Underwater Caves

Underwater Caves

"Windows into the heart of our earth, ruptured arteries bleeding forth the life force of the human race."

  • Sump Diving in the UK. Photography by Stuart Gardiner.
  • Sea Cave, Montenegro
  • Sea Cave, Albania
  • Ruins of the Temple of Apollo, Pammukale hot spring, Turkey
  • Entrance to Bozel Spring Cave, Marianna, Florida.

"In Xanadu did Kubla Kahn

A stately pleasure-dome decree:

Where Alph, the sacred river, ran

Through caverns measureless to man

Down to a sunless sea."

-Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Submerged cave archaeology is a recent nascent discipline of archaeology that involves research into how past cultures viewed and used springs, sinkholes, and other karst features. These natural wonders attract hundreds of thousands of visitors daily, worldwide. It is unsurprising then, that springs and sinkholes oftentimes betray evidence of the first occupants of a region up to historic times. Such karst features would have provided excellent freshwater sources for prehistoric populations, in addition to attracting flora and fauna that could be exploited by these people. In more recent times, springs have provided sources of cool, refreshing water for vacationers to frequent, often believing, as ancestral populations did, that these pools had healing or cleansing properties. Transcending the values and interest of people across space and time, karst windows and the caves that often lie beneath them often provide excellent archaeological records.

Material found underwater is already known for its remarkable preservation. Combine the cool, sometimes mineral rich, often alkaline waters of caves, the usually low energy depositional environment, and the reduced light which allows less oxygen to saturate the waters, and a potent recipe for preservation results.

Several obvious difficulties arise when considering submerged cave. The logistical complications of surviving underwater and underground are coalesced, making any form of cave archaeology an expensive endeavor. A finite breathing gas supply, extensive training, proper lighting, concern for the preservation of the cave environment, and a need for decent visibility all rear their head in the pursuit of this field of research.

Despite this, underwater caves offer fantastic preservation potential, due to the environment and the relative inaccessibility of their locations until modern times. Read on to find out more!

Drop files to upload
Drop files to upload
Drop files to upload

Submerged caves form when some substance, usually dolomite or limestone but gypsum, granite, ice, and basalt caves can also be found) is dissolved by acids resulting from natural processes.

Submerged caves occur the world over. However the most common instances of them, and the most studied as of now, are in Central America and the Southeastern United States.

The Yucatan Peninsula and the State of Florida are home to some of the largest concentrations of karst windows in the world. As such, much of the research concerning this discipline has occurred in these two localities, a pattern attributable to these cave's clear water, relatively easy access, and the diving infrastructure already in place to support research in both of these areas, as opposed to more dense concentrations of caves containing archaeological assemblages. 

A pattern in current research in submerged caves concentrates on searching for evidence of early migrants into the America's. These caves, perhaps dry when sea level receded during the LGM, may betray evidence of early occupiers seeking shelter in them. If the caves or karst windows weren't dry, it's likely they represented isolated oasis's around which animals gathered and in turn, humans hunted. 


Drop files to upload
Drop files to upload
Drop files to upload

Hoyo Negro- Mexico

Currently underway in Quintana Roo, Mexico, is the examination of potential terminal Pleistocene aged human remains. If the age is confirmed, these remains will be the oldest in the Americas. The remains were found in close proximity to extinct Pleistocene aged fauna. The remains were located over half a mile into the cave system at a depth of almost 60 meters. Check out their website here!


Aucilla River- Florida

 Most recently, under the direction of Dr. Jessi Halligan, field teams have researched this area with regards to pre-Clovis occupation evidence. A known early locality for years by collectors and an early excavation initiative by the University of Florida (see http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/vertpaleo/arpp.htm), this river is being revisited. Numerous now inundated sinkholes are being examined, and a team is returning this summer to carry out further investigations.


Drop files to upload
Drop files to upload
Drop files to upload

Cave Diving

You can dive, so you can cave dive right? WRONG.


Sadly, stories like this one are all too common. Cave diving shares little with recreational diving in almost all regards.

Cave diving is considered by many to be an extreme sport. The reality of it is that the practitioners of this sport have absolutely no interest in dying deep underground in a cold, dark hole and have taken every step possible to ensure their safety. Rigorous courses, of which there are 4 levels, are required before one can be considered a cave diver. A huge investment in reliable equipment must be made. Diving must occur regularly to maintain abilities and skills. Strict rules must be adhered to while diving to ensure safety...

While extremely rewarding, the activity can and has been lethal to the unprepared. Don't be another number. If you are interested in learning to cave dive, seek proper training.

Editor Morgan Smith (United States) is a MA/PhD candidate at Texas A&M University. His research investigates early human habitation of North America through geoarchaeological interpretations of underwater sites, particularly karst features.
Translate »