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The National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) is preparing to issue an opinion that will release property of Reforma Avenue No. 159 to make way for Living Reforma, an apartment tower  property of the Living SLVK company. Despite the fact that the plot could contain up to 2,000 human graves dating back to the XVIII and XIX century, the institution under the leadership of María Teresa Franco hardly excavated and recovered 10% of the material available. In four months of work 249 graves, around 131 skulls and an undefined number of skeletal remains, as well as ceramics, incensories, fragments of pottery and metal objects. Lacking both time and interest to preserve and study the national historic Heritage, in the beginning of March authorities will endorse the destruction of what could be one of the most important historic discoveries of skeleton collections.

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Experts warn that with the impending authorization around 1,600 graves with information on nutrition, osteopathies, daily life, physical activities, health, pathologies, and social and economic life of the colonial period will be wrecked. To preserve the heritage is a raison d´état, stresses out the researcher and anthropologist Bolfy Cottom.
The INAH is enlisting the opinion on the feasibility for the construction of the real estate project Living Reforma, an apartment tower of the Living SLVK Company on one of the main arteries of Mexico City, the Paseo de la Reforma Avenue.
Marked with the No. 159 the property could withhold up to 2,000 human burials dating back to the XVIII and XIX centuries. It is one of the last remaining of the Santa Paula Cemetery, officially the General Pantheon during the times of the Spanish colony, where policemen, worker and drivers carrying photographic material have entered.
“I know about nothing, I couldn’t give you further details. It is one project among others where the INAH is currently working on”, says evasively as being asked by this weekly publication Pedro Sánchez Nava, the national coordinator of the Archaeology Institute.
Located south of the churchyard of San Andrés, the Santa Paula Cemetery received the mortuary remains of the victims of a cholera epidemic that struck from 1850 1851 in the late New Spain.
On its grounds a monument was erected where the leg of General Antonio López de Santa Ana lost during the battle of the 5th of December 1838 against the French Army in Veracruz was buried, and that was eventually annihilated in 1844 by an embittered mass.
Opened in 1786 and definitely closed on the 29th of July 1871 for representing a threat for public health, the Santa Paula Cemetery measures 37,800 square meters; it stretched to the North to Moctezuma Street, to the East the Santa María la Redonda Street (the Eje Central, Central Axis), to the South the current Magnolia Street, to the West the current Galena Street. Its main entrance was located to the East, almost in front of Saliteros Street (today the Republic of Ecuador Street).
The historic discovery
The INAH is working on the archaeological rescue inside the area of Reforma Avenue No. 159 since the end of October 2014. After 4 months of work 249 graves (with 50 complete skeletons), around 131 skulls and an undefined number of animal and human skeletal remains, as well as ceramics, incensories, fragments of pottery and metal objects were recovered. Over 400 bones of the time of the colony were extracted from eight exploration wells, excavated against the clock in just 10% of the 1,200 square meters of the property.
Nonetheless the magnitude of the findings, the assigned team of the Archaeological Rescue Directorate led by Salvador Pulido is preparing its retirement.
Meanwhile about ten carton boxes, transparent plastic bags and marked sacks full of bones are jammed in the small improvised storehouse in the far left sector of the property waiting to be transferred to the Physical Anthropology Directorate of the National Anthropology Museum, the Autonomous University of the State of Mexico or the National School of Anthropology and History (ENAH).
According to close sources of the Archeological Rescue Directorate of the Reforma Avenue No. 159 the authorization of the work by the INAH is imminent. “It was approved beforehand from the board of the INAH” they denounce.
In accordance with the agreement between the institute and the real estate company the period of release of the property will be extended and the deadline is being considered for the first days of March. “The machinery will enter the area with the subsequent destruction of the historic heritage”, they warn.
Sources which request to remain anonymous, point out that the rescue project has the purpose of defining the feasibility of the execution of the work.  “In this case there are no reasons to deny the execution of the construction, but it has to be postponed in order to recover the available remains under the ground. The community of researchers of the INAH and people concerned with the conservation of the cultural, archeological and historic heritage need to be aware and also to express their position in this regard.
For the Professor of the postgraduate Studies in Physical Anthropology of the ENAH and member of the National System of Researchers at level III, Lourdes Márquez Morfin, granting the guarantee to construct without exploring the property entirely and rescuing the osseous material contained is an aberration, “a case of tremendous omission”.
She specifies that “although it is (widely) known that the skeletons are there, it is an ethical and professional duty of the INAH to preserve the material: it has jurisdiction over the conservation and rescue”.
For the anthropologist and researcher for the Historical Studies Directorate of the INAH and professor of the ENAH Bolfy Cottom, if the archaeologists, physical anthropologists and historians, derived from the rescue opinion, established that the human remains belong to the XVI until the XIX century, these could be considered as historical monuments, thus under the jurisdiction of the INAH to be preserved, he assures.
