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Explorers' next journey includes cave mystery

Underwater caves in Mexico are next up for a couple that went to Antarctica this year.

By CARY DAVIS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published December 31, 2001

This year, Hudson's Paul and Jill Heinerth embarked on the diving adventure of a lifetime. They sailed to the frigid waters of Antarctica in January and spent two months exploring the underbellies of icebergs.

Next year, their thirst for adventure and discovery will take the restless Heinerths to Mexico, to the world-famous cenotes, or underwater caves, of the Yucatan Peninsula.

The perilous trip to Antarctica offered the chance to explore and film a place no other human had ever seen.

The Mexican cenotes offer the possibility of a murder mystery.

A recent trip to the Yucatan to scout the underwater caves brought a surprise: Divers found skeletal remains on the floors of the cenotes. Paul Heinerth said the bones appear to be human, and could be the remains of members of upper-class Mayan society.

What could have brought these privileged people to their watery graves? That's the question Paul and Jill Heinerth, along with a team of Mexican archaeologists, hope to answer when they descend into the cenotes next month.

"It's going to be an intriguing, exciting adventure," Paul Heinerth said. "A mystery, murder-she-wrote kind of thing."

Heinerth said there could be a number of possible explanations for the skeletons: insurrection, sacrifice, murder. The remains most likely were dumped in sinkholes, which served as wells for Mayan communities, Heinerth said.

The Heinerths are in the process of getting permits from the Mexican government to allow them to explore the cenotes and excavate the remains.

When the St. Petersburg Times last wrote about the Heinerths, the owners of a Hudson dive shop and training center, they had just returned from Antarctica. The two-month expedition had everything: They sailed through 40-foot waves and explored the water pockets inside the icebergs, which held strange and rare species of fish and colorful bugs. They stared down sheer walls of ice that disappeared into the depths below.

The expedition produced important information for scientists and yielded plenty of stunning underwater photographs, some of which appear in this month's edition of National Geographic magazine, one of the trip's sponsors. The A&E network, another sponsor, is preparing a documentary film about the trip.

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