Oh Me, Oh Maya!

The history of the Maya people dates back almost 3,000 years. Today, I visited the ancient city of Caracol, which was once home to over 400,000 people. Even though this city lies in ruins, we can still learn a lot from its architecture, art, and writings.

The Maya had cities in southern México and parts of Central America, including here in Belize. I have visited Tulum. This is one of the largest and most famous Mayan cities. Caracol wasn’t as large or as impressive, but this ancient city covered more land than modern-day Belize City! The largest pyramid here, called Caana, is still one of the tallest man-made structures in the whole country.

The Maya were a creative and smart civilization. They were the only pre-Columbian people to have a full written language. They also had a great understanding of our solar system. The construction of the pyramids at Caracol line up with the movement of the Sun, Moon, and stars. This means these ancient people understood astronomy. Some archaeologists believe the planned layout of the Mayan cities was a way for people to keep accurate time. Mayan cities were like a giant sundials!

Starting around 900 CE, the Maya civilization started to collapse. One reason is that there was a big drought, making food and clean water hard to find. It is difficult for me to imagine a drought here – Belize is so lush and green. The population of Caracol started to shrink, and eventually the city was abandoned by 1050 CE. The surrounding jungle grew over the city.

Almost a thousand years later, a logger went looking for trees to cut down and rediscovered the city. Since then, archaeologists have been busy excavating all the buildings and monuments here.