Maya Mound Maulers

Article contributed by: Compton Fairweather June 1st, 2013

The archaeological history of Belize over the last 200 years illustrates that "Mayan mound maulers" – a phrase coined by Dr. Norman Hammond of Boston University who worked in the ruins of Noh Mul and Santa Rita in the mid 1970’s – were in this country along with those who raped and pillaged our forest of its natural resources even before slavery was introduced to our shores.

The most notorious of those who destroyed Mayan mounds was Dr. Thomas Gaan (1867-1938), an Irish medical doctor in Belize whose hobby was archaeology. His method was to use dynamite to open up mounds (he opened about 60 of them) in search of artifacts. He was not interested in documenting the history of the civilization that occupied them.

Dr. Gaan loved to sketch the artifacts he found posing with some of them for photographs, many of these artifacts are at the Museum of Mankind at Burlington Gardens in London. He did extensive work at Santa Rita in the Corozal District, the ancient Mayan capital of which is now Quitana Roo during the classic period.

The renowned anthropologist, ethnographer and epigrapher, Sir J. Eric Thompson (1898-1975) who is credited with cracking the Mayan code and knew Dr. Gaan very well, wrote a piece entitled "Thomas Gaan in the Mayan Ruins" for the British Medical Journal of 28th June, 1975 in which he said, "On the other hand, if Gaan had not opened those mounds, looters would have done so, or the mounds would be bulldozed to supply road material or to level land for plantations, fates which have befallen so many archaeological sites in Belize and elsewhere."

A little over a year ago, I wrote about Sir Eric Thompson and how the President of Guatemala refused to honor him with the Order of the Quetzal for all the research he did on the Maya in that country, because he was a British citizen. I also mentioned that I called Sir Eric at his home in Essex; we had a long discussion on the attached map of Belize which at that time caused a "crisis" when the map was "leaked" to us in the Freedom Committee.

As a young man doing geological work along the old Northern Road, between Rockstone Pond all the way to Corozal, mostly on foot, I can recall seeing workers backing into road cuts exposing human bones and pieces of painted pottery. Map referred left: According to Thompson, in the late 1800’s Mayan Indians used to grind up these pieces of painted and mix them with water as "a sovereign cure for unspecified ailments." Dr. Gaan was not too happy with the competition by these doctors to his medical expertise.



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