Xunantunich is going to get an 'upgrade' over the next 4 years. The announcement, which coincides perfectly with this year's BAAS, happening now at the SIRH, makes it seem like the site will be expanded to include more of the plazas, and possibly a new one. Everyone loves Xunantunich!
It's confirmed by Doc Awe that the site core of Xunantunich will completely changed in the next 4 four years. YES! In the next four years work will be done on structures A7, A8, A17, A9, B group, the sunken plaza behind El Castillo, also in C group and D group not even on this map.
He also does not expect 13 tombs to be found in A3 building Xunantunich site core that is currently being excavated... Says people of Xunantunich we're not as wealthy as those of Cahal Pech where 13 tombs have been found over the years on B1 building.
"In our efforts to improve access and safety at our archaeological reserves, the IA completed a new and improved access stairway to the main plaza at Xunantunich. Visit the site today and remember that it is also free for Belizean residents on Sunday!"
Click photos for more pictures!
Xunantunich Maya Ruins in Belize
Only a small portion of the buildings were excavated. There are countless mounds that are additional ruins.
Excellent article about Xunantunich from Taste of Life magazine.
Exploring The Mystery Of The Maya
Within the rainforests of Western Belize, the legacy of ancient Maya lives on as archaeologists unearth sacred temples and artistic traditions that provide a window into the mystery of a culture that excelled in agriculture, mathematics, hieroglyphics and impressive architecture.
Mayan for “Stone Maiden,” Xunantunich, was an important royal ceremonial centre built around 600 AD. Its plazas once painted in vivid colours are surrounded by temples and palaces — the largest being, El Castillo.
A symphony of howler monkeys, parakeets and toucans announce a new day at the foothills of the ancient mountains of Belize. An alarm clock is a trivial possession here in the Cayo District, where creatures great and small sing homage to Kinich Ahau, the Mayan sun god, as the first golden rays slice through the dense jungle.
Through morning mist, there’s a glimpse of El Castillo, the castle-like pyramid atop a distant limestone ridge. The mystery of the ancient Mayan site, Xunantunich (pronounced shoo-nahn-too-nitch), which surrounds the pyramid, enticed us to trek here, where the Mayan Empire was at the height of its power 2,000 years ago.
In the period between 300 and 900 A.D., the Maya built hundreds of enormous cities and sacred sites deep in the tropical lowlands of Belize, in northern Central America. While speculation exists, no one knows for sure what caused the Maya to mysteriously abandon their colossal temples, leaving them to be swallowed up by the encroaching jungle until they became the lost cities of legend.
The ancient ceremonial centre Xunantunich was discovered by a hunter in 1881, and as excavation continues today, altars, artefacts and stone friezes are being unearthed alongside a fragmented story of humanity’s past.
“For every relic unearthed, there’s a thousand questions, and for every question answered there’s a hundred more questions,” says William, our tour guide — a local rancher and horse handler who grew up exploring the ancient caves around the nearby village of San Jose Succotz. “So much mystery shrouds the Maya. How could they build pyramids without iron tools, wheels or animal power?”
The road leading to this ancient site weaves along the Mopan River, through a jungle canopy of fragrant allspice and gumbo-limbo trees. While the idea of riding horseback through the rainforest gets some pushback from our teenage sons, as we cross the river on a small platform propelled by a hand-cranked pulley, their hesitation transforms to wonder as we enter Mayan territory.
Far richer, fascinating and more exciting than anything Hollywood could dream up, the actual reality of Mayan life is amazing. This was once the capital of an autonomous ancient kingdom — spreading out with 26 stone structures and multiple plazas, many yet to be uncovered. Nearly 200,000 Maya once lived beneath the shadows of the pyramid, with its giant stone steps ascending to a summit 40 metres above the jungle floor.
Its assembly of stone rooms and vaulted buildings suggests it was once a royal palace or residence of an elite family closely related to the rulers. Like an emperor surveying his kingdom, the view is astounding — stretching across the horizon from the lush forest greens and farms around San Ignacio to Guatemala.
It’s remarkable to think that where we now stand once served as a sacred space to honour the gods — echoed by the intricate stone friezes and masks that adorn the east and west of the pyramid. Various motifs and symbols of Mayan astronomy and cosmology are etched in limestone, including Chaac, the god of rain, and Ix Chel, the moon goddess.
This ancient royal retreat is complete with a ball court, although from hieroglyphics discovered on neighboring Mayan sites, the game known as pok-ta-pok took an intense twist with the sacrificial death of the winner — the perfect gift to win favour from the gods. Next to the excavated sports court is a lonely sapodilla tree — its chicle sap used to make rubber balls for this game, and in generations to follow, dental floss and chewing gum.
