Finding an ancient Maya city in the jungles of Belize

Graduate student Jeannie Larmon surveys the landscape before the trek. Photo by Thomas Franklin
A vine-covered temple rises 30 meters overhead, with a sheer drop-off of about 10 meters.
Photo by Jeannie Larmon

YALBAC RANCH, Belize – The jungles of central Belize contain thousands of species of insects, birds, reptiles, mammals, trees and flowers. They also contain ancient Maya cities, some of which remain unknown and unexplored.

Valley of Peace Archaeology researcher Stanley Choc enjoys a ride in the skidder.
Photo by Jeannie Larmon

We are looking for two massive Maya urban centers close to the Guatemala border in central Belize. These sites, shown to us more than a decade ago by local loggers, rival well-known Maya centers like Xunantunich in size. We want to visit them again to find out where and how these sites fit into the political alliances and rivalries of the Classic Maya Period, about A.D. 300 to 900.

Dense jungle growth has taken over the logging roads and survey paths we might have used to find them. Luckily, we have a skidder, a heavy tractor-like machine that cuts through the vegetation and carries us one kilometer through the jungle.

Members of the trekking crew include, from left, Stanley Choc, Tilo Luna, Esteban Alvarez and Jeannie Larmon.
Photo by Jeff Roberson

Suddenly, an imposing pyramid temple appears ahead. It is completely overtaken by vegetation. We have found the first Maya center!

The site is impressive, with monumental buildings and a temple that rises 30 meters above our heads. The Maya built on top of a steep hill so that the west side of the temple platform is a sheer 10-meter drop to a lower surface.  This is an acropolis complex – in other words, a royal palace. Whether the wall was for protection or restricted access, the acropolis temple would have had few royal and elite occupants.

The team camps in the jungle while exploring for ancient ruins.
Photo by Jeannie Larmon

We have only a brief time at this center, but even so, we come away with a new understanding of its importance. At this size – a complex encompassing at least 15 monumental buildings and a multitude of other structures – this site may have played a major role in Classic Maya politics.

Editor’s notes:
See also: Exploring the unknown: The Motmot sinkhole

In 2005, Yalbac Ranch employees took Valley of Peace Archaeology principal investigator and U. of I. anthropology professor Lisa J. Lucero to two massive ancient Maya urban centers, one of which is described in this blog post. Yalbac Ranch, a sustainable logging company, sends teams out on their expansive property searching for economically viable trees. They also record archaeology sites, from solitary buildings to massive centers. This collaboration is fruitful for preserving the archaeological sites of central Belize.

This research is conducted under the auspices of the Belize Institute of Archaeology, National Institute of Culture and History.

Source: Illini NEWS BUREAU

 

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Finding an ancient Maya city in the jungles of Belize
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Finding an ancient Maya city in the jungles of Belize
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YALBAC RANCH, Belize – The jungles of central Belize contain thousands of species of insects, birds, reptiles, mammals, trees and flowers. They also contain ancient Maya cities, some of which remain unknown and unexplored.