The Hoyo Negro Project: Recent Investigations of a Submerged Paleoamerican Cave Site in Quintana Roo, Mexico

Part of: Society for American Archaeology 80th Annual Meeting, San Francisco, CA (2015)

The cenotes and underwater cave systems of the Yucatan Peninsula are emerging as one of the most promising frontiers for Paleoamerican studies. Following the end of the last glacial maximum, rising sea levels flooded the region's maze of underground passageways and preserved a diverse Late Pleistocene fossil assemblage. A relatively well preserved female human skeleton found in spatial association with the remains of now-extinct fauna the in submerged subterranean pit of Hoyo Negro presents a unique opportunity for interdisciplinary Paleoamerican and paleoenvironmental research in Quintana Roo, Mexico. The young woman's skeleton is the oldest, most complete yet found in the Americas. Investigations have thus far revealed a range of associated features and deposits, which make possible a multi-proxy approach to identifying and reconstructing the processes that have formed and transformed the site over millennia. Recent and ongoing studies involve osteological and taphonomic analyses; absolute dating of human, faunal, macrobotanical, and geological samples; human DNA analyses; and a consideration of site hydrogeology and sedimentological facies. Additionally, innovative recording and imaging techniques are enabling researchers to analyze deposits and their contexts with minimal impact to the site.

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  • Documents (7)

  • Calcite Rafts as a Proxy for Reconstructing Holocene Surface Water Conditions of Hoyo Negro: A Phreatic Coastal Karst Basin in Quintana Roo, Mexico (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Shawn Kovacs. Eduard Reinhardt. Dominique Rissolo.

    Located in the Sac Actun cave system on the eastern coast of the Yucatán Peninsula, Hoyo Negro pit (HN) has proven to be a very important pre-Maya archeological site as human (Naia, dated between approx. 13 000 - 12 000 calendar years ago) and faunal remains have been discovered (Chatters et al., 2014). Reconstructing the flooding history (accessibly when the cave system was dry) and water chemistry of HN is critical to our understanding of the movement of humans and fauna into and through the...

  • The Development of Techniques and Methods Used to Record Hoyo Negro: A Submerged Cave Site on the Yucatan Peninsula (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Alberto Nava. Alex Alvarez. Franco Attolini. Susan Bird. Roberto Chavez.

    The Underwater Caves of the Yucatan Peninsula have become central to understanding the climate, paleontological and anthropological records from the Late Pleistocene in Central America. Archeological recording of those hostile environments is extremely complex and requires innovative techniques. In Hoyo Negro, remains of a human, gomphotheres, two giant ground sloths, cave bears, and, sabertooths have been found directly associated by depth and/or position, all in unburied contexts. Over the...

  • General Taphonomy and Diagenesis of a Submerged Pleistocene Skeleton from the Cenote of Hoyo Negro, Tulum, Quintana Roo, Mexico: Preliminary Results (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only PATRICIA QUINTANA. Vera Tiesler. Diana Arano. Dominique Rissolo. James Chatters.

    This paper examines the macroscopic taphonomy and the diagenesis of a partially lifted preceramic skeleton of a female juvenile (called "Naia"), dated approximately between 13,000 and 12,000 yrs. AP. Naia was recovered at 41 meters below sea level in a submerged karstic cave. Despite the good general preservation of Naia’s remains, the bone segments are brittle, showing changes attributable to time, weathering, changing salinity and micro-organisms. The external bone layer is only loosely...

  • Histomorphology and Metabolic History of a Submerged Pleistocene Skeleton from the Cenote of Hoyo Negro, Tulum, Quintana Roo, Mexico (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Julio Chi. James C. Chatters. Andrea Cucina. Pilar Luna Erreguerena3. Vera Tiesler.

    This paper explores the histological preservation, metabolic history and living conditions in rib sections of a submerged female youngster, macroscopically determined to have died during her mid teens. This partially preserved skeleton counts among the most ancient individuals securely dated in the Americas. For the purposes of the study, we studied an undecalcified mid-shaft section of the twelfth rib and quantified osteo density (OPD), formation processeds, cortical and total bone area and...

  • The Late Pleistocene Fauna of Hoyo Negro (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Joaquin Arroyo-Cabrales. James C. Chatters. Blaine W. Schubert. H. Gregory McDonald. Pilar Luna.

    The fauna from Hoyo Negro Cenote preserves a diverse fauna represented by a large amount of bones from both human and animals. To date eleven species of extinct and extant animals have been identified. Extinct animals include the highland gomphothere (Cuvieronius tropicalis), two species of giant ground sloth (the Shasta ground sloth Nothrotheriops shastensis and a previously unknown member of the Megalonychidae), and the sabertooth cat (Smilodon fatalis). Modern species, include taxa that...

  • An Overview of the Hoyo Negro Project and Its Findings (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only James Chatters. Pilar Luna-Erreguerena. Dominique Rissolo. Patricia Beddows. Shanti Morell-Hart.

    Hoyo Negro is an immense, underwater collapse chamber deep within the Sac Aktun Cave system, Quintana Roo, Mexico. On its floor lie data-rich calcite raft deposits, bat guano piles, scatters of wood and charcoal, skeletons of large animals, and the remains of one teen-age human female. These sediments and fossils lie in total darkness, >40 meters below sea level, creating major technical challenges for their study and recovery. Investigations by a team of divers and scientists from Mexico, the...

  • Reconstructing Water Levels and Access to Hoyo Negro (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Shawn Collins. Eduard Reinhardt. Dominique Rissolo.

    "Hoyo Negro" was discovered in the Sac Actun Cave system in the Yucatan Peninsula; Mexico which contained abundant fossil remains of Pleistocene animals including the remains of a young PaleoIndian woman. There are several cenotes of varying size and age which may have been used by Paleoamericans to access Hoyo Negro. The two closest cenotes are "Ich Balam" and "Oasis". To determine if these cenotes provided access to Hoyo Negro during occupation of the area, the paleoenvironmental evolution of...