The shocking destruction of a Mayan archeological site that dates back to at least 2,300 years is raising serious questions about the safety of Belize’s cultural and archeological sites. Last week, Belize news sources began reporting that a local construction contractor was carving away at the ancient ceremonial site of Nohmul (which translates to “Big Hill”) and using the rich gravel and limestone content to fill roads in a nearby town.
One archaeologist, John Morris, described the unbelievable destruction to a local news station:
This is one of the worst that I have seen in my entire 25 years of Archaeology in Belize. We can’t salvaged what has happened out here – it is an incredible display of ignorance. I am appalled and don’t know what to say at this particular moment.
Dr. Jaime Awe, the director of the country’s Institute of Archaeology told 7 News Belize on Monday that according to the reports compiled by his archaeologists the site is completely destroyed:
… the destruction is horrendous, its deplorable, its unforgivable. I had hoped that I could have gone in and find something that was salvageable. That we can go in and do repairs to the damages so that we could preserve some aspect of the ancient building. I completely regret that I have to say this — I think that 80% or more of this building is destroyed . There is simply no way or no hope that we could attempt any kind of preservation on this. The only thing left now is to watch the last bit of it crumble with the coming of the rainy season or to go in there and try to salvage the parts that remain that are scattered all over the site.
Archeologists have reported finding destroyed pre-classic era pottery shards in the wake of the destruction, and the extent of damage is still be calculated. Nohmul was a major Mayan ceremonial center that is scattered over a wide area about 12 square miles that included roughly 10 plazas and more than 81 separate buildings. According to Ambergris Daily, “human bones, jade jewelry, vessels, chultuns and other artifacts have all been recovered from this mostly excavated site, but there is much more to discover.” While the Nohmul complex is on private land, Belizean law makes it clear that any pre-Hispanic ruins are under government protection.
While the destruction at Nohmul may be shocking, another archeologist at Tulane Univeristy, Francisco Estrada-Belli, explained to The Guardian that this may be more common than people think:
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.
Channel 5 News in Belize mentioned that in June 1998 another part of the archeological site was partially destroyed, and back in 1940 another structure was also destroyed for construction material. There are suggestions that the government may take legal action against the company, which is owned by a member who is in the ruling party.