Ch’uy Aktún or The Jaguar Grotto in Ticul, Yucatan

Photo: (Reporteros Hoy)

Ticul, Yucatan, May 07, 2021 (Carlos Augusto Evia Cervantes).- The south of the state of Yucatán is a paradise for cave explorers. Interest in these cavities grows every day and therefore, the number of reports on the findings in this regard increases. For this reason, the members of the speleological group “Ajau” organized an expedition to the South of the state to see a cave in Ticul, El Jaguar.

When we arrived at Ticul, we found Lic. Hebert Pech Canul, Legal Director of the Ticul City Council, courteously offered to guide us to the aforementioned cave. Herbert belongs to the COPROTUR group, whose members have organized to conduct guided visits to the caves of the municipality.

The first thing that was clarified to us is that the real name of the cave is Ch’uy Akún, which means “raised cave”, as it is located in the highest part of the hill. He said that the existence of the cave is not a recent discovery, because the Maya people had used it for many hundreds of years.

When we started with the vehicle, we took the road towards Muna, and before reaching 3 kilometers, we entered a gap heading south. After two kilometers of stony road and on an incline, we arrive at the Santa María ranch. There we got off the vehicle to continue walking to the cave.

The journey was always uphill and as we climbed the narrow paths, Herbert told us that since he was a child he visited the caves of this region with his friends. He also said that the people who have their cornfields, apiaries, and cattle claim to have seen near the caves, a snake approximately 20 meters long, named Kuyunkán. For this reason, the peasants fear these caves.

He added that the members of the COPROTUR group, have also asked permission with prayers from the “owners of the caves” to bring tourists, with this, they also prevent the “bad winds” from harming visitors. Another well-known belief is that in the cave there is an old woman who has a snake. Every Good Friday she takes it out to take the sun rays, and nobody should go near the cave because whoever did, could be eaten by the serpent.

We went up carrying our exploration equipment on the hills of Cordón Puuc. When we reached the top of the hill, we better understood the meaning of the cave’s name that Herbert, Ch’uy Aktún, “Cueva Alzada” had already told us.

The entrance to the cave is shaped like a rocky shelter with the following measurements: 24.8 meters wide and 6 deep, approximately. The maximum height of the dome at the drip line is approximately 5.4 meters. The orientation of this vault is 210º (southwest). We emphasize that the measurements are approximate because a wall built with huge stones at the entrance is 2.18 meters high, and provides a parameter to estimate the height of the cave ceiling. According to its features, we can affirm that this construction was made in pre-Hispanic times and apparently had the purpose of containing the landslides of stones and earth towards the interior of the cave.

The entrance to the dark area of ​​the grotto, evidently blocked with hundreds of stones, is a little further west. Another important element to take into account is that on the ceiling of the cave there are several beehives. And in fact, two of our companions were stung by bees during the trip.

Ceramic fragments and at least two broken metates were found in this area. All these archaeological remains, in addition to the aforementioned wall, indicate a large amount of human work invested, which supports the argument that Herbert himself pointed out at the beginning: the grotto was used by the ancient Maya.

Afterward, we entered the cavern properly and had to clear a passage limited by another stone construction. Then we came to a vault about 5 meters high, with a fracture in the zenith area that lets in light. Herbert pointed out to us a conduit of the cat flap type, which we had to cross to continue the incursion. This duct is preceded by a new wall but made with smaller and flat stones placed vertically.

The small size of this construction made us reflect on its purpose. Herbert said that they did not seem to him to have the function of trenches used in the Caste War and I added that these walls within the grottoes could be divisions to indicate ritual areas.

Hebert said that this explanation seemed more appropriate to him since the peasants still enter the caves to obtain the sujuy ja ‘(virgin water) that is used to prepare saka’, a corn drink used in agricultural rituals as in the case of ch ‘ aa cháak, rain request ceremony.

In this way, we find a logical hypothesis to the objective of these constructions. This allows an alternative and coherent explanation to be elaborated for the variety of types of walls that exist in caves instead of repeating by simple inertia and mistakenly that the walls of the caves served as trenches in the Caste War of the 19th century (although they were used for that purpose aw well).

When crossing the aforementioned corridor, which is about 6 meters long and approximately 80 centimeters in diameter, we noticed that the flat stones were also placed on the sides and along the entire length of the cat flap. As we crossed this conduit, we entered a gallery with greater height and we observed on the ground areas bleached by the sedimentation of calcite caused by light and intermittent water currents.

We arrive at the section where there is a skeleton, supposedly from a jaguar, an element that caused the cave to be renamed at some point. The skeleton was not complete and to preserve what remains they surrounded it with stones.

Herbert said that there were approximately 24 vessels but little by little they were diminishing and the last one was taken by the staff of the National Institute of Anthropology and History of Yucatán (INAH) in order to preserve it. The vault where the jaguar’s skull is located is 7.80 meters high.

In various parts of the paving surface, the cavern has holes that could be, according to our guide, traces of mud extraction. It should be remembered that the municipality of Ticul is characterized by the quality and variety of its pottery production. Bernard showed us an almost rectangular hole with flat stones inside, which reinforces the hypothesis of the extraction of mud.

Although the cave is not very complex, there is a certain degree of complication because thick columns have been formed that leave behind narrow passages and recesses that our companions explored.

Among the most visible fauna in this case very, there are bats, small moths, cockroaches, and arachnids that can measure up to 20 centimeters in diameter, we even saw one of them devouring a dead bat.

In a section located further down this cave, we saw a stalagmite on a clay pot. Despite the fact that this formation was attached to the ceramic piece, we were surprised by the fact that there were no additional sedimentation signs, as in other cases in which stalagmites are formed on vessels.

During the tour we stopped for a moment in a room that seemed to be the highest and that the guides have called the vault of the “fallen stones” because of the large number of small rocks on the floor. We used our instrument to measure distances and we obtained the data of 7.40 meters in height.

Later Herbert showed us a strange network of plant organisms that could be mosses or lichens according to our colleague Alfredo, a graduate of the specialty of Biology, from the Autonomous University of Yucatán. Above these plants, the ceiling was a faint pink to orange color. It looked extremely smooth but felt a gritty texture to the touch. Due to this fact, the guide informed that this part has been named texturi.

Herbert continued to show us the circuits that make up the chambers and galleries, but we realized that we were returning to the same place. It was then that Ricardo made the following observation: the main access gallery and the bottom circuits would give this cavern the shape of a cloverleaf. We will verify this data when the plan of the expedition is achieved.

In another section of our route, we saw another high vault which María Eugenia baptized as “La campanita” because in its zenith area there is a formation similar to the uvula that is at the end of the upper palate of human beings, colloquially named with the same term. The height of the “La campanita” dome is 7.28 meters.

At the end of the exploration, we conclude that this cave has great value from an archaeological and social anthropology perspective. Surely the results of your study will contribute to the knowledge about the use that the Maya gave to these caves.

It is essential to point out that its use as a tourist site should include an environmental impact study and a management plan that ensures the permanence of its current fauna.

Source: Reporteros Hoy