Contractor Bulldozes Mayan Temple now in Alabama

There seems to be an assault  upon the ancient temples of Mexico and south America, Private contractors and corporate interest like  Walmart are destroying world heritage sites. It seems like wanton vandalism of the worse sort but maybe it is more sinister.

No More Noh Mul? Contractor Bulldozes Mayan Temple
posted (May 10, 2013)

Today we learned that a major Mayan Monument had been bulldozed for roadfill aggregate. 7news went to Orange Walk District, near the northern district boundary to find out that Noh Mul – or at least a large part of it – is no more. It’s a stunning development – and Jules Vasquez reports.

Jules Vasquez reporting
Noh Mul. it’s name means the Big Hill but it’s not so big any more, this once towering and stout ceremonial center in San Jose/San Pablo has been whittled down to a narrow core by excavators and bulldozers. Whodunnit? Contractors who’re using the rich gravel and limestone content to fill roads in nearby Douglas Village.

Now, this was the main temple, the ceremonial center for Noh Mul, at about 20 metres among the tallest buildings in Northern Belize – and it’s not centuries old, it’s millennia, thousands of years old and the thought that it’s rich limestone bricks cut with stone tools in the BC era, the thought that this could be used for road fill is a manifest outrage and a particularly painful one for these Archeologists who were called out to the area today. We were there when they first arrived and got their initial emotional reaction:

Dr. Allan Moore – Archaeologist, Institute of Archaeology
“This is one of the largest bulding in Norther Belize. I am appalled! I was hoping that when I was driving up from the main San Juan road that it would not be this one but when I got closer I couldn’t believe it when I saw all the trucks. This is an incredible destruction.”

Dr. John Morris – Archaeologist, Institute of Archaeology
“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.”

And so were we when we first arrived before the NICH team and this man who claims some control over the area – which is private property – came to us brandishing a machete and shouting threats at us. He arrived with the dumptrucks to haul more material – but after they saw us they retreated. But yesterday, they were there, CTV-3 captured this footage of the same excavator at work and trucks hauling away aggregate and this truck, the same one we say the machete man using today drove them out of the area. And while they had to retreat, the pillage continued unfettered. That didn’t happen today because the authorities were there but it had been happening for some time.

Jules Vasquez
“They chose this structure because it is such a good resource of gravel for the road fill?”

Dr. Allan Moore
“I would imagine that the structure – the mound would give them that sort of mixture of that rubble and that type of material they are looking for. I know that the Ministry of Works always complains that it makes road fill.”

It makes good road fill and that is what it is being used for reportedly in nearby Douglas Village and incredible inversion of value, that what the Maya built with stone tools and manual labour ages ago is being demolished with heavy equipment, because these contractors are too lazy to find a proper quarry.

Dr. John Morris
“Whenever you have these large looking mounds out here – they are clearly going to be man made it is not going to be natural. This is Noh Mul it is one of the largest site in Belize. It is incredible that someone would actually have the gall to destroy this building out here. There is no way that one can say that they did not know. Even for you guys as lay people can look and you’ll see the building. Regardless of whether or not they were aware of any excavation, I think that it is very clear to me that whomever is responsible for this will have to face the consequences of it. Because there is absolutely no way that they would not know that these are maya Mounds.”

Now to be fair, there are about 2000 sites in Belize and tens of thousands of mounds all across the country and most of them look like this completely overgrown that look like abrupt hills or elevations but really, the Maya built them all and they are everywhere.

Jules Vasquez
“Now suppose someone would flip the ctriticism and say ‘Man you all are Archaeology – you all know this is here, then you all should have protected it, cordon it off or done soemthing with it so that ignorant people would not have their way with it.'”

Dr. Allan Moore
“I like your approach and I would say the same. Belize is 8,867 square miles of jungle. We are only around 16 personell in the department. We can’t be in the Chiquibul and at the same time being at La Milpa. We applaud whoever can help us. It is our herritage and we all have to chip in and when things like this happen – it affects all of us.”

Indeed, it impoverishes all of Belize’s patrimony particularly for this site, one of the four major Mayan sites in all of northern Belize from the pre-classic era.

We found monochrome pottery shards typical of the pre-classic area all over the place, many reduced to rubble, and indeed we could have even played amateur archaeologist and who knows what they got out of this hole where someone tunneled in.

Dr. Allan Moore
“Well obviously Jules this was around maybe 250bc and it would have been part of the ceremonial precinct, this would have been probably a public building or a building where the Nobels or the High Priest would have occupied. This building would have been probably the focal point. These mounds you are seeing around here and another group over there – they might have had connectivity between ceremonial administrative religious function here. This was sort of the epi-center of this settlement.”

Dr. John Morris
“Like a huge palace or building or a huge temple it would have had many rooms in there, multi-layered rooms so you have rooms for people living and you would also had several tombs in there of the people who lived in this area here.”

