A prehistoric human skeleton has been unearthed in a cenote in an area where the Mexican government plans to build a high-speed train track through the jungle.
The remains were found by Octavio del Rio and Peter Broger diving in a flooded cave system near Tulum on Mexico’s Caribbean coast.
The caves were flooded after the end of the last Ice Age more than 8,000 years ago and the skeleton was found deep inside the system.
Local divers and conservationists are campaigning to stop the development of the Tren Maya train route. The $9.8 billion project will connect the towns around the Yucatán Peninsula, carrying more than 40,000 passengers a day. According to reports, the United Nations predicts the train will create one million new jobs and double economic growth in the region.
The line is set to run close to the coast between Cancun and Tulum via Playa del Carmen. This will take its construction directly over the Sacactun Cave System, the largest freshwater aquifer in Mexico and the second-longest underwater cave system in the world.
Divers fear that the project will crush the cave system and the iconic cenotes as the train lines are driven across the soft limestone rocks of the surrounding area. There is also great concern that runoff from Tren Maya’s construction and operation will have a detrimental effect on the Riviera Maya’s famous coral reefs.
Mr del Rio, who has worked with the National Institute of Anthropology and History on projects in the past, said he has notified the institute of the discovery and hopes it will investigate his find.
He said the cave – whose location he did not reveal because of a fear the site could be looted or disturbed – was near where the government has cut down a swath of jungle to lay train tracks, and could be collapsed, contaminated or closed off by the building project and subsequent development.
‘There is a lot more study that has to be done in order to correctly interpret’ the find, Mr del Rio said, noting that ‘dating, some kind of photographic studies and some collection’ would be needed to determine exactly how old the skeleton is.
Mr del Rio has been exploring the region for three decades and, in 2002, he participated in the discovery and cataloguing of remains known as The Woman of Naharon, the nearly complete skeleton of a young woman who died around 13,000 years ago.