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Looking for wrecks around Isla Contoy

Florian Huber and his cave divers are primarily interested in scientific research of the cenotes, a labyrinthian system of caves in Yucatan. But the underwater archaeologist is also interested in the numerous wrecks in the shallow waters around Isla Contoy and Isla Mujeres. An opportunity the Amigos de Isla Contoy are not going to miss.

The scientific potential relating to prehistoric and historic finds in Yucatán is enormous. The investigations of the cave systems have succeeded in uncovering new information on early inhabitants and the settlement of Mexico. The findings in the Cenotes could lead to a better understanding of religious ideas, burial traditions and sacrificial cults practised by the Maya. Research in this area gives us a unique insight into the interdependency of human beings and their environment. An innovative approach to research, involving international and multi-disciplinary co-operation, means the project can record and comprehend the human development in Mexico in its unique landscape.

 

The Mexican peninsular of Yucatán forms the most easterly point of the North American continent and was already the first point of contact between Europeans and the indigenous Maya in the 15th century. The rich pre-Columbian and colonial history of this region is well documented and has been the centre of public interest for a long time.

 

Archaeological sites such as Tulum, Uxmal, Cobá or Chichén Itzá (a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1988) are visited by thousands of tourists each year. In contrast, the cultural assets underwater are little known and as yet not properly researched. Yucatán is famous for its sights such as the Mesoamerican barrier reef, the biosphere reserve at Sian Ka’an as well as the outstanding snorkling and diving areas at Cancún and Cozumel. The peninsular is one of the most important areas for underwater archaeological ranging from Maya docks, ships from the times or the pirates and caravels or galleons from Spanish empire as well as wrecks from more recent history.

 

Therefore, archaeological sites were documented in their current state as part of the “Integral project for the protection, conservation, research and dissemination of submerged cultural heritage of the Yucatan Peninsula” ran by INAH (Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia) to be able to make use of their scientific value before they are further damaged by looters, inexperienced divers or weather conditions such as hurricanes.

 

Research divers from the working group of maritime and limnic archaeology (AMLA) have participated in the project since 2010 in recording the wreck sites around the islands of Isla Mujeres, Isla Contoy and Isla Blanca. 14 wreck sites were found and documented during the 2011 campaign.

 

Underwater museum

The replica of a cannon on its way to its new location.

An underwater exhibition of archeological artifacts and replicas, which represents a particular attraction for tourists in the shallow waters, is being staged near to the Isla Contoy National Park visitor centre. In addition to previously available artifacts, two anchors and a canon were positioned in September 2011 off the island in area suitable for snorkelers some 2-3 metres deep and supported with salvage bags to be able to present finds underwater. The anchors were a simple stock anchor and a Trotman collapsible anchor from the middle of the 19th century. The cannon is a so-called “field snake”. This was used in maritime warfare and it was a popular weapon on warships from the 15th century onwards due to its high accuracy and long range attributable to its 3-metre long barrel.

 

These replicas will also be covered in coral over the course of time and that will provide an interesting microenvironment.