Purchase of the un excavated monumental site of Grey Fox in Belize clears the way for preservation and research.
If you want to save an ancient archaeological site from impending destruction, here is one way to do it: Buy it.
That is exactly what happened in 2011 as the monumental remains of a Classic period Maya kingdom located in northwestern Belize faced destruction from bulldozing. Action from expanding development pressures began to inch closer to three Maya archaeological sites in northwestern Belize, sites that have not yet been badly damaged by bulldozing. One of the sites, known as Grey Fox (named after a type of fox that is indigenous to the area), is located on the edge of a 500 sq. km., low-lying un-impacted forest area known as the Bajo Alcranes. The site contains two large public plazas, each about 100 x 100 meters in size, dominated by a large eastern pyramid and large royal elite residences and viewing galleries, and, adjacent to the plazas, a probable ballcourt. The area in which the site is located is also home to a large concentration of monkeys, tropical birds, and other wildlife, as well as trees and plant-life that help to make up the important biosphere of the area. Now, under the leadership of Dr. Thomas Guderjan of the Maya Research Program (MRP), a U.S.-based non-profit corporation, archaeologists, preservationists and donors have successfully purchased the Grey Fox site and now hope to protect it for future conservation and research. The MRP has been conducting field operations in northwestern Belize for more than two decades.
"We found the site about 12 years ago and mapped it in 2010," says Dr. Thomas Guderjan, current President of MRP. "It is significant in that it is one of 3 unlooted such sites remaining in northwestern Belize. If we had not purchased it, Grey Fox would surely have been bulldozed within the next 5 years. The land was owned by a group of farmers who were preparing to remove the forest and bulldoze the site."
After two decades of working to protect and preserve the archaeology of the area, the MRP came to the conclusion that the best way to protect sites is to own them. The concept is not a new one. It has been a long-standing strategy and practice by other groups, such as the Archaeological Conservancy, a non-profit organization based in Albuquerque, New Mexico, which purchases properties containing archaeological sites that are endangered by looting and destruction.
The purchase didn't come easy. According to Guderjan, it first took 20 years of gaining trust among the local people and organizations of the area. "The land title was in the name of the community of Blue Creek and only members of the Mennonite community could own land", says Guderjan. "I had been slowly working towards the possibility of purchasing for several years when we found that the land was to be sold at auction in 5 days. We spent 3 days talking with every community leader until we worked out a deal. When the auction came, I was the only outsider in the company of a dozen or so of the community leaders.....all men. Each of them in turn allowed that I would be an exception to the 'Mennonite only' clause. The mayor announced our bid price and asked if there were any other bids. There were not, and each congratulated me on becoming a member of the community."
Little research and excavation work has been done at Grey Fox, so much less is known about the site as compared to other better-known sites in Belize. But its purchase means that what information it will afford for a better understanding of the ancient Maya civilization and culture will not be irretrievably lost before the scientists, scholars and visiting public can get to it. And the stakeholders are now looking ahead.
"Now that it is possible to purchase more land," says Guderjan, "I hope to purchase two more properties and open an archaeological reserve. Perhaps at some point, it will be expedient to turn it over to the government of Belize."
The MRP is currently conducting full-scale research and excavations at the site of Blue Creek, just southeast of Grey Fox. Information about how to contribute toward the purchase of the remaining two sites can be obtained at http://www.mayaresearchprogram.org/web-content/address_form.html.