Without a doubt one of the most interesting phenomena of the Yucatan
A cenote (English pronunciation: /sɨˈnoʊtiː/ or /sɛˈnoʊteɪ/; Spanish: [seˈnote]; plural: cenotes; from Yucatec Maya dzonot or ts'onot, meaning "well" is a sinkhole with exposed rocky edges containing groundwater. It is typically found in the Yucatán Peninsula and some nearby Caribbean islands. The term is derived from a word used by the low-land Yucatec Maya to refer to any location where groundwater is accessible.
Cenotes are surface connections to subterranean water bodies. While the best-known cenotes are large open water pools measuring tens of meters (yards) in diameter, such as those at Chichén Itzá, the greatest number of cenotes are smaller sheltered sites and do not necessarily have any surface exposed water. The term cenote has also been used to describe similar karst features in other countries such as Cuba and Australia, in addition to the more generic term of sinkholes.
Cenote water is often very clear, as the water comes from rain water infiltrating slowly through the ground, and therefore contains very little suspended particulate matter. The groundwater flow rate within a cenote may be very slow at velocities ranging from 1 to 1,000 meters (3 to 3,000 ft) per year. In many cases, cenotes are areas where sections of cave roof have collapsed revealing an underlying cave system, and the water flow rates here may be much faster: up to 10 kilometers (6 mi) per day. Cenotes around the world attract cave divers who have documented extensive flooded cave systems through them, some of which have been explored for lengths of 100 km (60 mi) or more.
The Yucatan Peninsula has almost no rivers and only a few lakes, and those are often marshy. The widely distributed cenotes are the only perennial source of potable quality water and have long been the principal sources of water in much of the Yucatán Peninsula. Major Maya settlements required access to adequate water supplies, and therefore cities, including the famous Chichén Itzá, were built around these natural wells. Some cenotes like the Cenote of Sacrifice in Chichén Itzá played an important role in Maya rites. Believing that these pools were gateways to the afterlife, the Maya sometimes threw valuable items into them. The discovery of golden sacrificial artifacts in some cenotes led to the archaeological exploration of most cenotes in the first part of the 20th century. Edward Herbert Thompson, an American diplomat who had bought the Chichén Itzá site, began dredging the Sacred Cenote there in 1904. He discovered human skeletons and sacrificial objects confirming a local legend, the Cult of the Cenote, involving human sacrifice to the rain gods (Chaacs) by ritual casting of victims and objects into the cenote.
Cenotes in the Yucatan
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