|Screen grab from the movie Star Wars, filmed on-location at Tikal, Péten Basin, Guatemala|
I don’t know what it says about me, but the first thought that came to my mind was something the character Obi-Wan Kenobi said when an entire planet had been destroyed by the Galactic Empire‘s Death Star.
I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced. I fear something terrible has happened.
I don’t mean it to sound glib or dismissive. I find it appropriate in a way. If only because Star Wars was in part filmed in the Maya lowlands, in Guatemala’s Péten Basin, at Tikal. Remember?
|Locations and physical relationship of Noh mul (Belize) and Tikal (Guatemala)|
Well, something truly terrible HAS happened and it’s unbe.EFFING.lievable! From 7NewsBelize.com comes the headline
The 20-m tall main structure at the Maya center in northern Belize has been all but razed—for road-building gravel
The images above are appear in the 7NewBelize.com’s story, and the Subversive Archaeologist is very grateful for the loan. 7News sums it up this way.
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.
|The Emeryville Shellmound ca. 1924.
Courtesy Phoebe Hurst Museum
University of California at Berkeley
Such large-scale destruction of the world’s archaeological heritage was once a commonplace occurrence in the U.S. and elsewhere. Think of the great shell middens that once ringed California’s San Francisco Bay. They were levelled in the early 20th century for… you guessed it … construction materials and topsoil. Many, many of the large earthen pyramids of the central United States met the same fate. The only difference in the present circumstance is that it has happened to a structure belonging to a culture that one would have thought was immune to unfettered abuse.
|Huaqueros at work in an unnamed
location somewhere in South America.
Reproduced with thanks to
for the loan
Of course, anyone who knows much about the New World’s civilizations knows that small-scale depredations have a long tradition, and persist even today. For well over a century criminals known as huaqueros, or tomb-robbers, have been busily removing antiquities from the great ancient civilizations of Latin America. The story is much the same in the southwestern U.S., where the great and small buildings and middens have been ravaged with impunity by private property owners and criminals, alike.
This week’s activities in Belize are just the latest in a long line of tomb robbing that has been around since the time of Egypt’s pharaohs. You’ll recall that virtually every royal tomb was constructed with elaborate and sometimes diabolical defenses against theft. Even the long-lived story of King Tut’s Curse belongs to the the list of anti-theft devices. Unfortunately, as with so many such measures, only the honest ones heed such warnings.
Unlike most other archaeological depredations Noh Mul’s nemesis has a face. He’s a political hopeful named Denny Grihalva, whose construction company, he maintains, carried out this activity without his knowledge. As if! The police and heritage authorities showed up just in time to write it off.
When the archaeological analogue of Black Bart deals a hand such as this, the only thing right-minded people can do is read ’em and weep.
For what’s left of the world’s cultural heritage, we can hope only that “collecting” objets d’art illegally taken, illegally transported, and illegally purchased will one day become so socially unacceptable as to be, once and for all, extinct. Yeah. Yeah, I know. I’m playing Pollyanna yet again! Yep. Best I can do is make a lot of noise here and hope for better days.
ANY TIME IS A GOOD TIME TO GET GOOD STUFF AT THE SUBVERSIVE ARCHAEOLOGIST’S OWN, EXCLUSIVE “A DRINK IS LIKE A HUG” ONLINE BOUTIQUE
SA announces new posts on the Subversive Archaeologist‘s facebook page (mirrored on Rob Gargett’s news feed), on Robert H. Gargett‘s Academia.edu page, Rob Gargett‘s twitter account, and his Google+ page. A few of you have already signed up to receive email when I post. Others have subscribed to the blog’s RSS feeds. You can also become a ‘member’ of the blog through Google Friend Connect. Thank you for your continued patronage. You’re the reason I do this.