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             Monday February 22, 2010 

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The Altun Ha Jade Head - Crown Jewel of Belize
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The Altun Ha Jade Head - Crown Jewel of Belize, Kinich Ahau - the Mayan Sun God, goes on tour, and is on display at the Centre today!
The Institute of Archeology, National Institute of Culture and History will be hosting a countrywide traveling exhibition entitled "The Jade Head of Belize", featuring the original jade head which was discovered at Altun Ha in 1968.

The jade head, one of the crown jewels of the country, is going to be the feature artifact in a country wide tour scheduled to begin on Monday. The Institute of Archaeology will also be touring other artifacts found along with the jade head but for the first time the unique Maya masterpiece will be the highlight. Love News spoke to Doctor John Morris from the Institute of Archaeology.

Doctor John Morris; Institute of Archaeology

“I think if you look at any dollar bill you will see an image of the Jade Head on that dollar bill but many times when we are giving lectures to schools or to other organizations one of the questions that are asked is; where is the jade head? How come we don’t see the jade head? This year we decided to have a countrywide exhibition tour that features only the jade head and we will take it all around. We will start in Belmopan and then we will go to Dangriga, Toledo, Orange Walk, Cayo and Belize City. We will be in Belmopan at the George Price Center, we will be in Dangriga at the Town Hall, in PG we will be at the St. Peter Claver Parish Hall and then in San Ignacio we will be at the Cahal Pech visitors Center. In Orange Walk we will be at the Banquitas House of Culture and in Corozal we will be at the Corozal Cultural Center and in Belize City we will be at the Bliss Center for the Performing Arts. The jade head will be exhibited for a day in each of these locations.”

Event though the myth about the jade head not being in the country were dispelled back in 2005 many Belizeans still have not seen the unique object.

Doctor John Morris 

“The jade head was discovered in Altun Ha in 1968 by Doctor David Pendergast of the Royal Ontario Museum of Canada and some of his Belizean workers. The jade head was found with 40 other objects and they were placed in a large tomb that was located beneath one of the temples at the site. We call the temple the Temple of the Masonry Altars. The person that was buried with all these exotic was an elderly man that we believe was the ruler of the site during his lifetime. He might have commissioned this jade head to commemorate an important event in his life. We do not know when it was actually carved but from the analysis that was there we know that it dates to somewhere around 600 and 650 A.D. for the purpose of the school children it has an ahau glyph on his forehead; an ahau glyph is a day sign and a head is the representation of the Maya sun God Kinich Ahau. We would like people to come out. It is a rare opportunity. It is one of those kinds of things where the next time we view it will be five ten years from now. This is an opportunity, especially for the school to bring out their children to see the jade head. As a child I never saw the jade head until I began working as an archaeologist. I think this is an excellent opportunity for them to be able to see; they will be able to come up close and see the hade head.”

Weighing in at nine point 75 pounds and standing almost six inches high, the jade head is the single largest carved jade object yet discovered in the Americas. Again the tour will begin on Monday in Belmopan at the George Price Centre from ten am to three pm.

The countrywide tour will start in Belmopan at the George Price Centre for Peace and Development on February 22, 2010 from 10.00 a.m. to 4.00 p.m. One Day Only!

. Come see this rare artifact at the Dangriga Town Hall on February 23rd, 2010, 9:00am-3:00pm. Entrance is free.

Crown Jewel Of Belize: The Altun Ha Jade Head
By Dr. Jaime Awe
Director, Belize Institute of Archaeology

Ever since its discovery, the jade head has been the subject of much controversy among Belizeans. For years most of us have believed that, shortly after its discovery, this unique Maya masterpiece was spirited out of the country and never returned to its rightful home. To dispel this myth, we at the Belize Institute of Archaeology recently (May 2005) invited Channel 7 to accompany us on a mission to prove that the jade head still resides in Belize, and that it remains one of the crown jewels of the country. Having accomplished our mission we would now like to provide some general information on this exquisite piece of ancient Maya art.

The jade head was discovered at in the Belize District’s Maya site of Altun Ha in 1968 by two Belizeans working for Dr. David Pendergast of the Royal Ontario Museum of Canada. The head, along with forty other objects, had been placed within a large tomb that was located below the stairblock on the Temple of the Masonry Altars (Structure B4). At the center of the tomb were the remains of an elderly adult male. This elite person was likely an important ruler of the site during his lifetime and may have commissioned an artist to produce the large carved object. We do not know the exact date that the head was carved, but analysis of cultural remains within the tomb suggests that the burial, and accompanying grave goods, were deposited in the structure sometime between 600 and 650 A.D.

Weighing 9.75 pounds and standing almost 6 inches high, the jade head remains the single largest carved jade object yet discovered in the Maya area. Its crossed eyes, fang-like elements on either side of the mouth, and the ahau glyph on the forehead all identify the head as a representation of the Maya sun god Kinich Ahau. Along with Chac (rain god) and Yum Kax (corn god), Kinich Ahau was among the most important deities in the Maya pantheon.

