An ancient Mayan pyramid has been destroyed by a construction company in Belize by accident.

The 2,300-year-old pyramid was bulldozed for a road-building project and on discovering the rubble, archaeologist Jamie Awe said it felt like "being punched in the stomach".

The pyramid destroyed at the Nohmul complex was one of the country's largest and most important Mayan pyramids, but construction workers extracted rock from it.

Awe said: "It's a feeling of Incredible disbelief because of the ignorance and the insensitivity ... they were using this for road fill. It's like being punched in the stomach, it's just so horrendous."

Speaking to local TV channel News 7, Awe said after examining the remains, the site is unsalvageable, with over 80% of the building destroyed: "There is simply no way or no hope that we could attempt any kind of preservation on this.

"The only thing left now is to watch the last bit of it crumble with the coming of the rainy season."

The Citizens Organized for Liberty Through Action, a community action group in Belize, said the destruction was an "obscene example of disrespect".

The pyramid sat in the middle of a privately owned sugar cane field. It was a ceremonial centre and although it was not as well preserved as other pyramids, it would have been difficult to mistake the structure for a natural hill in an otherwise flat landscape.

"These guys knew that this was an ancient structure. It's just bloody laziness," Awe said.

"Just to realize that the ancient Maya acquired all this building material to erect these buildings, using nothing more than stone tools and quarried the stone, and carried this material on their heads, using tump lines.

"To think that today we have modern equipment, that you can go and excavate in a quarry anywhere, but that this company would completely disregard that and completely destroyed this building.

"Why can't these people just go and quarry somewhere that has no cultural significance? It's mind-boggling."

Awe's comments were echoed by his colleague John Morris, who told local News 7: "It is incredible that someone would actually have the gall to destroy this building out here. There is absolutely no way that they would not know that these are Maya mounds."

Police are currently investigating the destruction and said criminal charges against the company responsible was a possibility. The Institute of Archaeology is preparing a report for the police and prosecutors.

Awe said: "I firmly believe it is important that we seek legal action otherwise we are sending a message that it is not important to preserve this heritage.

"In this case charges against the construction company for wilfully destroying an ancient monument and the land owner who have had to be given permission for the company to access the property and then allow the destruction to take place."

Norman Hammond, an emeritus professor of archaeology at Boston University, said the bulldozing of Mayan structures was an "endemic problem in Belize", saying many smaller sites had been destroyed over the years. 

Mayan Pyramid
A Mayan pyramid in Belize was bulldozed by a construction company (anoldent/Flickr)
Nohmul complex
The pyramid was in the Nohmul complex in northern Belize (newnewsinworld/YouTube)