closed by the building project and subsequent development.

“There is a lot more study that needs to be done to interpret the find correctly,” Del Rio said, noting that “appointments, some sort of photographic studies and some collections would be needed” to determine exactly how old the skeleton is.

Del Rio 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 around the same time, or perhaps earlier, as Naia, the almost complete skeleton of a young woman. woman who died about 13,000 years ago. It was discovered in a nearby cave system in 2007.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is racing to complete his Maya Train project in the remaining two years of his term, despite objections from conservationists, cavers and archaeologists. They say his haste will leave little time to study the ancient remains.

Activists say the heavy high-speed rail project will fragment the coastal jungle and often flow over the fragile limestone caves, which, because they are flooded, winding and often incredibly narrow, can take decades to explore.

The caves along part of the coast have already been damaged by the construction above them, with concrete poles used to support the weight on top.

The 950-mile (1,500-kilometer) Maya train line is meant to run in a bumpy loop around the Yucatan Peninsula, connecting seaside resorts and archaeological sites.

The most controversial stretch cuts a swath of over 68 miles (110 kilometers) through the jungle between the resorts of Cancun and Tulum.

Del Rio said the path through the jungle should be abandoned and the train should be built on the already affected coastal highway between Cancun and Tulum, as originally planned.

López Obrador abandoned the motorway route after hotel owners objected and cost and traffic disruptions became a concern.

“What we want is for them to change course at this point, due to the archaeological finds that have been made there and their importance,” Del Rio said. “They should take the train out of there and put it where they said they would build before, on the highway … an area that has already been hit, devastated.”

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