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The Belize Maya Guide



Belize is blessed with an outstanding archaeological heritage of Maya temples and palaces.

It is known that the Maya occupation began as early as 1500 B.C., and although it began its decline in 900 A.D.

GtB The Mayan Jaguar Temple in Lamanai
Click any Pictures to enlarge
Some Maya cultural centers continued to be occupied until contact with the Spanish in the 1500's. During the classic period (250 A.D. to 900 A.D.), the population of Belize exceeded well over one million people, and it is believed that Belize was the heart of the Maya civilization at that time. Although large Maya cultural centers no longer exist, there is still a significant Maya population residing within many small villages.

Note:
This site is a part of our new Maya section, as soon a new Maya site is online available, we will complete all the corresponding data and maps. Look
at the brand new Altun Ha, Lamanai and Xunantunich Pages. Please come back soon.                                                                            (last update 25. june 2009)


Accessible Belize Maya Sites

  Caves
  City's with Temples and Pyramids
  Actun Che Chem   Altun Ha   Lamanai
  Actun Tunichil Muknal   Cahal Pech   Lubaantun
  Barton Creek
  Caracol   Nim Li Punit

  Cerros   Xunantunich

  El Pilar

Caracol
Caracol Maya Ruin in Belize
Perhaps the most important, Caracol ('the snail' in Spanish), is located in the  Cayo District, near the border with Guatemala and within the Belizean part of the Peten rainforest.

Caracol was the center of one of the largest Maya kingdoms and today contains the extant remains of thousands of structures, covering some 168 km² (65 sqm) with an estimated peak population of about 120,000, or possibly as many as 180'000 people. One monument here records a military victory over the army of Tikal in 562CE, where Caracol's Lord Water is shown to have captured and sacrificed Tikal's Double Bird.

Note:
This entry will be soon replaced with a new Caracol Page.

Cerros
Cerros Maya Ruin in Belize
The site of Cerros, is in the Corazol District, at the mouth of the New River
where it empties into Chetumal Bay  in northern Belize.


Cerros is notable as one of the earliest Maya sites, reaching its apogee during the Late Preclassic on Chetumal Bay, and for the presence of an E-Group, a unique structural complex found in Maya architecture. As such, the site had access to and served as an intermediary link between the coastal trade route that circumnavigated the Yucatán Peninsulacanal system and utilized raised-field agriculture. Even today, much of the site remains unexcavated.

Note:
This entry will be soon replaced with a new Cerros Page.

Lubaantun
Lubaantun Maya Ruin in Belize
Lubaantun is in Belize's Toledo District, about 42 kilometres (26 mi) northwest of Punta Gorda, and approximately 3.2
kilometres (2 mi) from the village of San Pedro Columbia.


The city dates from the Maya Classic era, flourishing from the 730's to the 890's AD, and seems to have been completely abandoned soon after. The architecture is somewhat unusual from typical Classical central lowlands Maya sites. Lubaantun's structures are mostly built of large stone blocks laid with no mortar, primarily black slate rather than the limestone typical of the region.

The centre of the Lubaantun on a large artificially raised platform between two small rivers. It has often been noted that the situation is well-suited to military defense. The ancient name of the site is currently unknown; "Lubaantun" is a modern Maya name meaning "place of fallen stones".

Several structures have distinctive "in-and-out masonry"; each tier is built with a batter, every second course projecting slightly beyond the course below it. Corners of the step-pyramids are usually rounded, and lack stone structures atop the pyramids; presumably some had structures of perishable materials in ancient times.

Note:
This entry will be soon replaced with a new Lubaantun Page.


The Crystal Skull

The most famous crystal skull is the Mitchell-Hedges "skull of doom" allegedly discovered by a 17-year old Anna Mitchell-Hedges in 1924 or 1927 while accompanying her adoptive father on an excavation of the ancient Mayan city of Lubaantun in Belize.

Learn more about the mystery of this crystal skull on our
Crystall Skull Mysterie Page.

Mathematics

In common with the other Mesoamerican civilizations, the Maya used a base 20 (vigesimal) and base 5 numbering system (see Maya numerals). Also, the preclassic Maya and their  neighbors independently developed the concept of zero by 36 BC. Inscriptions show them on occasion working with sums up to the hundreds of millions and dates so large it would take several lines just to represent it.



Mayan Numberings System with 5 as a base and 20


The  Maya had measured the length of the solar year to a high degree of accuracy, far more accurate than that used in Europe as the basis of the Gregorian Calendar. They did not use this figure for the length of year in their calendar, however. The calendar they used was crude, being based on a year length of exactly 365 days, which means that the calendar falls out of step with the seasons by one day every four years. By comparison, the Julian calendar, used in Europe from Roman times until about the 16th Century, accumulated an error of only one day every 128 years

Astronomy

Uniquely, there is some evidence to suggest the Maya appear to be the only pre-telescopic civilization to demonstrate knowledge of the Orion Nebula as being fuzzy, i.e. not a stellar pin-point. The information which supports this theory comes from a folk tale that deals with the Orion constellation's area of the sky.


