The Vase in the Flooded Cave

Cave diving at the cenotes in Mexico is a magical experience, a never-ending labyrinth of tunnels filled with crystal-clear water where the only limit is how much gas you can carry. With no natural light, and the crazy speleothems (mineral deposits) and colours inside, it makes you feel like you are exploring a different planet. I became obsessed with diving and photographing these magical places, and the challenges posed by the combination of technical diving and photography in zero light conditions, while you are contending with limited gas and you may be hours away from the nearest exit.

In the photo you can see my dive buddy and cave diving instructor, Nicolas Casella, from CenoteXperience, shining a light on a large vase. The vase is situated relatively close to a cenote entrance in the Sac Actun cave system, the longest underwater river system in the world, covering over 368km, situated in the Quintana Roo municipality of Mexico. These caves in the Yucatán Peninsula flooded 6,000 to 8,000 years ago, after the last glaciation, preserving many early fossils and artefacts from the pre-ceramic period that would otherwise have been lost to time. However, researchers from the Great Maya Aquifer project suggest that water levels may have fluctuated over time, as the caves also contain a number of Mayan artefacts, perhaps left behind as ritual offerings. We cannot be certain, but that may be the case for the vase shown here.

This photo was taken during a series of exploration dives and photogrammetry sessions carried out in 2021, exploring the archaeology in the flooded caves. You can see the photogrammetry of the vase here:

This image was chosen as the winner of the CWA Photo of the Year 2022 competition (sponsored by Hidden History Travel). You can see the runners-up here: CWA Photo of the Year 2022

Text: Martin Broen & Amy Brunskill
Image: Martin Broen
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