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Dec 8, 2022

Balancing Infrastructure Development & the Preservation of Cultural Heritage

With any development, there is a degree of damage to the environment, and tonight we bring you a story of an infrastructure development project in northern Belize that will see portions of Belize’s Maya cultural heritage impacted. It is a case of national development versus the preservation of Maya mounds in an area known as Sal Tio, a prehistoric Maya community that is in proximity to the Cerros Maya Monument. News Five’s Duane Moody went digging today – not necessarily joining the salvaging activities happening on the ground, but finding out how the Institute of Archaeology has been involved in the Corozal/Sarteneja Road Project from its inception to ensure that balance is struck between development and preserving our culture heritage. Here’s that report.


For the past two years, a fifty-million U.S.-dollar road project between the Governments of Belize and Taiwan has been underway in the northern district of Corozal. Once completed, it will provide а direct link between Corozal Town and numerous villages east of the Progresso Lagoon, including Sarteneja.


Lionel Jimenez

Lionel Jimenez, Project Engineer, Ministry of Infrastructure Development & Housing

“Construction started from since February 2020 and we are approximately forty percent completed. I mean forty percent of the entire project – a fifty-million-U.S.-dollar project which entails two bridges to replace two ferries, the New River one and the Laguna Seca by Copper Bank and twenty-seven miles of highway that will link Corozal Town to the Sarteneja community.”


Duane Moody (Stand up)

“I am currently standing in the Saltillo Plaza which was occupied by prehistoric Maya people. But according to the Institute of Archaeology, six of nine mounds along this stretch of road will be impacted by the Corozal-Sarteneja Road Project.”


Lionel Jimenez

“In the feasibility study, we started to make preparations with NICH so that then we can engage with the Institute of Archaeology to bring them together and to work along to see how best we can work in reference to the right of way of the project itself.”


Jose Ramos

Jose Ramos, Senior Archaeologist, Institute of Archaeology

“The road development requires road expansion and that indicates that if there are any archaeological mounds on its way, they will also be impacted. And our responsibility as the Institute of Archaeology, which is mandated by law to oversee all archaeological heritage in Belize is to find mitigations. We cannot save everything, but at the same time we don’t want to destroy everything. So our main goal out here is to do salvage excavation only on the portions of the mounds that will be impacted by the road expansion. Nine mounds, but out of those nine, three are out of the reach of the road clearing. So it is going to be six mounds that will be impacted partially by the road expansion.”


It is the third week since excavation has been taking place at the impacted mounds. Mound Number Seven is two point two meters tall and is the largest unexcavated structure.  According to Senior Archaeologist Jose Ramos, there are a lot of mounts in pastures and adjacent properties because it was a Maya center.  He speaks of the findings so far.


Jose Ramos

“We have done excavations to find the extent of the platforms and then we do our chronology to understand the depth and how much layers if any on the structure. We salvage all the diagnostic pieces, we do a count; we collect all archaeological material that you can think about with proper documenting. We’ve been finding ceramic shards – not much goods – because a lot of people saying that oh you’re finding this and you’re finding that. No, for us it is the information. That’s what matters. There is not much of what you find of the type and style of architecture, the ceramic wares, any tools. There have been three burials, but they were in a really bad state due to the environmental condition and also they were not really deep.”


The upgrade of the road is being done by the Taiwanese firm, Overseas Engineering and Construction Company Limited S.A., also referred to as OECC.


Ramon Nicholson

Ramon Nicholson, EHS Supervisor, O.E.C.C.

“We encountered several mounds. As we know development must continue; we cannot stop development, but we also need to ensure that we protect our environment. In this case, we need to salvage as much as we can from our cultural heritage and this is currently where we are along this one kilometre.”


The markers placed along the one kilometre stretch indicate what parts of the mounds will be cleared. What remains thereafter, will be supported by retaining walls.


Jose Ramos

“All of this, once it is within the road extent, that will be removed with archaeological supervision, of course. They will do their road design, put their drainage and their back slope. So the salvage excavation is phase one of the mitigation plan. After we have finished with the excavation, the road contractor will do his cut for the slopes and drain and then we will put a retaining wall top protect the rest of the mound that will remain.”


Duane Moody for News Five.

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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