Mérida’s growth threatens Mayan ruins

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merida archaeology
Mayan burial urns are unearthed at a construction site in Mérida. Photo: INAH

Mérida, Yucatán —Fed by an increasing number of U.S. and Canadian retirees, some Mérida neighborhoods are expanding at a rate of 7 percent a year, especially to the north and south of the city.

But this rate of growth creates a tension between developers and archaeologists safeguarding ancient Mayan ruins. The conflict has been picked up by The Associated Press, the ubiquitous wire service that feeds news stories to most mainstream media outlets in the U.S.

Mexican archaeologists told reporters at a Mexico City press conference that they are racing to keep up with development as Mérida’s suburbs swallow Maya settlements.

Yucatán state has over 3,500 known archaeological sites but just 22 government archaeologists, an “impossible” situation, said INAH archaeologist José Huchim.

Don’t touch the relics

“As long as humans don’t touch the relics, they will last thousands of years,” Huchim said, recalling one out-of-state developer who bought a piece of land on the outskirts of Mérida hoping to build houses — and found out there were the foundations of about 170 Mayan-era structures on the property, including 10 temple platforms.

Rafael Burgos, another government archaeologist, credited Mérida authorities for requiring an archaeological survey before building permits are granted. In the rest of the state, such rules often don’t exist.

“Many of the building projects in outlying towns aren’t even reported” to INAH, Burgos said.

The experts rely on the awareness of Yucatán’s residents to alert authorities.

{ More on Mérida archaeology: 56 Maya burial urns unearthed in Sitpch subdivision }

When they have to save artifacts, archaeologists do “rescues” — quick digs before commercial construction begins.

They say they have turned up fascinating details about daily life among Maya commoners, precisely because they have been digging in the suburbs. Colonial-era development in Mérida’s center, founded in 1542, erased many of the Maya vestiges from the area’s thin soil. But on the outskirts of the capital city, remains have been found dating from about 900 B.C. to about the time of the Spanish conquest, the AP notes.

With information from The Associated Press, INAH

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