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The Mayan civilization flourished from 2000 B.C. to about 900
A.D. During the classic period from 250 to 900 A.D., the Maya
built temples, carved fantastic artwork from stone and jade,
made astonishing discoveries in mathematics and astronomy, and
devised the most sophisticated writing system in the Western
Hemisphere. They also evolved a 1,500-mile-long trade route
running the length of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, and continuing
through Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, and El Salvador.
Some experts speculate that drought and wars led to the eventual
decline of this great civilization; others believe that the
Maya simply evolved into a less centralized lifestyle, abandoning
great cities for numerous small villages. At the height of
Mayan civilization, the population of what is now Belize may
have reached one million, four times what it is today. Although
their numbers are reduced, the Maya still live in Belize, still
speak Mayan dialects, and still practice ancient crafts and healing
techniques. Here are some areas of Belize where visitors can experience remnants of the classic Mayan period.
Located just across the Guatemalan border, Tikal is regarded as
one of the most important archeological discoveries of the 20th
century. It is estimated that 1 million people worked over 1,000
years to build this city. At least 3,000 palaces dating back 6,000
years have been discovered here.
Although it was discovered in 1938, excavation efforts at Caracol
only began in earnest in 1985. Archaeologists now believe it to be
a larger site than Tikal. There are more than 4,000 structures
spread across 55 square miles. The largest pyramid, "Sky Palace,"
rises 140 feet and is the tallest human-made structure in Belize.
More than 55 tombs have been discovered, including two
belonging to a king and his royal family. A stele (inscription in
stone) records Caracol's victory in a war with Tikal. Caracol is
located in the Chiquibul Forest south of San Ignacio.
Chechem Ha Pottery Caves
Used by the Maya as a storehouse for grain, the cave contained
enormous pottery storage jars, many still intact, some still containing
maize. One chamber of the cave was used as a ceremonial center. The
cave tour requires climbing rope ladders and is a strenuous activity.
This is the largest Maya site in southern Belize, dating to 700-900
A.D., well known for its unusual style of construction. All
structures were made of limestone blocks with no visible mortar
binding them together. Lubaantun is situated on a tall ridge above a
valley cut by the Columbia River, about 1 1/2 miles from San
Pedro, Columbia, the largest Kekchi Maya village in Belize. Nim
Li Punit and Uxbenka are among other Mayan sites that can be
found in southern Belize.