The Maya site of Xunantunich in Belize
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Tuesday September 24, 2013

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The Maya site of Xunantunich in Belize

(The green birds are parakeets)

We had an impressive visit to the Xunantunich Maya Archaeological Site; also known as the "Stone Woman" located across the San Jose Succotz Village in the Cayo District; the bus ride from the Green Iguana Conservation Project in San Ignacio took us another 15-20 minutes drive to the riverside village and a short hop on a hand cranked flat deck ferry for this unimaginable and indescribable journey back in time.

Xunantunich is located atop a ridge above the Mopan River, within sight of the Guatemala border. In the early morning of May 28th, 2009, you remember, we got a 7.1 earthquake near Roatan Honduras and as a result, the A-6 El Castillo structure received some cracks.

Xunantunich means "Stone Woman" in the Maya language (Mopan and Yucatec combination name) and, like many names given to Maya archaeological sites, is a modern name; the ancient name is currently unknown. The "Stone Woman" refers to the ghost of a woman claimed by several people to inhabit the site, beginning in 1892. The Stone Woman is dressed completely in white, and has fire-red glowing eyes. She generally appears in front of El Castillo, ascends the stone stairs and disappears into a stone wall.

The core of Xunantunich occupies about one square mile (2.6 kmē), consisting of a series of six plazas surrounded by more than 26 temples and palaces. One of its structures, the pyramid known as "El Castillo," the second tallest structure in Belize (after the temple at Caracol), at some 130 feet (40m) tall.

From Plaza A2 with El Castillo in the background, archeological excavations have revealed a number of fine stucco facades on some of the ancient temples of this site. Evidence of construction suggests the temple was built in three stages in the 600s AD, 700s AD, and 800s AD. The fine stucco or "frieze" are located on the final stage.

The upper part of El Castillo has friezes on the east side and the west side. These Maya friezes where excavated in 1993. A fiberglass replica was made and placed over the original frieze to protect them. The carved elements are signs. The mask with the "big ears" and skillful ear ornaments represent the eternity of the Sun God Kinich Ahau.

Next to Kinich Ahau, is the sign for the moon represented through Xbalanque, and then a border of signs which represent the Venus with Hun Ahaw and the different Mayan days. There is also an unidentified headless man, who was deliberately beheaded by the Maya for unknown reason.

The Maya kept time with a combination of several cycles that meshed together to mark the movement of the sun, moon and Venus. Their ritual calendar, known as the Tzolkin, was composed of 260 days. By tracking the movements of the Moon, Venus, and other heavenly bodies, the Mayans realized that there were cycles in the Cosmos. From this came their reckoning of time, and a calendar that accurately measures the solar year to within minutes.

The Ball Court:-

The group A contains one of the two ball courts discovered at the site. One ball court is between the structures A-18 and A-19 and the other ball court is between Plaza A-1 and Plaza A-2. The Xuanantunich ball courts are all average in size and where used for the Mayan Ball Games.

The ball game, which was a common activity of all Mesoamerican peoples and originated about 3,000 B.C., had a ritualistic function for the ancient Maya. Two teams (the number of players depended on the region where the game was played) faced off on courts whose measurements could vary. Most ball courts had two sloping parallel walls inset with three round disks called markers or a single stone ring, at right angles to the ground.

Ballplayers wore protective equipment during the game to prevent bodily damage by the hard rubber ball. The balls are made of solid rubber and weighed up to 4 kg (9 lbs) or more, and sizes differed greatly over time or according to the version played. Players would attempt to bounce the ball without using their hands and only touch the ball with their elbows, knees or hips through stone hoops attached to the sides of the ball court.

As far a history has it, the winners of the game were treated as heroes and given a great feast. The penalty for losing a game was unusually harsh: Death. The leader of the team who lost the game was killed. This fit in with the Mayan belief that human sacrifice was necessary for the continued success of the peoples' agriculture, trade, and overall health.

We suggest to everyone trying this amazing and inspiring journey. Catch a bus from San Ignacio to Benque Viejo Del Carmen or vice versa. 5 Minutes from Benque or 15 Minutes from San Ignacio to the village of San Jose Succotz. On your arrival cross the Mopan River river via the free hand cranked ferry, and then walk about 1 mile on a winding mountain road to the site. The ferry can take two small vehicles at a time and we had to wait a line, just a bit, to board. The flat deck ferry is the only way across the river. The ferry hours should be from 7:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. It is a good idea to verify with them before you cross. You can also visit other nearby attractions.

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