National Geographic : 1990 Sep
SEPTEMBER 1990 GEOGRAPHICA President Thomas E. Kulikosky gave Mrs. Kirsis and Mrs. Noorlaid a NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC ATLAS OF THE WORLD and a Society wall map of the world for use in their classrooms. Pursuitof Human Past Resumes in Ethiopia RONWINIKER AND MIKE MADDEN Underground Glories of the Yucatan Not all the wonders of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula are visible on the surface. The peninsula holds treasures that are literally under ground. Mike Madden, Ron Winiker, and a team of divers have been explor ing a vast network of water-filled caverns. Among them is a cave known as Nohoch Nah Chich, Giant Bird house (above); informally it is called the "Big One." Since mapping began in 1987, more than 43,000 feet of drowned passages have been surveyed, making this underwater cave system one of the largest in the world. Yet it is only 26 to 32 feet deep, and its entrance has an air passage with room for even beginning snorkelers. Madden, a diving instructor, and Winiker, a retired airline pilot, photo graphed Nohoch Nah Chich together. And Madden has explored more than 20 underwater Yucatan cave systems, most in the vicinity of the Maya ruins at Tulum. He finds the cave entrances by diving into freshwater sinkholes formed when cave ceilings collapse. During the last ice age, ocean levels along the Yucatan coast were lower, and the area was riddled with caverns of porous limestone. Rainwater trick led down, creating dripstone forma tions. When the ice age ended, the ice melted, causing groundwater levels to rise and flood the caves, preserving the formations but hiding them until now. Fans of the Geographic in an Estonian School hen Reet Kirsis and Reet Noor laid brought a class of 15 high school students to Washington, D. C., from the city of Tartu, Estonia, in April, one place they wanted to visit was the National Geographic Society. For the two teachers at Tartu Second ary School No. 2, NATIONAL GEO GRAPHIC has been a window to the outside world for years. The group came to the United States in an exchange program with George town Day School in Washington. Two Georgetown Day teachers took 16 of their students to Tartu in March. "My uncle, who lives in New Zea land, gave me a gift membership in 1961, when I was a student," said Mrs. Kirsis, as she prepared to present flow ers and an Estonian book of photo graphs to National Geographic Society officials. "He asked me what my favor ite subjects were, and when I told him English and geography, he started sending me the magazine." Though sometimes interrupted-by Soviet cus toms seizures or by thefts from the mail-NATIONAL GEOGRAPHICS kept coming. "They are the most important books in my library," she says. "For years, they were my only source of information about the world. I use them in class and give them to my colleagues." The Tartu school now will have new educational materials. Assistant Vice fter a lengthy hiatus, fieldwork in the study of human origins has 1 resumed in Ethiopia, widely regarded as an area of great potential for providing clues to the puzzle of hominid evolution. An Ethiopian-led team is combining satellite imagery and work on the ground to provide a detailed guide to sites where in-depth study may pay off. Ethiopia has been the scene of major finds of human ancestors, such as Lucy (GEOGRAPHIC, November 1985), the earliest known hominid to walk upright on two feet. But because paleoanthro pology is a contentious science, with ri val camps vying for access to field sites, Ethiopian authorities halted all field work nearly a decade ago, saying they needed to formulate new regulations. Meanwhile, several young Ethiopi an scientists earned advanced degrees by working with leaders in the study of human origins. One of them, Ber hane Asfaw, now with the Ethiopian Ministry of Culture and Sports, is head of the new team funded in part by the National Geo graphic Society. The team began identifying sites for future fieldwork in 1989-"focusing TIM WHITE on areas that might have potential," says Tim White of the University of California at Berkeley, a member of the group. And it has already found a site at Fejej, north of the Kenyan bor der, with what White calls a "fantastic assemblage" of stone tools 1.8 million years old (above) and similar to the tools found in Tanzania's Olduvai Gorge. "We know hominids were pres ent at Fejej in a pretty big way because of the abundance of tools we discov ered there," explains White. "It's only a matter of time before somebody finds hominid remains." - ---.