The 81st Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2012)

A potential Late Pleistocene human skeleton in Hoyo Negro, a submerged cave site in Quintana Roo, Mexico


1Applied Paleoscience, Bothell WA, 2Waitt Institute, La Jolla CA, 3Subdireccion de Arqueologia Subacuatica, Instituto Nacional de Antropologia e Historia, Mexico, 4Bay Area Underwater Explorers, CA

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Human remains found in the submerged cave systems of the Yucatan Peninsula are providing a unique opportunity for Paleoindian research. One such skeleton lies in Hoyo Negro, a 60-meter deep pit at the end of a submerged tunnel of the Aktun Hu Cave System. In 2007 and 2010 cave explorers also discovered fire pits in the tunnel floor, rope marks in the pit rim, and a proboscidian skeleton only a few meters from the human. The below-sea-level elevation of the tunnel floor, fact that the pit is 180 meters upstream of the nearest opening, and similar condition of human and proboscidian remains indicate the skeletons may both date to the late Pleistocene.

Inspection of underwater videos and high-resolution still photographs has been conducted to inventory and assess the human skeleton, which includes a complete cranium and mandible, vertebrae, ribs, one os coxae, and the longbones of both arms, in exceptional condition. They represent a female that third-molar development, recent epiphyseal union in the humerus, and lack of fusion in the basilar suture and iliac crest show died at between 16 and 18 years. The un-deformed cranium exhibits the relatively elongated neurocranium, narrow, projecting upper face and prognathism common in Paleoamerican females. Minimally worn teeth show a mix of traits found in other Paleoamericans.

Continuing research by an INAH-affiliated interdisciplinary team includes minimal sampling and noninvasive in-situ two and three-dimensional imaging to date the remains and provide additional osteological, morphometric, and genetic data for comparison with other early Americans.

This research was conducted under the auspices of the Subdireccion de Arqueologia Subacuatica of INAH.

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