This real, in-your-face Mayan history has ignited our curiosity! Perhaps we’ll continue onto Altun Ha, north of Belize City, where an exquisite piece of ancient Mayan art, the Jade Head, was discovered in a large tomb, or onto Ambergris Caye and the 2,000-year-old Marco Gonzalez archaeology site in the early days of discovery.
As we ride back to the stables, our minds are opened to life’s deeper meaning. A legacy seems more than what’s left when we’re gone, but what we can each give, create, impact and contribute today while we’re here. Taking the rough road often leads to the height of greatness.
Euan MacKie Presentation on 1960's Xunantunich Excavations
Professor Euan MacKie gave a presentation at CET about the Xunantunich Excavations in the 1960's.
Euan MacKie Phd was at the C.E.T. to deliver a presentation for the tour guides. All tours guides of all associations were welcome to attend, it was on June 8.
Euan Wallace MacKie is a British archaeologist and anthropologist. He is a prominent figure in the field of Archaeoastronomy. He was educated at Whitgift School, Croydon between 1946 and 1954 and later graduated with a degree in Archeology & Anthropology from St. John's College at the University of Cambridge in 1959. He spent six months in Central America as member of the Cambridge Expedition to British Honduras excavating Mayan archaeological sites in Belize between 1959 and 1960 at the ceremonial centre of Xunantunich. He is also known for his work and publications 'Excavations at Xunantunich and Pomona, Belize, in 1959-1960: A ceremonial centre and an earthen mound of the Maya Classic period,' Science and Society in Prehistoric Britain, 'Megalith Builders.'"
The early explorers, adventurers and archeologist believed that the ancient Maya were quiet people that lived in the forests, in harmony with their surroundings. Slowly, over time, they realized that these ancient people were actually people. They slashed and burned jungles to plant their corn. They hunted and domesticated wild animals like the wild turkey, great curassow and collared picary to be used as meat. They mined large open quarries and burned limestone for lime production so that they could later make mortar and plaster. Another trait they had was that they waged wars with each other.
Here is one such story. In 562 A. D., Yajaw Te’ K’inich II, ruler of the site of Caracol launched an attack to Tikal, a large Maya site in the country of Guatemala. The attack was successful, with the help of another site, Calakmul in Mexico. Tikal went into a hiatus and Caracol remained dominant in that area. Lord Knot Ajaw succeeded his father, and shortly after, he was succeeded by his younger brother Kan II. Lord Kan II is known to have done great things during his reign. He brought much prosperity and the population increased. Roads and causeways were built during this time. Sixty four years after they invaded the site of Tikal, Lord Kan II waged war with the site of Naranjo, not too far from Tikal, in fact, a perfect stricking distance away. Caracol defeated Naranjo in 626 A. D., and Naranjo was defeated by Calakmul again in 631 A. D. After the death of Kan II, K’ahk’ Ujol K’inich II became ruler of Caracol and in 680 A. D., Caracol was invaded and overtaken by the site of Naranjo. Caracol then went into its 96 year hiatus. Despite this, Caracol still showed some growth and prosperity during this time.
When Naranjo invated Caracol, they could not find the ruler. He was not present. So, they saw the carved stairway and decided to take it as a monument of conquest. Well, we know now, that was not all that they took. About a week ago, a panel was found while digging on A9 temple building at the site of Xunantunich. The panel may have been originally at Caracol. Archaeologist are telling us that the glyphs mention the death of Lady Batz Ek, who is the Mother of Lord Kan II and this panel was very likely commissioned by him. It is believed that the panel was cut into several pieces and given away by Naranjo to its subordinate sites as gifts of that conquest. This included Xunantunich, which has forever shown alliance with Naranjo. Much more was found in front of the A9 structure. The panel was backfilled immediately, after everyone had viewed it, but plans are to make a replica that will be placed in the original location, and the original panel will be moved into the Visitor Center.
There is a broken stelae laying on its face on the ground, directly in front of that structure A9. In front of the stelae, a cache deposit was found, with mainly some eccentric flints that appeared to be made from chert. A few pottery shards, something a little more fancy, were also found behind the stelae. Just below the plaza floor below the first stairs another cache deposit but this time is had nine eccentric objects made from obsidian along with a pomes stone jadeite pieces and clam shells. There are much more digs that are happening all over the site and I will keep you in tuned with the latest and greatest.
A week ago we told you that a second section of the panel at Xunantunich was discovered on the right side of Structure A9 here are some recent images that tour guide Eddy Estrada took of it now that it has been all cleaned up.
