The Maya in Belize

When talking about the Maya culture, people mostly refer to Mexico or Guatemala. However, people should do their research a bit better. The truth is Belize was an important part of the territory that was ruled by the Maya for centuries. Fortunately for anyone with Belize as their vacation spot, Belize is also where the Maya left behind a significant amount of their greatest archaeological remains. It was a Belizean Caracol, who conquered the city of Naranjo located in present Guatemala in the 7th century AD. At the time of its greatest expansion, Caracol was home to more than 110,000 Maya, which is more than a third of today´s entire population that is spread through the entire country. Caracol also has a well-established long distance trade relationship with neighboring regions. During the Maya Classic Period, Belize had significantly more people than it has today. About a hundred thousand of the Maya people still live in Central America these days. About 30,000 of them live in Belize. Just like in other parts of the Maya Empire, the Classic Period was also the most important segment of Mayan history in the Belizean territory. During this phase, there was a massive development in its civilization and it was peaking in terms of cultural greatness.

The Maya civilization is divided into periods:
•    Archaic (7000 BC – 2000 BC)
•    Pre-classic (2000 BC – 250 BC)
•    Classic (250 BC – 900 AD)
•    Post-classic (900 AD – 1521 AD)

The decline of the Maya civilization is still unexplained

Since the end of the Classic Period, Maya civilization has experienced a significant decline. What exactly was the cause is unclear, but scientists suppose that an increasingly dry climate, changing social orders, and poor adaptation to the outside world played significant roles. Shortly after the beginning of the 10th century AD, Caracol was already abandoned. Both Xunantunich and Lamanai were inhabited after that time, but even in those cities the population gradually decreased until the final, absolute decline. The Maya cities were rediscovered in times of extensive logging, but had lain unused for centuries. During the 20th century, they thrilled archaeologists and in the last decades of that century, they began to reveal their tremendous beauty to tourists from around the globe.

Controversial crystal skull of Lubaantun

Throughout the entire nation of Belize, a huge number of artifacts have been found, most of which have ended up in British museums. Some of them were also stolen by the “grave robbers” who broke into a few sites before archaeologists were able to catalog and control the artifacts. A small number of findings then remained in the territory of Belize in small local museums. The most famous discovery in Belize was the crystal skull of Lubaantun, which was discovered in 1926 by Anna Mitchell-Hedges in a pile of rubble under a stone altar in the local temple. However, there are several unexplained questions. Firstly, it is not clear whether the 17-year old girl had ever been to Belize before. It is strange that her father, an avid writer, didn‘t write about her finding for another 20 years. Also, it is not known why the writer talked about the skull later as the “Skull of Doom” and insisted that it was precisely 3,600 years old. Lubaantun was a relatively young city, which was founded at the beginning of the 8th century AD. The skull bears traces of modern grinding and to make matters even worse, the crystal from which it was carved is most likely from Madagascar. Its shape is very nearly a replica of the British Museum crystal skull. It has nearly the same shape, but it has a more detailed modeling of its eyes and the lower jaw with teeth is detachable. Despite all of the questions, it is impossible to prove with absolute certainty that the skull is a fake. Anna Mitchell-Hedges continued to insist that she actually found it in Belizean city of Lubaantun until the day she died in 2007.

Jade head of Altun Ha

The most significant, 100% genuine finding of the Maya temples in Belize is a jade head from the temple of Altun Ha. It was discovered in 1968 by the archaeologist David Pendergast of the Royal Ontario Museum of Canada. The head represents Kinich Ahau, the Maya sun god. The object was discovered in the Temple of the Masonry Altars, in a building that is within the complex of Altun Ha known as structure B4. The head weighs about 4.4 kilograms and stands approximately 15 cm tall and the jade head remains the largest carved jade object that has ever been discovered in the Maya area. It was carved with nothing more than stone tools, meaning that it may have taken many years to create it.