Pleistocene bear. Photo Archive Gran Acuifero Maya, INAH

Scuba-diving archaeologists at the world’s largest underwater cave — recently discovered near Tulum — found fossils of giant sloths and an elaborate shrine to the Mayan god of commerce.

Officials from the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) presented findings Monday at a press conference in Mexico City.

Researchers discovered last month that the Sac Actun and Dos Ojos networks are connected, forming the largest such structure in the world.

Animal and human remains are abundant because of the perilous nature of the caves. Since water level in the caves fluctuated over time, some of the animals and humans who ventured inside never made it out alive.

Scientists are piecing together bits of the cave’s history dating back to the Pleistocene epoch (2.6 million to 11,700 years ago).

The remains include extinct elephant-like animals called gomphotheres, as well as giant sloths and bears, archaeologists said at the press conference.

Artifacts also include burned human bones, ceramics and wall etchings.

“It is very unlikely that there is another site in the world with these characteristics. There is an impressive amount of archaeological artefacts inside, and the level of preservation is also impressive,” said Guillermo de Anda, one of the archaeologists.

Hundreds of sink-holes  connect to the cave, many with elaborate signs of ritual activity around them, archaeologists said, indicating the ancient Maya considered them sacred.

Source: Agencies, INAH