Belize was once a very important part of the Mayan empire. The land was fertile and perfect for growing crops to feed their large numbers, and the sea provided trade not only to other Mayan cities, but to other countries all along the Eastern part of South America as well.
The remains of their cities can still be seen to this day, with several open to the public, and new ones being discovered each year. These jungle covered ruins spark a sense of adventure and mystery into the hearts and minds of all who walk among them.
It is within one of these ancient cities that the largest jade artifact crafted by the Mayan was discovered, a jade head of the Mayan sun god. It was found on the right wrist of a body entombed within The Temple of the Masonry Alters, in the ancient city of Altun Ha, or “Water on the Rock”, and a replica can be viewed at the Museum of Belize in Belize City.
Smaller Mayan Complexes in Belize
There are also several smaller complexes, such as Cahal Pech, “Place of Ticks”, which was once the home of a royal Mayan family between 1000 BC and 800 AD. The site is only 2 acres in size, with about 30 buildings, yet many artifacts, including a jade/shell mosaic mask was found within its walls. Anyone interested in this site is encouraged to visit the visitor center and museum, where paintings of the city during its prime and an interpretive film give one a better perspective of this small, mysterious palace.
Not only does Belize possess the magnificent temples and pyramid-shaped buildings that people first think of when discussing the Mayan, but Belize is also home to a vast number of ceremonial caverns. These caves, which were highly regarded by the Mayan, contain many treasures, such as ceremonial objects, skeletons of sacrificial victims, and ceramic jars. One of the most popular caves, the Actun Tunichil Muknal (popularly called ATM), holds the skeletal remains of a young woman, completely covered in calcite crystals and known, quite appropriately, as the Crystal Maiden. Other caverns include what is known as the Footprint Cave and the Che Chem Ha.
The Footprint Cave is a spectacular, swim-in cavern that contains the usual ceremonial chambers and artifacts, but also includes many amazing dripstone formations. A bench, with the head of a monkey sculpted on its face, is a rare find, and thus, a must-see for tourists. The footprints that give the cave its name are believed to have been left by the shaman, or religious leaders, of the Mayan. These, however, are not accessible to tourists.
Whether you are interested in the impressive caves or in the stone buildings, no traveler ever leaves dissatisfied. The mystic and beauty of the world of the Mayan people draw hundreds each year, from scientists to families, and offer not only a historical viewpoint, but an almost ethereal sense as you walk were the streets that were once traversed by these extraordinary people so long ago.