Orion Nebula
Their traditional hearths include in their middle a smudge of glowing fire that corresponds with the Orion Nebula. This is a significant clue to support the idea that the Maya detected a diffuse area of the sky contrary to the pin points of stars before the telescope was invented. Many preclassic sites are oriented with the Pleiades and Eta Draconis, as seen in La Blanca, Ujuxte, Monte Alto, and Takalik Abaj.

The Maya were very interested in zenial passages, the time when the sun passes directly overhead. The latitude of most of their cities being below the Tropic of Cancer, these zenial passages would occur twice a year equidistant from the solstice. To represent this position of the sun overhead, the Maya had a god named Diving God.

Religion

The  Maya believed in a cyclical nature of time. The rituals and ceremonies were very closely associated with celestial/terrestrial cycles which they observed and inscribed as separate calendars. The Maya priest had the job of interpreting these cycles and giving a prophetic outlook on the future or past based on the number relations of all their calendars.



Maya Priest
The Priest also had to determine if the "heavens" or celestial matters were appropriate for performing certain religious ceremonies.

The Maya practiced human sacrifice. In some Maya rituals people were killed by having their arms and legs held while a priest cut the person's chest open and tore out his heart as an offering. This is depicted on ancient objects such as pictorial texts, known as codices (singular: codex). It is believed that children were often offered as sacrificial victims because they were believed to be pure.

The life-cycle of maize lies at the heart of Maya belief. This philosophy is demonstrated on the Maya belief in the Maize God as a central religious figure. The Maya bodily ideal is also based on the form of the young Maize God, which is demonstrated in their artwork. The Maize God was also a model of courtly life for the Classical Maya.

Philosophically, the Maya believed that knowing the past meant knowing the cyclical influences that create the present, and by knowing the influences of the present one can see the cyclical influences of the future.


Writing system

The Maya writing system (often call hieroglyphs from a superficial resemblance to the Ancient Egyptian writing) was a combination of phonetic symbols and logograms. It is most often classified as a logographic or (more properly) a logosyllabic writing system, in which syllabic signs play a significant role.



Maya Glyphs carved in a stone
It is the only writing system of the Pre-Columbian New World which is known to completely represent the spoken language of its community. In total, the script has more than a thousand different glyphs, although a few are variations of the same sign or meaning, and many appear only rarely or are confined to particular localities. At any one time, no more than around 500 glyphs were in use, some 200 of which (including variations) had a phonetic or syllabic interpretation.

Agriculture

The ancient Maya had diverse and sophisticated methods of food production. It was formerly believed that shifting cultivation (swidden) agriculture provided most of their food but it is now thought that permanent raised fields, terracing, forest gardens, managed fallows, and wild harvesting were also crucial to supporting the large populations of the Classic period in some areas.



Maya Agriculture in Belize
Indeed, evidence of these different agricultural systems persist today: raised fields connected by canals can be seen on aerial photographs, contemporary rainforest species composition has significantly higher abundance of species of economic value to ancient Maya, and pollen records in lake sediments suggest that corn, manioc, sunflower seeds, cotton, and other crops have been cultivated in association with the deforestation in Mesoamerica since at least 2500 BC.

Contemporary Maya peoples still practice many of these traditional forms of agriculture, although they are dynamic systems and change with changing population pressures, cultures, economic systems, climate change, and the availability of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.

Milpa 

Based on the ancient agricultural methods of Maya peoples and other Mesoamerican peoples, milpa agriculture produces maize, beans, lima beans and squash. The milpa cycle calls for 2 years of cultivation and eight years of letting the area lie fallow.





Belize, MILPA Corn and Beans together
Agronomists point out that the system is designed to create relatively large yields of food crops without the use of artificial pesticides or fertilizers, and they point out that it is self-sustaining at current levels of consumption, but there is a danger that at more "A milpa is a field, usually but not always recently cleared, in which farmers plant a dozen crops at once including maize, avocados, multiple varieties of squash and bean, melon, tomatoes, chilis, sweet potato, jícama, amaranth, and mucana....

Milpa crops are nutritionally and environmentally complementary. Maize lacks the amino acids lysine and tryptophan, which the body needs to make proteins and niacin;.... Beans have both lysine and tryptophan.... Squashes, for their part, provide an array of vitamins; avocados, fats.

The milpa, in the estimation of H. Garrison Wilkes, a maize researcher at the University of Massachusetts in Boston, "is one of the most successful human inventions ever created."
 


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