5 Facts about the Cenotes of Yucatán

The mysterious cenotes of Yucatán are natural sinkholes found on the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico. They are the result of collapsed bedrock, exposing the hidden pools of groundwater underneath the soil. It’s another Friday morning*, so it’s time for 5 more facts about the Cenotes of Yucatán:

1. Sacred to the Mayans

Cenotes were a vital part of life to the Mayans. There are very few rivers and lakes in Yucatán, so the sinkholes were their primary water source. This is why we often find the remains of major Maya settlements close to cenotes, like Chichén Itzá. The Mayan word for cenotes is “dzonot”, meaning deep and abysmal. The Mayans believed that some of these natural wells were the gateways to the underworld or afterlife.

2. Human Sacrifice

Since Mayans thought cenotes were sacred, they often threw valuable items into the water as sacrificial offers. These sacrifices to the Mayan rain deity Chaac weren’t always limited to things, as some tribes even sacrificed live humans. During underwater explorations of the Segrado Cenote (Sacred Cenote) at Chichen Itzá, archaeologists found the remains of several human bodies, including males, females, and children.

3. 6000 Cenotes in Yucatán alone

Estimations indicate there should be over 6000 cenotes in Yucatán alone. No wonder they were such a significant part of Mayan culture. There are currently only 2400 cenotes that were actually studied and registered. Five of the most well-known cenotes are Dos Ojos, Ik Kil, Zaci, Gran Cenote and Segrado Cenote.

4.  Cave Diving

Nowadays, cenotes are major tourist destinations. Many like to take a quick dip in the sparkly blue water, but cave diving has also become a popular activity. Technically, cenotes are considered “caverns”, so cave diving does not require an official diving certification. However, accidents do happen and cenotes can be very claustrophobic. The Ik Kil cenote was a stop on the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series in 2010 and 2011.

5. UNESCO Underwater Cultural Heritage

Sites like the Sacred Cenote are protected by the UNESCO treaty of the Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage. This convention from 2001 aims to protect all traces of human existence having a cultural, historical, or archaeological character, which have been under water for at least 100 years.

*Note: From now on, 5 Facts Friday will be a biweekly feature (every two weeks).

Sources: [1] [2] [3] [4]
Photos by: Vincente Villamón (Creative Commons), Adam Baker (Creative CommonsLara Danielle (Creative Commons).

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