Tuesday, October 16, 2012
We had a rare opportunity to go to the municipal theater in Xela on Saturday evening to see a presentation by Dr. Richard Hansen, the director of the archaeological expedition at Mirador Basin, here in Guatemala. This was the last of four presentations he made and was largely a group of local university students. We had to wait in a line that was a half block long for over forty minutes to buy tickets and that gave us the opportunity to get to know a young civil engineering student who was in line ahead of us. He was eager to practice the English he had learned while living for a time in Boston and Napa Valley.
As we walked inside the theater, he offered to help us in any way he could and then he walked into the theater. He reappeared in a minute or less with a theater usher and they told us they had a special seat for us. They took us and our four friends to a box seat on the first balcony as a courtesy. Since the theater was packed, it was a very welcome treat. It was delightful to have him offer to help us and then immediately find a way to do something kind for us. That is exactly what I love about Guatemalans.
Although the presentation was in Spanish, many of the photo titles were in English. We had done some research on the Mirador Basin Project beforehand, which proved helpful. The archaeological site has been known since 1926 but it was long thought to be a classical period Mesoamerican site. It was Dr. Hansen himself who found the artifacts that provided proof that it is, in fact, pre-classical. This is of particular interest to Mormons, as this places the ruins in the Mirador Basin in the time period and likely location of the history contained in the Book of Mormon.
Dr. Hansen is a professor of archaeology at Idaho State University and is the uncle of Elder Hansen, one of our office missionaries. Dr. Hansen is a Mormon, but his presentation was a purely scientific one. I read notes afterward from other archaeologists who say this site, which is three times the size of Los Angeles, may have been the City of Zarahemla in the Book of Mormon. Needless to say, this really peaks our interest in visiting the site, but it is not yet tourist-friendly. It is a two day hike in (with burros hauling only your gear), a day in the basin and another two day hike out. It is not only a primitive area, but is dangerous. My goal is to return home safely, so we'll wait until the narrow gauge railway and tourist housing is complete before we venture in-that is if we're not to aged to return.
Aside from the religious interest, I was fascinated to learn that a new species of jaguar was discovered in the basin, along with several new species of moths. Scientists also discovered two birds that had not been found in Guatemala previously.
As this becomes a huge tourist attraction, the tourism itself will provide jobs/income for many of the families living nearby who have subsisted by poaching the rare artifacts to try to survive. Having them employed by the Mirador Basin Project will help everyone concerned. Several documentaries have been done on the site by the History Channel, Discovery Channel and National Geographic. It will be even more exciting to observe going forward.
Dr. Hansen stopped by the office while he was in Xela and Mike had the opportunity to meet him. It would be thrilling to spend some time with him to have him recount some of his adventures, including the plane crash that his family managed to live through when he first began working on the project. I was simply in awe of his accomplishments and could tell how highly the country of Guatemala regards him by the honor they gave him while we were in attendance.