A group of divers have connected two underwater caverns in eastern Mexico to reveal what is believed to be the biggest flooded cave on the planet, a discovery that could help shed new light on the ancient Maya civilisation.
The Gran Acuifero Maya (GAM), a project dedicated to the study and preservation of the subterranean waters of the Yucatan peninsula, said the 347-kilometre cave was identified after months of exploring a maze of underwater channels.
Near the beach resort of Tulum, the group found that the cave system known as Sac Actun, once measured at 263 km (163 miles), communicated with the 83 km- (52 km-) Dos Ojos system, the GAM said in a statement. For that reason, Sac Actun now absorbs Dos Ojos.
The Yucatan peninsula of Mexico is studded with monumental relics of the Maya people, whose cities drew upon an extensive network of sinkholes linked to subterranean waters known as cenotes.
"It gives us enormous and wonderful perspective in understanding the leaders of ancient settlements, how they (ancient) Mayans could develop. It allows us to understand more clearly rituals, pilgrimage sites and finally the great pre-hispanic settlements that we know of which run along this (cave) system," said Guillermo de Ana, archaeologist and director of the Gran Acuifero Maya.
Some cenotes acquired particular religious significance to the Maya, whose descendants continue to inhabit the region.