Find Expeditions Start an Expedition About Open Explorer

A Quest to Save Sacred Waters in the Maya World

February 1 2018
land

A thousand years ago, the ancient Maya of the Yucatan Peninsula in modern-day Mexico built towering pyramids and beautiful palaces. They charted stars and planets in the heavens and kept elaborate calendars and histories related to these celestial beings. The earth itself was also a sacred place filled with divine presence. Perhaps most sacred were the cenotes, natural wells of life-giving fresh water. These openings into the earth's surface were places where underworld deities and rain gods dwelled.


Today, many cenotes function as tourist attractions. People from all over the world can venture into the Maya underworld among stalactites and stalagmites and swim in the deep blue waters of cenotes. Unfortunately, however, many cenotes have become increasingly polluted with trash and other waste.

Our expedition seeks to preserve cenotes as an important part of Maya culture. We are a partnership of both Mexican and U.S. faculty, university students, teachers, and affiliated professionals. Together, we are developing curriculum for students in Mexico ages 11-14 surrounding the science and history of cenotes. Ultimately, it is our goal that young people in Yucatan will be the voice and stewards for these precious sources of freshwater and Maya heritage.

February 1 2018

Tags: 

Accept contributions for your expediton by providing us a few details. We will create an account on your behalf at WePay. If you haven't already registered with WePay, they will send you an email to complete your registration.




close
Mission Underway

REALLY excited to hear that we will be partnering with EarthEcho International for our cenotes project and taking part in their Water Challenge! EarthEcho has offered our
project a generous gift of water test kits to help with our Science and Safety modules in local schools! Kids will now be able to literally test the waters in their local cenotes within the coming months! Check out the Water Challenge at: http://www.monitorwater.org/

image-1

English: A major goal for our project is to collaborate closely with middle school teachers to create interactive and exploratory teaching modules for students. On Wednesday, July 11th, we had our first collaborative workshop for teachers, researchers, and student ambassadors of UNO, called: "Oral History, Folklore & Cenotes," taking place at the Universidad de Oriente in Valladolid, Yucatan. Those present were our directors, project staff, and teachers of our nine Yucatan secondary (middle) schools, as well as our invited Maya literature specialist Hannah Palmer, and oral history experts archivists Biff Hollingsworth and Bryan Gimeza--all from the University of North Carolina. Together we created oral history backpack kits for students to use in the field and discussed the importance of oral history for the conservation of cenotes. We talked about the importance of collecting those stories, since they shelter all the information that is transmitted from generation to community. Below please find Spanish and also Maya translations! Thanks to all for their hard work and contributions!!! What a success!


Spanish: Primer taller colaborativo para maestros, investigadores & embajadores estudiantiles de la UNO, llamado: "Historia oral, folclor & los cenotes," llevando a cabo el miércoles 11 de Julio del presente año en la Universidad de Oriente, estuvieron presentes, maestros de las nueve secundarias, donde se platicó: La importancia de la historia oral para la conservación de los cenotes; así como la importancia de recopilar esas historias. Ya que resguardan toda esa información que son útiles e importantes, que van transmitiéndose de generación entre las comunidades.

Maya: Tí múchi'ik baon, tu najil xooc UNO, le mierkoles 11 tí juilo'e yeetel le kansaj xookob tí u bolom secundariasobo'b ku partisiparobo'b, le meen tík tsikbaloon ba'axten ka'abet le' k'ajlay ku tsikbatal tí le mejen kajalo'ob tí u kanantal le ts'ono'oto'bo', beey takxan ba'axten ka'abet le' tsikbalobo'ob. Meen ku kanantikob le' Ba'ax kabet, e ku, bin kaj'oltal tí tu lakal le mako'ko' wuay yok'ol ka'b, te' kajalo'obo'.

image-1

Spanish: 1 de Agosto del año en curso, siendo las 10: am, nos reunimos los embajadores estudiantiles juntamente con el Co-director del proyecto de Cenotes para planear de manera previa el segundo taller consultivo en donde participaran docentes y directivos de las secundarias participantes; el taller lleva por nombre "CIENCIA Y SEGURIDAD", en la plática de hoy, cada uno de los participantes tuvo la libertad de expresar sus opiniones al respecto de las actividades ya realizadas ademas a cada uno de los asistentes se les proporcionó una libreta personalizada del proyecto la cual nos servira como una herramienta clave para que podamod tomar notas de los puntos importantes que se dan en los talleres y consejos. Así como los que tendremos o de cualquier salida de campo que tendremos como parte del proyecto, además de que pudimos programar nuestras proximas reuniones para seguir avanzando.


