It had stood untouched for 2,300 years, but now one of Belize’s largest Mayan pyramids has been all but destroyed by a construction crew working on a road project.
The destruction at the Noh Mul complex, near the border with Mexico, was first noticed by archaeologists last week. But by then it was far too late. Pictures taken at the scene show that excavators have already made short work of the 100-feet tall monument’s sloping sides, digging out the structure’s limestone walls for use as road fill. Although the structure was located on a privately-owned sugarcane plantation, according to the Huffington Post, pre-Columbian ruins are under government protection in Belize.
The pyramid — regarded as Belize’s most important Mayan monument — was once the center of a settlement of around 40,000 people and 81 buildings over an area of 12 square miles. According to John Morris, an archaeologist at the Belize Institute of Archaeology, the building would have served as a huge palace or temple. “It would have had many rooms in there, multilayered 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,” he told 7NewsBelize.
Jaime Awe, the head of the Belize Institute of Archaeology, told 7NewsBelize it was impossible that the workers could have mistaken the pyramid (which was overgrown with trees and brush) for a natural hill, as the landscape around it is otherwise flat – besides which it is a very well-known landmark. “It’s a feeling of incredible disbelief because of the ignorance and the insensitivity… they were using this for road fill,” he said. “It’s like being punched in the stomach. It’s just so horrendous.”
Awe said that he and his colleagues may search through the debris for Mayan artifacts, but that the pyramid is beyond saving. The unscrupulous contractors could now face police action, reports CNN, along with the landowner. Willful destruction of an ancient site or monument is punishable by 10 years’ imprisonment or a $10,000 fine.
The destruction of ancient Mayan landmarks for road-fill is not a new problem. Much of the monumental architecture at Belize’s San Estevan site, which dates back to 800 B.C., was bulldozed during the late 1990s to provide material for roads. And the problem isn’t confined to Belize, says Francisco Estrada-Belli, a professor at Tulane University’s anthropology department. “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,” she told the Associated Press.