by Dr. S. J. Mazzullo
Department of Geology
Wichita State University
Wichita, Kansas

The Marco Gonzalez Maya Site is located near the southern tip of Ambergris Caye. It was first recorded archaeologically in 1984 by Dr. Elizabeth Graham and Dr. David M. Pendergast, and was named by them after their local guide. However, the existence of the site had been known to San Pedranos for many years before that, as had most of the many other sites that are present on the caye. The site is approximately 8 km south of San Pedro Town, and is surrounded by dense jungle. Access to the site from the windward beach side was relatively easy, along cut trails, while the site was being excavated by Drs. Graham and Pendergast from 1984 to about 1994. Now, however, the trails are overgrown and visits to the site are difficult, especially during and immediately after the rainy seasons.

Also be sure and visit the new website for Marco Gonzalez, at The Marco Gonzalez Maya Site Project has worked very hard and has now achieved "Archaeological Reserve" status with the Government as of April 1, 2011.

Their mission is "To unfold the mysteries of a 2000 year old Maya Site on Ambergris Caye, Belize, and provide education of the ancient Maya island lifestyle to persons of all ages."

Their goal is that when the Marco Gonzalez Maya Site is developed and ready for both tourism and educational purposes, the following programs will be initiated:
  • On-site Visitor Center containing artifacts and exhibits of island lifestyles.
  • Educational Center with classes and tours for the over 2,000 school children on the island of Ambergris Caye.
  • Guided tours through the archaeological site.
  • Eco-tours including birding, animals and creatures found within the Site.
Ambergris Caye was home to an estimated 20,000 Maya traders at the height of their occupation of the island. There are 18 sites recognized on the 25 mile long island and none of these sites had been preserved. In 2008, a conversation between Ex-pat Jan Brown, living here for several years, and a prominent citizen, Winston (Frank) Panton took place regarding this. An idea was born. Jan proceeded to talk to officials about the selection of the Marco Gonzalez site to be preserved to become a visitation site. By April 2009, the announcement came forth - Marco Gonzalez Maya Site was to be the first official location to be preserved. Restoration of the site and a Visitors Center/Educational Center would be developed for all to enjoy.

A year later, the National Institute of Culture and History (NICH) and Belize Institute of Archaeology put the wheels in motion to declare Marco Gonzalez the first National Reserve on an island in Belize. By April 1, 2011, they also signed the final paperwork with the Belizean Government in order to make Marco Gonzalez the first Maya Site National Park on Ambergris Caye. As custodians of all Parks in Belize, but located on the mainland, they recognized the need for local management and another historical document of Co-Management was generated between NICH/IoA and the Marco Gonzalez Maya Site Board of Directors.

Local Sanpedranos and visitors have known about the 7.57 acre site for many years. After 2,000 years of ocean rise, storms and encroachment of mangroves creating marshlands, getting into the site was treacherous at best. However, in the summer of 2010, an archaeological field school led by Dr. Elizabeth Graham and Dr. Scott Simmons caused the need to build a temporary footbridge over a quarter of a mile into the site. With the bridge in place, the site is now open for tours and education.

The development of the site is a huge undertaking. NICH has estimated the cost at $1.5M USD for the Visitor/Educational Center, footbridge, parking lot, restrooms, security buildings, etc. In the desire to go "green", wind and solar power is being explored to compliment local electricity. Composting restrooms and recycled plastic "lumber" for the boardwalk are being discussed. Grants and donations are being sought to make this dream come true. It is a win-win project for San Pedro and Ambergris Caye.

Photographs courtesy of Conch Creative

Related Links:

Marco Gonzales may not be the easiest site to care for, but we are glad we have someone with heart and spirit to share the beauty and importance of it. Thank you Jan Brown for your tireless efforts and dedication to Marco Gonzalez Maya.

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