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May 21, 2013

Thousands of Mayan artifacts deserted at Chaw Hiix

Noh Mul might be for all intents and purposes no more, but the public outrage both locally and internationally has lingered. And that is why the Mayan site of Chau Hiix (pronounced hish), located within the Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary, has been thrust into the news after reports of bulldozing and private development on top on mounds within that site. Chau Hiix is strategically placed between the more popular and trafficked sites of Lamanai and Altun Ha, about four miles behind the community of Crooked Tree. It was excavated between 1989 and 2007 by anthropologist Anne Pyburn, and data indicates that there was continuous occupation by the Maya from twelve hundred B.C. to sixteen hundred A.D.  It is a very important historical monument and has been the subject of numerous academic publications. That’s why we were shocked by what we found there this morning, exposed to all the elements in rotted plastic bags. Mike Rudon has the story.


Via Phone: Anne Pyburn, Professor of Anthropology, Indiana University

“It’s an important site. Under my direction, I believe we’ve produced six dissertation and four or five master’s thesis and several other thesis and at least a hundred or more publications.”


Anne Pyburn

Mike Rudon, Reporting

Anne Pyburn is a professor of Anthropology at Indiana University, and worked on Chau Hiix for close to twenty years. It was a labor of love as Pyburn, specialists from all over the world and villagers worked to analyze artifacts taken from the site and to meticulously record their findings. Pyburn had fond memories of her time on the site.


Anne Pyburn

“I always worked in collaboration with the village and I hired every season between twenty and thirty assistants from the village many of whom worked with me for the entire time I worked at Chau Hiix. And I always promoted the people who worked with me for many years. The Belizean excavators in fact came to be the teachers who taught the American students how to excavate and about the fine. They ran regular tours and we put a lot of education into educating the kids at the village and bringing them to the site. So that their relatives and friends would always give the tours because I never thought that Chau Hiix was mine. It is a Belizean site and it is a very important site to Crooked Tree so we always worked together.”


But that labor of love, twenty years of commitment and countless hours of intensive work led only to this small cement structure, where thousands and thousands of rotted bags containing hundreds of thousands of pieces of ancient Mayan pottery, flint, decorative pieces and other artifacts lay exposed to the elements. It was incredible to watch, and heartbreaking for Pyburn when we told her today.


Via Phone: Anne Pyburn

“It’s a very depressing thing and it is very distressing and upsetting to me. But I will tell you. When I began the project with Harriet Topsey, Harriet and I agreed that the most important thing was to get the site protected. So before I began excavating at the site, I got a grant from the Inter-America Foundation to help pay for someone to guard the site. Again that grant paid to have a guard at the site for a year. And subsequent to that, for the next twenty years I sometimes got grant but often times paid out of my own pocket for a guard to guard the site. I pointed out to the government of Belize that I couldn’t continue to do this…that even if I continue to pay the watchman for my entire lifetime, I would die someday. Repeatedly I had asked for help and support and repeatedly I was turned down. So eventually in my final season, I wrote a letter to the government informing them that I could no longer afford to continue to pay the guard myself out of my pocket; that the bodega was locked; that the keys were in the hands of the village chairman. That is a twenty thousand dollars that I built with ten rooms that I set off…every year I set off bug sprays in it, we kept maps of where everything was; everything was carefully labeled and numbered. That that building was locked with burglary bars and that it was in the keeping of the village but that my ability to continue to pay the watchman out of my pocket was at an end. And I just didn’t know what else to do and I got no response at all. About a year ago, o got a message from the department that the bodega had been broken into and destroyed.”


Of course that would indicate that the Institute of Archaeology knows about the bodega and what is inside. Archaeologist Dr. George Morris was called to the site two weeks ago by Crooked Tree Chairman, George Guest.


George Guest

George Guest, Chairman, Crooked Tree Village

“Well he was flabbergasted; he couldn’t really believe that they had given permission to a doctor from a reputed U.S. university to bring U.S. students here every two years—would leave something exposed to the elements all over again when it has been under the ground for thousands of years. But now is exposed again.”


