In Early January 2013, the conservation of one of the most important Maya sites in the Corozal District was launched by the Institute of the National Archaeological Department with funding obtained under the U.S. Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation (AFCP). Through the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs Cultural Heritage Centre, the AFCP assists eligible countries in preserving their cultural heritage. Seeing potential in Belize, the AFCP awarded BZ$100,000 to the National Institute of Culture and History’s Institute of Archaeology for the reconstruction of Santa Rita. Today, after almost 6 months the conservation project has been completed. Reporter Victor Castillo tells us more.

Victor Castillo - Reporting

The archaeological site known to be the ancient City of Chetumal, Santa Rita, was in much need of reconstruction since the area was under a deplorable condition. At the beginning of this year, a group of experts directed by Dr. Jaime Awe from the Institute of Archaeology and managed by George Can, launched the restoration project of the Maya Site with funding obtained under the U.S. Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation, AFCP.

In mid-February, the U.S. Embassy Deputy Chief of Mission Margaret Hawthorne and Public Affairs Officer Eric Heyden, travelled to the Santa Rita Archaeological Site located in the outskirts of Corozal to meet with Dr. Awe and learn more about the site’s on-going restoration.

This picture shows how the site looked many years ago. Today, after hard work and dedication, 60% of the site has been restored to its original self.

George Can

“What we did here is a restoration project, actually it was founded by the US Embassy and then run by the Institute of Archaeology and so that is what we are doing we are trying to expose most architecture that was here at Santa Rita especially here in structure seven so what we got over here are different phases of construction during the conservation work that we did so we have the terminal, the middle classic and then we have the early classic.”

Victor Castillo – Reporter

“So many work has been done here, what is something that probably you would like to bring across to the community especially here in Santa Rita in conserving this particular site?”

George Can

“Well, as you can see it right now everything is clean, the new restoration has gone so actually the community or the Corozalenos have to take care of the site, of the garbage and the trees and everything so and because we can compare it at the time how it was and how it is right now because when I came in everything was like a dump of garbage and so right now the people of Corozal have to take care of the site and we will attract more tourist as the site is more cleaner and that will benefit the community of Corozal.”

According to Can the structure is divided in three portions, the Pre Classic Period, Classic Period and the Post Classic Period. The Pre Classic Period has earliest indication of inhabitants at Santa Rita Corozal dating back to 1200 to 900 BC. At that time, the estimated population stood at 150. History shows that in the early Classic Period, the population of inhabitants increased from 150 to 1,500. Monuments were constructed and trading increased. While back in 1979 excavations led to the discovery of Pre-classic and Classic materials and burials, what architects were looking for, was information on the Post Classic Period.

George Can

“Actually what we have is the stairs at the bottom of the plaza, we have five stairs and then we have it at the sides so actually that is the terminal and that is between 700 to 1000AD so actually that was the last construction that the Mayas did but earlier to that there was an earlier construction which was the pen-ultima which is this one going around which is this first steps and then a huge terrace covering these steps and then it went around and a huge stairs at the top which went around too and then it went to a next second year of stairs with three masks and those were the ones expose but if we remove that there will be other construction which is the early classic and it runs between 300 to 600AD so we have different phases construction around here.”

Victor Castillo – Reporter

“In this particular site what has been the major conservation that has been done here in Santa Rita?”

George Can

“Actually what we have here is the phases of construction because we don’t have other sites like this that shows different phases of construction and that is one of the major ones that we have exposed over here for example we have the stairs block that you only see it at Altun Ha where the Jade Head was found, you have the stair block at the center actually is the same thing and at the same time we had the tomb at the bottom.”

Just after almost four months into the restoration of the site, surprising discoveries were made by excavators who found a burial at the foot of the ruin containing the remains of either one or two humans, a Pelican Effigy Vessel and smashed pottery.

Since history shows that the Santa Rita Archaeological Park is the only place where a marriage took place between a Spanish Conquistador and a Mayan princess in this case Gonzalo Guerrero and Princess Tzazil Ha, the site has been officially named as the Maya Wedding Garden.