5 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Xunantunich
Perched on the ridge top sits the ancient city of Xunantunich, overlooking the Mopan River Valley. From this vantage point, it sees forests, farmland and modern-day communities. Located in western Belize, approximately 2 miles from the Guatemalan border, it is visited by people from all over the world on a daily basis and is one of the top most visited destinations in Belize. The towering building dubbed “El Castillo” stands 130 feet from the plaza floor and was a palace used by the elite family. There are also several temples used for ritual and ceremonial gatherings. Xunantunich hides many secrets that are discovered by archaeologists every year. Some of these discoveries gain momentum and get international attention, making their way into local news and international magazines, but unfortunately some of them get lost and forgotten over time. Today, I bring to you five things you probably didn’t know about Xunantunich.
1.The Ball Court Hoop
Ball courts were used by the ancient maya to play their ballgame and are made of two buildings resting parallel, alined north to south, with a playing alley between them. There are several versions of how this game was played, but the original maya version of the central lowlands is the art of controlling a rubber ball with their bodies. The ball itself was made from a long strip of cloth soaked in the resin of the rubber tree and bounced from player to player. To gain points, the ball was kicked across the court towards the other team. If the ball was not received by that team or it went out of control, then the point was obtained by the team who kicked the ball. The ball court at Xunantunich is the only one known in Belize to have implemented the hoops to its court. This idea was of external origins, likely from the Toltecs, with whom the Maya traded, and were implemented very late, around 900 A.D., when other sites were being abandoned. That is one of the reasons why it was not adapted by other sites. To score points in this new version, the ball would be kicked through the hoop.
2) Patolli Graffiti
The patolli is a board game that was played by many people of Mesoamerica, like the Aztecs, Toltecs and Maya, thus, there are several variations of this game. The game consists of checkered spaces arranged in the shape of a cross, X shape, square, and sometimes even circular shape, that was drawn on hide, incised onto wooden benches and scratched onto stucco plaster. The game is heavily based on gambling and the objective of the game is to get all your game pieces, grain of corn or black beans, but sometimes jade, across to the other side of the board. The first to do so won the round. several patolli game boards have been found at Xunantunich over the years, scratched on the plaster of the floor or on the benches. In 2003 excavations Dr. Yerger found one to the north of the site in plaza 3. Another one was previously found on a building located on the west side of “El Castillo” and now another just this past summer of 2017, incised on the plaster of a newly consolidated building on the north side of the site.
3) Site Location
Why did the people of Xunantunich choose to build their city on top of the ridge? Is it possible that they felt closer to the Gods? If that is so, why didn’t they build it to the south in the Vaca plateau, which is in view from the top of the tallest building at Xunantunich? There is no single answer to this question, but a there are a combination of human behaviors that give us the answer we seek. Although the ridge where Xunantunich sits is not the highest, it can be seen from everywhere, telling us that they were not hiding, but rather that they wanted to be seen. They wanted everyone to know where the powerful people lived. The ridge is also located a mile from the Mopan River, which makes it a strategic location for trade. Merchants would bring their products for trade from the coast, like salt, preserved fish and products from further inland of Guatemala, such as ceramics, textile and jade. The ridge also creates a natural defense by way of a very steep slope on the western side of the site, thus allowing the maya to limit their entrances from the east via two causeways.
4) Human Remains at Floor Level
Finding human remains at Maya sites is nothing new. Archaeologists have been finding them on sites for the past hundred years. There are classic burials in the core of the temples where the maya buried their elites, and also terminal burials where some maya people returned to bury their dead in random locations after the city was abandoned. In at least few instances, human remains have been found at floor level. If these remains would be below the floors or within the walls, there would be a definition for them, but these remains were found with no grave goods and not positioned in a ritualistic way. In the early 1960s, Euan MacKie, Ph. D., when excavating at Xunantunich on a building near the south east entrance, discovered human remains at ground level. The remains that were found was a headless human body, and he never found the head anywhere in that building. In 2004, Jason Yeger, Ph. D., also found human remains at ground level in a building at the north end of the site. It is possible that these remains are evidence of an uprising just before abandonment of the city. These people may have been attacked and killed in their homes while other people destroyed the roof of the building. The rubble would then fall on top of their remains, thus preserving them.
Carved stones have been found in many, if not all, Maya sites. Although these stones are documented, most of them go unmentioned, or not fully investigated. These stones have a round or sphere shape. They are made from limestone or granite and are found either as a single stone or in pairs. Its function currently remains unknown, but they may have been used in rituals. There was only one other culture that made spheres and they were obsessed with making them, and that was the Diquis culture of Costa Rica. They carved from very large boulders to tiny pebbles. It is also unknown for what purpose they used those spheres, and it is not believed that the maya had contact with this culture group. In 1938, Dr. Eric Thompson identified two of these stones at Xunantunich. They are located to the west of the site core and are made of granite.