Maya: Tu yáax k´inil Agosto tu ja'abil 2018 las 10:00 ja'alskab k'iine tik much'ikbaon tu láakal le kakpaj'ano'on ti' le proyectoó beyxan yéetel u ko-directorik u ti'al ik ta'anik bíx ko'on meyajt u ka'apel tayeril tu'ux kuj takpajal jka'ansajo'ob yéetel u jo' popil jka'ansajo'ob ti' secundarias tak koja'ano'obi. U k'aaba' le tallero' " Ciencia yéetel seguridad" ti u tsikbalil le bejla'aka' kaada juntuule' yanchaj u pajtalil u t'an u ya'alik ba'ax ku tuklik tu yo'olal le mayaja', beyxan ti' tu láakal le tik much'ikbo'ono' ts'aabto'on jumpéel pikil ju'un, le'elo' yan u k'a'ana'anchajalto'on u ti'al ik ts'ibtiko'on tuu lakal tu yo'olal le proyektoo' je'el bix i' tallero'ob kursos wa meyajo'ob tí campo', bey xan ti'al ik ts'ibtiko'on u jeel u k'iinil ik much'ik'ikbaon.

image-1

Our student ambassadors from the Universidad de Oriente (UNO) in Yucatan, Mexico have been helping us with our photovoice activities. Our UNO students worked to translate descriptions in both Spanish and Maya of photos our secundaria (middle school) students have been taking. Students take photos of things related to cenotes that are meaningful to them. In the image below a student took a picture of contamination in their town's cenote and talked to us about the image. The student's silhouette can be seen in the image. The English, Spanish and Maya descriptions of the image are below:


English: In this photograph we encounter the silhouette of a young girl who is observing trash on the green ground, this trash is the same trash that forms part of the contamination that the principal cenote in the town suffers from. Our perception (provided by the image) is that this indicates the preoccupation the children have for preserving this natural site. Even though they are young, it appears to bother them to see the garbage surrounding the cenote. They seem concerned that we should avoid and reduce the pollution that nature has suffered.

Spanish: En esta fotografia podemos encontrar la silueta de una nina que esta observando la basura en el suelo verde, esta basura misma que forma parte de la contaminacion que sufre el cenote principal de su comunidad y nuestra percepcion es aquella que indica la preocupacion de los ninos por preservar este sitio natural, aun a su corta edad a ellos les incomoda ver el basurero en el que se han convertido los alrededores de esta Fuente de agua y les surge una preocupacion por evitar y reducer la contaminacion que la naturaleza ha sufrido

Maya: Tela ju beyta in ilkon bix yanik juntuul ch’u’upal tan in yilik bis yanik le sojol te lumo’ , le sojola’ tan u k’askunsik le ts’o’onot yan tu kajalo’obo, ba’ax tin ilone’, le ch’u’upalaloba ku tukliko’ob ba’ax ka’abet u betko’ob tial u kanantko’ob. Le ch’upalalo’oba keex chichno’ob ku na’atko’ob, ma ka’abet u pulko’ob sojol te tso’onoto tumen u ku’uchi tu’ux ku ch’ako’ob ja’, le metik ku yako’ob k’a’abet u kanantko’ob yo’olal mu p’aata jump’eel kuuchi tu’ux ku ts’a’akajal sojol.

image-1

We are just finishing up photovoice and have been hearing some amazing stories! Here is one in English, Spanish and Maya told to us by a student from Cuncunul, Yucatan, Mexico.


This story is about the relationship between the town's church and the cenote (both are seen in the picture). One local myth, re-told by our student's family recounts the tale of a secret passageway connecting them with incalculable treasure. Before a field is burned or on the third of May, according to the tale, if people see the treasure, they will have a good harvest throughout the year.

In Spanish (En Español): Según dicen mis familiares que cuentan en al leyenda que entre la inglesia y el cenote hay in pasadizo secreto con in Tesoro incalculable. Y cada 3 de Mayo o una noche antes se quema una casa "La gente cree que hay dinero enterrado en esos terrenos," dice el primer edil, esto si alguien logra verlo tendra Buena cosecha por todo in ano y le ayudara en sus siembras.

In Maya (Ich Maya): Ku tzikbatik in laak’obe yetel in yume yan ul p’e tzikbal yok’ol e dzonot yan te u chumukil e kajo, tu kilich najil e k’ujo yan un p’e beej ku bisik takte yanal e dzonoto ichile bejo yan tak’in mukani jach man yaab. Ich u oxpel kinit e uinali e Mayoo ua tu akbil tu kaapel kinnile kana u yele u p’el naj beyo ku yalale yan e takin mukano, kanan u jokol uu p’e chaan k’aak ku tochbal yosal u yilal e takino yetel maax ku yilike ku utztal u kuuxtal tu lakal e jaabo.

image-1

My wife and I were fortunate to be able to explore a cenote last year while in Mexico. It's so cool to read here about the connection between them and the Maya and current people.

