The Ancient Maya
To some the jungle may seem inhospitable
or even hostile, but the Mayans transformed the elements
of their environment into one of the worlds great
, 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.
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. Their temples, pyramids and palaces
were painted in the sacred colors of the Mayan: red, blue,
yellow and green.
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 Mayans adapted
to their needs and way of life for a span of nearly 20 centuries
during which 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
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.
The Mayan Golden
Age ended abruptly around 900 AD. Eventually, the
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.
In Cayo District,
it is almost impossible to travel even a few miles without
finding evidence of former Mayan presence. Many landowners
can point to ruins of ancient household groups, underground
storage caches - called "chultuns" - and small
temples. Many of Cayos 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 Mayan ruins of Caracol, Xunantunich, El
Pilar and Cahal
Cayo District, and Tikal and Yaxhá in nearby
, popular sites readily assessable to the visitor include: Lamanai, Altun Ha and Cerros.