TULUM, Mexico – In a groundbreaking discovery within the walled area of Tulum, Quintana Roo, the federal Secretariat of Culture, through the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), unearthed the entrance to a cave sealed with a large rock. This revelation occurred during the clearance work for a new trail between buildings 21 (Temple of the Columns) and 25 (Temple of the Halach Uinic) under the auspices of the Archaeological Improvement Program (Promeza).
Lead archaeologist, José Antonio Reyes Solís, revealed that a marine snail adorned the front wall of the cave, attached with stucco by pre-Hispanic Maya as a decorative element. “Upon removing the rock sealing the entrance, we observed that it was splitting the skeletal remains of an individual, leaving the lower part outside and the upper part within.”
As the exploration progressed, Reyes Solís stated that the cave’s topography revealed at least two small chambers, one to the south and one to the north, measuring no more than 3 meters in length, 2 meters in width, and an average height of 50 centimeters. Eight burials have been recorded within these chambers, primarily adults, remarkably well-preserved due to the ambient conditions inside. The osteological materials are under analysis by Allan Ortega Muñoz, head of the Physical Anthropology Department at the INAH Quintana Roo laboratory.
The exploration also uncovered a plethora of animal remains associated with the burials. Preliminary identification by fauna specialists Jerónimo Avilés and Cristian Sánchez revealed a diverse array, including mammals (domestic dog, mouse, opossum, bloodsucking bat, white-tailed deer, agouti, nine-banded armadillo, tapir, peccary); birds from various orders; reptiles (loggerhead sea turtle, terrestrial turtle, iguana); fish (tiger shark, barracuda, grouper, drum fish, pufferfish, eagle ray); crustaceans (crab and barnacles); mollusks (snail); and amphibians (frog). Some bones exhibit cut marks, while others are crafted into tools like punches, needles, or fan handles, characteristic of the region.
Despite the abundance of Late Postclassic (1200-1550 AD) ceramic fragments associated with these burials, only three individuals are directly linked to a small Papacal Incised mortar with hollow semi-globular supports. Restoration specialist Carolina Segura Carrillo, part of the Tulum Promeza conservation team under restorer Patricia Meehan Hermanson’s guidance, oversees the intervention on this ceramic element.
Archaeologist Antonio Reyes Solís acknowledged the challenges faced during the excavation due to the confined space, minimal lighting, elevated temperature, and humidity, compounded by insects inhabiting the cave. However, the application of cutting-edge technologies such as laser scanners and high-resolution photography has facilitated the preservation of the cave and its archaeological elements. This technological leap enables the creation of detailed 3D models for further analysis and processing of field data.
These virtual products of the archaeological context will provide an opportunity to continue research and present a virtual tour of the cave’s interior to the public. With digital viewers or mobile applications, observers can explore the in-situ context of archaeological materials. Field investigations will persist throughout the remainder of the year.