National Geographic : 2010 Aug
for emergencies), we should always have enough to get home---even if one of our tanks or regu- lators fails. at's assuming we don't lose our guideline. In the labyrinth of passages, separa- tion from the line can be fatal. In my training, Kakuk had spun me around with my eyes closed and towed me away from the line to simulate disorientation. Groping blindly and using my safety reel to search in a spoke pattern, it took me 12 interminable minutes to nd the line. One of Kakuk's students was so traumatized by this drill that he bloodied his hands clawing for the line along a cavern roof. For his part, Kakuk has logged some 3,000 cave dives without serious injury. Given the risks, the lighthearted mood of Broad's team belied this fact: Combined, these divers have participated in dozens of body re- coveries from submerged caves. Some 500 feet into South Passage, we reach the end of the main line, tied o to a bollard of calcite at a depth of 130 feet. Here the tunnel nar- rows and plunges to below 230 feet. On previous dives, Kakuk had extended the line 2,000 feet farther, but at my level of experience, we've come as far as he'll allow. We check our air---the rst of our thirds is nearly depleted---and turn for home. At the portal separating South Passage from Stargate's central sha , Kakuk covers his lights and stops. e faint green of daylight in the sha beyond is just strong enough to cast the walls of the passage entry into silhouette. I allow my limbs to hang freely, my body rising and sink- ing almost imperceptibly with each breath. Time appears to stop. I'd like to oat here for hours, weightless and relaxed, suspended in the void, all thoughts draining from my mind. to a depth of 60 feet, we pause at a sloping ledge directly below the cave mouth. In the middle of the ledge is a long trough packed with silt. Kakuk spotted this promising feature on an earlier dive and now reaches into the mud. He gropes gently back and forth and--- so quickly it seems miraculous---extracts a long bone the color of mahogany: a human femur. Two smaller bones follow. en he extends his arm deeper, working the silt, and draws out the domed pate of a human skull. Although lack- ing a lower jaw, the yellowed skull has molars on both sides and a single front tooth. e forehead slopes dramatically, a sign that its owner was a member of the native Lucayan tribe that thrived in the Bahamas from the sixth through the 15th centuries. To create a sloping brow, Lucayans bound boards to their children's foreheads. Some archaeologists think the practice was intended to make the front of the skull better able to with- stand blows in battle; others believe it was purely aesthetic. Kakuk hands me the skull. Silt and leaf frag- ments clog the eye sockets and nasal cavity. I try to imagine---from the brow, eye sockets, and cheekbones alone---how this individual ap- peared in life. In its breadth and solidity, the skull strikes me as distinctly male. Was he a warrior? A The remipede is a "living fossil" nearly unchanged for 300 million years. It kills its prey, primarily other crustaceans such as cave shrimps, with venom-injecting fangs. The lighthearted mood of Broad's team belied this fact: Com- bined, these divers have participated in dozens of body recoveries from submerged caves.