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Dec 11, 2007

Two charged for ancient artefacts

Story PictureIt’s not the kind of crime that makes the news everyday, but we are told that the trade in ancient Mayan artefacts is a regular occurrence. Two people caught in possession of millennium-old pieces over the weekend now face charges that could put them behind bars. News Five’s Marion Ali reports from Belmopan.

Marion Ali, Reporting
Tonight thirty-eight year old San Ignacio resident, Roy Smith, and the occupant in the vehicle he was driving, Natalie Trapp, were charged with Possession of Artefacts. This was after a routine checkpoint stop resulted in the discovery of twelve ancient pieces, including three plates, a bowl, and nine pieces of hand-carved stones used as cutting utensils and weapons.

Police say the interception occurred at the corner of the Hummingbird Highway and Forest Drive in Belmopan around seven-thirty on Sunday night. Smith, reportedly had the pieces stashed in a red Mazda car with Cayo license plates.

Sergeant Juanito Cocom was the man who made the interception, but he said he needed to cross check with the scientists to determine that the pieces were authentic.

Sgt. Juanito Cocom, Police Information Technology Unit, Belmopan
“We need to get the experts which in this case are from the Institute of Archaeology. They are the ones who came, look at the items and they were the ones that made the authenticity of the items, they are the ones who did that.”

Marion Ali
“How often do you come across these kinds of incidents?”

Sgt. Juanito Cocom
“At this time it’s very rare, rare.”

Marion Ali
“When you find them what do people normally do with them?”

Sgt. Juanito Cocom
“Actually most of them I believe are for sale, for sale to tourists and some of them are taken out of the country.”

Marion Ali
“Have you been able to trace them anywhere else?”

Sgt. Juanito Cocom
“No, no not in the particular case. Not at all.”

Marion Ali
“When they leave they are lost?”

Sgt. Juanito Cocom
“They are lost, lost our patrimony.”

Director of Research at the Institute of Archaeology, Doctor John Morris, says it’s not unusual for people in Belize to find ancient artefacts, but not documenting them makes that possession illegal.

Dr. John Morris, Director of Research, Institute of Archaeology
“The ancient monument and antiquities act states every single item that dates to a hundred years or more is a cultural item, is a cultural artefact. And therefore, when you…and particularly if it was made by a civilization that went before us…so like for instance in Belize all items that date to a hundred years or more manufactured by the ancient Maya or by Palaeolithic peoples who lived in Belize before the Maya or historic period type bottles or other implements that were used by our forefathers the British and the slave who came here, those are all considered artefacts.”

In this case, Dr. Morris says the plates and bowls date back to the classic period of the Maya civilisation between six hundred and nine hundred A.D. However, two of the smaller spear points and stone flints date way back to between eleven thousand B.C. and three thousand B.C. and were used by people that preceded the Mayas.

Dr. John Morris
“That is long before the ancient Maya came to Belize. These were mobile hunters and gathers who lived in Belize and let’s say from about eleven thousand to eight thousand B.C. we call them Calio Indians. They hunted the wild game, the large game, the Mastodons and so along the coast of Belize. Then there were another set of peoples who form about eight thousand B.C to three thousand B.C. that we call archaic period peoples. They were a little bit settled. They had some semi-permanent camps and they also fished and they hunted small game and they started a little bit of agriculture.”

Marion Ali
“And these date back to that period?”

Dr. John Morris
“And these two points date back to that particular time period. And that’s a very fascinating find because they are kind of rare in the country.”

Researchers suspect the pieces originate from areas in the Belize District. They are believed to have been stolen from archaeological sites not yet excavated.

Marion Ali, for News Five.

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