Weekly insights into our crazy world.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013



The unthinkable happened in Belize last week.  Eager to complete construction of a highway on time, construction workers scoured the local countryside for rocks.  They saw a large mound, bulldozed it, scooped up the rocks and used them as 'road fill.'  It turns out 'the hill' was actually an ancient Mayan ceremonial tower. Archaeologists worldwide are outraged!  The Nohmul Pyramid dates back to 250 BC and is the largest site in the country.  The workers claim it was an honest mistake...they thought it was a natural hill.  They were just doing their job.   

Let's examine the workers' point of view.  Today, it's hard to imagine a Great Kingdom once existed on the these lands.  Belize is dirty, poor and run-down.  However, two thousand years ago, Nohmul was a prosperous city with 40,000 residents.  Twin 100 foot-high ceremonial towers were joined by a raised causeway.  Below, ten bustling marketplace plazas sold goods from all over Meso-America.  No one knows why the Mayan Kingdom suddenly vanished a couple centuries later, but we do know that 80% of the ruins remain un-excavated...including the 12-square-mile compound of Nohmul.  This neglect makes them easy targets for an under-educated construction crew with a Caterpillar bulldozer and three dump trucks. 

The sides of the Pyramids used to be smooth!
Unfortunately, this sort of tragedy has happened again and again throughout human history.  In 1168, the savage Syrian Sultan Salah-al-Din conquered Egypt.  Desperate to spruce-up dirty old Cairo, he ordered his men to tear off the smooth stones from the nearby pyramids.  The limestone was hauled it into town and used to make new structures.  You can see it today!  The famed Citadel Mosque is actually built from these very bricks.  The same fate occurred to another popular ancient accomplishment: The Great Wall of China. During Mao's Cultural Revolution, desperate peasants dismantled parts to construct their homes.  And don't forget the Turks! During the Venetian War, they foolishly stored gunpowder in the Parthenon in Athens.  Prior to the explosion in 1687 it had a roof and four walls!

Anyhow, back to Belize.  An investigation is underway.  The law states that any "willful destruction of an ancient site or monument has penalties of 10 years' imprisonment or $10,000 for this kind of destruction."  However, it's unlikely anyone will be punished.  Unfortunately, Nohmul lies on privately-owned land.  The owner Denny Grijiva, is an aspiring politician and "knew nothing of the operation."  Sounds complicated. This week, the Cabinet of Belize will address the issue.  Don't expect that bunch of lazy slobs to do anything!

The best we can hope for is a new awareness of the precarious situation we face.  In addition to forgotten ruins, the world is filled similar problems.  There are endangered animals, threatened rain forests and disappearing habitats everywhere. Sadly, we only find out about such treasures after they are gone.  Fortunately, we here at the DUNER BLOG have a solution.  We propose every student in the Western Hemisphere must spend one year of High School unearthing ancient ruins.  We'll start with my 14-year-old son! 

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