Chaw Hiix devastated and Institute of Archaeology strapped for cash
On Tuesday, News Five reported that thousands of rotted bags full of Mayan artifacts which were left in a cement structure behind the site of Chau Hiix in the Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary. We discovered that those artifacts, excavated between 1989 and 2007, were left there after the anthropologist on site, Dr. Anne Pyburn, completed her project in 2007 and departed the country. The natural inclination would be to blame the Institute of Archaeology for these thousands of pieces of pottery, flint and other ancient material which seem to have fallen between the cracks. But the reality is that the institute is strapped for cash, resources and manpower. Mike Rudon was at the Institute of Archaeology in Belmopan today and has the story.
Mike Rudon, Reporting
What you’re looking at here are thousands of bags, many falling to pieces, containing broken pottery, shards of flint and other artifacts which were excavated from Chau Hiix and left here near the site in what was once a secure stone bodega constructed by Professor of Anthropology, Anne Pyburn.
Jaime Awe, Commissioner of Archaeology
“We knew that a bodega had been constructed there by the anthropologist Anne Pyburn. In fact, I think Doctor Pyburn, the last permit that she received to do work there was in 2007 of which I have a copy of that permit. And she had paid for the construction of the bodega: concrete blocks, zinc roofing. And about a couple weeks ago, we receive word of the situation that you described. One of the archeologists did go and visited the site. What seems to have happened there, somebody had gone in a ripped the roof off—they stole the zinc sheets, they stole doors and windows, etc. and as a result of that, it compromised the bags that contained some of these materials and obviously with the heat and rain it affects the plastic bags. Then vandals started to go in there ripping the bags apart to see if there was any artifact of significance.”
Commissioner of Archaeology Jaime Awe says that they planned to go back and salvage the artifacts but with the Noh Mul issue and a chronic lack of resources, they just didn’t get around to it. That’s not an excuse…it’s the reality which confronts the small department faced with an overwhelming task.
“Who is at fault here? For me it is heart-wrenching just as much to see the pottery that was strewn all over the place. And obviously if the vandals had left that building and that had destroyed the building, chances are that that material would have still been not in the condition that you saw them. Having said that, at the same token, I think it is important for people to realize that whenever permits are issued for work at archeological sites, whenever any finds of important materials are made—and I’m not trying to say that not everything is important; that’s not the point I’m making—but any complete vessels, materials that come from tombs etc., we make sure that those things are brought in to Belmopan and we have them in our storage in Belmopan. The millions of broken pottery that were found, we don’t have the storage for them; it is just impossible. Again we have bodegas at all the sites—at Caracol there is a bodega. But all the important pieces we make sure that they come in. many of them are exhibited at the museum in Belize City. Those that are not exhibited are stored here in Belmopan.”
And while the images are heart-wrenching for this archaeologist who has dedicated more than twenty years to his field, the fact is that passion, intent and will are not always enough to get the job done.
“I think that it is important for people to appreciate just how thinly our resources are stretched at archeology. We have one field vehicle that goes out and is responsible for looking and recording the incident reports that we get for monitoring the archeological work that is going on out there, for responding to looting, to going into the Chiquibul because we have incursions across the border by Guatemalans, who don’t only come to get xate by the way. If they see archeological sites, they also loot. We also have a long list of things that we need to respond to. We just don’t have the personnel, we don’t have the financial resources.”
And with scrutiny suddenly focused on his department, Awe reaffirmed the commitment of his team, and asked for understanding and consideration.
“We want the Belizean public to know that we do take our responsibility very seriously. I have a bunch of very dedicated people. When you came in you said it is nice and cool in this office. Most of what we do is in the field, in the sun, in the rain, in the storms and very adverse conditions and we take that responsibility very serious. We are stretched to the limit and our capacity—financial and human—is to do what we do. But we will continue the background and we will continue to respond. We ask the Belizean people to please keep calling us. We will get there. Be patient, work with us and we will go out there and respond.”
According to Awe they will make the time to go to ChauHiix to determine if there are any pieces which can be salvaged for the Museum. Mike Rudon for News Five.
…And department stretched paper-thin
Attention is focused squarely on the Institute of Archaeology for the destruction of numerous Mayan sites. First it was Noh Mul in Orange Walk, which was pillaged to provide material for road-fill. And two weeks later, it was Chau Hiix, as land within the Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary and in the middle of that Mayan site was cleared and bulldozed for farming. Commissioner of Archeology says it’s a stressful time for a department which is already stretched paper-thin. Doctor Jaime Awe told Reporter, Mike Rudon, that the department has already visited the site and plans to do so again soon.
