How are tourists causing damage to ancient sites?
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Richard Nowitz/National Geographic/Getty Images.
Are We Ruining Ruins?
Historic sites offer cultural value. But does visiting them do more harm than good?

Chichén Itzá (chee-CHEN eet-SAH) is one of the most visited ancient sites in the world. Approximately 1.2 million people visit each year. Located in present-day Mexico, the ancient city was the center of the Mayan Empire from 750 to 1200 A.D.

Government authorities and historians have concerns about the growing number of tourists in places like Chichén Itzá. When people visit, they spend money, helping local economies. But tourists expect to see the sights, which often include fragile ruins that weren’t built for the large numbers of people visiting them today.

The Temple of Kukulkan (koo-kool-KAHN) is the centerpiece of Chichén Itzá. Visitors were allowed to ascend the temple’s legendary 365 steps until 2006. Then site officials banned people from climbing the structure. They say that the massive numbers of people using the stairs each year were causing irreversible damage. Chichén Itzá is not the only historic site suffering from this problem. Following an increase in tourists, authorities at the Peru Ministry of Culture decided that a maximum of 2,500 people could visit the Incan city of Machu Picchu each day.

Authorities are trying to keep tourists at other sites out entirely. La Mosquitia (mohs-KEY-schah) is the largest rainforest in Honduras. In 2015, explorers on an expedition came upon an ancient city hidden deep in the rainforest. A story published in National Geographic about the “discovery” angered locals. They pointed out that the archaeological site had been discovered long before but was kept secret. The people who first “found [the site] were not interested in attracting tourism,” says Dario Euraque, a historian and a former head of the Honduran Institute of Anthropology and History.

What do you think? Should people be allowed to visit sites like Chichén Itzá, Machu Picchu, and La Mosquitia? Why or why not?

1. What are the benefits of visiting a historic site?
2. Why are visitation rules imposed on historic sites?
3. Should there be limits on the number of people allowed to visit ancient ruins? Why or why not?

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