Yesterday we had our second photovoice session. We were able to have a great discussion about the pictures that the school kids took during the first session. Some interesting themes that came up were the legends and culture surrounding the cenotes in the town; the natural history, such as rock formations; and contamination. The students taught us a lot about how the cenotes are part of their ancestors and are a central part of their culture and community. There are many interesting stories surrounding the cenotes as well, such as the serpent that protects the gold inside or the sacrifices that happened there. The students were also very concerned about the contamination--for example, they told us that people should appreciate and conserve the water inside the cenotes.


After our discussion we handed out surveys to the school kids to take another look at the general thoughts about the cenotes in their town, which also resulted in great answers such as the one pictured below. Along with the global investigators and UNO students, the school kids then went back to the cenote to take more pictures--this time focusing on one of the major themes.

Translation: "For me the cenotes are life and joy" C: know them E: Explore them N: it's never too late O: never forget them T: we should always take care of them E: Instead of contaminating them

image-1

We work a lot...and sometimes that means we have to "test the waters" ourselves! Time for a dip in the cenote Hubiku near Temozon, Yucatan!

image-1

Our photovoice activities are well underway! Our Global Investigators from the University of North Carolina worked alongside our students from the Universidad de Oriente to help us with instruction. Together with school kids we went out to take pictures of the local cenote. This Friday we meet to discuss the images!

image-1

Early this week we visited the beautiful cenotes "Palomitas" and "Agua Dulce" in the town of Yalcoba. These amazing cenotes are wonderful reminders of how precious cenotes are to the people of Yucatan. These cenotes each serve as fresh water sources (for bathing, etc.) for the community and also function as tourist destinations--therefore serving as a vital economic resource. We were greeted by warm welcomes in both Spanish AND Maya!

image-1

Wow! So beautiful, Khristin. Love this photo.

Did you know that one of the most famous cenotes in Yucatan features sacred offerings? Over the weekend our team visited the Sacred Cenote at Chichen Itza, an ancient Maya site that rose and fell between 900 and 1200A.D./C.E. Offerings that were thrown into the Sacred Cenote range from possible human sacrifices to the gold masks of the feathered serpent deity Queztalcoatl/Kukulcan (seen here).


These offerings came to light during the early 20th century when Massachusetts's- born Harvard professor Edward H. Thompson purchased the plantation on which Chichen Itza was located and dredged the Sacred Cenote.

Today, tourists can still visit the Sacred Cenote and even see the equipment used by Thompson, over one hundred years ago, to recover objects from the cenote's silent depths.

image-1

Meetings with university students and co-director Dr. Ivan Batún of the Universidad de Oriente are underway! We ended our first week with this "meeting of the minds" during which time we discussed how we would proceed with photovoice, our preliminary initiative. For this initiative, we will split up into smaller groups and head out into communities around Valladolid, Yucatan. There, we will give students in the schools cameras. Their task is to take pictures of their town's cenotes. After that, we will print and exhibit the photos and the students will tell us what each photo means to them. This way, we begin our project with a better sense for what 11-14 year old youth already think about cenotes--from their own perspective. Stay tuned for photovoice pictures!

image-1 image-1
Preparation Stage

Yesterday the team headed out to meet teachers and school directors in communities around Valladolid, Yucatan. We also scouted out the town cenotes!

image-1

Heading to Yucatan to start the first on-the-ground phase of the project! Cameras (and coffee) in hand for our photovoice element. Yucatan students and teachers will use the cameras to take pictures of and about cenotes in their communities. These photographs will encourage dialog about cenotes between students, teachers and the rest of our team!

image-1 image-1

Very cool Khristin! Can't wait to see more from your team :)

Very cool Khristin! Can't wait to see more from your team :)

Very cool Khristin! Can't wait to see more from your team :)

Expedition Background

The ultimate goal of this project is to develop sustainable local and regional educational programs and community activities that highlight cenotes and promote deeper understanding of this critical and fragile resource. Our team will train local university students in Yucatan to become ambassadors for cenotes. Together with other expedition team members, our ambassadors will reach out to local teachers and students in Yucatan. By focusing on students and young adults we will reach a cohort that is beginning to develop critical thinking skills and a social consciousness.


To date, our team has successfully obtained National Geographic funding to undertake the exhibition. Currently, we are busy planning teaching modules centered around the oral history and folklore, science and safety, archaeology and heritage of cenotes. We have selected our advisory board composed of K-12 teachers, archaeologists, engineers, art historians, professors and governments officials and are in the process of selecting university students from Valladolid, Mexico to serve as our Yucatan student ambassadors. Our ambassadors, along with members of our advisory board will begin leading our teaching modules with local Yucatan teachers and students next month!

image-1

Khristin, this look very interesting. Will you be diving in the cenotes at all?

Hi Madeleine! Sorry for the late response, I was away at a conference. We will be working with local communities and professional diving teams in a few ways! We are also going to be relying on ROV units to explore some of the cenotes and their caverns! Stay tuned for more pictures and updates. Most of our work on the ground will begin next months!