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#453815 - 12/19/12 08:21 AM Off The Beaten Path In El Pilar, Belize
Marty Offline

If you don't intend to get to El Pilar, you don't. The Maya site is separated from the highway by miles of ranches and teak plantations, not to mention a fair bit of forest. Even if someone were to wander up the road and onto the appropriate path, there is the off-chance that they might pass through the encroaching lianas and gumbo limbo trees without noticing the ruins peaking out from underneath the soil, which rises and falls in waves. This landscape is the counterpoint to the gleaming temples nearby, a humble place that raises fundamental questions about what exactly tourists in Belize, Guatemala and Mexico are seeing when they visit more popular Maya attractions.

"We need to be honest about the Maya and make sure people witness something with a level of veracity," said Dr. Anabel Ford, the University of Santa Barbara archeologist who discovered the ruins in 1983 and has maintained them amid what she calls a "forest garden" ever since. "I believe you can both show people something and have it be real. Besides, we have plenty of exposed temples already."

Though Dr. Ford is quick to say that El Pilar, on the Belize-Guatemala border, has been excavated -- the various tunnels into the mounds bear this out -- she is also plainly proud that the site hasn't been carved out of the forest like the stunning temples at nearby Caracol or Xinuntunich. She insists that leaving the ruins in a more natural state not only protects the basic limestone from the forest acids that stripped sculpted faces clean off the temples of Tikal but also gives visitors a more accurate account of what they might have looked like during Mayan times. Nothing at El Pilar has been reconstructed -- common practice elsewhere -- because such reconstruction relies on an unjustifiably absolute confidence in what Maya life was like.

Rather than being postcard pretty, the site has become Dr. Ford's answer to a question that has long confounded archeologists: How did the millions of Maya that once packed into this part of Central America manage to feed themselves?

"The Maya forest is a garden," explains Ford. "Ninety percent of the plants are useful as everything from spices to wood for construction to tanning material."

Dr. Ford's theory, a product of work with soil scientists, climate specialists and the Maya forest gardeners still living in this corner of Belize, is that rather than farming on a large scale like Europeans, Maya tended crops through long a cycle that included a stage of dense forest in order to vary their output. Over the millennia, this approach fundamentally changed the nature of the landscape, which was quite a bit less forested before the rise of the empire.

"People like to talk about how Native Americans were one with nature, but the reality is that nature was one with them," she explains.

Two Mayan phrases that have persisted to the modern day seem to indicate that the Maya had a different relationship with the natural landscape than the conquistadors. "Otochk'aax," meaning "The forest is my home," and "Kenan k'aax," meaning "Well-tended forest," reveal the native mindset. Tomas Lopez Medel, head of Spain's Yucatan government in the early 1500s, on the other hand, recorded his own order that the "the natives… construct houses close to one another… And they should not sow any milpas [cyclically changing forest gardens] within the town, but it shall be very clean."

There are two problems with Ford's vision of Mayan agriculture. Firstly, it is seen as radical and misguided by many Meso-American archeologists. Secondly, it isn't terribly awe inspiring.

Whether or not the Maya could have fed themselves from the forest remains a bone of contention among some archeologists. According to Sherry Gibs, an anthropologist and osteologist at Galen University, a Belizean college, the remains of Maya seem to indicate a largely maize-based diet.

"The land was probably covered with farms," says Gibbs. "Though there are foods from the forest, it seems unlikely it could have fed that many people."

The vision of Maya life Gibbs envisions -- and Ford is quick to concede most Maya specialist seem to favor this idea -- features huge swathes of fields punctuated occasionally by untamed forests and imposing temple structures. This is rather neatly in line with the popular depictions of the Maya that boost the economy here. But if El Pilar might disappoint a traveler intent on seeing the postcard wonders of Chichen Itza or Teotihuacan, it would also provide a singular palate cleanser for those who have seen other more exposed sites.

The path meandering through the site pauses at lookouts offering panoramic views of the tropical lowland forest, which is ceaselessly circled by condors. Within the courtyards, where trees stand far enough apart to approximate an orchard, light shines through in beams and glints off rocks that may or may not be part of the ruins. The line between incidental and historical is blurred here by roots and dirt.

El Pilar is also a lonely place, meditative thanks to the complete lack of crowds. In San Ignacio, tourists either book tours to ritual caves or wait patiently for their Tikal trip with "Juice," the Cicero of local guides. Asked how many people visit the site a day, the man selling tickets quickly estimated: "One point something," he said. "I don't think we got 400 people last year."

What travelers are missing is the chance to visit the mystery of the Maya as well as their ruins. The truth is that much remains unknown about the periods during which the Maya prospered and that uncertainty is poorly represented by the absolutism of grand edifices. By declining to expose its temples, Dr. Ford has made El Pilar into apt metaphor for the whole region: The truth remains buried.

