Mayan Identity Lost to Looters

The Mayan people, who are indigenous to Mexico and Central America, are publicly perceived as being one the most influential cultures of the Archeological world. While their culture may not be as mysterious as the public imagination believes, it’s slowly being altered by a big issue plaguing archeological sites, looting. As early as 1970, the Mayan city of Xultún , located in northern Guatemala, has been plundered by looters referred to locally as “huechoros”. These huechoros craved tunnels into many of the pyramids adorning the Mayan city and used the tunnels to access the artifacts stored inside. From there the artifacts are takened and placed on the black market to be sold illegally to the affluent for personal want or for display in institutions like  museums. The looted materials included stone figurines and statues, hieroglyphic panels, ceramic pottery, and jade jewelry. Though the amount of looting has decreased in the passed years, archeologists are still trying to fully grasp the damage incurred by the huechoros.


Re-excavation of one of the many tunnels created by the huechoros in an Xultun pyramid

Huechoros, who are often just individuals desperate for money, have inflicted grave harm on not only culture of the Mayans but ultimately their extensive history. The city of Xultún was once a major metropolitan center filled with the rich art, culture, and religion that have contributed to the Mayans identity. For example, stone tablets known as Stelae have been frequent favorites of the looters. These tablets describe the deeds of the Mayan Kings and were seen as very valuable to buyers, so looters would divide the tall stones into small pieces. With the destruction of those tablets came the destruction of Mayan history. No longer are archeologists able to visit sites within Xultan pyramids without the telltale signs of looters being present. Not only aren’t artifacts not being found but the tunnels have allowed for rainwater to travel into the structures damaging the remaining artifacts. These looters aren’t just stealing artifacts but also the existence of the people who left them behind.


A  Mayan Stelae of unknown origins

One of many recovered looted artifacts, a limestone panel

One of many recovered looted artifacts, a limestone panel

The government, in conjunction with archeologists, has enacted several measures to halt the looting of the pyramids. Since a majority of the looting is due to financial strife resulting from Guatemala’s Civil War in the 1960’s, the government has enacted new stable avenues of commerce for communities in the jungle. They have also stationed Guatemalan military officials to patrol the city of Xultún on a 24/7 schedule. Archeologists, on the other hand, are now re-excavating the tunnels left behind by the heuchoros in order to find new artifacts for preservation and future reference. There has even been talk of Guatemala arguing for repatriation of stolen artifacts now displayed in American and European museums and galleries. Though many may only view the stolen artifacts as souvenirs to the Mayans once thriving civilization, they also represent the rich history of a prevalent culture. Archeologists are striving to rediscover and preserve the identity of a people whose culture served as a prime example for the modern civilizations we call home today.

Guatemalan soldier patrolling the border surrounding the Mayan city  Xultun

Guatemalan soldier patrolling the border surrounding the Mayan city Xultun


National Geographic

BBC News

Further Reading:

Looted or Legal?

Stolen Mayan Artifacts Returned

Los Arboles structure under excavation in Xultun

Los Arboles structure under excavation in Xultun

Social Archeology and The Minoan Civilization

The past is a place full of wonder, mystery, and most importantly, the answers to the lives of our ancestors. Social Archeology is the study of past societies that instead of focusing on the individual focuses on the society as a whole. By doing so, archeologists are able to explore the culture and the systems of living within past societies and ultimately shed light on societies who have been lost in history.

The Minoan Civilization, who rose during the Bronze Age, was discovered on the Mediterranean Island of Crete and dates from 2600 B.C to 1150 B.C. It was first discovered by Sir Arthur Evans in 1900 during an excavation of Knossos, an ancient Minoan palace. His findings within the palace led him to believe that there was a possible ancient civilization on Crete which was the home to the legendary King Minos, hence why he named the Civilization Minoan.

Knossos Palace as would've appeared during the Neopalatial Period (1700 B.C-1400 B.C)

Knossos Palace as would’ve appeared during the Neopalatial Period (1700 B.C-1400 B.C)

Most of the artifacts found upon excavation originated during the Propatial Period (1900 -1700 B.C) and Neopalitial Period (1700-1400 B.C).  It was also during these periods that the Minoans built their four principal palaces: Knossos, Phaistos, Malia, and Zakros. The grandeur of these palaces reflected how sophisticated and advanced the Minoan Civilization was. Through archeological finds, it was concluded that these palaces served as central structures of trade, politics, and religion. Within these palaces archeologist found remains to suggest that materials such as wines, oil, grain, and ceramics were stored there. Archeologists also found swords, arrow heads, armors and helmets as well as fortified towns and settlements. These all suggest that the Minoan Civilization was so massive they needed central structures for food storages as well as means to defend themselves against neighboring attacks. Another major find was the discovery of one of the first examples of writing in the Aeagan world, Linear A.

Clay tablet inscribed on both sides with the undeciphered script Linear A

Clay tablet inscribed on both sides with the undeciphered script Linear A

Artifacts have been found with the writing which suggests that the Minoans used the writing system for religious and authoritative functions. The Minoans were intelligent enough to produce their own form of written history though it is still in the process of being deciphered. Also, artifacts found in the city of Gournia such as clay pots, copper, bronze, stone vases suggest to archeologist that Minoan citizens were gifted in the skills of pottery making and metal working since they found similar items on settlements throughout the civilization.

By simple excavating several sites Archeologists have been able to slowly piece together the lives of those who inhabited the Minoan Civilization as well as the main means of commerce and sustainability. Unfortunately, Minoan Crete is a civilization wrapped in speculation. Archeologists are unclear of how and why the civilization disappeared from history and there is still debate on how it met its fateful end. Though we may not know all the answers, the site still continues to tell the story of people who were able to create one of the most complex civilizations in Greek history.

My Sources:

Minoan Art

Further Reading:

Minoan Archeological Sites

Who Were The Minoans?

The Fall of the Minoans