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New archaeological site declared to move away from Mayan Temples Print E-mail
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Friday, 15 May 2009 10:18

Old relics of sugar mill are preserved at the reserveHidden in the jungle one mile in on the access road to the village of Sittee River is an important landmark in Belize’s colonial history.  It is the remnants of the steam powered Serpon Sugar Mill which was established in 1865 and marked the start of Belize’s industrial era.  The mill was bought by William Bowman and it, along with the Regalia, bought and owned by an American, fueled Belize’s economy for about thirty years. 

Estimates are that at its peak, the Serpon Sugar Mill was producing and shipping 1,700 pounds of sugar a month.  In the late 19th century, Serpon was a technological marvel with its main crusher, boiler, beam engine, furnace, and hot air exchanger – all powered by steam.  That was a breakthrough when compared to the manual process used previously by the Mestizos and Mayans. 

But at the turn of the 20th century, sugar production became more profitable in the northern districts and by 1910 the Serpon Sugar Mill was abandoned.  Citrus magnate Mike Dunker bought the property that Serpon sits on, and in 1989 he was ready to bulldoze it to plant citrus.  That is when residents of Sittee River began the process of not just preserving the mill but also its history. Hon. Manuel Heredia Jr. declares Serpon Sugar Mill Archaeological Reserve open

Along with the Institute of Archaeology, Sittee River villagers began a process that took fifteen years to complete.  A major problem was funding which was solved when they were awarded a US$55,000 grant from the U.S. Ambassador’s fund in 2007.  But while the money was one thing, salvaging what was left was another.  The boilers, furnaces, and the locomotive were now rusty artifacts.  Director of the Institute of Archaeology Dr. Jaime Awe notes that, "a fair bit of the metals that were here were taken out, especially like rails because the locomotive behind me used to run on a rail system. Most of those "train tracks" as we call them in Belize, we lost them." 

But those that were saved now form part of the Stann Creek district’s first Archaeological Reserve.  It was made official on Thursday May 7 by Minister of Tourism and Culture Manuel Heredia Jr.  Present for the occasion were Area Representative and Minister of Transport and NEMO Hon. Melvin Hulse, who praised the initiatives of the villagers.  In the words of the Hon. Hulse, "it was only Sittee River people on their own who identified for 15 years what is here for us to protect it and that is what we have done." 

Sittee River Village Chairman Duncan McPherson says the contribution of the Serpon Sugar Mill Archaeological Reserve will be both economical and cultural.  He expects it will attract more tourists to Sittee River and by virtue of its establishment has already created two jobs in the persons of two tour guides.  Culturally, he says it will also fill in the blanks in the history books about not only his village, but of Belize’s colonial past. 

Institute of Archaeology’s Director Dr. Jaime Awe says that the Serpon Sugar Mill is the first site that is not a Maya ruin to be declared an archaeological site.  For him, that in itself is historic, "whenever people have heard of the Institute of Archaeology they quickly identify us with prehistoric Maya sites.  I think that Serpon marks a sort of move away from that image and for us it is very important because the importance of us establishing a park like this is to highlight the fact that the cultural diversity of Belize is incredibly rich." 

Also present at Thursday’s historic signing were the President of the National Institute of Culture and History Diane Haylock, NICH Board Member Herman Byrd, and Charge d Affairs at the US Embassy J.A. Diffily. 

The Serpon Sugar Mill Archaeological Reserve is now open to tourists and Belizeans.