Bones Are Among Us
By Jesús Aguado
Almost 40 years ago, giant bones were still strewn around in the paleontological zone of San Miguel, a space that covers more than 3,000 hectares. Sebastian Ramírez, a resident of San Martín de la Petaca, remembers that his ancestors used to grind the bones and mix them into an ointment to cure shock, stomachaches, and other diseases.
Those bones belonged to the mega fauna that populated the area at least 10,000 years ago. The animals perished, probably due to the last ice age, stated cultural and natural activist Arturo Morales Tirado. He said in addition that a 100-meter-high ice layer covered the area.
The Frontera de Tierra Adentro Proyect (Inland Frontier Project) headed by José Benigno Torres—is being strongly supported by the Business Coordinating Council to help the natives of the surrounding communities become entrepreneurs of their heritage. In the area nearby, there are not only skeletons dating from 10,000 years ago, but also the remainders of old haciendas as well as vice regal constructions and archaeological sites.
Atención had access to the vast territory, where it is easy to see huisaches, cactuses, and medicinal herbs known by the natives as tatalencho or cola de caballo (horsetail). In the distance from the place we visited, it is easy to admire the majesty of the Roldanejo and Jobero mountains. After along “secret” tracks—well-guarded nowadays by the inhabitants—the white earth breaks open and there is a 30-meter-deep stream. To go down or up from there, the visitor has to walk very carefully due to the eroded soil. In one space, there are small pieces of a different material. They are not stones, but the small parts of a mammoth’s fossilized tusks. “If you dig a little bit, you can see the structure” commented Ángel Flores, member of the Natural and Cultural Landscaping Project of San Miguel de Allende.
Arturo Morales, who also went on the expedition, pointed out the place where they found and have identified a six-meter skeleton from an animal that could be a mastodon. It is not visible currently due to the collapse of the area. That is better for now, so people cannot see the bones and steal them. The zone has already been looted too many times. According to the natives, more than 2,000 pieces have been stolen, and they do not know where they are. The robbery has almost stopped, but 15 years ago people from the area were not aware that the theft of these fossilized bones could result in a fine up to 216,000 pesos or 3 to10 years in prison.
Along with Morales, we continued the visit to see another tusk that had come to the surface due to the rainfall; however, when we arrived at the place, we realized that this piece had been stolen.
In June 2015 as well, some mammoth tusks were stolen in a paleontological site in the state of Hidalgo. The thieves just extracted the tusks and left the rest of the skeleton. However, the authorities from the INAH (National Institute of Anthropology and History) said that neither the thieves nor buyers could enjoy the pieces because when one is extracted, it immediately needs work of conservation and restoration. If that work is not performed, the piece will turn to dust.
When people were not aware that stealing the pieces was a bad idea, they used to take them home to sell them later. Other people, like Sebastián Ramírez, took some pieces to his place to protect them from being stolen. In his kitchen, he has two pieces that could be part of a mammoth’s tusk as well as a giant jaw. Ramírez commented that when he was a child, he used to play at the stream. Then it was easy to see or stumble on a giant bone. Once he was protecting himself from the rain in a cave, and he started digging. There he found more fossils. His elders told him that those were giant’s bones, and they were good for healing aches and shock. Even 50 years ago, people used to find and grind the bones, mix them with pomades, and anoint themselves with the mixture. Other people preferred boiling the pieces to make tea.
Lack of knowledge for protecting the area
Several times poacher’s sacks have been found in this zone. However, it is more protected now. In addition, in 2011, social activists achieved the cancellation of construction of a housing development, BANTERRA, in the area. The development would have constructed 8,000 houses and would have been built over the paleontological zone. Moreover, those interested in the protection of the natural, cultural, and archaeological heritage have opposed the construction of the Autopista del Bicentenario, a road that would bring economic development to the city as well as communication, but would destroy historical sites, flora, and fauna, as well as the history still underground. The fauna that lived in the area 10,000 years ago featured mammoths, giant sloths, and even armadillos “as big as a Volkswagen,” said Morales.
This is North America’s biggest paleontological area. It offers a history dating from more than 80 million years ago as well as fossils from two phases (the first from 50 million years ago and the second dating from 10-15 thousand years ago).
The Project of the Inland Frontier
The Business Coordinating Council, directed by Benigno Torres, is supporting this project because they believe that what is good for Sanmiguelenses will be good for visitors as well. Besides, they want to offer visitors more than just the historic center. This project includes not just the paleontological site, but also the Royal Road of the Interior Land—a path well-traveled by the Mexicas before the conquest. That path was used for trade and economic development. After the conquest it was used by the Spanish for transporting goods, silver, and gold. On the sides of the road, haciendas, chapels, dams, and many other constructions were built—constructions that are still there as voiceless witnesses of a glorious past. The buildings and sites are at risk of destruction, according to Morales, due to the lack of knowledge by the authorities (at all levels) as well as the greed of developers.
That is the reason why, Torres commented, those places need protection and surveillance, and that is what the council is doing. Currently, the council and Morales, as well as the Paleontological Association of San Miguel, are working on those “unknown” spaces so they can build dozens of trails as well as bike paths and let the tourists and Sanmiguelenses know the jewels that are beyond the center.
The project also includes the construction of 11 postas turísticas (spaces with parking and sanitary services, and multifunctional halls). Estaciones turísticas (spaces with WiFi service, rental of bicycles, workshops, transportation, and leisure activities) are also to be included in the plan.
Morales remarked that one of the most important goals is to include the inhabitants of those areas as part of the sustainable tourism because they deserve to be part of the economy in the city and not just spectators. They are currently working with the University of Guanajuato, the National Autonomous University of Mexico, the Sanmiguelense Institute, and other private organizations to achieve this.
Torres has been president of the council since November 2015. In an interview granted to Atención, he commented that the goal of the organization is to create public policies for promoting the best practices through enterprises that can bring prosperity for Sanmiguelenses. He remarked that this organization is a nonpolitical entity.
Torres began appearing in public after the 2015 elections, and that normally happens when somebody is seeking a political position. Atención asked him what he was looking for from his work at the Consejo, and he said, “I’d say that I found what I was looking for—opportunities to work for the benefit of Sanmiguelenses. Being on the council, I want to make it happen. In the next six years at least, I will not look for a political post.” He also said that the organization will reintroduce the award for female entrepreneurs, among other projects.