Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Yucatan Archaeology Races to Keep Up with Development

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Yucatan Archaeology Races to Keep Up with Development

Article excerpt

MEXICO CITY * Mexican archaeologists are racing to keep up with development on the Yucatan peninsula as suburbs of the colonial city of Merida swallow Mayan settlements.

Fed by an increasing number of U.S. retirees, some Merida suburbs are expanding at a rate of 7 percent a year, especially to the north and south of the city, which was known in the Mayan era as T'Ho.

Yucatan state has more than 3,500 known archaeological sites but just 22 government archaeologists. While attention focuses on big ruins such as Chichen Itza or Uxmal, only about 17 of the state's sites are even open to the public.

"There is never going to be enough money to recover the 3,500 sites in Yucatan, impossible," said Jose Huchim, an archaeologist who works for the National Institute of Anthropology and History, the INAH.

One option is to leave the sites undisturbed.

"As long as humans don't touch the relics, they will last thousands of years," Huchim said. "Let's not eat all the cake at once. I'm of the opinion we have to leave something for the future generations of archaeologists."

But sometimes a housing development is planned on top of a ruin site, often a smaller Mayan satellite settlement that might contain dozens of houses and a few raised temple platforms.

When that happens, archaeologists have to rush in to save what they can, often marking off spaces to conserve some foundations at the site while removing relics such as pottery and jewelry for further study or display.

Huchim recalls one out-of-state developer who bought a piece of land on the outskirts of Merida hoping to build houses and found out there were the foundations of about 170 Mayan-era structures on the property, including 10 temple platforms. He persuaded the businessman to preserve some of the temple mounds as part of the parks area of the housing development, and the developer got so excited he decided to give Mayan names to the streets. …

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