National Geographic News
A backhoe at the site of a Mayan pyramid in Belize.

A backhoe in Belize destroys the Nohmul complex, one of the country's largest Maya pyramids.

Photograph by Jaime Awe, NICH Belize/AP

Elizabeth Snodgrass

National Geographic

Published May 15, 2013

Despite its small size, the Caribbean country of Belize is known for a few outstanding characteristics: a spectacular barrier reef, a teeming rain forest, and extensive Maya ruins.

It now has one fewer of those ruins.

A construction company in Belize has been scooping stone out of the major pyramid at the site of Nohmul (meaning Big Mound), one of only 15 ancient Maya sites important enough to be noted on the National Geographic World Atlas.

The National Institute of Culture and History of Belize had earlier noted that "the site continues to be destroyed by road construction crews who bulldoze the mounds for gravel."

But now it appears that nearly the entire main pyramid, once standing over 60 feet tall, has been destroyed by road building crews, said John Morris, associate director of research at Belize's Institute of Archaeology. The institute is a department of the Belize Ministry of Tourism and Culture.

Authorities discovered the destruction late last week.

All of Belize's ancient Maya sites are protected by law. The Institute of Archaeology plans to investigate the destruction and take those responsible to court, Morris said.

"This Maya site is well known to the local community, who have worked on various projects at the site," he said. "The Institute of Archaeology is going to use this opportunity to really embark on a national awareness campaign for the preservation and protection of the country."

Though the site of Nohmul had not yet been developed for tourism, it had been excavated off and on since the early 1900s after first being recorded as a site in 1897.

Nohmul, in Belize's northern tip, experienced two major periods of monumental building, the first dating to 300 B.C. or even earlier.

The site lies on private land, and there has been a lot of other activity in the area, including the burning of cane fields, which could be why the backhoes weren't detected sooner.

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15 comments
Heide Baumoh
Heide Baumoh

Jesus Christ! What the is wrong with those people.

Heide Baumoh
Heide Baumoh

Jesus Christ! What the is wrong with those people.

Danial al Basindiq
Danial al Basindiq

This reminds me of the buddha of bamiyan statues that were blown away by the taliban a decade ago, of course this case being much less severe, should not take less notice of. There needs to be more awareness that places like these never come back, and after the destruction, only a memory is left

Phil Brewer
Phil Brewer

I would have included Rachel Carson in this list. She, like the others on the list, was roundly denounced and her work suppressed even by her department chairman who, in public, referred to her as "that little WOMAN" and in private as "that little b****."

Undeterred, she wrote the classic "Slient Spring" which went on to become a best seller allowing her to break through the walls of opposition and become a household name. Her work, along with the images of a burning Cuyahoga River, led to the creation of the EPA. The man who signed the bill making it the law of the land was none other than Richard Nixon.

Riaan Rai
Riaan Rai

A story like this makes me very deeply dissappointed. The ancient people have accomplished feates of architechture and stone masonry that modern man cannot replicate given all the money and all the technology in the known universe. This is truely the epitome of ignorance. Why couldnt they have destroyed a local brothel or a night club , they had to choose a 2300 year old ancient monument that probably took decades and more than a sea of sweat and tears to build from nothing more than dirt and that was built with such resilience that it withstood the test of time but regret, not the test of the modern man's stupidity

William Evans-Pughe
William Evans-Pughe

Maybe this problem could be prevented in the future with a campaign to spread the notion of  guardianship to these areas so people like these can have a different view and aspect of such wonders of the world... 

Alex Renwanz
Alex Renwanz

Hell Yea! The loss of any historical site is an awful thing but this makes me happy! Put those close minded scumbags in their place! Trying to make money quicker by being lazy and unnecessarily destroying heritage? Well now look where that's gotten you. Time to lose some money baby! Low-lives getting what they deserve=Perfect!

Juan Lopez
Juan Lopez

This is the result of colonization. When there are no roots, and no love for the land where you live, you get people like this so called "beliceños", who have no problem in destroying the legacy of those who came before them, a legacy of humanity, protected by law. The few Mayans descendants, on the other side of the border should not let this crime go unpunished. This will only add fuel to the "we want Belice back" issue.

Orin Smith
Orin Smith

Can the Mayans get some respect, we have idiots like this destroying a monument, then there are those claiming that the Mayans are extinct when in fact the Mayans are alive and well living peacefully in southern Belize, I can only assume that the idea to disseminate information that the Mayans are extinct is only to help the Guatemalan government who are historically genocidal and would gladly repeat this practice of wiping out these people if allowed to fulfill their claim on Belize, yes the Mayans are not extinct they are alive and well they have lived in most of Belize and still is, Belize is their ancestral land as can be told from the temples scattered throughout the country, so guess what Guatemala whatever claim you have go take it up with Great Britain because Belize belongs to the Mayans.

Juan Lopez
Juan Lopez

@Orin Smith  Why are you spreading hate against my country. There is no relation between this article and Guatemala. Sure the Mayan's descendants are very much alive and not extinct, most of them in Guatemala by the way, and sure, we want our stolen territory back, because the UK ripped us off. And since recently we are part of the list of genocidal governments like USA and the British empire, which was perpetrated because you guys and your "comunism" and Cold War. So don't refere to us like a bunch of savages and greedy people when that is not the case. You are talking about Guatemala, when Belice are the bad guys in this news. If this had happened on our side, it would be all over the news and the people responsible will wake up the next day jobless, and nationally hated.

Luis Maya
Luis Maya

@Juan Lopez @Orin Smith Orin I don't believe he was attempting to speak ill of your country or people. He was bringing attention to the fact that the guatemalan government hasn't been necessarily friendly to these ancient people or sights.

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