Researchers from Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) have announced the discovery of a remarkably well-preserved Mayan canoe in the depths of one of the Yucatán Peninsula’s many cenotes – sinkholes and vast underground pools formed by the collapse of the region’s limestone bedrock.
The canoe, measuring 1.6 metres by 80 centimetres, was found as part of an archaeological exploration of a site called San Andrés, near Chichen Itza, in preparation for the construction of the controversial Maya train line.
“While we were taking a break for decompression in the cenote, I noticed that five metres below the current water level, there was a dark imprint on the stone wall,” explains Helena Barba Meinecke, head of the INAH’s underwater archaeology unit.
It’s one of the most intact examples of a canoe of its kind ever discovered, according to the researchers.
“The relevance lies in the fact that it is the first canoe of this type that is complete and so well preserved in the Maya area,” they write in an INAH press release.
The canoe, which is estimated to date to between 830 CE to 950 CE, will undergo analysis to tease out its mysterious life history, but the researchers suspect the boat may have been used for ritual purposes, such as making offerings to the gods. Alternatively, it may have been used to gather water from the freshwater cenote.
This priceless vessel isn’t the only treasure to emerge from the dim depths of the San Andrés site’s cenote landscape, with other recent finds including skeletal remains, a mural on the walls of a cavern, broken pottery fragments and a ritual knife.
For this reason, the researchers believe the area was spiritually significant – a place the Maya came to commune with the spirits and conduct ceremony.
World Heritage–listed Chichen Itza was a vast, ancient city complex, a monumental Mayan site where culture thrived for 1000 years around the city’s iconic step pyramids. The city had deep ties to the surrounding cenote landscape, on which it depended for water – it was built close to two major cenotes, and the city’s name means ‘at the edge of the well of the Itzaes’.
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