History & Features of the Belizean Maya Site, Caracol

Text, Photos, & Video by Julie Schwietert Collazo

Welcome to Caracol

In March 2012, I had the honor and privilege of attending the first of four overnight camping trips at Caracol, which is considered by Belize’s National Institute of Culture and History to be one of the country’s most important–if not THE most important–Maya sites.

Whereas some other countries with Mayan heritage (and, it’s important to note, living Maya cultures) decided to play up the apocalypse and doomsday interpretations that gained so much traction in mainstream US media, Belize kept things classy and real, insisting upon the importance of using the luxury of a year-long spotlight on all things Maya as an opportunity to both educate people and celebrate Maya culture. All programming was designed with these dual objectives in mind.

Dr. Jaime Awe

One of the novel ways the country decided to fulfill those objectives was by hosting a series of overnight camping trips at Caracol, during which Dr. Jaime Awe, Belize’s most prominent archaeologist, would personally guide visitors around the site. Each camping trip would truly be a once-in-a-lifetime experience: each was scheduled to fall on an equinox or solstice during the year when the Maya’s long-form calendar ended.

Each camping trip (the last is scheduled for December 20 and is sold out) would be limited to 100 visitors, who, in addition to meeting Dr. Awe, would also enjoy a traditional Maya dinner and, very early the following morning, a special Maya fire ceremony.

The entire experience was incredible; it lived up to its once-in-a-lifetime billing, and I doubt I’ll forget any of it. But Dr. Awe was, without question, the highlight. It’s rare enough, I think, to feel oneself in the presence of a genius. And if that happens, it’s rarer still to find that person completely accessible, his or her passion so palpable that you can’t help but absorb it and let it live inside you for a long, long time to come.

This week, as we move closer toward that all-important date on the Mayan long-form calendar, we’ll be sharing a series of videos I shot while at Caracol in March. In this first video, Dr. Awe introduces the history and features of the Caracol site; I hope his enthusiasm will be as captivating for you as it was–and remains–for me. Other videos in the series will show Dr. Awe explaining how archaeologists make decisions about what to excavate; how they make decisions to destroy one part of a structure so the public can have a better learning opportunity; and how the Maya lived–and, ultimately, died– at the Caracol site.

Dr. Jaime Awe Explains Why Archaeologists Sometimes Make Destructive Decisions

Dr. Jaime Awe Explains Why He Destroyed Part of a Maya Structure to Reveal a Mask Figure

Dr. Jaime Awe Explains Why He Destroyed Part of a Maya Structure to Reveal a Mask Figure.

In today’s video, Dr. Awe talks about a difficult decision he made to destroy a small part of a structure at Caracol. I always love the backstories and understories of people’s work, so this video is my favorite yet. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Dr. Jaime Awe Discusses Maya Math & Science Systems at Caracol

Detail of a Structure at Caracol

I got stuck on “vigesimal,” but then again, my domain is words, not numbers.

In this video, Dr. Jaime Awe discusses some of the core features of the Maya math and science systems, and how these were applied in construction at Caracol.

Dr. Jaime Awe Explains How/Why He Became an Archaeologist

Let’s go out with a bang, shall we?

In this video–the last in the “Dr. Awe Talks at Caracol” series–, Dr. Awe explains how he became interested in archaeology, and how the questions he asked as a child still guide his work today– even though his sandbox is much bigger now.