Xunantunich is still hiding many of its secrets, and archaeologists have only scratched its surface. We will wait to see and hear what new discoveries archaeologist will uncover this year, and in many years to come.
Une équipe d’archéologues de l’université d’Arizona a récemment annoncé la découverte d’une tombe maya à Xunantunich au Belize. Sis sur les rives du Río Mopan, Xunantunich est célèbre pour sa structure nommée Castillo, la plus élevée du site et pour son art lapidaire.
Maya 'snake dynasty tomb' discovered, with human body, treasure and hieroglyphs inside
Archaeologists have discovered a royal tomb belonging to a ‘snake dynasty’ more than a thousand years old, containing treasure, hieroglyphs and a human body.
The discovery was unearthed at the ruins of Xunantunich, an ancient city which was once home to the Mayan civilisation beginning around 750 BC until political collapse saw cities abandoned in ninth century AD. The Maya peoples developed the Mesoamerican civilisation and were renowned for their fully develope hieroglyphic script, as well as ornate architecture.
It is thought that the tomb may be the largest of its kind to be found in the ruins. Most strikingly, it appears the tomb is custom-built, rather than attached to an existing structure, a rarity for the period.
Archaeologist Jamie Awe told The Guardian: “It appears that the temple was purposely erected for the primary purpose of enclosing the tomb. Except for a very few rare cases, this is not very typical in ancient Maya architecture.”
The tomb was found in the central stairway of a large structure.
The human body has been described by Awe as athletic and “quite muscular”. It will now be subject to forensic analysis as experts seek to establish more information including the man’s age and cause of death.
The archaeologists also found 36 ceramic vessels, what appears to be a necklace with jade beads, 13 obsidian blades and the bones of deer and jaguar,International Business Times reports.
The ‘snake dynasty’ is known for the snake-head emblem associated with its house and gained prominence in the seventh century following a string of conquests.
It is hoped the discovery will advance greater understanding of the dynasty and Mayan civilisation.
NAU Archaeologist Jaime Awe Describes ‘Unbelievable’ Find in Belize
Archeologists made a major discovery in Belize this summer: they uncovered one of the largest Mayan tombs ever found, along with two hieroglyphic panels. Northern Arizona University professor Jaime Awe led the expedition. From the Arizona Science Desk, Melissa Sevigny spoke with Aweabout the discovery.
Melissa Sevigny: So you made some big findings in Belize this summer. Can you talk about that?
There’s a site in Western Belize known as Xunantunich. That site has been investigated since the turn of the 19th century, so back in 1890s. Just a large number of people have worked there. Nobody had ever found a burial of an important elite ruler of the site.
This year we decided to excavate this one smaller temple, and bingo, we hit this huge tomb, in fact one of the largest tombs ever discovered in the country of Belize.
This thing was so massive we had about six people excavating inside this burial chamber at the same time. We had people excavating the skeletal remains, we had some people excavating the animal remains in there, because there was some of that, and other people exposing some of the artifacts.
What kind of artifacts did you find?
Inside this tomb we found this adult male individual somewhere between 20 and 30 years old and really robust; this guy was in really good shape.
He had about 30 some ceramic vessels—that’s a large number of pots—inside this tomb. He had a little jade necklace, obsidian blades, a bone pin—because sometimes they use these pins to hold up their long hair—and the animal remains look like they’re from jaguar and deer.
Now, I understand you also found two panels at the site that used to be part of a hieroglyphic staircase. And these panels have told you a lot about Mayan history.
I think in many respects the information provided by these panels far outweighed the discovery we made in the tomb. So for a long time we didn’t know when the hieroglyphic stair had been commissioned. We knew who and where. Well, our panels now tell us that the hieroglyphic stair was actually commissioned and produced in 642 AD.
So, if you’re in the business about learning about ancient Maya civilization and some of the political intrigue, the discovery of these panels is just an incredible major contribution. Fantastic!
How common are tombs and tablets like this? How often are these types of discoveries made?
I have colleagues who have been working in Maya archeology for entire careers and have never found any monuments with hieroglyphic inscriptions or have ever discovered any kind of important tombs. So to say this is an unbelievable opportunity, experience, is an understatement.
Jaime Awe directs the Belize Valley Archaeological Reconnaissance Project. This is the second year he’s brought NAU students to Belize; so far, more than 40 students have gone on the digs.