ATM Cave Closed – Tourist Dropped Camera On Ancient Skull
The Actun Tunichil Muknal cave or ATM - for short, may be the most prized and treasured Mayan site in Belize - and that's because of the spectacular skeletal remains of 15 individuals that can be found there.
They are estimated to be over a thousand years old - and the most precious is the so called Crystal Maiden, the skeletal remains of a young woman.
Not far from Belmopan, it is a popular tourist destination, but a couple weeks ago, during one of the regular tours, one of the tourists got a little careless around one of the skeletons. He dropped his camera, fracturing one of the thousand year old skulls.
No, it wasn't on the famous crystal maiden - but it is still a very serious issue, and today we spoke to Director of the Institute of Archaeology Jaime Awe who told us how serious it is, and how they plan to prevent this from happening again.
Dr. Jaime Awe - Director, Institute of Archaeology
"Recently, we had a small accident at the Actun Tunichil Muknal Archaeological Park. We believe that a guest - a tourist - who was in there, was taking a photograph with a camera. The camera slipped and fell out of their hands, and it landed and damaged one of the skulls, and it broke a section of the upper part of the skull. I sent in a team from the Institute of Archaeology, and we went in. We looked at the skull, and we think that we can make repairs to it. We have been, for some time, thinking about disallowing the use of cameras in the cave, unless under special permission. And when this incident happened a couple weeks ago, it really spurred that decision and urged us to implement it as of now. Hence, as of this past week, and we will no longer allow guests and visitors to go in with cameras. I am compiling that we will put on a DVD, and these will be available for sale to guests going to the site. And in many ways, this will help us - and again, to enforce this law - at the same time, it might be another source of revenue for the Institute of Archaeology. The cave is awesome; it contains the remains of people who were sacrificed in there. It contains artifacts that were left in there as offerings to the gods, and the cave is beautiful in terms of its formation. To me, it is not just the cultural remains in the cave that make it important; it's also the cave formations in different rooms in some of the chambers in the cavern. So it's certainly one of Belize's premier caves. I think that this incident has made us all acutely aware of the need to be conservation-minded, of the need to be careful, of the need to tell people that they've got watch where they step. We can put in lights in the cave, and we could set barriers up, but then, it would total destroy the beautiful experience that one has. This incident has made all the tour guides a lot more aware that they are the vanguards. They have to be responsible for the tourists that go in there that they have to manage these groups with a lot more care."
Since a small section of the skull was broken, the team plans to fix it so that the break is not obvious, and as for the tourists entering the cave, cameras are banned as of the 4th of May unless they have permission by N.I.C.H.