For two nights at the end of August, Casa-Cem’s modest “conversation salon” was filled beyond capacity by Tapatios anxious to see photos and videos of the dramatic discovery of the oldest human skeleton ever found on the American continent.
The crowds quickly learned that the presenter, Roberto Chávez, co-director of Proyecto Arqueológico Subacuático Hoyo Negro, was just as interesting as the audio visuals and quite willing to answer the audience’s many questions well beyond the limits of the programmed time slot. “This was a marvelous presentation about an extraordinary discovery made in Mexico,” said biologist Rodrigo Orozco, “but the greatest surprise was that hardly a soul in the room had ever heard about it.”
All the excitement was over a discovery made in the Aktun-Hu Cave System in 2007 by Alejandro “Alex” Álvarez, Alberto “Beto” Nava and Franco Attolini, members of PET (Projecto Espeleológico de Tulum), an organization that specializes in the exploration and survey of underwater caves on the Yucatan Peninsula. For years, these scuba divers have been systematically mapping Quintana Roo’s water-filled caves (to the tune of over 220 kilometers of passages to date). Cave diver Beto Nava recalled the day a routine mapping trip made history:
“We started the exploration while following the main tunnel and progressed relatively fast by using scooters to cover more terrain. After about 450 meters we began to see the light of another entrance, so we headed towards it and surfaced. After taking a moment to chat and laugh about what a great dive we were having, we dropped down to continue the work.