Despite its small size and seemingly marginal location, Altun Ha was an ancient Maya community of great complexity and wealth. It was an important link in the coastal trade routes, and had contact with the distant city of Teotihuacan in present-day Mexico at an early time in Maya history. The earliest evidence of settlement at Altun Ha dates to 200 B.C, although it is highly probable that nomadic hunter and gathering tribes lived in the area long before then.

The Altun Ha jade head is truly a remarkable object and exquisite work of art. It is the only one of its kind in all of Mesoamerica. Because it was carved with nothing more than stone tools, we know that it may have taken many months, if not years, to produce. It was also carved from one large solid piece of jade that was imported from the Motagua River Valley region of Guatemala. Jade was also the most precious of stones to the Maya. Beside its exotic origins, its green colour reflected that of water and the corn plant, the two most precious, life sustaining substances to the ancient Maya of northern Belize.

As it undoubtedly was to the prehistoric inhabitants of Altun Ha, the jade head continues to be a most important icon to the people of Belize today. It is prominently displayed on all Belize currency and has become an important symbol of our young nation. It is truly a remarkable work of art and everyone should make every effort to view it whenever it goes on display.

What can I say? I was meant for greatness. Almost fourteen hundred years after being interred, I was found in a royal crypt. Six other tombs were found; but my master's was the oldest. The structure B4, also called the Temple of the Masonry Altar, is where my master was buried. Wouldn't you know it? Temple B4 is the tallest Maya temple at the site of Altun Ha. In 1968, the year of my discovery, the excavations at Altun Ha were the largest-scale and longest-term archaeological feat ever undertaken in Belize. To top it all off, I stand at 14.90 centimeters (5.86 inches) and weigh a whopping 4.42 kilograms (9.75 pounds), which makes me the largest jade artifact ever discovered in the Mundo Maya.

The tomb was a total wreck. Over a millennium of roots had penetrated the chamber from above, causing the roof to cave in. When he had first spotted the curved marble-like, medium sea green surface, it had resembled a jade bead but as Dr. David Pendergast of the Royal Ontario Museum brushed away 1300 years of soil, his excitement grew.

I was an instant hit. History books were redacted so I could be included. Researchers theorized about who I was, why and where I had been made and other scholarly hypotheses. School children who had no idea what jade was or looked like had to study about the Maya Sun God, Kinich Ahau, who the archaeologist say I resemble - though I think myself more handsome. Field trips started arriving at Altun Ha. Next thing you know Belikin honored me with a depiction of my former home, Temple B4, on its beer. Then my picture appeared on the Belize currency. I had become a national treasure - long overdue, might I add.

Safety became an immediate issue for Dr. Pendergast, as he realized the magnitude of what had been unearthed. Self government in Belize was a four year old infant with archaeology falling under the Ministry of Natural Resources. The ministry was contacted and its quick assessment concluded that the jade head would have to be protected on foreign soil until Belize had the proper facilities for its storage.

Oh yeah! Once the word got out, everybody wanted a piece of me. At first they hid me in a box under a bed. I was offended by this treatment and protested. Next I was stuffed in a hand bag and flown first class to the Royal Ontario Museum in Canada. For a while I enjoyed the spotlight in the center of the museum's main hall, secured in my custom-made bullet proof glass and metal container. Then one day, a fiberglass impostor was made and life has never been the same.

Upon its return to the country of Belize, the jade head was put on display in an upper room of what is now the Belize Bank building in Belize City. The jade head continued to work as an ambassador of Belize, being shipped via courier to countries like Trinidad and Tobago and the United States throughout the seventies. At an unpublicized date, however, it followed the course of previous government workers and retired from public office to a secured and undisclosed location. The flawless double took its place on displays as was needed. In fact, when the doors of the first ever Museum of Belize welcomed its first guests in 2002, they were greeted by a fiberglass replica of the jade head.

I'm still trying to figure it out. One minute I was on display being carted away to different countries as Belize's national treasure. Next thing I know I'm being stuffed into a little box. Can you imagine what that kind of stuff can do to your social life, not to mention your esteem? While that imposter collects on my glory, I'm locked away for safe keeping. And that Museum opening was unpardonable. Excuse me, but who's the national treasure?

A few years ago, for the first time in five years, the jade head made a guest appearance for a pgoto shoot. In preparation for the event, special agents from the Dragon Tactical Unit of the Police Department were on hand to protect and defend.

The last time I did a photoshoot was thirty six years ago when Dr. Pendergast placed me back in the tomb to photograph the burial. Geez, I hope it won't be as traumatic as that one. After the shoot, Dr. Pendergast was descending Temple B4 when he missed his footing on the wet and slippery steps. Well, he knew how important I was and tucked me under his arm; but when he came to rest below, he and his camera had been badly bruised and I was badly shaken. I just hope this Rath character can capture my good side. I mean this isn't just any...

"Will you be quiet! And be still so I can get a good shot of you. Okay, now smile!"

What did I tell you, no respect for a national treasure. What a crying shame!

Sherilyne Jones: As the past director of the Museum of Belize, I have taken this object on tours to US museums and have personally deposited in the Central Bank. There are several protocols to follow to remove and store and not one individual has a key. It's a series of keys at a different levels. Trust me, it's the real deal.

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