Source, click for a slideshow

#453828 - 12/19/12 09:46 AM Re: Off The Beaten Path In El Pilar, Belize [Re: Marty]
Katie Valk Offline
Wonderful site well worth visiting
Belize based travel specialist

#454035 - 12/22/12 04:37 PM Re: Off The Beaten Path In El Pilar, Belize [Re: Katie Valk]
BeBelize Offline
Our day at El Pilar was one of the highlights of 2012! If you like solitude, peace and quiet, birds, or history, GO.

From our blog:

BeBelize in Bullet Tree Falls and El Pilar
Former Belize expat traveling the USA & Mexico

#454051 - 12/22/12 10:04 PM Re: Off The Beaten Path In El Pilar, Belize [Re: Marty]
Tom Offline
I was just thiking about El Pilar the other day. It has been several years sincce I first learned of it's discovery. Always thought I would like to go there but have not made it as yet. I wanted to go work on the dig at one time but had children at home and my husband said that I could not be gone for at least 6 weeks or so.
Once I get to San Pedro and settled into our condo I really don't go very far. Hopefully I will get there one day.

#454054 - 12/22/12 10:27 PM Re: Off The Beaten Path In El Pilar, Belize [Re: Marty]
Tom Offline
I was just thiking about El Pilar the other day. It has been several years sincce I first learned of it's discovery. Always thought I would like to go there but have not made it as yet. I wanted to go work on the dig at one time but had children at home and my husband said that I could not be gone for at least 6 weeks or so.
Once I get to San Pedro and settled into our condo I really don't go very far. Hopefully I will get there one day.

#511637 - 02/16/16 05:00 AM Re: Off The Beaten Path In El Pilar, Belize [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

Peering Inside El Pilar

The El Pilar Archeological Site: it's situated about 11 miles outside of San Ignacio - right on the Belize Guatemala border line. Now, we have reported extensively on the problems this particular location presents - the main threat being Guatemalan bandits. Tour Guides and tourists have even expressed fear in visiting El Pilar. But Researcher Dr. Anabel Ford says there is so much more to El Pilar; beyond these geographical pressures, and her new book "The Maya Forest Garden" highlights this beautiful and elaborate world beneath the canopy. Today that book was launched at the Image Factory. We spoke with one of the Master Gardeners, 75 year old Alfonso Tzul as well as Dr. Ford - they told us this book traces the deep connection between humans and nature.

Alfonso Tzul, Master Forest Gardener
"I've been practicing agriculture. I've been using the land, the forest, and the animals in such a way that it contributes, not only to me, but to the animals, to the land and to the forest as well. So Anabel came to me one day by accident and we got to know one another and she asked me why I do all those things and that is where the concept came about that you cannot live without the land. The land will remain, but you will go, the trees will go, but the land will stay. So you have to treat it carefully. That was the secret of the Mayas even from ancient days. That was how she began to collect information for this book that I have in my hand. So this book is an account of how the Mayas live many years ago - thousands of year ago and how they still continue to live like that today on their plot of land. One of the big issues in Belize is that lots of us tend to look at the land as a curse. The land should not be looked as a curse, but as a blessing. Something that can make` great improvements in your life. Case in point: the farmer may not have a lot of money, but he will always have something to eat."

Courtney Weatherburne
"We spoke to the Master Gardener and what I am getting from him is that this narrative or this book, it transcend just the Maya narrative. It's about the connection with humans and land and nature."

Dr. Anabel Ford, El Pilar Program
"Very much. Wasn't that an amazing story and to think that he says capture this message and take it forward and what we want to do with this El PIlar Forest Garden Network, is bring every one of you, everyone of your viewers, yourself, the whole community to help us build this. Can you imagine a sun or shade? When you walk outside you want to be in shade and the forest garden is just that; it feeds you, improve the soil, will cool down the planet and will be beautiful."

The book took about 2 to 3 years to complete. Dr. Ford has been working in Belize since 1982. Now this book has even inspired city residents to build a stronger connection to their lands. The residents of Port Loyola and Jane Usher have started a program called urban gardening. One of the coordinators Cynthia Ellis Topsey told us more about the vision for this community initiative.

Cynthia Ellis Topsey, Mentor
"One of the things that happened as I had shared is that leaders from the community of the Jane Usher Boulevard went seeking me out to ask for help, to help themselves. To improve the quality of life in their community. And these mothers said that they were willing to do anything to help themselves and not be begging and these leaders' men and women came together and we recommended along with the University of the West Indies, with Ms. Jane Bennett, to give support to the women and their families. They came up with the idea of urban gardening. The best thing is to build on people helping themselves. So we have had several initiatives within the community where the women are already beginning to plant, have gardens in their yards and where they don't have land, we are using containers. But their vision is to have one central area that they can be able to do the garden. Basically each person has control of their individual environment in the community. The idea is for them to move towards helping themselves, feeding themselves, processing the food and identifying ways in which they could develop products from the garden and from the rainforest."

