Belizean Sun Caving Adventure

The Macal River Valley is riddled with cave systems due to the karst geology found throughout Belize and the greater Yucatan region. A Meteor which struck the earth, near the Yucatan, put an end to the dinosaurs and caused a colossal geological event which allowed the creation of thousands of caves throughout Central America. During the Maya reign, theses caves gave them access to the underworld and to their Gods and Deities that resided there. The evidence has shown that the Maya used these caves from the Early Preclassic, 1400-900 BC, until the Postclassic, mid 1500’s. Now the caves are covered by thick jungle growth, and Archeologists of today along with the indigenous people are now rediscovering a few of these sacred places since the Maya used them long ago.

The caves filled with natural formations, while beautiful to the modern visitor, were of great importance to the Maya in that they were places for rituals. Incense burning, bloodletting, and sacrifice, were some of the methods used in order to connect with the gods. These rituals would bring rain, bountiful crops of corn, and visions of the future. Lit with torches, they carved formations, created sculptures, constructed terraces, and paths through these vast chambers… and what more? As modern man visiting these sites we know so little. As you retrace the footsteps of the Maya you’ll hear what we have learned from the Archeologists that have worked and studied in these caves. While there are many facts that can be shared, there is much left to speculation. In these vast caverns many areas remain unexplored, waiting for discovery.

Actun Halal, (Dart Cave) is considered a shelter, as daylight reaches into the one room cavern from the two entrances at each end. Archeologists have studied and documented this cave for years, mapping, excavating, illustrating and photographing the various formations. While much is known about the uses of caves, this shelter cave has raised many questions. What is known is that the Mayan people used this sacred place extensively, and modified the formations, perhaps into faces, perhaps to signify gods and levels of the underworld.
Actun Halal has also shown evidence that Late Archaic people, (pre Maya-4400B.C.E.) used this cave, perhaps even living here.
Swallows circle overhead, and seeds litter the floor left by small mammals. Each visit is made in anticipation of discovering something new.

Actun Chapat (Centipede Cave) remains a cave without a known ending. Two known entrances, and several thousand feet of passage is riddled with pottery shards, modified cave formations, terraces, and human bones.

A lake with blind catfish, crabs, with bat’s flying overhead…a possum seen walking on a ledge 100 feet from the floor…An extremely diverse and dynamic cave that flooded in October of 2008 and perhaps not for 100 years before that. Chapat is a dynamic cave, still evolving and with the changes more evidence of the Mayas is brought to the surface, and other evidence disappears. Two wooded artifacts were discovered, a fragment of a torch and the back of a pyrite mirror, infant burials, two polychrome vessels brought from Central Mexico for ritual; a recent discovery which may turn out to be a mass burial…more remains to be discovered.

Actun Son Of Chapat

This cave is located next to Halal, and is a cave that was used extensively by the Maya. In the entrance there are hundreds of small pottery shards which have been deposited from the floods that still come through this cave on a yearly basis. This cave is believed to connect with Chapat although the passage is still unexplored and unknown. This cave has not been fully explored by archeologists so there is still a great deal of speculation about the use of this cave.

These caves are rarely visited and presently not well known. Located on Private Property, approximately 6 miles from Succotz Village, the landowner is preserving the land along with the feeling he first had when he first visited the caves, and share it with a few select guests. The guides have been trained and have worked with the archeologists, so are extremely knowledgable about the cave and the history of the cave. The owner of the land and owner of the tour company being one and the same is 100% committed to the land, the sites, along with providing the best experience available. Every tour is a custom tour, and whatever your interests are, be it flora, fauna, archeology, or cave geology, our guides will be sure to provide you with as much information and adventure as you desire.

The Expedition of May 2008- " The Unknown Passage"

Actun Chapat has the passage from Entrance 1 to Entrance 2 or the sink hole as many of you already know about...

There is the 3rd and 4th passage that most people have never been to. These passages begin after swimming through a lake where often we can see albino catfish and albino crabs. Fresh water shrimp also inhabit the lakes. (Someone visited my Blog and left an interesting paper regarding these creatures) One passage heads up, and the other to an incredible rim stone dam about 15 feet high. This is the route we decided to take on our latest journey.

I have been past the lake several times and been down both passages. However I have never been with experienced cavers, so hesitated to go too far, or each time when I went I would run into larger lakes. These lakes would recede or rise depending on the rainy season. At the worst times somewhere it is flooding causing the passage to flood making it impossible to go farther.

In May of 2008 a group of cavers known as XMET, Dave Larson, Brian Pease, and on this occasion Marcus Cucul, and I climbed over the rim stone dam and made our way down a tunnel. The stone was worn as if there had been a good flow with velocity, as there were few formations. The passage was more of a tube perhaps 20 feet high and 50 feet wide. Walking through this we began to start going down hill and traversing smaller rim stone dams. Bright red in color, and the ground sandy were further indications that the flow when present was swift. The passage remained huge with high ceilings and wide rooms.

