Following the news that a construction company in Belize has destroyed the Noh Mul temple, one of the largest Mayan pyramids, when gathering gravel to expand the country’s road system I took a look in the Maney Publishing archive to see what has been published on the corporate destruction of archaeological sites and what, if anything, can be done about it.
|Noh Mul, the Mayan temple in Belize was thought to be over 2,300 years old|
“It is no longer possible to ignore the unprecedented levels of destruction resulting from development projects imposed by multinational corporations and governments. The projects are often backed by multilateral agencies like the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank or large non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Their size often ensures that many thousands of people and sites can be affected. The norm is little or no consultation and few if any benefits. Thus many communities find they must struggle to establish their right to survive. In this context, it is important to address the role archaeology and related professions such as heritage management play from the perspective both of the threat to physical heritage and our relationship with affected communities.
I am not a heritage manager but rather an academic, a teacher of archaeologists, whose research and teaching focuses on the development of a public archaeology in which professionals can learn to work in a mutually accountable way with communities opposing destructive development and together seek alternatives to development which threatens lives, livelihoods, culture, and environment. This approach has developed out of work in different countries over the last 14 years. The work has included investigating and documenting the ways in which archaeological excavation and management practices may be facilitating developments that are detrimental to the survival of communities and cultural heritage, and working out alternatives with communities.”
The author concludes with the following observation:
“I am not suggesting that it is up to archaeologists to solve energy generation, food security or any other aspect of development, but I am saying that as professionals we cannot afford to be ignorant of what communities want, need and are entitled to in order to develop and flourish. Archaeology and people’s cultural roots are not separable from these questions. They are not new questions: in 1968 Julius Nyerere, first president of independent Tanzania, in turning his country away from market-led development towards development based on the self-activity of communities, warned us of the mistake we are always in danger of making: ‘What we were doing, in fact, was thinking of development in terms of things, and not of people’. This, too, is our cultural heritage. It sets a standard that we professionals must run — and urgently — to catch up with. It is the starting point of saving our species by respecting every individual of it, and thus respecting the heritage we have produced. We will either save both people and heritage or save neither.”
>> “Mayan pyramid in Belize destroyed 'for gravel'” on the BBC