The purpose of archaeological salvage efforts in the Tren Maya project is to expand areas for tourism, stated researcher Rosa Reyna in response to the project’s archaeological director, Manuel Pérez Rivas. This exchange took place during the second session of the analysis series “Ideology, Politics, and Culture,” coordinated by Bolfy Cottom, a researcher associated with the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH). The event, held at the INAH’s Historical Studies Directorate, focused on the archaeology within the Tren Maya project.
Manuel Pérez Rivas provided insights into salvage activities they have conducted and presented archaeological prospecting maps for project sections, though not excavation maps. He also acknowledged certain unjustifiable truths, mentioning that there are contract workers who lack benefits but remain dedicated to INAH’s goals.
The three speakers detailed various aspects of their work: Cecilio Cortés Arreola discussed the technological process that starts with LiDAR technology; Adriana Velázquez acknowledged the less pleasant facets of the project, including filing complaints if necessary. However, when the floor was opened for questions, historian Felipe Echenique emerged as a prominent critic. In the previous session, he denounced the massive destruction of archaeological heritage in the project. Echenique highlighted the distinction between archaeological salvage in a small community versus the 1,500-kilometer expanse of the Tren Maya. He confronted Pérez Rivas for not acknowledging the involvement with historical heritage, remarking that the 1,500 kilometers span the Ukraine-Russia border and equating the loss to destroying a library, including 70 terabytes of data.
He stressed the need for monument declarations, emphasizing that destroying monuments is a federal offense. Pérez Rivas, in response, explained that the time allotted for Rosa Reyna’s presentation wasn’t sufficient to cover all aspects. He clarified that Tren Maya is an INAH project, not his own. Addressing Echenique’s concerns, he acknowledged INAH’s financial challenges and questioned how to support, maintain, and accommodate.
Pérez Rivas mentioned the transition to open platforms, disclosing an initiative to house a room full of hard drives filled with information. He emphasized the need for accessible information, expressing concern over the loss of recovered archaeological data stored in warehouses, which includes materials that are deteriorating.
The project’s director recognized the shortage of archaeologists, the need for improved procedures, and that archaeological exploration itself results in information loss. He stressed the importance of efficient exploration, comparing the project’s impact to the development of hotels in the same region. Pérez Rivas called for collaborative efforts and solutions, acknowledging the shared responsibility of all those affiliated with the Institute.
During the Q&A session, anthropologist Lina Güemes expressed concerns over recent events. She referenced the case of archaeologist Fernando Cortés de Brasdefer, who recently exposed heritage destruction and faced harassment from Diego Prieto. Güemes pointed out that Diego Prieto is heavily involved and stated that anthropology serves society, not the state. She criticized her colleagues for engaging in such actions.
Bolfy Cottom added that the situation shouldn’t escalate to a labor dispute and called for dialogue and accepting mistakes to rebuild INAH.