A construction company in Belize all but destroyed a Mayan pyramid more than 2,000 years old, using the crushed rock for road fill, the Associated Press has reported.
The razing of the Noh Mul (“Big Hill”) complex, one of the most important in northern Belize, near the Mexican border, was detected in early May, authorities said. The work, which was halted when archaeologists were alerted, was carried out with bulldozers and backhoes. Local TV station 7NewsBelize reported that the name on the equipment was D-Mar Construction.
Scholars and researchers were appalled. “It’s a feeling of incredible disbelief because of the ignorance and the insensitivity,” Dr. Jaime Awe, head of the Belize Institute of Archaeology, told the AP. “It’s like being punched in the stomach, it’s just so horrendous.”
“It is incredible that someone would actually have the gall to destroy this building out here,” said Dr. John Morris of the institute to 7NewsBelize. “There is absolutely no way that they would not know that these are Maya mounds.”
The over 60-foot-tall pyramid was the centerpiece of a complex that once comprised 81 buildings over 12 square miles. It was built of limestone bricks cut with stone tools around 250 B.C. and was once used as a ceremonial ground for the Maya.
Limestone is prized construction material for builders, especially when it is conveniently located, said local legislator John Briceno. “The Mayas use good material to build their temples, and these temples are close to [the nearby village of] Douglas, so that means that they have to use less diesel, less wear and tear,” he told CTV3. “They can do more trips per day, and at the end of the day they can make more money.”
But Awe said, “You can go and excavate in a quarry anywhere. . . . Why can’t these people just go and quarry somewhere that has no cultural significance? It’s mind-boggling.”
Photographs taken at the site showed backhoes in the process of gouging the pyramid. Awe was determined to scour the area for fragments of artifacts.
“I’m hoping that there will be bits and pieces that we can acquire from any kind of work that we do there,” he told News5. “But to say that we can try to preserve the building anymore, that is impossible.”
Although the Noh Mul complex is situated on private land, Belizean law gives government protection to pre-Hispanic ruins. Nonetheless, the fate of the Noh Mul is far from unique. Similar destruction has taken place not only elsewhere in Belize but in Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras.
“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,” said Francisco Estrada-Belli, an anthropology professor at Tulane University in New Orleans. “Unfortunately, this destruction of our heritage is irreversible but many don’t take it seriously. 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.”
Police are conducting an investigation and prosecutors say they may bring charges against D-Mar. According to Awe, the company’s actions are punishable by 10 years’ imprisonment or a fine of $10,000.
Morris estimated that there are about 2,000 Mayan sites in Belize.
NTDTV posted the following video and report of the pyramid being destroyed: