politics of archaeology

Israel set to raze 3,000-year-old village

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.

Peru: developers raze ancient pyramid

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."

Archaeologists race tomb-raiders in Peru

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)

Criminal gangs threaten Maya Biosphere Reserve

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:

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