Last day of the Rising Star Expedition. I just came up from my last trip underground to the dig site and the feeling is very bittersweet. We’ll definitely be back (we left so many important fossils behind) but I’ve never had so much fun in all my life. It’s been challenging both physically and intellectually. I’ve talked for hours with some of the best minds in my field debating everything from cars to the cognitive capacities of our earliest ancestors. I’ve excavated, identified, and catalogued over a thousand hominin fossils (more than most palaeos will ever see in the entirety of their careers!). I’ve spent 7 hours a day for three weeks 30 metres underground. I’ve made some wonderful friends.
It sounds trite, but if there’s one thing all of this has really brought home to me it’s something my mother said to me (paraphrasing my favourite TV show) while I waited for an international flight on my way here: “go boldly”. Nothing has ever really been achieved by someone just waiting for opportunities to happen to them. Sometimes you really do have to be bold and go after the things that you want. You have to make that leap. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t submit my CV despite the bone-deep sense of surety that I wouldn’t get a look-in. Lee Berger is the embodiment of this. Discoveries aren’t made by the passive. You have to get in the field and take a risk. It won’t always pay off but when it does, it’s worth every effort you put towards it.
Cenotes are natural pits or sinkholes resulting from the collapse of limestone bedrock that exposes groundwater underneath. Especially associated with the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico, cenotes were used by the ancient Maya for sacrificial offerings. The term derives from a word used by the low-land Yucatec Maya, “Ts’onot” to refer to any location with accessible groundwater. There are an estimated 7,000 cenotes in the Yucatán Peninsula.
Cenote water is often very clear, as the water comes from rain water filtering slowly through the ground, and therefore contains very little suspended particulate matter. The groundwater flow rate within a cenote may be very slow. In many cases, cenotes are areas where sections of cave roof have collapsed revealing an underlying cave system, and the water flow rates may be much faster: up to 6 miles (10 km) per day. Cenotes around the world attract cave divers who have documented extensive flooded cave systems through them, some of which have been explored for lengths of 62 miles (100 km) or more.
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