Belize has a rich archaeological record that dates back to the Paleo-Indian period (ca. 15000-7000 BC). Ancient Maya culture (ca. 2500 BC-AD 1798) played a dominant part in Belizean history, and to this day, there are still many Maya communities in Belize. Over 2,000 historic and prehistoric sites have been recorded in Belize, more than half of which show evidence of looting.
Looting of archaeological material has been a serious problem in Belize for hundreds of years. Due to the forested terrain in which many of the Maya sites are located, it is very difficult to determine precisely how many archaeological sites have been looted and how much cultural material has been lost. The environment is one in which it is easy for all sorts of clandestine activities—like illegal logging, the poaching of wild animals, arms smuggling, drug smuggling, and the destruction of archaeological sites and cultural material—to occur.
Sandwiched between Mexico and Guatemala, and between the Petén rainforest and the Caribbean Sea, Belize is ideally situated to serve as a transit point and port for the illegal exportation of archaeological materials from neighboring countries. Before 2013, Belize was the only remaining country in the Maya region without a bilateral agreement with the US. With the signing of the bilateral agreement in 2013, the entire Maya region is now under protection.
There is a long history of archaeological investigation in Belize. For many years, archaeologists from around the world, including America, Canada, Mexico, Japan, and Spain, have been researching and publishing their work on the ancient Maya sites in Belize. The continuation of this research is important for the tourism industry in Belize, as well as for the preservation of the rich history of the Maya civilization.