One of the many still-unexplored underwater archeological sites below the proposed Tren Maya Section 5 route. Photo: Google


Mexico’s ever-more-controversial Tren Maya tourist train project — a 1,500-kilometer railway system imposed by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) that has been widely condemned for threating both the fragile geography of the country’s Yucatan Peninsula and over half of the region’s indigenous flora and fauna — is now facing yet another obstacle in its completion.

The construction of the contentious Section 5 South of the railway, which is currently suspended indefinitely due to a court order for not complying with environmental requirements, is also threatening to destroy part of Mexico’s archeological heritage.

According to archeologist Helena Barba, head of Yucatan Peninsula office of the National Institute of Anthropology and History’s (INAH) Underwater Archeology Subdirectorate, at least 58 possible underwater paleontological and archaeological sites are located along the stretch of the proposed railway.

In an interview with the daily newspaper Reforma over the weekend, Barba said that along the 60.3 kilometers of this section of the route, which stretches from Playa del Carmen to Tulum in the coastal state of Quintana Roo, there is a vast system of rivers, caves, cenotes (underground waterways) and pre-Columbian settlements where Maya and other early human vestiges have been identified.

Barba said that she and her team are currently reviewing each of these sites and that, if important findings are made, the INAH will intervene to protect the locations.

“If there were not (a change in the routing of the train), then the INAH will file a corresponding legal complaint,” she said. “At least through the construction of Section 4, this entire process has been respected (by the federal government).”

Notwithstanding, many specialists within the INAH have questioned the work that has been done so far on the railway’s construction.

According to researcher Rosa María Reyna, an expert in archaeological salvage with more than 40 years of experience at the INAH under her belt, there simply is not enough information about the area available to assess whether the train will destroy archeological sites.

“In the case of Quintana Roo, archaeologists are working like blind men in the middle of a cyclone, because we just don’t know what is there,” she said.

“Where Section 5 is slated to pass, apart from the enormous damage that will be generated to the aquifer and everything that the biologists have explained, we are dealing with a great unknown in terms of archeology because there are very few registered sites,” she said. “There is so much more we need to explore.”


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