We then came to smaller pools and larger caverns, flooded in the past but today were mostly dry. I kept seeing more and more charcoal from fires, and then more and more human bones. Strewn throughout a passage we found several human bones. The most exciting find was the skull and jaw bone found several feet apart, but from the same person. NICH, after telling them about the find asked if we could return and take the bones out for analysis. Once the bones were studied by Gabe at NICH, it was determined that the bones came from 2 individuals. The skull was from a male, aged from the late teens to early 20's.
The skull is now in the bone lab, and I somehow think it should be back in the cave where we found it. Along with this skull we found an alter area. A single “leaf” blade was found laying there. It was perfect. As I picked it up I checked to see how sharp it was, I ran it across my finger. It cut into my finger indicating it was a s sharp as the day it was laid there.

From this point in the cave we came to a much larger lake. As it was getting very late in the day we decided it was time to head back. Brian did a quick swim across and on the other side said it just kept going…

What else are we going to find??? Another expedition needs to be done, and hopefully with the perfect conditions we incountered in May of 2008.

***XMET always brings Oxygen meters and is monitoring it as we go through. There are times when it is to low to go through this passage. It would extremely risky to do this without the correct equipment. We were extremely fortunate that this one day the lakes were dry, the oxygen was good. This was the first time in 9 years it has been like this.***


Gabe said:

The remains found in the Chapat burial chamber seem to represent 2 individuals. Measurements of longbone robusticity based on standards by Wrobel et al (2002) and features of the cranium all consistently indicate that both individuals are male. The relative lack of dental attrition suggests an age in the range of the very late teens or early 20s. Differences in the staining and weathering on the bone surfaces are likely the result of being placed in different areas of the chamber. The porotic hyperostosis of the cranial vault is an indication of anemia, a condition that is typical of ancient agricultural populations with a high carbohydrate / low protein diet. The rodent gnaw marks on the fibula (SB4B) is perhaps an indication that the bones were moved, since rodents would not be found in such a deep portion of a cave. Rodent activity has been noted in remains found at surface sites, especially in contexts with an airspace, such as tombs or burial urns (Cook 1999).

In May of 2008 the XMET, Marcos Cucul and myself went over the rim stone dam to see how much more cave passage we would find.

After hiking for awhile we came to BONES. Bones from a human body. How did they get back there? We barely got back there with equipment. Carried by the flooding waters, human hands, or did they walk in on their own. They were old, from the Mayan times. Thanks to Gabe and NICHE we were able to find out some answers to the puzzle.
Gabe took these pictures after he received the bones and cleaned them up. He put the jaw with the skull and looked at all the other bones we brought out.

What a great day. Cave passage that no one had been in for at least 1200 years and then finding the human bones. What was going on with these individuals? Perhaps they came from another entrance found farther back in the cave? Based on what Gabe said, they may have been buried in a tomb in another location then exhumed and carried to this spot? Carried here for their final journey through the underworld? Were they elite who had been buried in a tomb in a site above ground, only to have been moved later?

Oh, we found more.


Hiking through the cave today I found myself in a different state of mind.
I went with friends and let them go ahead as they had been here many times.
It let me take my time and look closer at cave offerings that I usually just breeze by. I saw more pottery shards, more terraces and steps today than I have seen before.
There are still places that I have not seen. I have been in this cave more than 200 times...
There are messages that the Maya left undiscovered. There are sculptures in the cave that in an art gallery would be priceless. In the cave they are there for anyone that can make the effort to see them; as long as you " take the time ".

Marcrobrachium catonium "A New Troglobitic Shrimp"

Horton H. Hobbs Jr. sometime before 1995 made the trek to Actun Chapat.

A new genus of shrimp was discovered on their trip and they wrote a scientific paper about it. The shrimp on the left is not the catonium, but is in the same genus, Macrobrachium.

The one they found in the lake in Actun Chapat was, "lacking pigment except for eye spot which was purplish to black".

This may only interest the scientific crowd, but in reality when you start researching it is incredibly interesting. It also raises some questions about the cave in general and the creatures that live there.
    • How many generations does it take for this shrimp to lose it's pigmentation?
    • What adapatations has it made since it's journey from where it came from to where it is now? ("K strategists")
    • Where did they come from?
    I still suspect there is another entrance to Actun Chapat that floods during the rainy season. With the flood brings these shrimp along with crabs, and catfish that we have also seen in the lake.

    Time for an expedition past the lake!

    Here is the paper that was sent to me. I want to thank whomever sent this.And thanks to the Hobbs for making this discovery!
    Shrimp in Actun Chapat, Belize