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Barbarians at the gate

17 May 2013

Both north and south of us, the late-comers to the hemisphere have been destroying the national heritage for short term gain.

In Belize, the Noh Mul archeological site, although on on private property, as a “pre-Hispanic” site, is protected under Belizean law.  It’s not exactly unknown, as Belizian photographer José Luis Zapata notes:

Nohmul, meaning “Great Mound,” is 20 meters above sea level and is situated on a low, limestone ridge east of the Rio Hondo between Orange Walk and Corozal. Nohmul lies among sugarcane fields and is actually the highest landmark in the Orange Walk/ Corozal area. It is about a mile from the Northern Highway between San Pablo and San Jose.

The site was first recorded in1897 by Thomas Gann. In 1908 and 1909, Gann returned to the site to dig what he thought were burial mounds containing polychrome vessels and human effigy figures. Gann continued excavating up to 1936 uncovering tombs and caches which yielded human bones, jade jewelry, shells, polychrome vessels, chultuns, flint and obsidian. Most of these finds were taken to the British Museum. Later on A. H. Anderson and H.J. Cook visited Nohmul to inspect damages to the site. In 1973, 74, and 78, Norman Hammond (then with Cambridge University) mapped the site. Hammond returned in 1982 to do a more intensive Nohmul Project which lasted until 1986.

maya-ruin-destroyed-belizeDespite being a known archeological site of importance, The 2300 year old central temple was bulldozed, and not by accident.  Belize is mostly flat, and Although the mounds look like hills covered in plant growth rather than the clean pyramids we associate with Maya architecture, they are very well known as Maya structures. “It’s not like the construction companies innocently think they’re clawing away at a hill only to find a wealth of limestone bricking. It’s the bricks they’re targeting.”   Which are used for paving roads… to Mayan sites, supposedly.  Actually, for the benefit — no surprise here — a local politician:

The construction company in this case was identified. Archaeologists saw the name of D-Mar Construction on the equipment, a company owned by one Denny Grijalva, a United Democratic Party candidate for representative of his district, Orange Walk Central. Nohmul is in Orange Walk North. Interesting that the party platform includes rebuilding access roads to major tourist sites. It would seem counterproductive to build those roads using the major tourist sites. Then again, following election laws appears to be a sore point for Mr. Gijalva, so what’s a little cultural patrimony destruction?


In an almost parallel incident, the Barbarians to the north of us have also destroyed a “pre-Hispanic” (or, rather pre-Colombian) site, again with the overt connivance of local politicos.

oxford_indian_mound_by_gingerCity leaders in Oxford, Ala. have approved the destruction of a 1,500-year-old Native American ceremonial mound and are using the dirt as fill for a new Sam’s Club, a retail warehouse store operated by Wal-Mart. A University of Alabama archaeology report commissioned by the city found that the site was historically significant as the largest of several ancient stone and earthen mounds throughout the Choccolocco Valley. But Oxford Mayor Leon Smith — whose campaign has financial connections to firms involved in the $2.6 million no-bid project — insists the mound is not man-made and was used only to “send smoke signals.”

Leon Smith, like Denny Grivalda, stands to profit personally from the destruction, justifying their personal gain as a public benefit.  A road, or a Sam’s Club parking lot perhaps serves some public good, but to what end?  No, it’s not a case of “those who don’t know history…” but of refusing to acknowledge that history exists that should grieve us.  These elected leaders  see themselves as the arbiters of what is, and is not, the heritage of those they represent.  In overriding and trodding under (literally) a sense of human continuity they seek to divorce their constituents from their community roots… putting those who  elected them one step closer to simply being consumers and vendors of anyplace, anywhere… human sacrifices to the fetish of capital.

Sources:  The History Blog: “Mayan temple in Belize bulldozed for road fill”

José Luis Zapata:  “Nohmul Maya Temple Destroyed by Bulldozers in Belize”

Southern Studies:  “Alabama city destroying ancient Indian mound for Sam’s Club”

Dan Whisenhunt, Anniston (Alabama) Star:  “The Silent Partner: Oxford mayor has financial ties to Commercial Development Authority activities”




3 Comments leave one →
  1. norm permalink
    18 May 2013 9:53 am

    Belize and Alabama in the same boat. Backward places both.

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