Maya Mound on Ambergris Caye being looted for black dirt

Wednesday, May 13th, 2020

A Maya Mound in the San Pablo Subdivision south of San Pedro Town, on Ambergris Caye, is allegedly being dug out, and its rich black soil being sold. The site is considered to hold significant Maya heritage, thus its preservation is important. Beyond asking culprits to desist, anyone who knows who may be involved in the alleged digging is asked to make a report to the authorities.

maya moundThe mound’s preservation has been in jeopardy since 2009 when it was apparently sold to a developer. It contains an abundance of black dirt, known as anthropocentric soil. A visit to the area revealed that the site is unattended and filthy with garbage. 

maya mound litterThe piece of land is between two construction sites and after taking a closer look, its edges showed signs of digging. A nearby resident, who wishes to remain anonymous, told The San Pedro Sun that people visit the area and dig the mound for the black dirt, which they then sell for gardening. This activity is considered illegal and those involved are breaking the law.

The Institute of Archaeology (IA) in Belmopan City has been notified of the disturbances, but they indicated that due to the current State of Emergency they cannot travel to the island for an inspection. However, they will monitor the situation and get in touch with the San Pedro Town Council.

maya moundThe fact that the Maya Mound is on private land leaves the island authorities with little ground for enforcement. The IA is the only body that can intervene if the mound is threatened with any sort of development. In May 2017, the IA intervened and issued a stop order, when the property owner tried to develop it. Upon inspection, a significant amount of both large and small pieces of red, black, and beige pottery shards, plaster, conch shell, and chalices were found.

maya moundThis time, no archaeological artifacts/remnants were observed, but the digging seems to be happening little by little, eating away at the edge of the mound. The site, which is yet to be registered as a historical site, is believed to have been a small trading village with access to the water. According to research, it is estimated at over 22,00 Maya inhabited Ambergris Caye approximately 2000 years ago and produced salt for trading. 

In past interviews, Minister of Tourism and Civil Aviation, Manuel Heredia Jr., said that it should have never been sold in the first place. He stated that if the property is sold again, any new owner will not legally be able to use the land for development as that would interfere with the existing mound located on the property. It is alleged that the plans for the area are to construct an apartment complex.

Ambergris Caye counts with 22 identified archaeological sites, from north to south of the island. The common belief is that the entire island is a Maya site, but as the prime tourism destination, development is almost impossible to avoid. Several construction sites have unearthed human remains and remnants. In December 2017, several bones and pieces of skull were found in a construction site in downtown San Pedro. Construction was halted and personnel from the IA visited the island to collect the remains. After no further human remains were unearthed, the construction project was allowed to continue.


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