Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Future trails and trends bringing together archaeology, education and ecotourism

It has always been a challenge to convince people that they—and their children —will benefit from integrated, long-term planning and economically sustainable development rather than short-term exploitation. Let's visit, for example, the Mirador Basin in Mexico's Campeche state and northern Guatemala, also referred to as the “cradle of Maya civilization” [1]. This area has seen the coming and going of civilizations including those existing in time spans named the Classic period (about 250-900 AD) and the Pre-Classic period (about 2000 BC to 250 AD). Their stages of decline are often associated, hinted at by archaeological findings, with overexploitation and environmental destruction.

Again, the Mirador Basin faces an uncertain future, considering reports on poaching, unsustainable logging and looting of cultural heritage sites; in fact, those mystical and interesting sites that may teach us something about success, failure and balance of a great civilization in a rich, diverse and natural environment. But there is also hope. A small part of the basin in Guatamala has become the Mirador-Río Azul National Park [2], which itself is part of the Maya Biosphere Reserve created in 1990 to help preserve the largest tropical rain forest in Central America [3].

Ideas and financial support for preserving the Mirador wilderness area and its Mayan ruins are trickling in from different individuals and parties such as film-producer Mel Gibson, archaeologist Richard Hansen, the Palo Alto-based Global Heritage Fund, Guatemalan authorities and, last not least, adventurers and ecotourists. In an interview, Richard Hansen talks about the technical advice he provided for the making of the film Apocalypto, putting on screen a fictional story by Mel Gibson illuminating Mayan warfare and the collapse of the Classic Maya civilization [4]. Hansen expects Gibson to stay involved in the sustainable development of the Mirador Basin, helping to create a model for reducing drug dealing and illegal immigration by building a locally attractive infrastructure. 

Richard Hansen and conservationists from Guatemala support sustainable use of the El Mirador forest, for example, harvesting of renewable plant products: allpsice, xate, bayal, chicle [1]. Projects are bringing literacy classes, computers and computer training to local schools. Hansen suggests, that tourism should be approached by keeping the wilderness roadless and having guests coming to the local communities, staying in microhotels and hiring local guides, mules or bikes to get around. Visitors from nearby and far away are envisioned to walk, mule-ride and bike recreational paths, free of engine noise, and listening to the silently reflecting sounds of the Mayas and the noisier ones of the cicadas, owls, woodpeckers, toucans and monkeys.

Keywords: Mesoamerican civilization, pre-Columbian America, history, society, sustainability, traveling

References and further reading
[1] Chip Brown: Lost City of the Maya. Smithsonian May 2011, 42 (2), pp.36-49 [www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/El-Mirador-the-Lost-City-of-the-Maya.html].
[2] Mirador-Río Azul National Park [www.moon.com/destinations/guatemala/peten/the-maya-biosphere-reserve/mirador-rio-azul-national-park].
[3] The Maya Biosphere Reserve [www.cotf.edu/earthinfo/camerica/maya/MBtopic4.html].
[4] Conservation: Mel Gibson's Maya (Richard Hansen talks about being the technical advisor on Apocalypto) [www.archaeology.org/0701/etc/conversation.html].

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