To Some the Jungle May Seem an Inhospitable
It was here the Mayans transformed the elements of their environment into one of the world’s great civilization. From
around 300 BC, at a time when Persian
armies were fleeing before Alexander the Great, the
Mayan world was
ruled by a handful of immensely powerful kings, regarded as
living gods by their subjects.
erected by peasant farmers and slaves
without the aid of beasts of burden or the wheel. The
built were inhabited by the ruling family, nobility,
priesthood and warriors, while the masses lived in agricultural
villages in the hinterland.
tropical forest supplied fruit, construction
materials, game and medicines. Good soils for cultivation
yielded corn, beans, squash and cotton. The river systems
provided fish for food and transportation for trade. Extensive
limestone formations supplied building blocks along with chert
and flint for stone tools.
This was the environment that the Maya adapted
to their needs and way of life for a span of nearly 20 centuries,
during which time they developed a rich cosmology, an arithmetic
system that included the concept of zero, a complex
calendar system based on a solid understanding of astronomy,
system of writing which included both hieroglyphic and phonetic
The Mayan Golden
Age ended abruptly around 900 AD
crumbling cities were engulfed by the jungle and forgotten.
It wasn't until the 18th century that intrepid explorers
to discover them. Modern-day archaeologists following in
footsteps have unearthed thousands of sites throughout the
Mayan World and satellite photos indicate that there are
more to be discovered.
Belize is recognized
as the epicenter
of the ancient Maya world. And it was here
in the "central
and the Guatemalan Petén that the ancient Maya flourished
during the Classic Period from 300 to 900 AD. Archaeologists
now estimate that 2,000,000 Mayans once lived in what
is now Belize.
In Cayo District,
it is almost impossible to travel even a few miles without
finding evidence of their former presence. Many landowners
can point to ruins of ancient household groups, underground
storage caches - called "chultuns" - and small
temples. Many of Cayo's numerous caves, such as Chechem
Ha and Actun Tunichil
Muknall, were used for storage or ceremony, as evidenced
by pottery and skeletal remains.
catch a glimpse of this ancient civilization's
accomplishments by visiting the Maya archaeological sites of Caracol, Xunantunich, El
Pilar and Cahal
Cayo District, and Tikal and Yaxhá in the Petén region of