Units of Joint Task Force Bravo (JTF-Bravo), a U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) component; representatives of the Cultural Heritage Monitoring Lab at the U.S. Virginia Museum of Natural History; the Honduran Institute of Anthropology and History (IHAH, in Spanish); and the Honduran Armed Forces carried out an exchange to learn how to identify cultural heritage sites in the Copán Ruins, March 7-11, 2022, IHAH said in a statement.
“This exchange will help Honduran partners to identify and preserve sites of historical importance during disaster events and in their routine operations throughout the country,” the U.S. Embassy in Honduras said.
As a result of this exchange, Honduran service members improved their capabilities to identify archaeological sites, protect cultural heritage, and conduct disaster risk management in Central America, IHAH said.
Participants also learned about the principles of cultural heritage impact assessment; field techniques and equipment; site triage, protection, and stabilization; data capture and geospatial analysis; and evaluation of task orders.
Teamwork was evident in the joint evaluation at the Copán Archaeological Park Main Group, and at the Ostumán and Las Mesas archeological sites, IHAH said.
Copán is not only home to ruins, but also to transnational crime that smuggles narcotics through the porous border with Guatemala, said InSight Crime, an investigative journalism organization specializing in organized crime in Latin America and the Caribbean.
This training will allow Honduran service members to operate in the region without damaging or altering natural, historical, and cultural remains, JTF-Bravo said in a statement.
In August 2021, as part of SOUTHCOM’s commitment to help preserve the cultural heritage of its partners, the U.S. Army shared its experience with the Honduran military on the different characteristics to identify a site with potential archaeological value, in Olancho department, JTF-Bravo said. The force highlighted that Olancho has historical roots that date back to more than 3000 B.C.
“For us as service members, this training is atypical, but it has been interesting to go into a new field […]; sometimes we don’t even know where we are standing,” said Honduran Army Captain Alexander Aguilar, who attended the 2021 training, JTF-Bravo said.
Cultural heritage damage and losses due to disasters have significant repercussions at different levels. These can affect livelihoods and the economy, according to the World Bank report Disaster Risk Management and Cultural Heritage in Central America. Cultural heritage in Central America, both tangible and intangible, not only forms community identity, but is also an important driver for tourism, the report says.
In 2020, hurricanes Eta and Iota battered Honduras for two weeks, causing floods in the Copán Ruins due to overflowing rivers, the Inter-American Development Bank said. The destruction of 80 percent of roads cut off access to the archaeological site, the Honduran news agency Hoy Mismo reported.
“After the devastation left by hurricanes Eta and Iota, [IHAH] identified the need to strengthen capacities of organizations that collaborate with them in the protection of natural and cultural heritage, specifically during response operations, making the U.S. military an ideal ally to partner with,” JTF-Bravo concluded.