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UNESCO awards Tulum Hoyo Negro Underwater project ‘Best Practices’

Tulum, Q. R. — The Hoyo Negro Underwater Archaeological Project in Tulum has been awarded “Best Practices” by UNESCO. The award was presented in Paris during a Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage convention.

The Hoyo Negro project is the fourth Mexican project to be awarded the distinction by the United Nations Educational Organization, Science and Culture (Unesco).

The designation was evaluated by the Scientific and Technical Advisory Council (STAB) of the 2001 Unesco Convention and based mainly on its contribution to research on prehistory in Mexico with a focus on the Peninsula of Yucatan, the study of its karstic systems, of the first settlers and the changes in the climate.

“Aspects such as in situ registration work stand out, which enables equal access to underwater cultural heritage, through its virtual enhancement with cutting-edge technology, as well as those linked to conservation and protection,” the INAH said in a statement.

“Regarding Mexioco, the PAS Hoyo Negro is the fourth Mexican project to receive this distinction. Previously, the Museum of Underwater Archeology (Marsub), Fort San José El Alto, in Campeche, the Underwater Cultural Heritage Project at Banco Chinchorro in Quintana Roo and the Underwater Cultural Heritage Project in the Nevado de Toluca in the State of Mexico, the latter in the category of Best Practices Archived by Unesco,” the federal agency added.

According to Helena Barba-Meinecke, the Mexico representative at the UNESCO Convention, Hoyo Negro represents a biocultural richness which allows paleontological research on animals that lived 40,000 to 10,000 years ago, in addition to being the place where the discovery of the human skeleton of “Naia” was recorded, the most complete skeleton and among the oldest recovered in the American continent.

The researcher, head of the Yucatan Peninsula Underwater Archeology Office of the INAH SAS, pointed out that this recognition positions Mexico before the world as a nation committed to safeguarding the submerged biocultural heritage.

“The virtual accessibility that the public has regarding scientific exploration is rewarded, as well as the work of more than 50 researchers from Mexico, the United States, Canada and Denmark, who have participated in the project,” she commented.

UNESCO awards Tulum Hoyo Negro Underwater project 'Best Practices'
Proyecto Arqueológico Subacuático Hoyo Negro (Hoyo Negro Cenote Project) Photo: INAH June 14, 2023.

The Hoyo Negro cenote, 62 meters in diameter and 55 meters deep, was discovered in 2007 by cave divers Alejandro Álvarez, Alberto Nava Blank and Franco Attolini.

The research project, by the SAS, began in 2011, under the leadership of the archaeologist Pilar Luna Erreguerena, handed over to the archaeologist Barba-Meinecke, in 2019. Doctors James C. Chatters and Dominique Rissolo participate as co-directors, and the cave divers scientists Nava Blank and Robert Chávez.

In the different seasons of work, throughout 10 years, findings have been reported such as “Naia”, whose skeleton corresponds to a young woman who died between 15 and 17 years of age and lived almost 13,000 years ago. Also, more than 50 species of animals that inhabited during the Upper Pleistocene were identified.

The remains of saber-toothed tiger, gomphothere, various species of sloths, including a new species of giant ground sloth, bears, armadillos, tapirs, among others, have also been found.

Of these species, eight are extinct and the rest have survived thanks to their adaptation to the environment.