The name we saw on the heavy equipment is D-Mar Construction – owned by Denny Grijalva, UDP hopeful for Orange Walk Central. Grijalva said he knew nothing about the project and referred us to his foreman who never answered at least a dozen calls we made to him. Then Grijalva said he would be there in twenty minutes, we waited fourty and left – we had been stood up.

The Archaeologists from NICH went back and brought police officers to make sure workstopped – police photographed it like any crime scene dwarfed by the scale of the monument.

Dr. Allan Moore
“We usually bring the police with us they help us to put a stop order to the work that’s been carried out here by the bulldozer. If there were anyone out here when the police came we would have probably taken them to the Police station for questioning because they have no business doing this out here. The primary legal aspect of this case here is going to rest on the destruction of an ancient Maya Monument/Building.”

Jules Vasquez
“Just for the avoidance of doubt – all work here must cease and desist immediately?”

Dr. Allan Moore
“Yes I think we will have to get a word with whoever is in charge and tell them to quit now and all operations would have to stop.”

But, really, it’s too late, the archaeologists say it’s been dug so deep in the middle in that when the rain comes, it could well collapse. So, once a monument to antiquity now a monument to ignorance and expediency.

Dr. Allan Moore
“It’s a monument of ignorance and unfortunately that’s the way it is. We always try to look at the positive side. Now we will probably have to look at this and say that it is a good example of what not to do.”

Director of the Institute of Archeology Dr. Jaime Awe told us today that what has happened is “intolerable.” He says they will lay charges against the company D-Mar’s and the landowner because the machinery was on site and the land owner should have not given permission for the mining to have proceeded. We’ll keep following that part of the story.

To give a broader sense of context – the site known as Noh Mul or “Big Hill” is scattered over a wide area about 12 square miles – and is estimated to have been home to 40,000 people between 500 and 250 BC. There are about 81 separate buildings – all on private property. But the one that has been destroyed is the namesake, the Big Hill – as it was the ceremonial center and main structure.

Interestingly, Grijlava told us that when his foreman got there, he would apologize on behalf of the company, D-Mar’s and the Deputy Prime Minister, Gaspar Vega. Vega’s name comes in because Noh Mul is in Orange Walk North, and the roadfill is reportedly being used in nearby Douglas Village. Of course, we never met the foreman, but we have learned that after we left with the Archeologists, he did arrive and removed the heavy equipment.



Walmart destroys the cultural heritage of Mexico

26 April 2013

The Pyramid of The Sun and Avenue of The Dead, viewed from the top of Pyramid of The Moon, are the symbol of Teotihuacán in Mexico.

The Pyramid of The Sun and Avenue of The Dead, viewed from the top of Pyramid of The Moon, are the symbol of Teotihuacán in Mexico.

Part of the ancient Teotihuacán site, pictured above, is now underneath a Walmart. Walmart destroys Mexico’s cultural heritage for profit. An archaeologist gives her view.

– By Dr Donna Yates

As an archaeologist, I welcome the news that “[t]rade unions in Canada, the United States and Mexico are preparing protests and legal action against the Mexican subsidiary of Walmart” . That $24 million in bribes was allegedly paid by Walmart representatives to built the store at Teotihuacán is sad, but, in hindsight, makes a lot of sense. It takes a lot of gall to wilfully risk a country’s most beloved heritage site and, as it seems, it takes a lot of money too. However, I am sure Walmart felt it was worth it: if only a fraction of the 2.5 million annual visitors to Teotihuacán walk through Walmart’s doors, they would have easily recouped their ‘investment’.

Instead of focusing on corporate financial corruption at Teotihuacán, I would like to discuss corporate heritage corruption. The level of briberyexposed by the New York Times would be outrageous in any context, however this is not just any context, this is Teotihuacán. Teotihuacán was one of the most powerful and influential cultural complexes of the Americas. It was one of the largest cities in the world during its heyday. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, meant to be preserved as the cultural heritage of all humanity.

Now a portion of it is underneath a Walmart.

Teotihuacán, which is located only about 50km from Mexico City, has become an important symbol of Mexican identity. Even before the Spanish Conquest, the site as a ruin was an evocative place shrouded in nationalistic foundation mythology. As of yet, we do not know what the builders of the site called their own city, however the Aztec name for the place, Teotihuacán (which means something along the lines of “place where the gods were born”), displays the holiness, wonder, and importance of the site.

