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Students from Inherit’s 2017 Museums Connect Project swimming in a cenote in Ek’ Balam, Yucatan (Photo credit: Gabrielle Vail).

InHerit and the Research Labs of Archaeology at UNC are excited to be partnering with the National Geographic Society who has awarded InHerit a grant for the Cultural Heritage, Ecology, and Conservation of Yucatec Cenotes. Cenotes are natural sinkholes formed when the porous limestone bedrock of the Yucatan Peninsula collapses, exposing the vast underground river system beneath and creating unique cavern-like habitats with deep, fresh water pools. Among the most distinctive and beautiful geological and cultural landscape features of the Maya world, these natural wells are of fundamental importance in the cultural and natural history of the region. Cenotes serves as the primary source of cool, fresh water for Maya communities well into the 20th century and as sacred pilgrimage sites for centuries. Today many cenotes are also important recreational sites that contribute to the tourist economy.

Cenote near Cuzama, Yucatan (Photo credit: Dylan Clark).

Through this initiative, InHerit will collaborate with students and faculty from the Universidad de Oriente in Valladolid, Mexico and secondary school teachers in Yucatec communities in proximity to cenotes. The goal is to develop innovative, sustainable, and interactive educational programs and community activities that explore the geomorphology, oral history, cultural and archaeological heritage of cenotes. Education is key to enhancing the already considerable cultural appreciation of cenotes and in developing strategies for effective conservation of the integrated system of sinkholes that make up Yucatan’s vulnerable, but critical subterranean aquifer. By working together with college students, teachers, and younger students in Yucatán, our objective is to develop a generation of highly knowledgeable cultural stewards who will advocate on behalf of the responsible and sustainable use of cenotes, conservation of their ecosystem, and promotion of continued education and research at the local level. As this program develops, we hope to include Chapel Hill undergraduate and graduate students to emphasize the transglobal importance of environmental sustainability and heritage initiatives.

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