Adrian Bartley, Jane Usher Resident
"People on the Southside of this city is very resilient and often times you would hear about the poverty and all of the crime and so forth. But I've work with folks from the Jane Usher Boulevard area especially and whenever I hear about an opportunity for food sovereignty for self-reliance, I would go out and see what I could learn and take it back to my community."

Some residents have already begun plating crops in their yards.

Channel 7

Informe Especial El Pilar, la ciudad perdida

El Pilar is highlighted in this special. Dr. Anabel Ford explains El Pilar's significance in the Maya world. T

#515764 - 07/05/16 04:45 AM Re: Off The Beaten Path In El Pilar, Belize [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

The Place Called El Pilar, Confidence Building Through Archaeology?

On Friday's news, we took you deep into the Annual Belize Archaeology and Anthropology Symposium. That's where the local and international academics converge every year for to discuss the work they've been doing along side NICH. And while the symposium had them sitting in a conference hall, their work is in the field, digging in the dirt for clues to the ancient past.

But, one archaeologist's work on an ancient site is very connected to the present. That's Dr. Anabel Ford, who discovered the El Pilar Site in the early 80's and has been working there for at least three decades. Located 7 miles west of Bullet Tree Falls village, this site sits in both Belizean and Guatemalan territory.

The work of Dr. Ford and her team is somewhat complicated by the politics surrounding Belize Guatemala cross-border relations. But for years, she's been able to navigate the often tricky cross border politics to restore and preserve this very important Maya site.

And, yesterday, she even got a number of Ambassadors, Government officials, an OAS Observer, and even a Supreme Court judge to go trekking through bad road, bad weather, and deep into the jungle just for a special ceremony.

Our news team had a front-row seat for the 5 hour long event, and Daniel Ortiz reports:

Daniel Ortiz reporting
A number of VIP's, including the Mexican Ambassador, the Taiwanese Ambassador, Supreme Court Justice Courtney Abel, and the BTIA Executive Director, converged on the El Pilar Archaeological Site for a very special event called "Katun El Pilar". "Katun", the Mayan word for 20, is being used in this particular campaign because the archaeologists are presenting their vision for the El Pilar Site for the next 20 years.

For El Pilar, there are a number of unique features, including the canopy of the Mayan Forest, and the fact that it sits on the border between Belize and Guatemala. Lead Archaeologist, Dr. Anabel Ford, who's been working on this bi-national monument for more than 30 years, hopes to preserve those two features.

Dr. Anabel Ford - El Pilar Expert
"We've just finished "Katun", which is Maya for 20, and we have decades. We count with just our hands, but they do hands and feet. That's 20, and the next 20 years, we want to see a new kind of community come around realizing that the Maya Forest protects our ground water; it provides food for food sovereignty, and that it will be part of the agenda to build strategies for climate change, to tackle that problem."

Cynthia Ellis Topsey - Researcher, El Pilar
"Welcome, Ladies and Gentlemen, to this awesome historic event at El Pilar, one of the most wonderful sites in Belize and in the world. Here you will experience archaeology under the canopy, and we're celebrating, having having fun, with people from all walks of life, and from all over the world."

Daniel Ortiz
"We understand that there is a unique aspect to El Pilar in that it has a Maya dwelling. Explain to us the significance of that"

Dr. Anabel Ford
"People, everyday, don't live temples - I mean - how often do you go to visit the Prime Minister's Office. So, your daily life occurs in your home, in your kitchen, with your friends and family, and you don't get a sense of what the Maya did then. And, I hope to take you to the Maya house to show you how the space, it's more intimate. You could even understand that this could be a reception room. This could be the dormitory; this could be the shrine. It all seems at the size of human."

The grounds of El Pilar, which was on the way to becoming abandoned by Cayo Tour guides, due to the ever-present fear of cross border bandits, became a lively place yesterday. Visitors were entertained by the musical and dancing excellence of the Sciencia Tecnologia, a Guatemalan Marching Band from Melchor De Mencos.

Also on the celebration agenda, a group of youths ran a total of 7 miles around the grounds of El Pilar as torchbearers to hand over to the Mayan Forest Gardeners. These indigenous care-takers are tasked to preserve the Maya Forest grounds that covers El Pilar.

Cynthia Ellis Topsey
"We want peace!"

"El Pilar!"

Cynthia Ellis Topsey
"We want peace!"

"El Pilar!"

Cynthia Ellis Topsey
"We want peace!"


"El Pilar!"

