How the Hell Does Something Like This Happen?

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These are the images of what remains of a 2300 year old Mayan pyramid, at a site in the north of Belize called Nohmul, that has been destroyed in order to be reused as gravel by road paving crews.

A construction company in Belize has been scooping stone out of the major pyramid at the site of Nohmul (meaning Big Mound), one of only 15 ancient Maya sites important enough to be noted on the National Geographic World Atlas.

The National Institute of Culture and History of Belize had earlier noted that “the site continues to be destroyed by road construction crews who bulldoze the mounds for gravel.”

But now it appears that nearly the entire main pyramid, once standing over 60 feet tall, has been destroyed by road building crews, said John Morris, associate director of research at Belize’s Institute of Archaeology. The institute is a department of the Belize Ministry of Tourism and Culture.

This is simply unconscionable. I find this kind of destruction even more heinous than what has happened to Syria’s heritage during her ongoing civil war, or the ongoing destruction of Sufi shrines in North Africa by Salafi fighters. They’re all horrific as far as I’m concerned, but there’s at least an explanation for the latter cases that can be understood on some level. Wars happen, as much as we might wish they didn’t, and things are damaged and destroyed in war, as much as we might wish they weren’t; there is no justification for the destruction, but it is at least understandable. Salafi teaching, whatever one may think of its merits, tells its devotees that shrines are an affront to God and must be destroyed; again, there’s no justification for what they do, but it can be understood if seen in the proper context. But this? A road crew, or a series of road crews, either too lazy and/or greedy to find gravel that wasn’t part of a millenia-old, irreplaceable structure, or too ignorant to know what they were demolishing? A crime against cultural heritage that could have been avoided without breaking a sweat? Wars destroy things. Salafis are taught to attack Sufi shrines. But this? This was just pointless greed, laziness, and stupidity. It served no purpose, even a disagreeable one. It’s not even destruction for destruction’s sake; it’s just destruction because we’re too dumb to do anything else.

Belize’s deputy prime minister is calling for prosecutions; I’ll believe it when I see it, and anyway no amount of legal action is going to bring this incredible temple back. It survived 2300 years on this planet but couldn’t survive human greed and human stupidity. I hope the damn road they paved with these stones was really majestic.

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One thought on “How the Hell Does Something Like This Happen?

  1. Pingback: Five stories of cultural and historic heritage in 2013 | World Heritage Alert

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