In the Jaws of the Earth: Getting to the Bottom of Ancient Mayapán, Mexico

The Mayapán Taboo Cenote Project will undertake an extensive exploration of the underwater cave, Cenote Sac Uayum, to document 20+ submerged skeletons and artifacts. Team leader and National Geographic Grantee Bradley Russell will also investigate the modern belief that a supernatural power- a feathered serpent- guards the water within.


This summer I have the amazing opportunity to combine aerial laser mapping, ground survey and underwater exploration to expand what we know we know about the complex subterranean world below the Postclassic Maya political center of Mayapán (1100-1450AD).  The Mayapán Laser Mapping Project under the direction of Marilyn Masson (University at Albany), Timothy Hare (Morehead State University), Carlos Peraza Lope (INAH Centro Yucatan) and myself has produced a detailed, 3 dimensional, 40 square kilometer digital map of Mayapán and the surrounding area.  It has revealed more the 100 newly documented cenotes.

These sinkholes in the karst limestone were used by the ancient population as both secular sources of drinking water and as sacred accesses to the Maya underworld.  Many today still contain accessible water, some of it confined to small pools, some deep and only explored with dive gear.  Many contain ceramics, burials and other vestiges of ancient activity.

One of particular is of interest, Cenote Sac Uayum, is still considered sacred.  It is currently being explored under the auspices of the Mayapán Taboo Cenote Project under my direction with co-directors Carlos Peraza Lope (INAH Centro Yucatan) and Eunice Uc (INAH Centro Yucatan).  Work has just begun on the location. But, already we have documented a number of ancient burials and ceramics.

Please check back for regular updates.

For more on Mayapán and our work at the site since 2000, please visit:


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I am an archaeologist studying the ancient Maya culture. Since 2000 I have been working to expand our understanding of the Late Postclassic political capital of Mayapan, The city of thousands of structures was the dominant center of Maya civilization in the northern Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico for more than three hundred years (1100-1450AD) just prior to the arrival of Spaniards in the New World.