By P. Arana
NB: Remember to click on the links in the article to see all the images.
What can I say? I was meant for greatness. Almost fourteen hundred years after being interred, I was found in a royal crypt. Six other tombs were found; but my master's was the oldest. The structure B4, also called the Temple of the Masonry Altar, is where my master was buried. Wouldn't you know it? Temple B4 is the tallest Maya temple at the site of Altun Ha. In 1968, the year of my discovery, the excavations at Altun Ha were the largest-scale and longest-term archaeological feat ever undertaken in Belize. To top it all off, I stand at 14.90 centimeters (5.86 inches) and weigh a whopping 4.42 kilograms (9.75 pounds), which makes me the largest jade artifact ever discovered in the Mundo Maya.
The tomb was a total wreck. Over a millennium of roots had penetrated the chamber from above, causing the roof to cave in. When he had first spotted the curved marble-like, medium sea green surface, it had resembled a jade bead but as Dr. David Pendergast of the Royal Ontario Museum brushed away 1300 years of soil, his excitement grew.
I was an instant hit. History books were redacted so I could be included. Researchers theorized about who I was, why and where I had been made and other scholarly hypotheses. School children who had no idea what jade was or looked like had to study about the Maya Sun God, Kinich Ahau, who the archaeologist say I resemble - though I think myself more handsome. Field trips started arriving at Altun Ha. Next thing you know Belikin honored me with a depiction of my former home, Temple B4, on its beer. Then my picture appeared on the Belize currency. I had become a national treasure - long overdue, might I add.
Safety became an immediate issue for Dr. Pendergast, as he realized the magnitude of what had been unearthed. Self government in Belize was a four year old infant with archaeology falling under the Ministry of Natural Resources. The ministry was contacted and its quick assessment concluded that the jade head would have to be protected on foreign soil until Belize had the proper facilities for its storage.
Oh yeah! Once the word got out, everybody wanted a piece of me. At first they hid me in a box under a bed. I was offended by this treatment and protested. Next I was stuffed in a hand bag and flown first class to the Royal Ontario Museum in Canada. For a while I enjoyed the spotlight in the center of the museum's main hall, secured in my custom-made bullet proof glass and metal container. Then one day, a fiberglass impostor was made and life has never been the same.
Upon its return to the country of Belize, the jade head was put on display in an upper room of what is now the Belize Bank building in Belize City. The jade head continued to work as an ambassador of Belize, being shipped via courier to countries like Trinidad and Tobago and the United States throughout the seventies. At an unpublicized date, however, it followed the course of previous government workers and retired from public office to a secured and undisclosed location. The flawless double took its place on displays as was needed. In fact, when the doors of the first ever Museum of Belize welcomed its first guests in 2002, they were greeted by a fiberglass replica of the jade head.
I'm still trying to figure it out. One minute I was on display being carted away to different countries as Belize's national treasure. Next thing I know I'm being stuffed into a little box. Can you imagine what that kind of stuff can do to your social life, not to mention your esteem? While that imposter collects on my glory, I'm locked away for safe keeping. And that Museum opening was unpardonable. Excuse me, but who's the national treasure?
Today, though, for the first time in five years, the jade head will make a guest appearance. In preparation for the event, special agents from the Dragon Tactical Unit of the Police Department are on hand to protect and defend. Officers will accompany Belize greatest archaeological find to a private room in the Museum of Belize for a specially arranged photoshoot with veteran photographer Tony Rath. Keys to the jade head's home are with archaeologist Brian Woodeye who will be in charge of handling and positioning the jade head. Director of the Institute of Archaeology, Dr. Jaime Awe, will be present to supervise the proceedings while archaeologist Dr. Allan Moore, Coordinator of the Tourism Development Project, will photo-document this memorable affair. Director of the National Institute of Culture and History (NICH), Yasser Musa and Minister of Tourism, Culture, Trade and Investment, Hon. Mark Espat, will stop by in their official capacities to meet and greet the jade head.
It's about time is all I have to say. The last time I did a photoshoot was thirty six years ago when Dr. Pendergast placed me back in the tomb to photograph the burial. Geez, I hope it won't be as traumatic as that one. After the shoot, Dr. Pendergast was descending Temple B4 when he missed his footing on the wet and slippery steps. Well, he knew how important I was and tucked me under his arm; but when he came to rest below, he and his camera had been badly bruised and I was badly shaken. I just hope this Rath character can capture my good side. I mean this isn't just any...
"Will you be quiet! And be still so I can get a good shot of you. Okay, now smile!"
What did I tell you, no respect for a national treasure. What a crying shame!
This feature was sponsored by:
Special Thanks to:
Dr. David Pendergast
Dr. Elizabeth Graham
Museum of Belize
Institute of Archaeology
Images Courtesy of:
Tony Rath Photography