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Builders destroy Mayan pyramid

| Monday, May 13, 2013, 9:57 p.m.

BELIZE CITY — A construction company has destroyed one of Belize's largest Mayan pyramids with backhoes and bulldozers to extract crushed rock for a road-building project, authorities announced on Monday.

The head of the Belize Institute of Archaeology, Jaime Awe, said the destruction at the Nohmul complex in northern Belize was detected late last week. The ceremonial center dates back at least 2,300 years and is the most important site in northern Belize, near the border with Mexico.

“It's a feeling of incredible disbelief because of the ignorance and the insensitivity ... they were using this for road fill,” Awe said. “It's like being punched in the stomach, it's just so horrendous.”

Nohmul sat in the middle of a privately owned sugar cane field and lacked the even stone sides seen in reconstructed or better-preserved pyramids. But Awe said the mound, which is about 100 feet tall, could not have been mistaken as natural, because the ruins were well-known and the landscape there is flat.

Belizean police said criminal charges are possible.

Norman Hammond, an emeritus professor of archaeology at Boston University who worked in Belizean research projects in the 1980s, wrote in an e-mail that “bulldozing Maya mounds for road fill is an endemic problem in Belize,” but that this incident “sounds like the biggest yet.”

Arlen Chase, chairman of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Central Florida, said that “there is only a very limited infrastructure” in Belize that can handle cultural heritage management. “Unfortunately, they (destruction of sites) are all too common, but not usually in the center of a large Maya site,” Chase wrote.

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