Lack of written records shroud Teotihuacán in mystery. What we do know comes from extensive archaeological excavations, the written records of the literate neighbouring Maya cultures, and even the deep cultural memories of the native peoples of the region. Teotihuacán was massive and by the 5th century AD, the city was sprawling: it covered over 36 square km and housed, based on some estimates, over 200,000 people. The Teotihuacanos built tremendous structures (the Pyramid of the Sun, for example, is 225 m across and 75 m tall), they developed innovative land reclamation schemes, and there is significant evidence that Teotihuacán was a planned city: purposefully laid out on a grid and zoned. The city appears to have had a significant influence over the region via extensive trade networks, political connections (it is though that Teotihuacanos were the founders of some of the most powerful Maya dynasties), and a outpouring of persuasive iconography. All of this without having developed the wheel, without any beasts of burden, and without the written word.

The Teotihuacan of today is both beautiful and popular.  Around 2.5 million people visit Teotihuacán each year and, according to a study conducted by the Mexican National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), on Teotihuacan’s busiest day of the year, controlled groups of 20 to 30 tourists visit the Pyramid of the Sun every 5 minutes. It is not a remote archaeological site without modern value. It is not an ugly ruin standing in the way of progress. It is a living monument to the past, a place for Mexicans and foreigners to reflect on who we were, who we are, and where we are going in the future.

A protest against the Walmart development

A protest against the Walmart development

Thus when the word got out in 2003/4 that a Walmart store was to be built “near” to Teotihuacán, the archaeological community became extremely worried. We archaeologists often find our discipline difficult to explain to outsiders, specifically outsiders with an unyielding eye for unnuanced commercial development. Just because the core of Teotihuacán is massive and visible, doesn’t mean that the archaeology stops at the edge of the temple. Rather it extends, under the ground, in all directions, hidden from view but waiting to be exposed and studied. Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it is not there.

A particularly cringe-worthy example of this is the US Army’s use of the Iraqi site of Babylon. While some of the damage to the site was to visible and important ruins, at least some of the destruction was, apparently, due to a misunderstanding of the site map. Trenches were dug and heavy vehicles were parked in areas that, visually, looked empty but were actually within the ancient city walls. Such activity destabilised the previously-preserved underground archaeological remains and caused destruction that we are not even able to assess.

It is this periphery, these outer zones of sites, that are most at risk for destruction from development. It is difficult to convince planning authorities to protect this kind of past simply because people cannot believe what they cannot directly see. Even worse, it is in these areas that the average people lived: the people who built the massive pyramids, not the people who lived in them. The archaeology of real life, of workers, of farmers, of craftspeople, of the everyday is the hardest to preserve. It gets paved over and destroyed.

Walmart Mexico

When archaeologists heard that a Walmart store was being opened near the site we thought “here we go again”. The maths seems simple: Teotihuacán covered 36 square km at its peak. The Walmart was being built only 1 km from the preserved tourist park of Teotihuacán and 2.4 km from the Pyramid of the Sun. The Walmart was being built on Teotihuacán. We were horrified but we, and our supporters were powerless to stop the construction. Archaeologists were accused of being in the way of progress, of preventing this new source of jobs to the area (never mind the threat to both locally-owned business and to the massive number of people employed at the archaeological park), of being unreasonable. Now it has been alleged that the construction was the result of significant corruption on the part of both Walmart and local officials. Perhaps the only thing we were standing in the way of was someone’s pay-off.

The construction of the Walmart at Teotihuacán has taken a toll on the site. Even though Teotihuacán is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, UNESCO has stated that it was not informed that the Walmart was being constructed, a potential breach of the preservation plan associated with the site. As early as 2005 (the year after the construction of the Walmart), UNESCO has sent technical teams to review the construction and to assess site damage. A 2005 report states that no significant archaeological remains were destroyed during the construction of the Walmart (but, recall, the archaeological remains of everyday people are usually classed as ‘insignificant’), “however, the visual integrity of the property with its setting can be compromised affecting its associated symbolic values.”

The Walmart is visible from the top of the Pyramid of the Sun.

According to UNESCO, Mexico has failed to adequately address this issue. In 2007 Mexico “did not submit the design, adoption and implementation of the integrated Archaeological Site Management Plan as requested by the World Heritage Committee in 2005”. They failed to submit a plan in 2008, rather submitted a report that “contains little new substantive information concerning the current situation to address the requests of the World Heritage Committee”. A 2009 report submitted to UNESCO by Mexico also “does not contain substantive informationconcerning the current status of the property, the intersectorial working group related to the impacts of uncontrolled development, and thus does not respond to all the issues raised by the World Heritage Committee”. A management plan was finally submitted in 2010 and a report on the implementation of this plan was submitted in 2012. Of note in this report is the statement that “access to areas not excavated or closed to the public need stronger restrictions to mitigate deterioration generated by accumulation of trash, structural wear and vandalism”. Eight years before a Walmart was built on just such an area.

