Mayan Underworld | JONATHAN BIRD’S BLUE WORLD


This time on Jonathan Bird’s Blue World,
Jonathan visits a submerged Mayan burial ground! Hi, I’m Jonathan Bird and welcome to my
world! 66 million years ago, an enormous asteroid
tumbled through space. Travelling ten times the speed of a rifle bullet, this celestial
missile was on a direct collision course with Earth. It smashed into Earth with such force that
it triggered powerful earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. The impact threw a cloud of dust
into the atmosphere, cooling the planet and killing the dinosaurs. The impact crater is located just north of
the Yucatan peninsula, in what is now Mexico. Around the outer ring of the crater, cracks
formed in the limestone, allowing groundwater to flow through, eroding into caves. When
a cave ceiling gets too thin and falls in, you get what is known as a cenote. The word
cenote was derived from the Mayan word ts’onot meaning “sacred well”–A source of water,
and an entrance to the caves. Fast forward to 2,000 years ago, the Maya
civilization dominated central America. They built their cities near the cenotes so they
had access to fresh water from what are essentially super clean underground rivers. Thanks to that asteroid, there are more cenotes
in this area than anyplace else in the world–thousands of them running along the rim of the ancient
crater. It’s an incredible place for some underwater exploration! To begin our adventure, Cameraman Todd and
I fly down to Merida, Mexico—a city surrounded by thousands of mostly unexplored cenotes. Our first stop, Freedom Divers, where I meet
owner Jeff Shaw, my host for underwater exploration. Jeff?
Jonathan! Hey, nice to meet you man! Nice to meet you!
Welcome to Merida! Thanks, ready to do some diving?
Let’s go hit some cenotes! All right, let’s go! We pile all our gear into Jeff’s pickup
truck and drive south. We stop along the way, to pick up his friend Aaron Diaz, a local
cave diving expert, and a few of his local guides—Elmer, Felipe and Carlos. We drive out into the bush and the road slowly
turns into barely more than a path. Eventually the guides get out and use machetes
to clear the brush for the truck. At last we reach cenote Sha-An and the guides
start setting up. Looking inside the cenote, I can tell you this, I would not want to fall
in there by accident. The surface of the water is 50 feet down and the only way out would
be climbing a tree root! But it’s absolutely breathtaking. This is going to be an adventure! Elmer, Felipe and Carlos are rigging some
ropes so that we can rappel down to the water. Meanwhile, the dive team is getting ready.
This is a full cave dive, with all the gear that requires, plus something extra. This is one of the unique pieces of gear we
are using today—something you don’t normally see scuba diving—a climbing harness. Ready
to go! With the ropes all set up, it’s time for
our team to rappel down into the cenote. Jeff goes first to demonstrate. Next it’s my turn. While I have never started
a dive with a rappel, I did learn to rappel in high school. So I can’t resist the urge
to show off a little. The trees that we are rappelling down are
actually roots. They don’t go down into the bottom. Once they reach the water, they
stop, with gap underneath that makes them look like anti-gravity trees! It takes a while to get everyone and their
gear down into the water. The divers can rappel, but all the tanks and cameras have to be lowered
carefully to us. Elmer, Felipe and Carlos are working hard! At last with all of our gear, we can follow
the beams of sunlight down into the cenote. In the middle of the cenote is a debris pile,
principally made of the rock that fell when the ceiling collapsed, opening this cave to
sunlight. But towards the edges of the cenote, it gets deeper. Aaron leads the way to a permanent
guideline into the cave. Soon we have passed into the cave, out of
sight of sunlight. We swim into a massive chamber, larger than
a basketball court. The water is crystal clear. At the back of the chamber, a passageway leads
into the wall. As I approach, Aaron suggests I go first to get some great shots without
anyone kicking up the silt. I slowly head inside, not sure what to expect.
This is what I love about cave diving—so much adventure exploring the unknown. And
there is something cool about swimming through a crack in the rock. I lead the way into a gorgeous passageway
that almost looks like a miniature riverbed, with pebbles paving the floor. The white limestone
walls reflect my video lights, making beautiful illumination. In a few minutes, we reach an intersection and
I’m not sure which way to go, so I stop and wait for Jeff and Aaron. Jeff gives us the “turn around” sign—this
is as far as we go today. Heading back out I hang back a ways to get
some shots of Jeff and Todd ahead of me. Working our way back towards the cavern, Aaron
removes a section of line he laid on the way in. Then we make our way back up into the
sunlit waters of the cavern. Jeff has found a cow bone in the debris pile.
It’s not hard to image an animal wandering through the woods and accidentally falling
into this deep pit. Near the bone, the skull, complete with a few remaining teeth. Finally we surface, and now the hard work
is about to begin. Woo hoo! To get us back out of the cenote, the guides
lower a rope ladder. We’re not sure this is going to work, but
hopefully it will because we’re not very good at climbing trees! It looks like it will be easy to climb, but
I assure you, it’s not. First Jeff heads up while Aaron tries to keep it tensioned
so it won’t flip around sideways. Next it’s my turn. By halfway up my arms are burning
from the effort. Then it’s Cameraman Todd’s turn. Having fun yet? Fifty feet from the surface of the water to
the top of this cenote seemed like an eternity when I was climbing up and my arms were burning,
but it was so worth it! That was the most amazing dive! Not all cenotes are small holes with water
