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Exploring Mayan Underworld

A National Geographic documentary revealed the geological enigmas that specialists from Mexico and the United States found in underground passages
Photo: Courtesy of National Geographic
23/06/2017
14:40
Abida Ventura
Playa del Carmen
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In the rainforest's underground, about 3 miles (5 km) to the south of the city Playa del Carmen in the state of Quintana Roo, hides a cave labyrinth, the geological formations of which have presented clues to understanding climate change and the possible cause for the Mayan civilization collapse.

This underground passage discovered by amateur divers and speleologists 25 years ago (when the Cancún-Tulum highway was built) is known as Río Secreto (Secret River) and it protects valuable geological information which has allowed specialists from Mexico and the United States to reconstruct weather's evolution, like the change in rain registered for 330 thousand years and confirm that the Mayan civilization collapse, in the 9th century, is related to the decrease of rains.

The key was contained in a stalagmite, named Itzamna (the Mayan God of creation). Its analysis through oxygen isotopes, provided to a group of experts, led by geologist Martín Medina-Elizalde, a researcher at the Auburn University in Alabama, the records to knowing the evolution of climate between 1.500 BC and 500 AD.

“We found 12 rain periods related to the development of Pre-Classic settlements (2.000 BC – 100 AD). We observed that these Mayan settlements flourished when there was rain and when droughts occurred, they were abandoned,” said to EL UNIVERSAL Fernanda Lases, a paleoclimatologist who, together with Medina-Elizalde, has monitored and analyzed this site since 2013.

The work and research these specialists have carried out in this cave, where the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) Quintana Roo has also registered archaeological remains, such as altars and pottery vessels, will be revealed by National Geographic in the documentary titled Mysteries of the Underworld, which will premiere on June 25, at 20 hours Mexico Central Time. The launch of the documentary was announced this week by National Geographic in the heart of Río Secreto, in the Salón de la Paz, an area that the ecological reserve adapted a few years ago for sightseeing and special events.

"Caves were sacred spaces for the Mayans, they deposited offerings in them, and Río Secreto is no exception," said archaeologist Carmen Rojas of INAH Quintana Roo.

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