Sunday, December 05, 2010

death on the flats

Sometimes you read a news story and hope it is an April Fool's joke.

Or a headline in The Onion.

That is what I felt when I read: "2,300-Year-old Maya ruins destroyed for pastureland."  A story in Friday's
FoxNews Latino.

The cultural stereotypes are overwhelming.  Rancher destroys buildings that pre-date the birth of Christ -- to get a little bit richer by growing tough beef.  It could be right of the Amazon.

But it was true.  No joking.  No leg pulling.  No sardonic wit wrapped in irony.

You may have heard the name Chicxulub.  To most of us, it is the name of the impact crater created when an asteroid or comet struck the Earth and turned dinosaurs into PEMEX fill-ups.

But it is also a village.  Almost at the exact center of the crater.  Thus, the name.

But it will soon be known for another disaster.

Here are the basic facts. 

About three months ago, a rancher bought some land near the village of Chicxulub.  There were some mounds that were too irregular for cattle grazing.  So, he hired some heavy machinery to bulldoze the land into billiard board pastureland.

The problem is that the mounds were the ruins of a registered Mayan settlement from the Pre-classical period.  Some of the buildings were 2,300 years old.

The machinery destroyed walls, roofs, and stairways of the main complex, as well as seven buildings and two altars that stood in the main square -- the largest more than 10 feet tall.

And this was no small grouping.  It covered 250 acres.

The National Anthropology and History Institute (INAH), the Mexican agency responsible for protecting registered sites, determined the settlement suffered "irreversible" damage.  The nucleus of the settlement was directly affected.  "Total and irreparable" was the conclusion.

I felt almost as outraged as I did when the Taliban destroyed the Bamyan Buddhas.

Of course, the rancher took the usual two-step denial.  I didn't do it.  And no one told me it was an archaeological site. 

Really?  Mounds on the Yucatán flats.

What did he think they were -- South African termite hills?

e didn't bother with the true subtext: "I thought I would get away with it."

On our trip, Islagringo and I talked about the number of ruins that are still undiscovered throughout the Yucatán.  And there are many.  But this one was rather obvious.

And only a few kilometers from Dzibilchaltún -- the first site we visited on this trip.

The whole thing makes me sad.

It will be interesting to see what happens.

But I think I already know that story, as well.

And it has an ending no happier than the end of the Mayan cities we visited.

Tomorrow, we will return to the road trip.  I just could not let this one pass without comment.


Anonymous said...

That is terrible. My question is, if it was registered Maya ruins, why was it for sale?


Steve Cotton said...

Mom -- Much of the land under Mayan ruins is privately owned. When the property is sold, it is subject to protection of the ruins. Until recently, the great site at Chichen Itza was privately owned. The state did not buy the land until during the last five years.

Anonymous said...

Steve, if you ever get as far south as my house, you will see various mounds and even a pyramid on the property I own. They are all unexcavated. This was part of the 'burbs of the larger and partially reconstructed site of Oxtankah just down the road from me. Kathe

Calypso said...

Wars and stupidity will erase our history I think - very sad indeed!

norm said...

I have access to an old atlas of archaeological sites in Ohio, dots and marks to show what was found by the early interested folk. It was published in 1913. A great many of the listed mounds, enclosures and forts have gone under the bulldozer. My policy as to things I find, is to keep it to myself because if the landowner finds out there is a village site, mound or fort on their land, he/she may call in the bulldozers to keep the state from protecting the site. People in the country are weird about land rights-many could care less about history.

Merida Mikey said...

One of the saddest posts I have ever read. No doubt in my mind that the rancher was an influential businessman who was well-connected. How unfortunate for the rest of the world.

Islagringo said...

What a sad way to start the day...reading about this. Of course, nothing has been mentioned in our local papers. At least not that I have seen. I agree with you about what the ultimate conclusion will be....nothing. This man should go to jail.

jennifer rose said...

The man paid good money for the land with the expectation that it could be put to its intended use. Put yourselves in his shoes -- how would you like to suddenly discover that what was sold to you as arable land is now something else? Give him a break.

1st Mate said...

The rancher had to have known the ruins existed, if a condition of his purchase was their protection. Did some paperwork get lost? Did he just forget what he bought? Anyway, I've never seen cows have any problem climbing hills. I guess he didn't want them to get too much exercise.

Nita said...

This couldn't get much worse. I know there are many ruins not yet found or marked. Someone needs to hurry up with some ways to save. Since many of the sites already found were restored with grants given to organizations in the U.S., like the Smithsonian, Natural Museum of History in NY and even university professors, I wonder if lack of money by Mexican authorities has played any part.Hope this doesn't happen again.

Steve Cotton said...

Kathe -- It sounds like a good trip to make. Watch out for the heavy machinery.

Calypso -- At best, stupidity. If not mendacity.

Norm -- I fear you may be correct. I often chuckle about how the law is ignored in Mexico. I should not be surprised at the results.

Mikey -- I would not be shocked in the least if that turns out to be the case. And it will not matter what he knew and when he knew it. Where is Sam Ervin when we need him?

Islagringo -- And it was so close to where we were.

Jennifer -- I hope that famously witty tongue of yours is embedded deep in your cheek. As you know, I detest government-imposed limitations on private property owners. But the ownership of archaelogical sites is well-known. And mounds on the Yucatan are hard to miss for what they are. I have little sympathy in this case.

1st Mate -- I am waiting for the news that something other than a ranch is planned for the site. Personally, I would love to have my own private dig.

Nita -- Mexico's pesos are already set for priorities other than preserving the numerous sites not yet preserved. From what I hear, quite a few sites are destroyed every year. And usually by people who cannot be held for their actions. But it is a great example of the tragedy of the commons. In that sense, Jennifer is correct.

Barb said...

How very, very sad.

Anonymous said...

Everywhere one turns in the Yucatan there are mounds- ruins. There is no way any government would or should spend what it would take to restore them. As a society we place tremendous importance on things that are old...antique furniture, old houses in the NE that are drafty and termite riddled, piles of rubble in the what point should Mexico decide they have spent enough money preserving ruins so that visitors can have solitary experiences at them or, instead, opt for feeding/clothing/housing the people who are living marginally?

I do not advocate wantonly destroying what is old, but feel that sometimes too much value is placed on objects that are old to the neglect of other more important this case, in Mexico, clean water, education with well trained teachers, professional salaries for law enforcement personnel...the list goes on. KK

Steve Cotton said...

Barb -- Sad, Indeed.

KK -- I take your point. Not everything old can be retained. Otherwise, we would be swimming in a sea of junk. But this story goes beyond that. It was wanton destruction. And there is no excuse for it.

Mic said...

Yes, this makes me almost as sick to my stomach as hearing of the damage done to ancient artifacts and sites from that shamefully stupid "Shock & Awe" spectacle at the beginning of the Iraq War on Baghdad.

jennifer rose said...

No, there was no wit intended. Wherever you are on the planet, you're standing on someone's bones or someone's temple -- just like all the water that's ever passed your lips is recycled. It may have even been elephant urine at one time.

Anonymous said...

And people should respect that. (sigh)