7 News Belize

Institute Of Archeology Director Visits Noh Mul
posted (May 15, 2013)
But whether they did it for a day or a decade, De-Mar’s Stone Company is the one in the crosshairs of legal and public scrutiny. The investigation is underway and today the Director of the Institute Of Archaeology went to the site to see it for the first time. 7news was there when he arrived.

Jules Vasquez reporting
Today when Dr. Jaime Awe arrived at the scene, he shook his head in weary bewilderment, seeing the site for the first time - the rubble of the ruin, he walked around it to get a sense of the scale of destruction. Looking at the back side, the towering, fractured edifice and it’s near demolition was apparent and undeniable.

Dr. Jaime Awe - Director, Institute of Archaeology
"Now seeing it firsthand like you said in 3-D, it's just gut wrenching. It's obivous as you look at the stratigraphy there that this was a big temple that was built stone by stone and was carved out by the Mayas from their own qurries in the past. When I looked at it just now it reminded me of the coring of an apple - when you core an apple you cut out all the outside and what you're left at the end is the core. So you don't have any idea of what the apple used to look like in the outside."

Awe said it is the undoing, the rubbishing of centuries of painstaking work by hand with stone tools:

Dr. Jaime Awe
"Jules, the way that the Maya's built these temple is that they would find an area to quarry and they would start to dig in the dirt and once they get into more solid limestone they would painstakingly cut each block by hand using stone tools - the Maya's didn't have metal tools. They would carry these tools from the quarry site on 'mecapal' or the 'tumpline' that you use across your head and these people would have to carry these stones here and gradually build this building. The building in question here is about 70ft tall. So we're looking at the end result of perhaps over a thousand years of construction activity. If you ask me why I know it it's because I’ve been looking at some of the patchers and some of the patchers that I find date from before the birth of Christ in fact some of them look like 4 or 500B.C. when this site was very likely to be occupied and they first built a small building below where we are standing right now. Over the years they went building on top of it and the patchers I found date through about 7-800A.D so we know that this is the end result of many years of hard work."

And that all that hard labour was undone using 21st. Century machinery is what really galls Awe.

Dr. Jaime Awe
"It's mind boggling why this had to occur particularly when you think again that the Maya had to mine for this material using nothing more than stone tools. Today we have large machinery and we could find a quarry somewhere around and excavate and get the same kinds of materials that the Maya found. As you pointed out this was an easy target, you can just dig it and you have readymade material."

An easy target and Awe says the offender, De-Mar’s should also be an easy target for any judge to find guilty since the Institute of Archaeology has executive Blessing to proceed with charges:

Dr. Jaime Awe
"I was very impressed and very happy yesterday when I read the press release that was also made by the Ministry of Natural Resources not just condemning the action that took place out here but also making it clear that we will proceed with completing our investigation and then to take legal action for the destruction that took place here. It is stated very clearly in the NICH act that willful destruction of an ancient monument is in contravention to the NICH act and that it is punishable under the law. So there is really no ambiguity that any court in the nation would find or make them question whether they can find guilt. So I think I feel very confident in that."

Jules Vasquez
"Even if the prosecution is successful, the maximum fine is only $10,000. We've seen environmental for people who damage the reef - the fine is hundreds of thousands. Is the law in itself an antiquity?"

Dr. Jaime Awe
"Yes Jules you said is it an antiquity? To some degree I think you're right. The NICH act is really an act that has evolved out of what used to be called the Ancient Monument and Antiquities Ordinance which was drafted in the 1950's, it is outdated. As you clearly pointed out we need to change the penalties in that act."

And while laws need updating, some might say that so does NICH’s work to protect these treasures of antiquity. This bushy hill that you see here is the second largest structure in Noh Mul. It sits in the middle of a privately owned cane field - one hundred feet away from the main Temple that has been destroyed. And this is probably something like what the big one looked before it was excavated. Awe showed us mounds, prehistoric buildings all around the Big One. He says it is virtually impossible to explore all the sites in the country: And now, the site that was named Big Hill is just a shadow of its former self. For a sense of scale, you can see it towering above me. And while it is till imposing,

Dr. Jaime Awe
"The number of sites that we have excavated and conserved is about ten. We have thousands of Archaeological sites in this country. I'll give you the example of Caracol - one of the biggest cities in our country just like La Milpa which is here in Orange Walk - at Caracol we have excavated and conserved about a dozen buildings, we have mapped over a thousand buildings. The amount of buildings that we have worked on is miniscule when you compare it to the large number of Archaeological sites that we have. Given the small size of our institution we don't have enough archaeologists to work at any two sites at the same time so to try to work on all of them is just impossible. The point that people didn't know in the case of Noh Mul - I would have to disagree. This site is well-known. In fact it's the people in this community that give the site the name Noh Mul."

And now, the site that was named Big Hill is just a shadow of its former self. For a sense of scale, you can see it towering above me. And while it is till imposing, go up close and you’ll see the claw marks where the excavator ripped away the face.

Dr. Jaime Awe
"Just to look at what we have here hurts you to the core and you don't have to be an archaeologist for it to hurt you all you have to be is a proud Belizean and proud of your heritage. This is Belizean cultural heritage and so everybody, whether you're a newsman, a professor, a farmer, a police man or an archaeologist - we all have a responsibility to protect and preserve this. This is our patrimony."

Awe says the destruction at Noh Mul is comparable to only one other site, the one Centre at nearby San Estavan that was completely destroyed also for road construction in the 80’s.

An Archeological journal named Past Horizons reports that at Noh Mul, one structure was partially destroyed in 1940 to provide material for the same San Pablo to Douglas road. It says that at least three burial chambers were uncovered during its demolition.

As we told you the other night, we also know that another structure at Noh Mul was destroyed in 1998 also for road works in Orange Walk North. Dr’s Awe and John Morris told us that they can only recall on successful prosecution for the destruction of antiquities – and that was way back in 1978 at Cahal Pech. Morris says he recalls four others that were settled out of court.

And in one last note, Awe said he will contact international colleagues and get some people to come in to see what can be done – if anything – to recover any information from this site.

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