Ecology vs. Archaeology at Copalita, Oaxaca
Copalita eco-archaeological park is located on the site of Copatitlan, an ancient seaside urban center in Oaxaca, Mexico. Estimated to be over 2,000 years old, exploration at this site started in 1994, and there’s still a lot of work to do. When we were there, a recent hurricane had blown through and washed away some earth that was covering ancient clay urns; an attending archaeologist speculated that these urns may have been used for funerary purposes. Unlike the larger and more “cleaned up” pre-Columbian cities like Teotihuacan and Chichen Itza, the archeological zone at Copatitlan is managed by people who are as concerned about ecology as they are about anthropology. Consequently, trees are allowed to grow as they will within the ruins of ancient temples, ball courts and related buildings. All vegetation, given a chance, will grow to destroy human structures. But those who designed the park feel that the flora is as much a part of the history of the place as the stone structures built before Columbus arrived. Consequently, trees and their roots work their way through these ancient buildings. Whether this eco-archaeological approach is the right way to manage this natural and human-made environment is debatable. There are estimated to be about 50 other archeological zones on the Oaxacan coast that are yet to be explored.
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