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Last updated on April 19, 2014 at 12:41 EDT

Construction Workers In Belize Destroy Ancient Mayan Pyramid For Road

May 14, 2013
Image Caption: Backhoe tearing into ancient Mayan pyramid. Only a narrow column remains after workers destroyed the site. Credit: Past Horizons / Julie Vasquez

Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online

Police in Belize are investigating a construction company that has essentially destroyed one of the region´s most important historical structures. A 2,300-year-old Mayan structure located at the Nohmul complex in northern Belize was one of the largest pyramids in the Caribbean nation before it was leveled by a company seeking out gravel to dump on village roads.

Using backhoes and bulldozers, construction workers dug into the structure to extract crushed rock, according to authorities looking into the matter on Monday. Archaeologists, horrified by what was found, said there was no way the workers could have mistaken the ancient ruins for a hill, as they had claimed.

Jaime Awe, head of the Belize Institute of Archaeology, said the destruction was detected late last week.

“It’s a feeling of Incredible disbelief because of the ignorance and the insensitivity … they were using this for road fill,” Awe said in a statement picked up by Mail Online. “It’s like being punched in the stomach, it’s just so horrendous.”

The pyramid also sat in the middle of a privately-owned sugar cane field, and while it lacked the even stone sides seen in better-preserved pyramids, the mistake should not have occurred, Awe said. “These guys knew that this was an ancient structure. It’s just bloody laziness.”

After digging deep into the mound, the workers left an isolated core of limestone cobbles, exposing a narrow Mayan chamber dangling above a hollowed-out section.

Awe explained that it´s “mind-boggling” just how ignorant this construction firm could have been. What took years for ancient Mayans to build, using stone tools and materials from stone quarries, took only minutes for modern-day construction workers to undo using sophisticated equipment.

Belizean police said it is possible criminal charges will be filed against the company. While the complex sits on private land, Belizean law states that all pre-Hispanic ruins remain under government protection.

This is not the first time such a catastrophe of human proportions has occurred in Belize. With a country that is largely covered in jungle and hundreds of ancient ruins, it is inevitable that ancient sites will be targeted and potentially destroyed.

Norman Hammond, an emeritus professor of archaeology at Boston University (BU) who used to do research in the region in the 1980s, said Mayan ruins have been targeted in the past by workers seeking materials.

He told Mail Online via email that destroying Mayan ruins for construction materials is “an endemic problem in Belize (the whole of the San Estevan center has gone, both of the major pyramids at Louisville, other structures at Nohmul, many smaller sites), but this sounds like the biggest yet.”

It is a disturbing scenario, added Arlen Chase, chairman of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Central Florida (UCF). But “there is only a very limited infrastructure in Belize that can be applied to cultural heritage management. Unfortunately, they [destruction of sites] are all too common, but not usually in the center of a large Maya site,” he noted.

Francisco Estrada-Belli, a professor at Tulane University´s Anthropology Department, said, “I don’t think I am exaggerating if I say that every day a Maya mound is being destroyed for construction in one of the countries where the Maya lived.

“Unfortunately, this destruction of our heritage is irreversible but many don’t take it seriously,” he added. “The only way to stop it is by showing that it is a major crime and people can and will go to jail for it.”

As for last week´s destruction at the Nohmul site, John Morris, of the Institute of Archaeology told 7 News Belize, “we can´t salvage what has happened out here“¦ It is an incredible display of ignorance. I am appalled.”

A member of the news crew was threatened by one man with a machete as construction vehicles continued to excavate the site and dump trucks hauled away ancient ruin debris.

The ancient Nohmul complex, which was first recorded by Europeans in 1897, covers about 12 square miles in the middle of a private field in the Orange Walk district. The site consists of twin ceremonial clusters surrounded by 10 plazas and connected by a raised causeway. The site is believed to have housed around 40,000 people from 500 to 250 BC.

The excavation was halted and investigations of the landowner and D-Mar Construction are underway. The company owner, Denny Grijalva, who is a local legislative candidate, told 7 News Belize he “knew nothing about the project” and directed reporters to his foreman. Neither worker answered follow-up questions.


Source: Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online