The waters of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, long considered a Mayan mystery, have always attracted the attention of archaeologists and researchers. And recent discoveries by a team of underwater archaeologists from Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) have only heightened that interest. While conducting research prior to planned construction work, the archaeologists discovered a submerged canoe in a cenote, a natural sinkhole on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. This discovery could be significant, as it points to a possible location that the Maya believed led to an otherworldly realm.
The canoe was surrounded by human and animal bones and was about 4.6 meters deep. Archaeologists found about 38 skeletal remains, including human bones, which probably belonged to a woman, as well as the remains of dogs, turkeys, eagles and armadillos. The presence of the bones of these mammals in the armadillo shell, combined with human remains, led archaeologists to speculate that the canoe was used for ritual purposes and was placed in the cave before it was flooded.
According to Maya beliefs, flooded and semi-flooded caves and cenotes were considered portals to the underworld. In addition, armadillos were considered an avatar of the chthonic Mayan god known as God L. He was depicted as a jaguar wearing a cloak imitating the armadillo shell. The armadillo’s ability to swim and hold its breath under water may be “an allusion to [the animal’s] entrance into the underworld,” archaeologists believe.
Research also indicates that armadillos had special significance in Mayan ritual practice. In Mayan pottery, images of armadillos look like “stools of the gods,” on which deities put their feet. Archaeologist Alexandra Biar of the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) believes that this is directly related to the archaeological evidence in the cenote, where armadillos may have been seen as a manifestation of the divine.
Despite all these interesting discoveries, however, archaeologists suggest caution in drawing conclusions. Samples taken from the submerged site contained microplastics that could affect the accuracy of the dating. Therefore, new dives are planned to take additional wood and bone samples.
This discovery of the sunken canoe and its connection to the underworld confirms the deep ritual and religious beliefs of the ancient Maya. It also opens up new horizons for exploring and understanding this fascinating civilization.