efe-epaCancun, Mexico

The Riviera Maya, the leading destination for divers among the world's caverns, holds great mysteries from prehistoric times, given that a mere 1,500 kilometers (930 miles) of the submerged caves have been explored out of an estimated 8,000 kilometers believed to exist on the Yucatan Peninsula.

"The amount of ancient remains being discovered is incredible," Eugenio Aceves, director of the Tulum Prehistory Museum, told EFE.

For Aceves, an expert at diving and the study of caves, the scientific potential of this region of Mexico is not being taken advantage of, largely because of the stringent budget limitations suffered by institutions in charge of the research and conservation of discoveries.

Despite that, "these days we're seeing the results of discoveries related to the first settlers and the first animals that lived on the continent," he said.

From a tourism point of view, Aceves said that every new discovery in the underground sinkholes and caves in the Tulum area is "another cherry on the cake."

Tourists "like the historical part and now we not only have the history of the Mayas in the area, we can go back thousands of years before that," he said.

The Riviera Maya, which in recent years has become the No. 1 place in the world for diving in caves and caverns, occupies an area close to the Tulum municipality where most of the terrain is concentrated that has been made over for recreational, touristic and exploratory activities.

It is estimated that at the height of the tourist season, the sinkholes receive more than 600 people who come to dive and some 3,000 who just go snorkeling.

"A completely new tourist attraction is being developed that has to do with the jungle, the caves and the underground rivers," the expert said.

Aceves works with the Tulum Prehistory Institute, and, as one of the few specialists in the region capable of practicing underwater photography and filming for research purposes, he's had the chance to take part in explorations that have led to numerous discoveries.

"We have human skeletons of the first settlers of the Americas, which go from 10,000 to 14,000 years old, and which have now been shown to be the most ancient human remains found on the entire continent," said Aceves, who took part in the underwater discovery of 10 of the skeletons.

By Lourdes Cruz