Guest is upset at what seems to be careless disregard for artifacts which are likely thousands of years old, and so is Pyburn, who is responsible for the naming of the site.


George Guest

“That shouldn’t happen and it shouldn’t happen because these are artifacts of this country. I am not from this country, but I love this country and this village and I would do anything in my powers for this village because this is ridiculous what you really see here and we haven’t seen half of it.”


Via Phone: Anne Pyburn

“It means Jaguarondi. First time I visited the site with the village chairman and I saw a jaguarondi on the site and we were talking about what we should call the site because the site was called Indian Hill.  The village council felt that it should have a Mayan name because they were hoping to develop it for tourism. They felt that if it didn’t have a Mayan name, people wouldn’t understand that it was a Mayan site. So we came up with the Mayan name for jaguarondi which is Chau Hiix.”


It was impossible for us to tell if artifacts had been looted, as the rotted bags and sacks were strewn all over the structure like garbage. Mike Rudon for News Five.


We’ll have more on the destruction of Mayan mounds later on in the newscast. 

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Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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13 Responses for “Thousands of Mayan artifacts deserted at Chaw Hiix”

  1. Rod says:

    Lock them all up this whole no good gov.

  2. flaco says:

    wat a negligent gov.

  3. Storm says:

    The archaeologists need to get out of their offices and search the nation, north to south and east to west, to find out what other places are being destroyed, and identify what needs protection. Must millennia of our history be destroyed and turned to roadfill everywhere?

    What can you say or think, but that we have elected leaders who don’t care about the good of nation, only what they can benefit or steal from it personally?

    I think it’s time to start over without UDP or PUP — agree or disagree?

  4. Bear says:

    Why is Grijalva still walking around free?

    When will GOB act and arrest him and everyone else involved in the criminal destruction of Noh Mul?

    These grave-robbers need to be in prison, and they need to serve as an example to other thieves and vandals.

    How about it, Gapi? Will you stand aside and let the law take its course? If not, someday you may end up getting bulldozed just like Noh Mul was.

  5. Rum Drum says:

    The UDP government should propose a Bill in the next sitting of the House in the following terms:

    section 1(1) “Whosoever is found guilty of destroying, damaging or interfering with the integrity of an Archaeological, cultural or historical site whether designated as such; shall face a mandatory sentence of 10 years imprisonment without parole.”

    “Section 1(2) Whosoever aids, abets or incites the offence in section 1(1) shall face a mandatory sentence of 10 years imprisonment without parole.”

    “section 1(3) Lack of knowledge that the site is or was an archaeological, historical or cultural site at the material time; is not a defence to the offences in section 1(1) and 1(2)

    Scrap the whole fine business. Money cannot compensate destruction of an archaeological, historical or cultural site. The PUP should lend their support to such a Bill.

  6. mustard stand says:

    Both PUP and UDP have failed to protect these mounts. This is just disgusting.

  7. ITS SUCKS! says:

    so why would an american hide the sfuff? why couldnt she just took to the old government house at the time???????? we always allow foreigners to do our job, thats why all belizean want now is kill.

  8. change says:

    I totally agree with storm, it’s time for a new system of governance. We all notice impotence in both major political parties. Time for a revolution if needs be!!!!

  9. Phillipa says:

    what is our country coming to where are our leaders people we need to take action

  10. Bear says:

    I like Rum Drum’s idea, but I think the sentence should be a MANDATORY MINIMUM of 10 years, up to a maximum of life in prison. The devastation at Noh Mul alone deserves more than 10 years, Grijalva should die in a prison cell, and then they can bring his bones out and use them for roadfill.

  11. Mad says:

    Sad case, government not doing enough to protect these ancient sites yet relies on this site as a source of income through toursim. REPLACE THIS GOVERNMENT!!! LET THE MILITARY TAKE OVER………….

  12. ShellyLeit says:

    What in the world is going on there? This is beyond shocking.

  13. ShellyLeit says:

    What in the world is going on there? This is beyond shocking! Who is in charge of this stuff? They should be fired!

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