“There is a legal reasoning that establishes that the law shall be applied and interpreted for the benefit of the protected property. It should (therefore) be requested that the established time should be postponed, because the finding doesn’t depend on the basis of an agreement. (An agreement between parts) is imperative as it is required by the Law. The law mandates to preserve and to conserve, it is a matter of general interest that must prevail above the private and personal one.
The expert in cultural legislation indicates that the opposite case would be a very serious incident, as “it seems obvious that legislatively protected property would be destroyed, insofar it should undoubtedly be applied to anyone who may be responsible (the executer of the destruction, the person giving the order, the person who authorizes it), whereas the article 52 typifies the behavior that leads to the “destruction of archeological, historic or paleontological monuments”.
For the researcher Márquez Morfín with bigger samplings a database could enable to work on a profile pattern of physical and dental features of the mestizo population that could assist to the identification of human remains, hence conforming “patterns in matter of forensic capacity for Mexico”.
As being in favor for the recovery of all of the osseous remains and of studying its context before starting the construction, Márquez underlines that she is not putting into question the real estate project, but the destruction of heritage. “The interest to rescue the collection is (merely) academic, for the investigation and knowledge of our historic past.”
Santa Paula 10 years of discovery
It is not the first time that the INAH finds human remains of the General Pantheon; still it is the most significant one for its dimensions and excellent State of preservation. In 1995 during the construction of Line 8 of the metro system (collective transport system), the archaeologist María de Jesús Sánchez Vázquez of the Archaeological Rescue Directorate of the INAH, led the excavation of the Soto-Garibaldi section.
In less than a month from the 25th of May to the 16th of June 1995, as reported by the register, Sánchez Vázquez and a group of students doing a subject on excavation techniques given by the archaeologist Andrés Gutiérrez of the ENAH, exhumed 78 individuals.
The collection is safeguarded by the laboratory of Osteology of the postgraduate Studies in Physical Anthropology of the ENAH, accounting for 10 pre-Hispanic collections that conform more than 1,200 skeletons and six colonial collections with more than 1,300 skeletons, among them 78 stemming from Santa Paula Cemetery.
Amidst other activities the laboratory aims to ensure the training in the identification of bones, whether they stem from humans or other species, its location and laterality, as well as the development of multidisciplinary investigations on nutrition, osteopathy, daily life, physical activity, health, the quest for parameters for the sex and age determination, demography, maturity indicators and forensic sciences.
Lourdes Márquez Morfín, who is in charge of the laboratory of Osteology exposes that the studies of the colonial skeletal collection  situated in the INAH, as well as in the Royal Hospital of San José de los Naturales (Saint Joseph of the Naturals), or the  Hospital of San Juan de Dios (Saint John of God) that used to be a hospital for prostitutes in former New Spain, have contributed to the knowledge about the population that inhabited during that period, about the incidence of syphilis or tuberculosis, about the mestizaje (mixing) process, about the genes, pathologies and lifestyles. According to the article by the archaeologist Alejandro Meraz Moreno and the anthropologist Érica Itzel Landa Juárez entitled “Burials in the ancient Pantheon of Santa Paula of Mexico City” (“Entierros en el antiguo panteón de Santa Paula en la ciudad de México”) –Bulletin of Historic Monuments (Boletín de de Monumentos históricos), Tercera Época (Third Period), May-August 2014-, between the 1st of December 2004 and the 28th of February of 2005 Meraz Moreno and Landa Juárez would have exhumed 17 skeletons stemming from Santa Paula Cemetery from the plot No. 80 of Eje Central (Central Axis) Lázaro Cárdenas Avenue, in addition to the No. 69 and 71 of the Riva Palacio Street.
The burials would have been recovered by five excavation units during the archaeological Studies of feasibility for the construction of social housing on the plot which is close to Reforma Av. No. 159 and to the Garibaldi Metro Station, where 10 years ago back in 1995 the INAH recovered the collection which is under the care of the ENAH. 20 years after the discovery the INAH is drafting the opinion that will release the plot of Reforma Avenue No. 159 to make way for Living Reforma.
Led by the architect Gustavo Slovik and conformed by five associates Living SLVK –as a result of the fusion of SLVK and Living- accounts for seven real estate projects of finished housing and eight different projects, among them a “governmental building. (An) awarded contest to design (a) governmental building in the Colonia Doctores (of) 20,000 square meters. The offices for Public Attention”, in accord with the website, and three more projects of housing on sale: Living Central, Living Residencial (Residential Complex) Cuauhtémoc, and Living Reforma.
“Prices starting at 1,210,000 pesos” can be read on the website of the company. A blanket covering entirely the fence of the plot No. 159 on Reforma Avenue states: “Pre-sales of apts “(“Preventa de Deptos”, sic), together with illustrations and plans. The apartments range from 65 to 90 square meters; “(it includes) two bedrooms, 1 or 2 bathrooms, dining room, kitchen, laundry area, balcony, roof garden with Jacuzzi, a multiple purpose room, sauna, gym, 24 hours of surveillance, cellars and parking lots”.
For the realization of this work interviews were requested to the General Director of the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) Maria Teresa Franco; the head of the Archaeological Recue Directorate of the INAH Salvador Pulido and to the Council of Archaeology. Additionally a stance was requested to the architect Gustavo Slovik. Up to the time of edition no response has been received.
(Translated by: Axel Plasa)

 

 

 Contralínea 426 / 01 al 07 de March 2015