Altun Ha Maya Ruins
An hour north of Belize City you’ll find the remarkable destination known as Altun Ha. Translated, Altun Ha means “Rockstone Pond” and indeed, if you venture outside of the two plazas, you’ll find a short nature trail that leads to the clay-lined Rockstone Pond. In Mayan times, the pond was dammed and used as a reservoir.
Altun Ha, Once a Trading Center
The area was first settled in about 250 B.C., but the oldest of the buildings standing today only date back to about 100 A.D. It’s been surmised that Altun Ha was once a significant trading center for both jade and obsidian. It’s estimated that as many as 10,000 people may have lived in and around the area in peak moments of ancient history. Today it has been largely excavated and attracts thousands of eco-tourists and scholars each year.
The Most Extensive Mayan Excavations in Belize
If you’re trying to find Altun Ha, you’ll locate it just off of the Old Northern Highway. In fact, at only an hour away, it’s the closest archeological site if you’re setting out from Belize City. Excavations began at Altun Ha back in 1957, but it wasn’t until 1963, when excavators discovered an amazing jade pendant that extensive work really began. Since then, the hard work and dedication of the many people involved in the project has really paid off.
There have been many ancient treasures unearthed there, but none nearly as exciting as the jade replica head of the Mayan Sun God named Kirich Ahau. It was found in the Temple of Masonry Altars and is the largest carved jade object from the Mayan world. Currently, Altun Ha is the most extensively excavated site in all of Belize.
A Breathtaking View
The city of Altun Ha spans over an area of about 25 square miles. However, the dig-site itself – with plazas, temples and grass-covered pyramids – only covers an area of one square mile. Indeed, if you take the time and effort to climb to the top of the Temple of the Masonry Altars, you’ll discover an inspiring, breathtaking panoramic view of the entire site and the surrounding jungle.
An Aura of Mystery
While there’s no question that Altun Ha was a very important city at its peak, there are plenty of mysteries that surround the site. The most important of these mysteries is what actually led to the downfall of the city and its people. At some point, for wholly unknown reasons, the settlement was suddenly and totally abandoned. Some think that the demise of Altun Ha was the result of a violent peasant revolt, based on evidence of desecration of some of the priestly tombs.
In the summer of 2006, we’ll have the chance to test another theory. Mel Gibson, the world-renowned actor and director, will attempt to shed some new light and new theories about Altun Ha with a mythic adventure covering the turbulent history of the civilization. The film will be entitled Apocalytpto. But there’s no reason to wait to discover the mysteries of Altun Ha. Why settle for a movie when you can experience the real thing?