Potentially Illegal Construction Project Could Threaten Ancient Mexican Ruins

Potentially Illegal Construction Project Could Threaten Ancient Mexican Ruins
View of the Pyramid of the Moon from the Pyramid of the Sun. (Image: Gorgo, Fair Use)

A private building project threatens to destroy at least 25 ancient structures near the historic Teotihuacán ruins, according to the Mexican government, which is filing a criminal complaint.

Mexico’s Culture Department said a building project for what appears to be some kind of amusement park is threatening the outskirts of the pre-Hispanic archaeological site of Teotihuacán, as the Associated Press reports. Bulldozers are threatening to raze approximately 6 hectares of land at the protected site, and threaten upwards of 25 ancient structures, according to United Nation’s International Council on Monuments. Upsettingly, the AP reported that the “looting of artifacts” has “been detected.”

Multiple stop-work orders have been blatantly ignored since work began this past March, forcing the government to file a criminal complaint against those deemed responsible. That seems a weak response given what’s at stake, but an out-of-date legal system had made it difficult for the government to enforce things like building codes, zoning laws, or allegedly in this case, illegal construction.

The threatened area is right next to Teotihuacán’s iconic boulevard and pyramid complex. When the world is not battling a global pandemic, upwards of 2.6 million people visit the UNESCO World Heritage site each year, which they do to marvel at the Pyramids of the Sun and Moon and the Temple of Quetzalcoatl. Teotihuacán, located 48 kilometres to the north, is particularly popular during the spring and fall equinoxes.

Avenue of the Dead, Teotihuacán, Mexico. (Image: Diego Delso, Fair Use) Avenue of the Dead, Teotihuacán, Mexico. (Image: Diego Delso, Fair Use)

Indeed, this is a site of great archaeological importance. At its height, between 100 BCE and 750 CE, the city was home to at least 25,000 inhabitants, and possibly as many as 100,000 inhabitants, ranking it as among the largest of the first big cities.

As UNESCO points out, Teotihuacán is “considered a model of urbanisation and large-scale planning, which greatly influenced the conceptions of contemporary and subsequent cultures.” The city “fully preserves its monumentality, urban design and artistic wealth, as well as the relationship of the architectural structures with the natural environment, including its setting in the landscape,” according to UNESCO, which credits the site’s good condition to the “maintenance, conservation, and permanent protection the site has received.”

That the private building firm is acting illegally is a distinct possibility. Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) cares for the site, and it’s legally protected by the Mexican Federal Law on Monuments and Archaeological, Artistic and Historical Zones, which dates back to the 1970s. Current laws establish “public ownership of all archaeological properties, even if these are situated on privately owned lands,” according to UNESCO. Land acquisitions were made last decade to extend the site’s buffer zone, and recent progress have been made to extend the zone even further. And as mentioned, Teotihuacán is a World Heritage Site, which confers protection through an international convention.

Destroying ancient monuments is bad enough, but the development of these lands could result in the destruction of undiscovered or unexplored archaeological sites, which the AP reports could run into the hundreds. Hopefully reason will prevail, and this nonsense will stop before it’s too late.