The archaeology world was shocked and saddend earlier this month to learn of the destruction of one of Belize's largest Mayan pyramids by construction crews looking for rock to build a road in the northern part of the country. The 2,300-year-old Nohmul pyramid stood over 60 feet tall and was the center of a settlement of about 40,000 people in 250 B.C.
Belize has long struggled to preserve its past—looting and destruction have plagued many Mayan sites. Even though the pyramid was located on private land, all of Belize's ancient Maya sites are protected by law. Gaspar Vega, the deputy prime minister of Belize, says he plans to prosecute those found responsible. Any willful destruction of an ancient site or monument carries penalties of 10 years in prison or a $10,000 fine.
AAAS Fellow Lisa Lucero is an anthropology professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign who conducts research in Belize on the Maya. Lucero lead a multidisciplinary team that explored the sacred pools at Cara Blanca.
Lucero shared her thoughts on the destruction of the Nohmul pyramid:
I write from Belize, where I am conducting an archaeology project in the middle of the jungle, away from construction sites—but not looting and destruction (unfortunately, that happens everywhere where there are Maya sites). The past week and a half has been particularly disturbing with the wanton destruction of a 2,300-year-old, 30-millimeter-tall pyramid temple at the Maya center of Nohmul in northern Belize.
The entire country is shocked, angry, and devastated. Not only do Maya sites bring in tourists, but they comprise a major part of the country's early history. And all this for road construction. Landowners and construction firms, of course, are attempting to pass the blame onto underlings. Calls for compensation, to me, seem too late—how can you pay for erased history? How can you replace what once was a place for worship that will now be trodden on by feet, bicycles, and vehicles? Respect for the past must include that which is materially expressed; after all, buildings, roads, artifacts, etc., have their own history to tell.
A part of history has been erased, let's do what we can to preserve the rest. There are important lessons from history. We just need time to reveal them. I am off to the field to do exactly this.