And that message of peace is particularly relevant, because El Pilar is bi-national by definition, it's area spans a swath of land that covers Belize and Guatemala.

Hon. Courtney Abel - Supreme Court Justice of Belize
"El Pilar actually sits on on a very interesting site. It actually spans not only Belize, but also a large area - a large sector - of Guatemala, which brings us to a very live topic in both countries."

But, the archaeologists working here approached the topic perhaps in an overly cautious manner, as if tiptoeing around landmines. They were strict not to deviate from the talking points of peace, almost downplaying the Belize/Guatemalan angle. We got the sense that speaking of the ongoing cross border relations - which have recently been controversial - is sort of taboo, and could endanger the good archaeological work at El Pilar.

Dr. Anabel Ford
"This cultural treasure is treasured by all humanity, whether you're from the United States, whether you're from Mexico, or Guatemala or Belize, this is the Maya Forest, and everyone Believes that the Maya Forest has great value. We need the biodiversity."

Cynthia Ellis Topsey
"All of you who have taken the time to come here, we want to congratulate you for facing your fears. Because many times, we don't want to come into some of these sites because we are afraid. Afraid of the weather, afraid of the road, afraid of many things. So, we want to give thanks if you've taken the time to face and overcome whatever fears that you may have. The point is that there is no problems. Researchers research anywhere in the world. So, Dr. Ford does research on the Belize side, and the Guatemala side, respecting the laws of both countries."

But, those complex politics aside, Dr. Ford and her team have been successful at cultivating a working relationship with the Tourism and Culture Ministries in both countries, all in an effort to further the development and preservation of El Pilar.

She and the professionals around her want to leverage those friendly partnerships in archaeology to help foster another element of confidence building and peacemaking.

Dr. Anabel Ford
"Wherever you go in the world, we have lots of things that are shared, and everyone has talked about nature shared We breath the same air; we have the same trees, but why can't we look at culture, and have peace through archaeology? And, El Pilar is the place we want to see that happen."

Lloyd Gillett - Former Brig. General of BDF
"Anabel has turned this question around. And ,instead of asking, how do we protect these treasures during conflict, she's saying, 'how can we enhance peace through archaeology?' And I think that's a very beautiful question, and we should commend her on trying to solve this protracted problem of destroying antiquities by thinking of how we can enhance peace through archaeology."

Hon. Courtney Abel
"Archaeology doesn't have borders. The borders that existed in the past, might not be the borders that exist in the future, and in the present. And, there cannot, in my view, be limits placed on archaeology by borders. So, that peace is very much, as I understand it, a prerequisite, almost a necessary condition for the existence and survival of archaeology. And, in a sense, El Pilar is symbolic of that. Now, I'm not meaning to be political here, and I don't think I am, because peace can never be political. It's got to be something that we're all striving for."

John Burgos - Executive Director, BTIA
"What you see today as El Pilar, it gives us a good sense of accomplishment, and we must be able to recognize and acknowledge how far the efforts have come."

After the ceremony, visitors took a tour of the Belize portion of the site. As you saw in our story, both police officer and BDF soldiers provided security for the over 100 persons who attended.

Channel 7

#515973 - 07/14/16 05:34 AM Re: Off The Beaten Path In El Pilar, Belize [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

El Pilar 20th Celebration

They had a special celebration at El Pilar after the BAAS, at which there were multiple presentations on El Pilar. There were dancers and speakers during the event, which celebrated 20 years of El Pilar being an Archaeological Site.

Per the Guardian: "At this ceremony, under a big tent in the cool and beauty of the Belizean jungle, were diplomats, dignitaries, the Maya Survivors Marimba group, Garifuna drummers, the Panerifix Steel Band from Belmopan, BDF youth cadets, Friends of El Pilar and various media houses. Following the singing of the national anthem, prayer and welcome, Judge Courtney Abel spoke about the theme of the celebration, 'Archaeology for Peace.' He explained that El Pilar existed thousands of years before borders existed and that many archaeological sites and territories overlap modern day borders. He indicated that archaeology can be used for peace, because people from different sides of the border can unite and work together to develop a shared heritage, like El Pilar."

#515982 - 07/14/16 10:46 AM Re: Off The Beaten Path In El Pilar, Belize [Re: Marty]
Katie Valk Offline
Grt site, wonderful birding and well worth visiting
Belize based travel specialist

#517395 - 09/07/16 02:51 PM Re: Off The Beaten Path In El Pilar, Belize [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

"The Maya Legacy" Trailer

'El Pilar, Preserving the Maya Legacy' is a selection at the 2016 Catalina Film Festival. Great trailer.

"We are proud to present this film as an official selection to the 2016 Catalina Film Festival happening September 28th to October 2nd. See www.catalinafilm.org for tickets and more information

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