Buried deep within a water-filled sinkhole in the Yucatán peninsula, researchers have found the fossilized remains of an unknown species of giant sloth.
The creature likely died just over 10,000 years ago, possibly falling into the sinkhole when it was dry or had little water in it.
Sinkholes in Mexico, known as “cenotes”, are natural pits formed from the collapse of limestone bedrock that exposes the turquoise groundwater underneath. They were sometimes used by the Mayans for sacrificial offerings, with one such cenote in Chichén Itzá harboring the remains of six humans, including two children.
So far, scientists have gathered from the depths the creature’s skull, jawbone, vertebrae, ribs, claws, and a couple of other bones. The rest of the fossil still lies 50 meters (165 feet) below, but the researchers believe they have a nearly complete skeleton. Initial analysis suggests the ancient sloth lived between 10,647 and 10,305 years ago.
The new species is called Xibalbaonyx oviceps, dubbed “Pote” by the team. There is scant more information on the discovery at the moment, as the researchers still have more work to do. They currently have plans to release more specifics next year, including how big the giant sloth was.
Another giant sloth that roamed South America during the Pliocene era is the Megatherium. This imposing species was 6 meters (20 feet) in length – equal in size to modern-day elephants – and survived up until the early Holocene, a period that saw the rise of mankind and civilization.