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Belize: Contractor Bulldozes Mayan Temple Noh Mul


A major Mayan Monument at Orange Walk District, near the northern district boundary, had been bulldozed for roadfill aggregate.  Noh Mul Temple – or at least a large part of it – is no more. 

Noh Mul. it’s name means the Big Hill but it’s not so big any more, this once towering and stout ceremonial center in San Jose/San Pablo has been whittled down to a narrow core by excavators and bulldozers. Whodunnit? Contractors who’re using the rich gravel and limestone content to fill roads in nearby Douglas Village. Now, this was the main temple, the ceremonial center for Noh Mul, at about 20 metres among the tallest buildings in Northern Belize – and it’s not centuries old, it’s millennia, thousands of years old and the thought that it’s rich limestone bricks cut with stone tools in the BC era, the thought that this could be used for road fill is a manifest outrage and a particularly painful one for these Archeologists who were called out to the area today. We were there when they first arrived and got their initial emotional reaction:

Dr. Allan Moore – Archaeologist, Institute of Archaeology – “This is one of the largest bulding in Norther Belize. I am appalled! I was hoping that when I was driving up from the main San Juan road that it would not be this one but when I got closer I couldn’t believe it when I saw all the trucks. This is an incredible destruction.”

Dr. John Morris – Archaeologist, Institute of Archaeology – “This is one of the worst that I have seen in my entire 25 years of Archaeology in Belize. We can’t salvaged what has happened out here – it is an incredible display of ignorance. I am appalled and don’t know what to say at this particular moment.”And so were we when we first arrived before the NICH team and this man who claims some control over the area – which is private property – came to us brandishing a machete and shouting threats at us. He arrived with the dumptrucks to haul more material – but after they saw us they retreated. But yesterday, they were there, CTV-3 captured this footage of the same excavator at work and trucks hauling away aggregate and this truck, the same one we say the machete man using today drove them out of the area. And while they had to retreat, the pillage continued unfettered. That didn’t happen today because the authorities were there but it had been happening for some time.

Jules Vasquez “They chose this structure because it is such a good resource of gravel for the road fill?”

Dr. Allan Moore “I would imagine that the structure – the mound would give them that sort of mixture of that rubble and that type of material they are looking for. I know that the Ministry of Works always complains that it makes road fill.” It makes good road fill and that is what it is being used for reportedly in nearby Douglas Village and incredible inversion of value, that what the Maya built with stone tools and manual labour ages ago is being demolished with heavy equipment, because these contractors are too lazy to find a proper quarry.

Dr. John Morris “Whenever you have these large looking mounds out here – they are clearly going to be man made it is not going to be natural. This is Noh Mul it is one of the largest site in Belize. It is incredible that someone would actually have the gall to destroy this building out here. There is no way that one can say that they did not know. Even for you guys as lay people can look and you’ll see the building. Regardless of whether or not they were aware of any excavation, I think that it is very clear to me that whomever is responsible for this will have to face the consequences of it. Because there is absolutely no way that they would not know that these are maya Mounds.”

Now to be fair, there are about 2000 sites in Belize and tens of thousands of mounds all across the country and most of them look like this completely overgrown that look like abrupt hills or elevations but really, the Maya built them all and they are everywhere.

Jules Vasquez
“Now suppose someone would flip the ctriticism and say ‘Man you all are Archaeology – you all know this is here, then you all should have protected it, cordon it off or done soemthing with it so that ignorant people would not have their way with it.'”

Dr. Allan Moore “I like your approach and I would say the same. Belize is 8,867 square miles of jungle. We are only around 16 personell in the department. We can’t be in the Chiquibul and at the same time being at La Milpa. We applaud whoever can help us. It is our herritage and we all have to chip in and when things like this happen – it affects all of us.”Indeed, it impoverishes all of Belize’s patrimony particularly for this site, one of the four major Mayan sites in all of northern Belize from the pre-classic era.

We found monochrome pottery shards typical of the pre-classic area all over the place, many reduced to rubble, and indeed we could have even played amateur archaeologist and who knows what they got out of this hole where someone tunneled in.

Dr. Allan Moore “Well obviously Jules this was around maybe 250bc and it would have been part of the ceremonial precinct, this would have been probably a public building or a building where the Nobels or the High Priest would have occupied. This building would have been probably the focal point. These mounds you are seeing around here and another group over there – they might have had connectivity between ceremonial administrative religious function here. This was sort of the epi-center of this settlement.”

Dr. John Morris “Like a huge palace or building or a huge temple it would have had many rooms in there, multi-layered rooms so you have rooms for people living and you would also had several tombs in there of the people who lived in this area here.”

The name we saw on the heavy equipment is D-Mar Construction – owned by Denny Grijalva, UDP hopeful for Orange Walk Central. Grijalva said he knew nothing about the project and referred us to his foreman who never answered at least a dozen calls we made to him. Then Grijalva said he would be there in twenty minutes, we waited fourty and left – we had been stood up.

The Archaeologists from NICH went back and brought police officers to make sure workstopped – police photographed it like any crime scene dwarfed by the scale of the monument.

Dr. Allan Moore “We usually bring the police with us they help us to put a stop order to the work that’s been carried out here by the bulldozer. If there were anyone out here when the police came we would have probably taken them to the Police station for questioning because they have no business doing this out here. The primary legal aspect of this case here is going to rest on the destruction of an ancient Maya Monument/Building.”

Jules Vasquez “Just for the avoidance of doubt – all work here must cease and desist immediately?”

Dr. Allan Moore “Yes I think we will have to get a word with whoever is in charge and tell them to quit now and all operations would have to stop.”

But, really, it’s too late, the archaeologists say it’s been dug so deep in the middle in that when the rain comes, it could well collapse. So, once a monument to antiquity now a monument to ignorance and expediency.

Dr. Allan Moore “It’s a monument of ignorance and unfortunately that’s the way it is. We always try to look at the positive side. Now we will probably have to look at this and say that it is a good example of what not to do.”

Director of the Institute of Archeology Dr. Jaime Awe told us today that what has happened is “intolerable.” He says they will lay charges against the company D-Mar’s and the landowner because the machinery was on site and the land owner should have not given permission for the mining to have proceeded. We’ll keep following that part of the story. To give a broader sense of context – the site known as Noh Mul or “Big Hill” is scattered over a wide area about 12 square miles – and is estimated to have been home to 40,000 people between 500 and 250 BC.

There are about 81 separate buildings – all on private property. But the one that has been destroyed is the namesake, the Big Hill – as it was the ceremonial center and main structure.Interestingly, Grijlava told us that when his foreman got there, he would apologize on behalf of the company, D-Mar’s and the Deputy Prime Minister, Gaspar Vega. Vega’s name comes in because Noh Mul is in Orange Walk North, and the roadfill is reportedly being used in nearby Douglas Village. Of course, we never met the foreman, but we have learned that after we left with the Archeologists, he did arrive and removed the heavy equipment.

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