- 2,300-year-old Mayan pyramid ripped up for road fill
- Tourism board alleges involvement by government officials
- Tourism and culture ministy says full investigation ordered
The deputy prime minister of Belize is calling for full prosecution of those responsible for destroying a 2,300-year-old Mayan pyramid to turn it into rock for roads.
"All those found responsible for the destruction of this site should be persecuted to the full extent of the law," read a statement from the office of Gaspar Vega, who is also the representative for the Orange Walk area in northern Belize where the Noh Mul pyramid was destroyed last week.
Only a small chunk of the pyramid, which stood about 65 feet tall and was the center of a settlement of about 40,000 people in 250 B.C., remains after backhoes and bulldozers began removing the limestone slabs with which it was built last week. The pyramid stood on private land.
The limestone is favored for building roads in the area, and the local chapter of the Belize Tourism Industry Association alleged in a statement that local government officials have been complicit in the destruction of ancient sites like Noh Mul.
"Noh Mul had been one of the ancient monuments with the greatest tourism development potential in northern Belize," the association said. "Unfortunately, such progress has been severely hampered due to the ignorance and greed of certain individuals."
"More sites have been destroyed in Orange Walk by the Ministry of Works and others for road fill material than in any other part of the country," the association said it was told by an unnamed senior government official.
In his statement, Vega denied any involvement.
"Minister Vega also emphatically repudiates the allegation and or perception that he was involved in any way with the destruction of the Noh Mul," the statement read.
In a separate statement, Belize's Ministry of Tourism & Culture said it had commissioned a full investigation of the Noh Mul destruction, calling it "callous, ignorant and unforgivable."
"Cultural landmarks such as Noh Mul are sacred artifacts of Belizean history and should be protected at all costs. This expressed disdain for our laws and policies is incomprehensible," the ministry statement said.
Archeologists had similar words for what happened to the pyramid.
"This is one of the worst that I have seen in my entire 25 years of archaeology in Belize," John Morris, an archaeologist with the country's Institute of Archaeology, told local channel 7NewsBelize. "We can't salvage what has happened out here -- it is an incredible display of ignorance."
The institute's director, Jaime Awe, called the destruction "one of the worse set of blows I have felt philosophically and professionally."
Archaeologists said they would ask police to take action against both the landowner and contractor, according to local media reports.
"It is against the law; it is against the nature act to willfully destroy an ancient monument," Awe told News5 in Belize. "Any willful destruction of an ancient site or monument has penalties of 10 years' imprisonment or $10,000 for this kind of destruction."