A cenote is a natural pit, or sinkhole, resulting from the collapse of limestone bedrock that exposes groundwater underneath. Especially associated with the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico, cenotes were sometimes used by the ancient Maya for sacrificial offerings.
In 2001–2002 expeditions led by Arturo H. González and Carmen Rojas Sandoval in the Yucatán discovered three human skeletons; one of them, Eve of Naharon, was carbon-dated to be 13,600 years old. In March 2008, three members of the Proyecto Espeleológico de Tulum and Global Underwater Explorers dive team, Alex Alvarez, Franco Attolini, and Alberto Nava, explored a section of Sistema Aktun Hu known as the pit Hoyo Negro. At a depth of 57m the divers located the remains of a mastodon and a human skull that might be the oldest evidence of human habitation in the region.
The Yucatán Peninsula has almost no rivers and only a few lakes, and those are often marshy. The widely distributed cenotes are the only perennial source of potable water and have long been the principal sources of water in much of the region. Major Maya settlements required access to adequate water supplies, and therefore cities, including the famous Chichen Itza, were built around these natural wells. Some cenotes like the Sacred Cenote in Chichen Itza played an important role in Maya rites. Believing that these pools were gateways to the afterlife, the Maya sometimes threw valuable items into them.
The discovery of golden sacrificial artifacts in some cenotes led to the archaeological exploration of most cenotes in the first part of the 20th century. Edward Herbert Thompson, an American diplomat who had bought the Chichen Itza site, began dredging the Sacred Cenote there in 1904. He discovered human skeletons and sacrificial objects confirming a local legend, the Cult of the Cenote, involving human sacrifice to the rain god Chaac by ritual casting of victims and objects into the cenote.
Follow photographer Alex Voyer & Marianne to their recent trip at Yucatan and experience Mexico's dark & magical cenotes through this magnificent video.