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By Neil Silberman

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Extra resources for Between Past and Present: Archaeology, Ideology, and Nationalism in the Modern Middle East

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In addition, the majority of the inhabitants, relatively recent immigrants to the area who make a living through farming and cattle ranching, have been financially and educationally unprepared to advance and mature development plans. Exceedingly difficult social relations and competition in the locality are accompanied by the illegal trafficking in Olmec artifacts. What is the cultural patrimony for? Who is it for? These basic questions are cause for profound reflection. In this chapter we shall try to illustrate how the cultural patrimony of this region has been used in the past by giving a background of local history, followed by summaries of different attempts to establish community museums: an unsuccessful one at El Azuzul ranch and two others, both successful, in the villages of Potrero Nuevo and Tenochtitlán, respectively.

The protection of Olmec monuments was achieved, and Tenochtitlán and Potrero Nuevo take pride in their museums, which are visited every year by hundreds of national and international tourists (mostly during the months of least rainfall). However, the museums have not spontaneously generated any secondary productive activities despite intermittent attempts to encourage craft production. From the inhabitants’ point of view, sporadic tourism—largely attributable to the dirt access roads and dramatic seasonal variations—cannot generate a reliable source of income.

Given that nine colossal heads and numerous other stone monuments had already been removed to major museums, Cyphers was in complete agreement that any newly found sculptures should stay in Tenochtitlán, in the event that at some point the community might be able to benefit from their presence. The first incentive for the community museum in Tenochtitlán came in 1993 from a government agency called Culturas Populares. But the ground plans for a modest building were rejected by the community, which had illusions of a grand museum.

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