Mike Rudon, Reporting
A couple weeks ago the Institute of Archaeology was called to the site of Chau Hiix, where land had been cleared by a bulldozer, allegedly to be used for farming by a private owner.
Jaime Awe, Commissioner of Archaeology
“I know that Doctor Morris and Josue, one of our young archeologists, visited the site with the chairperson and when they got there, there was no fencing. We are supposed to do a return visit to Chau Hiix, but against, I keep saying our limited resources. Right now, Doctor Morris is up in Orange Walk and we only have one vehicle to do that kind of field work. My own vehicle I gave to two of the junior archeologists and they are out in northern Belize by Lamanai where there is some more land-clearing going on. And we are hoping that it is just again clearing bush. We have reports, yesterday I was behind Bullet Tree Falls. We have some reports of land-clearing and roads being opened in the south that we also need to investigate but sometimes we need to balance the demands on our time against the resources that we have.”
Commissioner of Archaeology Jaime Awe says that they found pottery scattered on the ground in the clearing, though no signs of any overt damage to the mounds.
“You will see some areas where some dirt had been pushed aside. They certainly investigated those to ensure that they weren’t mounds. Often when you are clearing land with a bulldozer, you would have a lot of debris. But our guys have indicated that they were not mounds. We also found some broken pottery strewn in different areas, particularly above mounds. That is not unusual. If you walked through the bush around any Mayan site you would find broken pottery; very much like fi you wondered around any neighborhood and today, you would find modern garbage. Vessels used to break and we would throw them out in their yard; very much like how people do today. So we did see broken pottery scattered around some of those rounds.”
With thousands of mounds all over the country, the Institute has had to formulate a policy for instances where they are located on private land.
“There are thousands of mounds around the country. all you need to do is drive wherever there is land clearing and you will see the mounds dotting the region. You go by Spanish Lookout you would see the same set of things. I am looking at areas with major deforestation. Or drive between Belmopan and San Ignacio, you will see mounds in every body’s yards. I would like to take you on a trip between here and San Ignacio where we could stop where people homes are right next to a prehistoric mound. So we can’t stop that. What we request however is that if there are any major mounds; if there are going to be any plowering and subsurface disturbances that you try to plow as best as you can around the biggest architecture. Sometimes the smaller house mounds, they do plow over them. And there is limited or minimum damage when that is done because usually most of the architecture is subsurface and it still allows us to go back in the future and do excavation of them.”
And the intention in this case is no different, as the Institute of Archaeology will be contacting the owner of the land inside the Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary to establish protocol for collaboration in preservation.
“In many cases you know when we know of special sites of major significance. What we do is have meeting with landowners and say guess what in your property there is a site. I thing about two to three months ago to several land owners who have caves in the properties. And in some cases, they are using these caves for taking people to them. We said guess what, we are aware of them and you need to assist us with the protection of these sites and we will try to visit them as soon she gets through.”
The caretaker of the land we spoke to yesterday stated that they are also committed to the protection of the mounds. Mike Rudon for News Five.
Chau Hiix in Crooked Tree caught up in Noh Mul situation
Even as the Institute of Archaeology tries to juggle priorities to deal with the issues facing them at the Mayan Archaeological site of ChauHiix in Crooked Tree, it is caught up in the Noh Mul situation. Noh Mul, one of the larger sites in northern Belize, was almost completely destroyed by a private contractor who needed road-fill for some work in a nearby community. That destruction resulted in widespread international and local condemnation and outrage and a proclamation by authorities that those responsible would be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Today we asked Awe for an update.
Jaime Awe, Commissioner of Archaeology
“As we are speaking, we have Doctor Morris who is up in Orange Walk meeting with the police; this is about his fourth or fifth trip. We’ve compiled all the information, the data that we have to provide to the police to present a very strong foolproof case requires not just the recording of the damages at the site, but also we have visited the land’s department because we have to get information about the ownership of the property so we can present that. The idea is that charges will be laid wherever those charges can be laid. And so we are hoping to have all that documentation completed by this week.”
“I don’t mean to put you on a spot, but do you still feel there is this sense of outrage, this determination to deal with this in the ministry, in your department to take this thing as far as it can go?”
“You know Mike, the answer is categorically yes. We had a meeting just this past Friday and the instruction from our ministry, from our minister is that cabinet has given its full backing to the investigation and for us to continue with laying charges. Yes it might seem like there is a lull right now, but like every good investigation, the case of a good murder investigation, you have to do your police work and you have to ensure that you have all the hard data that would support the charge.”
Denny Grijalva, the owner of the company which razed the Mayan monument for road-fill, has stated publicly that his company is prepared to pay the fine immediately. But jail time is also provided for in the Act.