way down inside. We take a walk through the woods to a cenote so large that it looks more
like a lake. And in a small town outside Merida we check
out the town well—which is just a cenote with a tiny opening. I would love to dive
in there, but they probably don’t want a scuba diver in their water supply. Even today,
the cenotes allow access to clean, fresh water. But to the Mayans, cenotes were not just sources
of water. Cenotes were also believed to be entrances
to the underworld–and therefore pathways to the Gods. In pre-Columbian times, the Maya people ruled
Central America. They built staggering cities, which included massive step-pyramids as temples
to the Maya gods. They performed rituals that they believed would keep the gods happy–to
insure their good fortune. The Mayans would often throw offerings into
the cenotes to please Cha’ac, the rain God. Sometimes those offerings included human sacrifices. Would it be possible to dive in a cenote used
by the Mayans for human sacrifices? That’s where we are going. Don’t go away! Jonathan’s about to explore
a spooky underwater burial ground. Our team is piling into the truck and driving
back out into the bush to visit a very special cenote used by the Mayans for human sacrifices. We arrive at Cenote San Antonio. The opening
was enlarged and reinforced at some point to be rectangular. But this tiny opening was
once an important place to the Mayans. So important that we had to get a special permit
to dive here. Once again our guides set up some pulleys
and rope to get us and our gear in and out of the cenote. It might be hard to believe, but this dive
is even more difficult than the last one. There is no room for error, we will only get
one shot at this. Our team suits up with only a vague idea of
what we are going to see on the other side of that tiny hole in the ground. We start with a meeting to discuss our plan. Because of the way this cenote was formed,
it is safer to be lowered into it rather than rappel. Aaron goes first. Once he gets down
there, I can see just how far down that is. I really don’t want to climb a rope ladder
out of this. As they lower me into the opening and through
to the other side, I am swinging in free space as I descend, spinning with the rope! I’m rock climbing! From down on the water, Aaron turns on a light
so I can see. The room in here is massive! The ceiling is like a dome. You could never
climb out. This cenote is a deadly trap for anything that falls, or is thrown inside. Once I’m in the water, I can see bats and
stalactites. Soon, the guides lower the rest of the team,
tanks, and cameras–one at a time. It’s a very slow process. By the time we
start our dive, I have been floating in the water more than half an hour. I’m curious
though, exactly how they are going to get me out of here! But for the time being, I am ready with a
camera, lots of lights and my natural curiosity. Aaron and Jeff lead us below. The sides of the cenote are covered in ancient
dripstone formations—formed probably during the last ice age when sea levels were lower
and this cenote was at least partially dry. The walls are made of sedimentary rock formed
from an ancient seabed. All kinds of shells are stuck in it, including this perfectly-formed
sea urchin skeleton. As we drop further, I focus my camera on a
jawbone. It’s the jaw of a horse, which probably fell in here by accident and drowned.
Nothing can escape this watery trap. Near the jaw, I find my first trace of a human
presence—a broken piece of pottery. I have to get my head around the fact that this is
a pre-Columbian artifact more than a thousand years old. Moving away from the walls and out into the
middle of the cenote, I find a bone. This is no horse bone—it’s a human tibia, the
lower leg bone. And near it, the femur. Humans are buried here. Not far away, a ghostly sight—a human skull
resting peacefully next to a perfectly intact earthen bowl. At this depth in fact there are human remains
almost everywhere I turn. Aaron directs me to a field of human remains
laying out on the sand on the sand in plain view. This skull has its jaw sitting nearby. Of course we don’t touch or disturb anything.
Not only is this a gravesite, it’s part of an ongoing archaeological study. We can
look but we definitely cannot touch. There are easily dozens of bodies at the bottom
of this cenote, and I have to wonder what was happening here. Were these people sacrificed
to the Gods? Or were they simply people who died and were buried here? What amazes me about this place is the preservation
of the bones, which are at least 1,000 years old. If only these bones could talk, what
would they tell us about life in the pre-Columbian Maya culture? Jeff and Aaron direct me to a shelf on the
wall at 90 feet. There, resting peacefully, the remains of two people. Did they know each
other? Is their proximity a coincidence? How did they get on this shelf? All questions
that will likely never be answered. Nearby, a jaw with molars that have cavities.
What can be learned of the ancient Mayans from clues like this? But not everything down here is about death.
This cenote has some of the most prolific cave fauna I have ever seen, including many
blind cavefish and a species of cave isopod I have never seen before. With the dive coming to an end, we slowly
ascend and finally surface into the pitch darkness of the cenote. That was the spookiest
dive of my life and I’m definitely ready to get back to the sunlit world above. Elmer, Felipe and Carlos have to lift each
of us, and all of our gear, out with a block and tackle. It’s hard work and these guys
are stronger than they look! Hi guys! Thanks for hoisting me up! Merida Mexico is not particularly close to
the ocean, but the vast network of unexplored cenotes nearby and the rich Mayan history
of the area makes it one of the most fascinating dive destinations I have ever visited. Without
question, I’ll be back to explore more cenotes. Who knows what secrets they hold in their
deep blue depths.

