politics of archaeology
Four people died the morning of April 5 in a confrontation between indigenous Mexicans over land in Chilón municipality in the highland region of the southeastern state of Chiapas. The violence broke out when some 25 people tried to remove members of the Regional Organization of Autonomous Ocosingo Coffee Growers (ORCAO) from a 84-hectare ranch; sources differ on whether the ranch is called San Luis or Luis Irineo. The attackers were apparently egged on by the former owner of the ranch, which a group of ORCAO members took over in 1994. On April 6 the state attorney general's office announced that four people had been arrested in the incident. (La Jornada, Mexico, April 6; SDP Noticias, Mexico, April 6)
The Dakar Rally Raid motor-race across the Andes has already claimed three lives since leaving Rosario, Argentina, on Jan. 4—a motorcylist and two "spectators" who were following the race in a vehicle. Progress was finally halted five days later when residents and municipal workers in the Argentine town of Juan Alberdi, Tucumán province, blocked the road to prevent passage. (Al Jazeera, Jan. 11; EFE, El Gráfico, Buenos Aires, Jan. 9) Meanwhile, the Chilean Supreme Court dismissed a challenge to the motor-race brought by the College of Archaeologists of Chile, who site damage to ancient petroglyphs in a previous Dakar Rally through the country. The group's vice president Paola González, told France24: "In Chile, a national monuments law considers this a punishable crime. Nevertheless, the destruction with impunity of our national heritage continues."
A fire in the ancient Tibetan town of Dukezong, Yunnan province, destroyed hundreds of buildings, including one with Chinese-recognized "monument status" dating to the early 17th century, on Jan 11. The town is in Shangri-la county, and is a tourist attraction, as it was apparently the inspiration for the fictional Shangri-la. Two days earlier, a mysterious blaze badly damaged the Larung Gar Institute in Serthar, Sichuan province, one of the world's largest Tibetan Buddhist learning centers and home to some 10,000 monks and nuns. On Nov. 16, the Lithang Monastery, Sichuan, was also badly damaged in a fire, said to have been caused by faulty wiring. The string of incidents has caused Tibet solidarity websites to speculate on a possible arson campaign. The India-exiled Central Tibetan Administration only said it "prays for quick restoration" of the Larung Gar Institute, "which became one of most influential Tibetan Buddhist learning centres in Tibet following liberalisation of religious practice in 1980s after the Tibetan culture and religion suffered systematic annihilation during China's Cultural Revolution." Dukezong, Serthar and Lithang and all lie within the "Greater Tibet" claimed by the Central Tibetan Administration. (AP, CTA, SCMP, Shanghaist, Jan. 11; Save Tibet, Tibet Truth, Jan. 10; Tibet Post, Nov. 18)
Israel's Culture Ministry and Civil Administration are financing the construction of an "archaeological park" on the ancient site of Tel Rumeida, near the Jewish settlement in the divided West Bank city Hebron, Israeli media revealed this week. Critics on left are assailing the project as cover for expansion of the city's Jewish settlement. Settlers who petitioned for state support of the project say they believe the site to be the location of biblical Hebron. Archaeologists from Ariel University and the Israel Antiquities Authority began excavations at the site Jan. 5. The new archaeological park and anticipated tourist attraction are slated to open by year's end. While the Tel Rumeida site is officially Jewish-owned, a Palestinian family lived on the site and worked the land as protected tenants until the Second Intifada of 2000, when they were evicted.
The Israeli High Court is set to rule this week on the forced expulsion of all residents of the village of Khirbat Zanuta, southwest of Hebron in the West Bank. Israel Civil Administration ordered the demolition of Zanuta in 2007, on the absurd grounds that structures in the village were built without permits, but the High Court ruled that year that authorities must "find a solution" for the villagers before any eviction. But last year the Zionist organization Regavim, with a base of support among local Israeli settlers, succeeded in reviving the case by filing a new request for demolition. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel, which represents the Zanuta residents, says that in a High Court hearing last year, "the justices delivered harsh criticism of the State for its intent to demolish the village without suggesting a solution for its residents." But the demolition request was not dismissed, and villagers fear imminent eviction.
On June 30, a demolition crew with rock drills and a backhoe razed a pyramid at El Paraiso archaeological site in the working-class district of San Martin de Porres in Lima, Peru. The pyramid, 2,000 square meters in extension, was one of 12 at site, dating to the Late Pre-Ceramic Age (2000-3000 BCE). Archaeologist Marco Guillén Hugo, in charge of excavations at the site, said he had reason to believe two private construction companies, Compañía y Promotora Provelanz and Alisol SAC Ambas, were behind the destruction. “This isn't the first time they have tried to take over this land," Guillén told the daily El Comercio. "They say they are the owners, even though this land is untouchable." He charged that the companies "have committed irreparable damage to a page of Peruvian history."
The tranquil fishing town of Huarmey on Peru's coast, in Áncash region north of Lima, burst into the headlines this week with the discovery by an archaeological team of a burial chamber in a ruined temple, which yielded 60 sets of human remains, including three queens of the ancient Wari culture, interred along with a trove of gold, silver and brilliantly-painted ceramics. The site, known to locals as El Castillo de Huarmey, has been dubbed the "Temple of the Dead" by the research team, led by Milosz Giersz of Poland's University of Warsaw and Krzysztof Makowski of the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru. The Wari (Huari) empire ruled the central Andes between 700 and 1000 CE, centuries before the rise of the Incas. (RPP, El Comercio, BBC News, June 28; Peru21, USA Today, June 27) But a close reading of the coverage in Peru's press reveals that the excavations were conducted in secret to keep the site from being looted by huaqueros—the Peruvian word for tomb-raiders who engage in an illegal traffic in pre-Columbian relics. Huaqueros had even dug pozos, or shafts into the structure; the archaeologists were apparently in a race with the tomb-raiders to find the riches-filled chamber. (El Comercio, June 28)
An Oct. 8 report on Yale University's Environment 360 website, "In the Land of the Maya, A Battle for a Vital Forest" by William Allen, states that "In Guatemala's vast Maya Biosphere Reserve, conservation groups are battling to preserve a unique rainforest now under threat from Mexican drug cartels, Salvadoran drug gangs, and Chinese-backed groups illegally logging prime tropical hardwoods." The Maya Biosphere Reserve covers approximately the northern third of what Allen calls the "Selva Maya," Central America's largest remaining expanse of rainforest, which stretches across the northern half of Guatemala and also extends into the Mexican state of Chiapas to the west and the country of Belize to the east. More taditionally, the forest is called El Petén within Guatemala and the Selva Lacandona on the Mexican side of the border. Allen cites Guatemala's National Council for Protected Areas (CONAP) to the effect that international criminal networks are now the biggest threat to the Selva Maya. Cattle ranching and logging have long been eating into rainforest—but now in a convergence with organized crime: