structure B 2 stucco finish                                        laslovarga

CAHAL PECH-Cayo District, Belize 

Cahal Pech "Place of Ticks" in Yucatek Maya, is a noteworthy archaeological zone located within the upper Belize River Valley in the town of San Ignacio. Its original name may have been K’an Hix, “Yellow Jaguar”, or alternatively the name of the ruling dynastic lineage. The site is situated on the ridge of a high hill overlooking the Macal River. This vantage point allowed the site to control not only the trade on the river, but the rich, fertile valley to the north. It is located about 6 miles/10 km northeast from the important site of Xunantunich.

The site has a long settlement history beginning in the Early Preclassic (1200-900 BCE), and encompasses 22 acres/8.8 hectares, though the core area is much smaller. It is set up on a SW/NE axis. It has 8 interconnected plazas containing pyramids, temples, stelae, ballcourts, and elite residences, counting 34 structures so far detected. The site and surrounding area reached a peak population of 10,000-15,000 inhabitants during the Late Classic (600-850/900 CE).

To reach the site take the Western Highway from Belmopan towards the Guatemala border. In San Ignacio continue on the Western Highway (Buena Vista Road) until one reaches a roundabout and take the road to the south (left) off of it. The road then splits, take the right fork up to the site.

HOURS: 8 A.M.-5P.M.
ENTRANCE FEE: U.S. $5.00/BZD $10.00
GUIDES: inquire at visitor kiosk
SERVICES: bathrooms, visitor center
ACCOMODATIONS: Available in San Ignacio and Santa Elena
GPS: 17d 08’ 45” N, 89d 04’ 26” W

Ceramic and other cultural evidence places the beginnings of Cahal Pech to a very early 1200-900 BCE date. These early inhabitants built large circular platforms that were used for ceremonial purposes. They carved Olmec style symbols on their pottery and imported jade and obsidian from Guatemala. Modeled female figurines were produced along with decorative beads made from conch shells brought in from the Caribbean coast.

The Middle Preclassic (700-300 BCE) saw the beginnings of masonry architecture which reached its apogee during the Late Classic (600-900 CE). Most of the structures seen today date from the Late Classic. The site experienced the same collapse as other Lowland Maya sites, and was largely abandoned by 900 CE. There has been a total of 69 burials recovered so far at the site. These contain the remains of about 85 individuals ranging in date from the Middle Preclassic to the Terminal Classic periods (700 BCE – 1150 CE).

No stelae with legible text have been discovered so far. However, several glyphic texts recovered from elite burial items have helped in identifying its rulers, and perhaps some social/political connections to other polities.

The earliest burial is located within a Middle Preclassic platform in Plaza B. Four notable caches were recovered from the four corners of the platform, and appear to denote a ritual circuit around the platform representing the symbolic rebirth of one of the earliest rulers of Cahal Pech. The cache items included celts of jade and flint, obsidian, shell. and beads which together reference the Maya Creation story as described in the stelae at Quirigua, and in the Post Classic Popol Vuh document.

Several burials were located beneath the summit of Structure B1 including an Early Classic burial that contained two incised bone rings and a partially incised turtle shell denoting the name K’awiil Chan K’inich, K’an Hix Lord.

An incised plaque recovered from Nim Li Punit identifies a woman, Lady Ix Pitz, bearing the same K’an Hix title and would appear to indicate a relationship between these two sites.

Late Classic elite tombs found in the Zopilote residential group located at the end of a sacbe, along with the placement of finger caches within the tombs, are funerary practices also identified at the major site of Caracol, and may indicate a Late Classic influence from that site. A burial within Structure B1 contains multiple interments, a practice also found at Caracol.

While the site was known to the local inhabitants, no research was undertaken until the 1950’s by Linton Satterthwaite of the University of Pennsylvania. There followed investigations by A.H. Anderson, Gordon Willey, Peter Schmidt, Joseph Ball, and Jennifer Taschek. Current excavations and consolidations are being carried out by the Belize Valley Archaeological Reconnaissance (BVAR) project, under the direction of Jaime Awe, director of the Belize Institute of Archaeology, and Mat Saunders of AFAR. Mat is the organizer of the successful and very informative Maya at the Playa and Maya at the Largo conferences held each year in the U.S.

