I THINK I SEE A PATTERN HERE. Add to the list the Wilderness Civil War battlefield in Virginia and a Cherokee Village near Canton in Georgia. How many can you find in this picture?
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Mexicans Battle Wal-Mart Desecration of Ancient Aztec City of Teotihuacan
October 22, 2004
Ancient City of Teotihuacan a Modern Battleground Between Conservationists,
by Susana Hayward
SAN JUAN TEOTIHUACAN, Mexico – A Wal-Mart store rising near the
2,000-year-old pyramids of the Teotihuacan Empire has ignited the wrath of Mexican conservationists and nationalists, who say the U.S. retailer is destroying their culture at the foot of one of Mexico’s greatest treasures.
Since news broke last May of Wal-Mart’s plan to construct a
71,902-square-foot store near the Pyramids of the Sun and Moon 30 miles northeast of Mexico City, the entranceway of the primordial city has turned into a carnival of demonstrators, most protesting the plans, though some welcoming the 180 jobs the store will bring.
Demonstrators wearing long feathered headdresses, bright indigenous
costumes and loincloths dance around fires spewing incense and implore
“gods” and the government to halt construction. Signs charge “Yankee
Imperialism,” “Foreign Invasion, Get Out!” and “We’ll be here until
An Aztec descendant spews incense into a fire during a protest against the construction of a Wal-Mart subsidiary in Teotihuacan, Mexico. (KRT
The store, with 236 parking spots, is to open any day, but protests are
snowballing and its future is uncertain.
On Wednesday, protesters blocked the entrance of Mexico’s National
Institute for Archaeology and History in Mexico City because it gave
Wal-Mart its permit. They remained there Thursday, preventing employees from reporting for work.
On Tuesday, Gerardo Fernandez, a national director of Mexico’s Democratic Revolutionary Party, filed charges with the federal attorney general’s office to block the store. He charged that Wal-Mart damaged archaeological relics during construction, a crime subject to imprisonment, and accused government officials of illegally fast-tracking the project.
Last week, 63 prestigious artists and intellectuals, in a letter published
in Mexican newspapers, asked President Vicente Fox to stop the structure. They see it as a battle pitting Mexico’s heritage against encroaching U.S. influence. Wal-Mart is already Mexico’s largest retailer, with 664 stores in 66 cities, with sales of $12 billion.
“The struggle for Teotihuacan is a war of symbols,” they wrote. “The symbol of ancient Mexico against the symbol of transnational commerce; genetically modified corn against the Feathered Serpent (the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl, Kukulcan in Mayan) and Mexico’s traditional foods; the Day of the Dead against Halloween; skeletons against jack-o-lanterns.”
Mysteriously abandoned around 700 A.D., Teotihuacan was called “the place where the gods were created” by the Aztecs, who re-encountered the city in 1300. The ethnicity of the builders is unknown.
“Don’t small towns have the right to have access to the same level of
quality goods that Mexicans have in larger cities?” Wal-Mart said in a
statement late Wednesday. “Today, residents of Teotihuacan have to travel 15 miles to get to the closest department store.”
Opponents see Wal-Mart’s modern capitalism as an assault on native culture.
“Wal-Mart’s aim is to destroy our identity, replace our symbols with the
dollar sign,” said Jaime Lagunez, 44, a molecular biologist. “The
construction at Teotihuacan was made by the people who built their homes and temples with dignity.”
Emanuel D’Herrera, who coordinates the Civic Front coalition, which has
stopped other controversial projects, recently sued numerous government agencies for granting “an illegal” building permit.
Wal-Mart’s subsidiary, Bodegas Aurrera, won its permit to build by arguing that the store’s site lies outside the area that the United Nations’ chief cultural agency, UNESCO, declared in 1987 was a World Heritage Site. The National Institute for Archaeology and History said excavations in 1984 confirmed that there was nothing of archaeological value in the area. Fox and local municipal officials reviewed the permits and endorsed them.
The permits required that inspectors from the archaeology institute be on site during construction. They also set a number of restrictions on
everything from construction materials to the color of exterior paint. The store’s height was limited to avoid obstructing the view of the nearby domes of the 1548 Church of St. John the Baptist.
On Aug. 25, archaeology institute inspectors found a 3-foot-square altar 1 foot under Wal-Mart’s parking lot. The altar was excavated and conserved on-site, but it touched off new claims that the store was destroying archaeological treasures. Nevertheless, UNESCO gave the structure its blessing this week, as did the Paris-based International Council on Monuments and Sites, a group that advises UNESCO.
Noting the endorsements, Wal-Mart said: “We will continue investing,
generating jobs and economic development to strengthen our vision, which is to contribute to improve the quality of life for Mexican families.”
From the top of the 200-foot-tall Pyramid of the Sun, visited by tens of
thousands of people annually, Wal-Mart is barely visible. On the ground, the construction site is humming as workers rush to install lighting, air conditioning, refrigerators – and shrubbery, intended to conceal the 30-foot-tall, ochre-colored building.
“I make good money here at Wal-Mart and live well,” guard Jose Garcia said.
Martin Becerra, 50, who’s worked on the store’s construction and will work full time at the store when it opens, said he had a “great job, with better pay than in other places. We want to buy so many new things we haven’t seen before.”
Teotihuacan and Wal-Mart, centuries and cultures apart, share one thing in common: Both blossomed from trade.
Teotihuacan, which flourished between 250 and 600 A.D., controlled an
intricate network of commercial routes that stretched north, west and south, reaching a thousand miles to the Classic Maya civilization of southeastern Mexico and Guatemala.
Tens of thousands were employed there in crafts. Some estimates say there were 100,000 traders. Among goods exchanged were valuable gray and green obsidian used in knives, instruments, mirrors and jewelry, and bartered for faraway sea salt, shells, Quetzal feathers, jade and chocolate.
No one knows why the civilization eventually failed, though no one doubts its sophistication; Teotihuacan’s streets were aligned with the planets and stars.
In contrast, the modern town around it has a haphazard feel, and grazing sheep still stroll through it.
Mario Hernandez, 53, the owner of a small shop that sells sodas and chips, said most people welcomed Wal-Mart. He said he wasn’t concerned about the retailer’s reputation for putting smaller stores out of business or the alleged threat to archaeological treasures.
“We are far enough from the archaeological site,” he said. “We respect our roots, but we don’t want to stop progress.”
Knight Ridder Newspapers correspondent Janet Schwartz contributed to this report.
© Copyright 2004 Knight-Ridder
Desecration of Hawaiian Gravesite
A state historic preservation agency recommends that $210,000 in fines be
levied against an archaeological firm and others for tampering with human
remains at the construction site of the Ke’eaumoku Street Wal-Mart complex.
Among the infractions cited in an agency report were “writing on a child’s skull with indelible red ink, taping a child’s teeth to an index card, using duct tape and modeling clay to hold remains together, and writing the words ‘Handbag Louis Vuitton’ on a paper sack that contained a human hand.”
The recommendation is part of a report filed by the State Historic Preservation Division to the Board of Land and Natural Resources, and comes on the heels of an investigation by state attorneys. The board will consider the recommendation at its Nov. 18 meeting.
Besides unauthorized examination and tampering of the iwi, or bones, the report also accuses Aki Sinoto Consulting, the archaeological firm, and others of failing to notify the proper authorities about the inadvertent find of human remains in a timely fashion, moving human remains without permission and failing to examine human skeletal remains in a respectful manner.
Messages left at Sinoto’s home and cell phones were not returned.
According to the report, the remains examined in 2003 and 2004 were presumed to be “Native Hawaiians, juvenile remains, including the remains of infants, and remains for which requests for examination had been specifically denied by the state.”
Besides the Sinoto firm and principal archaeologist Aki Sinoto, others cited within the 21 counts were Sinoto employees L.J. Moana Lee and Paul Titchenal, the firm of International Archaeological Research Institute Inc., and two of its employees, J. Stephen Athens and Rona Ikehara-Quebral.
Besides the fines, the report recommends that the Sinoto firm’s permit to conduct archaeological activities in the state be revoked for the remainder of the year.
Ikehara-Quebral, lead osteologist for the International Archaeological Research Institute, which had been hired as a subcontractor by Sinoto, said she would reserve comment on the specifics of the allegations until she could thoroughly review Historic Preservation’s report.
“A quick review reveals it’s full of inaccuracies,” Ikehara-Quebral said. “And the State Historic Preservation Division, DLNR, continues to misrepresent our work to the public.”
She added: “We were instructed by SHPD to inventory every set of human remains from the Wal-Mart site, separate commingled burial remains into individuals and to determine their ethnicity, as required by law, which we did using standards of the profession. We always handled the remains in a respectful manner.”
Melanie Chinen, SHPD administrator, said the recommendation was based in large part on a report given to her by the state attorney general’s office.
Chinen said the $210,000 in fines recommended by her office is the maximum amount allowed under the law.
“There was total disregard for the laws, for the rules, for our warnings that unnecessary handling and examination is considered desecration by many Native Hawaiians,” Chinen said. “We’re talking about human beings.”
Partly in reaction to the Wal-Mart case, Chinen said, state lawmakers last session passed legislation increasing the maximum fine for violating burial laws and rules from $10,000 a day to $25,000 daily.
Regina Keana’aina, whose family was recognized by the O’ahu Island Burial Council as a lineal descendant to iwi in the area, opposes the fines.
“The archaeologists were doing the right thing,” she said. “They did not desecrate any of our iwi kupuna at the Wal-Mart site.”
Keana’aina, who helped Sinoto and the other archaeologists on a voluntary basis, said some of the personnel at Historic Preservation are unqualified to deal with finds. “I think the state needs to be hiring more qualified people to be running Historic Preservation.”
But Paulette Kaleikini, whose family was one of several designated cultural descendants to bones on the site, said she was pleased with Historic Preservation’s recommendation.
“It’s very disturbing what they did, how they desecrated the iwi,” Kaleikini said. “They shouldn’t be let off the hook so easily.”
Kaleikini said both Wal-Mart and contractor Dick Pacific Construction, which hired Sinoto, also should bear some responsibility for what happened to the bones.
A lawsuit filed by the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp. on behalf of Kaleikini’s family and the nonprofit Hui Malama I Na Kupuna ‘O Hawai’i Nei named Wal-Mart, the city and the state as responsible for the mishandling of the iwi.
Wal-Mart, however, was dismissed by a Circuit Court judge from that suit. The claim against the state was settled while a judgment in favor of the city is expected to be appealed.
Moses Haia, an attorney with the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp., said proper action by the city planning officials and Historic Preservation also could have prevented the desecration.
“This could have been avoided,” Haia said.
At least 61 sets of remains have been found on the site. After taking possession of the remains, state officials initially were prepared to rebury them on the site in February. That date was postponed indefinitely after state attorneys began their investigation.
The remains continue to be housed in a trailer on the Wal-Mart site that is secured 24 hours a day. Chinen said when they are reburied could depend on what the Land Board chooses to do with her division’s report, and whether one of the sides will appeal that decision.
Submitted by Tony Castanha