SAN CRISTOBAL DE LAS CASAS, Mexico – Mexican authorities’ decision to remove human skeletons from a pre-Columbian site in the southern state of Chiapas resulted in the loss of “invaluable” anthropological information, experts said.
“We obviously understand the haste, the importance given (to the find by) the state Attorney General’s Office considering the fight against drug trafficking,” Emiliano Gallaga, who represents the National Institute of Anthropology and History, or INAH, in Chiapas, told Efe.
Chiapas authorities, who had initially assumed the bones were the remains of victims of organized crime, informed INAH of the discovery but only after the material had been collected, Gallaga said.
The state government announced on March 9 the discovery of 167 human skeletons in a cave thanks to “intelligence work” directed by the Chiapas AG’s office, whose experts erroneously calculated that the human remains were about 50 years old.
Gallaga said that in the process of removing the skeletons authorities had altered the context of the archaeological site, located in the municipality of Frontera Comalapa.
“The archaeological context has already been altered and so obviously a lot of information has already been lost. All we can do now is go to the site, see how many of the artifacts were removed, how much damage was done to the archaeological context and remove as much as possible from the context that hasn’t been touched,” he added.
INAH anthropologist Javier Montes de Paz said the institute has already taken over investigations at the site “and we’ve already determined these are pre-Columbian remains and it’s confirmed these are human remains of individuals who lived around 1,000 years ago.”
Analysis of the skeletons, discovered at a cave that Mayan Indians used for ceremonial purposes, has begun at the state AG’s office’s headquarters, he said.
“The evidence that led us to determine the chronology was the practice of intentional cranial deformation,” the expert said, who noted that the remains found at the site have the “tabular erect type of deformed skull.”
Discoveries of mass graves containing victims of drug-related violence have become commonplace in Mexico, where some 50,000 people have been killed in cartel turf wars and the gangs’ clashes with security forces since late 2006.
A total of 332 bodies have been found in clandestine graves over the past year in the northwestern state of Durango, including 50 corpses discovered in December and January in 14 mass graves in Durango city, Lerdo, Santiago Papasquiaro, Cuencame and San Juan del Rio.
Nearly 200 bodies also were found last year in clandestine graves in Tamaulipas, a state in northeastern Mexico that has been rocked by drug-related violence.
The mass graves in Tamaulipas were found following reports that gunmen had forced men off buses headed for Reynosa, a city across the border from McAllen, Texas, between March 19-31, 2011.
The bus passengers were grabbed in a bid to identify possible members of the Gulf cartel, which has been battling the rival Los Zetas mob for control of smuggling routes into the United States, some of the suspects arrested in connection with the killings told investigators. EFE