National Geographic : 2003 Oct
knees up. In front of it were three ceramic pots of offerings, one containing the skull of a dog. The bones of a bird lay buried in the silt near by. The Maya held both animals to be super natural, often mixing their physical features in art and legend. They were to the Maya, as to the Aztec, potent symbols of death. The remains must have been deposited there when the water level was lower, said Rojas, by people swimming with the body, or using a boat. "The condition of all the bodies we've found tells us that the Maya deposited their dead in cenotes in at least two ways," she said. "Some bodies were deposited with care, while others were thrown into the water." The day the archaeologists brought up the skeleton, the old herder from town showed up wearing a white shirt, his Sunday best, and sat solemnly by the well. "I just wanted to watch my ancestors come home," he said. There would be other ancestors. By the second week the INAH team members had charted the remains of 15 individuals. In the mornings they would huddle around a com puter screen to review the finds. After everyone had weighed in, Rojas and Gonzalez would select the items they wanted to bring to the sur face for study. 98 NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC * OCTOBER 2003 "By bringing the conservation lab and spe cialists of many disciplines to the sites, we can make a diagnosis quickly," said Gonzalez. "It has worked well. We will be analyzing our results for years to come." The finds here in the countryside are much different from those at extravagant cities like Chichen Itza and Dzibilchaltun, said Terrazas. "Here we don't have the rich deposits of gold and jade." To explore the offshore half of the ring, Skiles's documentary team drove to the coast, hired a fishing boat, and motored up to a fearsome boil on the sea surface a quarter mile out, as the wind raked the water into white caps. The hole was expelling fresh water; low tide would reverse the flow. Veteran cave diver and biologist Tom Morris dived in with mask and fins. "It goes down into a small hole about the size of a manhole cover," he said when he surfaced. "It's gonna be a kick-butt flow." We threw on our scuba gear and plunged in. Skiles and Morris forced themselves straight down into the cave, like swimming into a fire hose. I followed them, gripping the rocks, pull ing through the blurry convergence zone of fresh and salt water, pumping furiously with my fins.