The site core contains eight interconnecting plazas housing numerous structures of an administrative/civic, ritual, and/or elite residential nature. Approximately thirty-four structures have been identified so far. Many of the structure’s chambers contain benches, some taking up most of the interior space. Several internal causeways link to elite residential groups that surround the site core.

The modern entry is from the northeast following the original North Sacbe into Plaza B, a slightly raised plaza. A second original entryway leads into Plaza C from the south.

Plaza B, the largest at the site at about 538 square feet/ 50 meters square, contains several structures situated around the plaza. The most important here are Structures B1, B2 and B3 on the east side of the plaza. These three form a triadic assemblage. The remains of a plain stela are set in front of each structure. The opposite side of these structures faces onto Plaza C.

Structure B1 is the largest, and the central member of the group. It is a partially restored, truncated pyramid that reaches a height of around 39 feet/12 meters. A broad, central stairway rises to the summit. A partially excavated stairway faces onto Plaza C. The structure contains at least 15 individuals interred within 13 burials. Items recovered include local and exotic trade goods such as an impressive mosaic mask of jade and shell, six jade ear flares, deer antlers, jade beads, obsidian blades, plain and polychrome ceramics, and jade tubes. An interesting shell inkpot was recovered containing red, black, yellow, and blue pigment. Also recovered was a polychrome, stuccoed Teotihuacan style vase.

Structure B3 abuts the northside of B1. It is smaller in height and has a plaza facing central stairway. The structure is partially restored and retains some nice original stucco on its west side. Structure B2 is on the southside of B1 and its main stairway is located on the opposite side facing Plaza C.

Structure B4 is located on the southeast corner of the plaza. It is an elongated, tiered platform with a central stairway. Stylized masks once adorned the stairway. A stela, Stela 6, is located in front of the structure. This is one of the earliest structures at the site dating to 600-300 BCE. A passageway between Structures B4 and B3 leads into Plaza C.

Structures B6 and B7 form the north side of the plaza. These structures have only been partially restored.

On the west side of Plaza B is a huge, raised platform that forms the base for Plazas A, D, and E. This complex was the civic/ ceremonial heart of the site, and also an elite residential area. A central stairway leads up from Plaza B to Structure A2.

Structure A2 is a multi-chambered, range-type structure that acts as a formal entrance into Plaza A. It contains a nicely preserved, arched hallway. The second vaulted hallway’s roof has collapsed. The structure seen today is the third construction phase, with the first phase being a Preclassic platform. A single stairway on the opposite side leads down into Plaza A.

Plaza A has 5 structures arranged about it. Structure A1 is a multi-tiered pyramid on the south side of the plaza. It is the largest structure at the site, rising to 79 feet/24 meters in height. The summit of the structure houses at least one chamber. A glyphic text painted on a wall of the chamber, identified as a “throne room”, may have included the emblem glyph of the site, A short, central stairway from the plaza level leads to a terrace containing a series of chambers. A broad stairway has been excavated on the east side of the structure which leads to the summit. It was constructed around 500 CE, with its substructures dating to the Late Preclassic (300 BCE-250 CE).

Structure A2, as already mentioned, forms the east side of the plaza. Structure A3 and A5 are located on the north side of the plaza. Structure A3 is a one-story construction that probably served in an administrative/ civic manner. It features a plaza-facing, central stairway and houses several chambers, some restored. A tomb was located within Structure A3 that contained a rich assembly of tomb contents. Structure A5 (northwest corner) is in a mostly unrestored state.

Structure A4 is situated on the west side of the plaza. This multi-chambered structure has seen some restoration, and like Structure A2 may have served an administrative/civic role.

A west stairway behind Structure A4 leads down to ground level and to an unrestored ball court known as the West Ball Court. A single stairway between Structures A1 and A5 leads into Plazas D and E.

Plaza D has 4 structures and is in a partially restored state. The east side of the plaza is taken up by the pyramid, Structure A1. The south side of the plaza has a multi-chamber structure, Structure D 4, that restricted access into the very secluded Plaza E.

 Plaza E is a fine example of Maya elite residential design, and forms the SW corner of the complex. It is built on multiple levels containing corbeled stairways and chambers, and numerous passageways. There are 3 structures set around the plaza, with Structure E1 being the most notable. It has two entryways, one with a stepped vault which leads to a vaulted room. A twisting stairway leads down from the east side into Plaza F.