I share in the outrage surrounding the allegations of corruption involved in this scandal, however I urge readers to not lose sight of what we may have lost. Luis Gálvez, a leader of the workers’ union of the state National Institute of Anthropology and History, has stated that the Walmart at Teotihuacan is an “offence against Mexico”. I would contend that it is more than that. It is an offence against our shared cultural heritage. Everyone who visits the site, everyone who climbs the Temple of the Sun to look out over the Valley of Mexico and imagine the vast ancient city, painted bright colours and sparkling in the Central American sun will either have to pretend not to see the Walmart or ask themselves why it is there.

That certainly isn’t what I would have wanted.


Alabama city destroying ancient Indian mound for Sam’s Club

oxford_indian_mound_by_ginger.jpgCity leaders inOxford, 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.{C}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.”

“The City of Oxford and its archaeological advisers have completed a review and evaluation of a stone mound that was identified near Boiling Springs, Calhoun County, Alabama, and have concluded that the mound is the result of natural phenomena and does not meet the eligibility criteria for the Natural [sic] Register of Historic Places,” according to a news releaseSmith issued last week.

In fact, the report does not conclude the mound is a result of “natural phenomena” but says very clearly it is of “cultural origin.” And while the University’s Office of Archaeological Research does not believe the site qualifies for the National Register of Historic Places, theAlabama Historical Commission disagrees, noting that the structure meets at least three criteria for inclusion: its “association with a broad pattern of history,” architecture “embodying distinctive characteristics,” and for the information it might yield to scholars.

The site is also significant to Native Americans. The Woodland and Mississippian cultures that inhabited the Southeast and Midwest before Europeans arrived constructed and used these mounds for various rituals, which may have included funerals. There are concerns that human remains may be present at the site, though none have been found yet.

United South and Eastern Tribes, a nonprofit coalition of 25 federally recognized tribes from Maine to Texas, passed a resolution in 2007 calling for the preservation of such structures, which it calls “prayer in stone.” Native Americans have held protests against the mound’s demolition, and last week someone altered a sign for the Leon Smith Parkway that runs past the development to read “Indian Mound Pkwy.”

A local resident named Johnny Rollins told the Anniston Star how his Native American grandmother taught him that when she died he could “go to that mountain” to talk to her:

“It seems like it’s taking part of you away,” he said of the demolition. “I always felt I had ties to that there.”

Since the media began reporting on the site’s demolition, city officials have revised their storyand are now claiming that dirt from the mound is not being used as fill, despite earlier statements to the contrary. But eyewitnesses say they have seen workers hauling dirt from the mound to the Sam’s Club development.

“I mean really, I went there, saw the giant trucks deliver the earth straight from the mound to the construction site, and I still can’t believe what they are doing,” writes the seventh-generation Alabamian behind the blog Deep Fried Kudzu. She shared the photo above showing roads for construction vehicles now cut to the top of the mound and has other photos and her story of visiting the site at the website.

‘More prettier’ than an Indian mound

Deepening the development’s controversy is how the contracting has been handled. The force behind the project is Oxford’s Commercial Development Authority, a public board that uses taxpayer money to lure businesses to the area. The CDA owns the land where the mound is located.

Alabama law exempts CDAs from bid requirements, which means contracts can go to whomever the board chooses. A recent Anniston Star investigative series about the CDA  revealed among other things that the group has awarded nearly $9 million in contracts since 1994 but has taken bids for none of them.

The newspaper also detailed the financial ties between the CDA, firms it does business with, and Mayor Smith’s political campaign.

For example, the $2.6 million contract for preparing the Sam’s Club site went to Oxford-based Taylor Corp., with the money for that coming in part from the sale of city property to Georgia-based developers Abernathy and Timberlake. Taylor Corp. owner Tommy Taylor, who has received thousands of dollars in city contracts for non-CDA work, donated $1,000 to Smith in 2004 and $1,000 in 2008, while Abernathy and Timberlake donated $1,000 to Smith’s re-election campaign in 2004, the paper reports.

The Anniston Star also found that the CDA paid engineering firm Goodwyn, Mills and Cawood of Montgomery, Ala. $45,000 in engineering contracts for the Sam’s Club project, with part of that money paying for the archaeological study. The firm contributed $500 to Smith in 2004.

An Alabama Ethics Commission official said the relationships could violate state law “depending on facts,” but the mayor said he’s done nothing wrong.

Meanwhile, the controversy over the damaged mound’s fate rages on. After getting an earful from alarmed preservationists, Alabama Gov. Bob Riley (R) forwarded their concerns to the state Historical Commission — but said his office has no intention of getting involved. According to the National Institute on Money in State Politics, Tommy Taylor contributed $1,000 to Riley’s 2006 gubernatorial campaign, while Goodwyn, Mills and Cawood contributed $1,500.

For now, it appears Oxford officials are pressing ahead with the project. As Mayor Smith saidin its defense, “What it’s going to be is more prettier than it is today.”


Tags: ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s