|Maya pyramid being destroyed in Belize|
Unfortunately, this kind of thing goes on all the time. Hundreds of sites are seriously damaged, and even destroyed, every year. It turns out that most of the areas with the richest record of ancient urban sites happen to be some of the poorest countries in the world today. Belize has thousands of Maya ruins, but the country only has the resources to protect a small number of them. Mexico is a far richer country, with a far larger government archaeological agency to protect sites. But Mexico is also a very large country, with many tens of thousands of sites. There is no way that any of these countries can actively protect even a small part of their archaeological heritage.
|Maya polychrome vase|
In Columbia, the big targets are deep tombs (called "shaft tombs") whose offerings contain many objects of gold. There is a recognized occupation of tomb robber in the country; they are called "huaqueros" ("huaca" means shrine or tomb). The huaqueros are better at locating tombs than are archaeologists.
|Huaquero at work, looting a tomb in Colombia|
|I'm talking to school kids in Yautepec|
Many people got the message: the ruins in and around town were built by the ancestors of the people of Yautepec. This is their history, their heritage, and they need to protect it. There are few written documents, so archaeology is the only way to learn about the city's past. In Yautepec, the local equivalent of the YMCA (actually, a government health and recreation center, IMSS) put up an exhibit of artifacts from the excavations, where everyone in town got a chance to see them (and, my daughters, Heather and April, went to summer camp there!).
|Looters at a site in the United States|
|Looted site in Iraq|
2004 Stealing History: Tomb Raiders, Smugglers, and the Looting of the Ancient World. St. Martin's Press, New York.
Brodie, Neil and Kathryn Walker Tubb (editors)
2002 Illicit Antiquities: The Theft of Culture and the Extinction of Archaeology. Routledge, New York.
2000 Loot, Legitimacy and Ownership: The Ethical Crisis in Archaeology. Duckworth, London.