100 thoughts on “Mayan Underworld | JONATHAN BIRD’S BLUE WORLD

  1. Its only a matter of time till I get enrolled in a scuba diving lesson.There are so many interesting things to do and see 😀

  2. Mr Birds I want to volunteer a episode in your show. Please inform me if you want to consider me coming with you.

  3. I really interested watching your all videos so nice , I interesting to meet you and I love diving but not possible.

  4. I just put this on when I want to learn about water stuff or when my mum says I have to watch something educational lol Also how does not have 1mil or more subs? It’s crazy!! Keep up the good work Johnathon ?

  5. I can only imagine how scary it must be to be surrounded by dead people. Not only that but if they were sacrificed, the energy must of been out the room with negative entities roaming about.

  6. Hi this is new subscriber in Korea. I'm always interested in diving, archeology, history, earth science and biology. I found this channel today, but can't take my eyes off here. I should stop watching videos so many times but I can't ? I'm addicted. Thanks I can watch this kind of amazing quality video free. Hope you make a lot of videos forever?? Thank you and your team a lot?

  7. Wow! Thank you, dear Mr. Bird, I’ve been using your videos for exploring all kinds of diving, learning species of living things, practicing English listening and absorbing New acknowledge of Geology! Love so much! Like this one, now I know what is Cenote.?

  8. My moms side of the family comes from merida, and i remember going to the cenotes and the water being so beautiful, and what made it better was knowing my ancestors (yes, i have mayan ancestry) visted those locations

  9. It’s amazing how cenotes have crystal clear water and preserved bones of animals and humans and even artefacts made by humans many moons ago. Plus it’s beliefs by the Mayans fascinates me even more.

  10. Hi Jonathan 🙂 i have been watching your videos and they are amazing ! i just wanted to ask , i have heard like 3 times you mentioned pre colombian ? or you mean pre colonial ? 🙂 like before the European has arrived in Mexico ..anyway I just subscribed to your channel

  11. Definitely creepy but I'm amazed I would love to go diving in the ocean and caves but afraid the swim suits would be too tight and I'm claustrophobic I'm skinny too but something to tight I couldn't

  12. 10:39 you could've edited out the part where you stop being excited after saying how much fun the climb was even though tough

  13. You really do like exploring! But to me, I would not want to see things like that! They just give me the creeps. Also, it is different from land, worse, it has much more creepy things than a normal ocean!

  14. I think its water is really beautiful by it is so clear like a crystal! But there are tons of questions that have not been answered in the episode. It just give me creeps if I were to find out the answers… Also, could you make a Part 2 about you scuba diving here? I would love to see you scuba dive here again in these caves underwater.

  15. Now I see where the writers for 47 Meters Down: Uncaged got their inspiration. Great whites, this video, and I believe I saw a video for blind cave fish by you too?

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