The great Maya city of Tikal in Guatemala is world famous. But in the mid-1960s, archaeologists made a controversial decision at the site - they deliberately dismantled the final version of the large pyramid popularly known as Tikal Temple 33 (called 5D-33 in archaeological reports.) William R. Coe, the project director from the University of Pennsylvania Museum, wrote that “This large Late Classic temple, if carefully taken down, could give us not only the evidence of how everything beneath it went together, but how the Maya, step by step, built on a grand vertical scale during Late Classic times.”
The Guatemalan cultural authorities signed off on the work in 1964, and as Coe and his team took the structure apart they uncovered the layers they had expected to find, discovered the secrets of how the temple was built, found a funeral monument for a fifth century king, and discovered monumental masks.
When their actions were criticized by other archaeologists, the team argued that the revelations from the structures hidden inside the ruins were worth the trade-off of the temple’s destruction. The temple was never restored and people still debate whether the discoveries were worth tearing down the structure.
What do you think of the archaeologists’ decision to dismantle Tikal Temple 33?
In your opinion, when, if ever, are destructive practices acceptable in archaeological work? When, if ever, do you think archaeological sites or features should be left untouched?