Ruining the Ruins

March 31, 2008

I read a disturbing article this morning about the Incan ruins at Inkallajta, which lie about 130 km east of Cochabamba. This site is the largest archaeological site in Bolivia, except for the ruins at Tiwanaku. The locals, it seems, have built an unauthorized road through the site so that they could get their produce to markets in the cities. Because they built the road close to the site without any technical assistance from the government or anyone else, the deforestation and the rumble of truck traffic have caused landslides that have made the ruins collapse.

Javier Escalante, National Director of Archeology, arrived on the site to stop construction on the road until they can decide how best to protect the site. “The road is already open and is already largely finished,” he said. “The only way to protect the slopes [from further sliding] is to build protective rock walls and reforest the site to cover the breach that has been opened [in the hillside].” 

Meanwhile, local leaders are saying that they will not relocate the road because they have “already invested time” in the project. The government has negotiated a four-month halt in construction of the road to give both sides a chance to come up with a solution.

This episode reminds me that for so many people around the world, their primary concern is with feeding themselves and their families. The bigger things in life, such as ideas of freedom and heritage and art, are luxuries that not everyone can afford. When I was on my mission, I heard people say that they wished the military would overthrow the democratically elected government because “at least when the military was in power, we had food on our tables.”

The people who built this road probably had some reverence for the archeological site, but that reverence was less immediate than their need to get their crops to market. And Inkallajta will never be the same because of it.


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