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Living History

Cultural artifacts are crawling with damaging microbes

10:04am, September 27, 2005

Tourists who visit the Maya temples at Ek' Balam in Yucatán, Mexico, aren't allowed to pocket souvenir chunks of the intricate carvings on the centuries-old buildings. Visitors aren't supposed to even touch the soft limestone with their hands for fear they'll rub away the structures' delicate sculptural details. Yet even as Ek' Balam's caretakers keep people from destroying the archaeological site, microbes are working in a rock-eating bacchanal that could, if unchecked, leave behind nothing but dust.

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