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De Anda, who leads the Great Maya Aquifer Project (GAM), suggests people probably didn't actually live in the branching underwater cave – called the Sac Actun System – but ventured inside it during periods of great climate stress to search for water.
But their culture and the caves were nonetheless inextricably linked, with the divers finding numerous examples of Maya-era pottery and other ceramics such as wall etchings, but also evidence of larger artefacts, such as a shrine to the Maya god of commerce and a staircase structure inside one cenote.
When they didn't have staircases, descending into the world's largest underwater cave could be dangerous – the amount of bones the cavern holds suggests not everybody was able to climb back out again, and the same fate may have been true for many animals.
Inside the cave, researchers found fossils of numerous creatures from the last Ice Age, including giant sloths and bears, as well as the remains of an extinct elephant-like animal called a gomphothere.