The cultural heritage of Central America has been eroded further, as a 2,300 year old Mayan temple was destroyed by Belizean road builders seeking gravel for road aggregate. This swift and traumatic end to the existence of the temple is almost worthy of the Mayans themselves.
Much of what we know of Mayan culture, including the few European translations of their complex written codes, comes from the time of the Spanish conquest in the mid-16th century. By then, Mayan civilization had long passed its peak and was confined to various pockets of jungle in Central America and on the Yucatan peninsula.
The Maya civilization may date back as far 1000BC and is generally acknowledged to have peaked between AD300 and 900, especially in the Peten jungles of northern Guatemala. That the Belizean temple survived the mysterious decline of the classical Maya is achievement enough, not to mention the subsequent periods of colonization and settlement by other tribes and peoples who were not averse to destroying the idols of past civilizations.
Mayan agriculture was based on an intensive maize cultivation requiring ‘slash and burn’ techniques which, as we know from more recent agricultural history, has severely detrimental consequences for the soil and increases the risks of flooding and erosion due to the exposure of the earth.
Such methods required the Mayan to live in an almost transitory state, during both their classical and post-classical (after AD900) period. Consequently, there were few major cities and those that existed were not primarily intended for residential settlement. Cities were reserved for places of administrative and symbolic importance. A fiercely religious people, like their fellow Mesoamericans, the Mayans revered their priests, who often doubled as ‘political’ leaders.
Temples formed a central part of the religio-administrative complex of Mayan life. Like the Aztecs, the Mayans held an apocalyptic historical and world view.They believed in a succession of worlds which would be created and destroyed and, again as with the Aztecs, sought to delay the death of their present world through extensive human sacrifice and other expiatory methods. The temples were the location of most sacrifices and thus a highly important centre of Mayan existence.
With their apocalyptic visions never fully realised (although one might argue that the mysterious decline of the classical Maya is such an example) it is both a surreal and disturbing thought that one of their ancient temples would be destroyed for such a menial reason as gravel extraction.
No doubt the Mayans would have had a more grandiose vision of their culture’s demise. Whatever the case, it is another example of historical bridges being burnt by an incessant demand for the development and supply of the already overinflated human population.