Plaza F has some partially restored structures exhibiting vaulted chambers. The east side of the plaza features a platform structure, Structure F2, housing three chambers, each with its own entryway. Behind this structure is Plaza G which has recently seen some investigations. Structure B5 is a single chamber structure, and forms the northeast corner of the plaza. A pathway is adjacent to this structure which leads back into Plaza B.

Plaza C is located to the east of Plaza B. It has at its center a partially restored ballcourt; Structures C4 and 5, with Structure C4 butting against Structure B1. There are 2 plain stelae, Stelae 1 and 2, and one altar located within the plaza. Structure C1, a small pyramid, is found on the east side of the plaza, and has been cleared and seen some excavation. Structures C6 to the south, Structure C3 to the north, and Structure C2 adjacent to Structure C1, have also been partially cleared and excavated.  To the north of Plaza C is Plaza H.

Plaza H has received less attention and remains mostly unexcavated. Structure H1 is located in the northeast corner of the plaza. An important Late/Terminal Classic (850-950 CE) burial was unearthed from within the structure containing several high-quality ceramic vases, effigy censers, obsidian blades, a carved jade pendant, two jade ear flares, and the remains of a small feline, possibly an ocelot. This burial may have been that of  the last ruler of Cahal Pech.

Several residential groups are located on the periphery of the core area. A sacbe from the West Ball Court leads to a “Causeway Terminal Group” known as the Zopilote Group.

The Zopilote Group is an elite residential group located about 0.37 miles/ 600 meters south of the site core. This group houses five structures set around an elongated, raised platform. The main structure, Structure 1, is a pyramid located on the south side of the platform and faces north back to the core area.  It has a height of approximately 38 feet/ 11.5 m. Two tombs containing elite burials were recovered here.

Tomb 1 contained the remains of two individuals, and dates from the early part of the Late Classic. Found within the tomb were ear flares, a shell disc, a stingray spine, and nine ceramic vessels among other items. A well-executed polychrome vase displays a band of marching warriors. An eroded and damaged plate depicts a deer hunt.

Tomb 2 consists of a vaulted chamber, and is also known as the Stela Chamber. The broken remains of Stela 9 were placed within the chamber surrounded by several dozen small ceramic “finger bowls”. The iconography carved onto the stela indicates a Late Preclassic date, though the burial itself appears to date from the Late Classic.

Tzinic is another elite residential group set midway between the site core and Zopilote. It consists of five structures set around a small patio.

updated march 2024

A5 A6 passageway                                 denis barthel

str B1 tomb contents                     BVAR/AFAR

plaza E structure E1                                               denis barthel

structure A3                                                                john cobb

plaza C                                                                denis barthel

structure B1 tomb contents                               BVAR/AFAR

share your photos with us

plaza A                                                                         nichbelize

​Structures B6 and B7                                          denis barthel

​structure B1 tomb bone rings                               BVAR/AFAR

structure H1 tomb contents                                   BVAR/AFAR

structure E3                                                        denis barthel


plaza B excavations 2017                                         clair erbert

structure B2                                                             laslovarga

cahal pech                                                                                    google earth                                                                           

structure A1                                                                   elelicht

structure A1                                                              laslovarga

​plaza D                                                                 denis barthel.

structures A1 & A6 from plaza A                            denis barthel

plaza C ball court                                                   laslovarga

​passageway between A4 A5   denis barthel.

structure B4                                                              laslovarga

jade/shell mask Structure B1 tomb                       BVAR/AFAR

structure B1 & B3                                                   denis barthel

​plaza E descending stairs                              denis barthel

plaza B                                                              denis barthel

str A 2 vaulted chamber           denis barthel

​structures A3 A4 and A5                                    denis barthel

site map                                                maximillian dorrbecker

​​​​​welcome to the mayan ruins website .

​structure E1 from plaza F                                          .laslovargas

structure A2 from plaza B                                     clark anderson

zopilote str 1 tomb ceramic                   BVAR/AFAR

plaza F structure B5                                                 nichbelize

structure G2 recent excavations                         denis barthel

structure C1                                                     denis barthel

plaza G                                                             denis barthel