CARACOL-Cayo District, Belize
Caracol (snail in Spanish) is an archaeological zone located in the western part of Belize. Its original Maya name has been identified as Oxhuitza, Place of Three Hills, and was one of the great city/states during the Classic Period (200-900 A.D). It covered an area of 55 sq miles/143 sq kms including its outlying regions, and had a population upwards of around 140,000. The central core area is about 1 sq mile/3 sq kms, with a radius expanding out 6 miles/10 kms. Caracol, along with Calakmul and Tikal, was instrumental in forging the destinies of each other and of the numerous smaller cities within the Peten region during the Classic Period.
The site was strategically situated on the trade routes between the Maya Southern Lowlands and the Caribbean. Over 37 miles/60 kms of sacbeob (white stone roads) have been discovered within and leading out of the site. There have been over 56 stelae, altars and ballcourt markers recovered, many with readable glyphic information.
Caracol is located in a tropical rain forest at the base of the Maya Mountains, and is the largest archaeological zone in Belize. It is within the Caracol National Monument Reservation which is situated in the western part of the country about 5 miles/8 kms from the Guatemalan border. Travel to the site can be made from Belize City or from the capital Belmopan.
From Belize City take the Western Highway to Belmopan. Continue west to Georgeville. From there take the road south to the village of Augustine. A free forestry permit is obtained here to enter the preserve. Continue onward about an hours drive from Augustine to the site.
HOURS: 9 A.M.-5 P.M.
ENTRANCE FEE: U.S. $5/BZD $10
GUIDES: Inquire at visitor center
SERVICES: Visitor center and bathrooms only, bring food and beverage
ON-SITE MUSEUM: Yes
ACCOMODATIONS: None on-site
GPS: 16d 45’50”N, 89d 07’03”W
MISC: Check the highway security situation before visiting
HISTORY AND EXPLORATION
Caracol’s settlement history dates back at least to the Early Pre-Classic (1000-800 B.C.) with monumental structures commencing in the Late Pre-Classic (300 B.C-200 A.D.). There has been sufficient glyphic information retrieved from the site to produce a history of its rulers and its associations with other sites. A dynasty was established by Te’ K’ab Chaak in 331 A.D., possibly under the influence of Teotihuacan, and continued into the ninth century. There have been 15 kings identified, 11 having been named. The last king, Ruler XIII, is commemorated on Stela 10 dated to 859 A.D.
Caracol was early on a vassal of Tikal, but later joined forces with the great city/state of Calakmul, the bitter rival of Tikal. The geopolitics of this era were filled with intrigue, deception, shifting alliances, and warfare.
Caracol made its mark on the region beginning with the succession of the great warrior king Yajaw Te’ K’inich, Lord Water, in 553 A.D. There commenced a series of wars through which he and his sons controlled the destiny of the entire Peten area for over one hundred years.
His greatest military campaign was against the powerful city/state of Tikal in 18.104.22.168.2, April 29, 562 A.D. This event is the first known “Star War” coinciding during an appearance of the planet Venus, and recorded as such. He so thoroughly conquered this kingdom that Tikal endured a hiatus that lasted 120 years in which little new construction or written records are recorded. An altar, Altar 21, references this event, and also mentions the Great Kaan Kingdom at Calakmul with whom he may have had an alliance.
His second son, Lord Kan II, commenced a series of attacks starting in 626 A.D. against the powerful city of Naranjo, culminating in its complete defeat in 632 A.D. The conquering king had a hieroglyphic stairway installed at that city recording his victory. Naranjo returns the favor though, and defeats Caracol in 680 A.D.
Caracol’s grip on the Peten began to weaken by the end of the 7th century with the reemergence of Tikal, the defeat by Naranjo, and competition with the new rising kingdom of Dos Pilas. It held on through the next hundred years in a reduced role, yet still a vibrant city. The last recorded monument at Caracol, Stela 10, is dated 10.1.10.0.0. Jan 22, 859. By the early part of the tenth century Caracol experiences the same collapse as found at other sites. Some of the site remained inhabited, but was finally abandoned by the middle of the 11th century.
Caracol was first reported on in 1938 by mahogany logger Rosa Mai. Investigations were carried out by A.H. Anderson the following year, and again in 1956-58. Linton Satterthwaite undertook investigations between 1950-53. The site is currently under the direction of Jamie Awe of the Belize Institute of Archaeology, with ongoing investigations and excavations conducted by Dr. Arlen Chase and Dr. Diane Chase of the Caracol Archeological Project which began in 1985. Their diligent, and well documented investigations have brought this once great city back to life.
The earliest structures at Caracol date from the Late Pre-Classic. These consist of a number of platforms with temples, and an “E Group” which is a complex with astronomical associations. The site reached its apex in the Early to mid-Classic Period (250-700 A.D.). There are five plazas containing 32 main structures, with sacbeob (white stone roads) leading to outlying residential/agricultural areas from the core center. There are two reservoirs and one aguada that provided water for the population.
Group A is located on the western portion of the core area. There are several structures surrounding a small plaza, two of them forming an E Complex. The plaza contains a number of stelae and altars.
The E Complex consists of two main structures, Structures A2 and A6. A pyramidal structure, Structure A2 is located on the west side of the plaza. It has a central stairway that extended up to the summit, and is flanked by two smaller stairways. Two stelae, Stela 22 and 23, were located upon the summit along with Altar 17. Across from it on the east side of the plaza is a three-structure complex, Structure A6. This complex runs north/south with the central structure slightly larger than the adjoining structures. An observer atop the pyramid/temple on the west side of the plaza would observe the sun at equinox rise over the central temple structure on the east side of the plaza, while the sun would rise on the solstices above a temple from either of the adjoining structures depending on the time of year. The E Complex arrangement was first identified at the site of Uaxactun.
The current Structure A6, Temple of the Wooden Lintel, has its origins in the Late Pre-Classic and was built over the original E Complex structure. It is set on a low platform rising up 3 levels to a broad terrace. The central temple then rises up an additional three levels exhibiting a single entryway into its two chambers. An interior entryway is roofed by a number of wooden beams that give the complex its name. Secondary temple structures are evident on the third level terrace on either side of the central temple. The north structure has a stairway that faces in towards the central temple. The south structure has a stairway that faces south away from the central temple. Ruined masonry chambers are evident.
At the rear of the terrace are two structures, one on each side of the central temple, with terrace facing stairways and the remains of chamber walls. On the back side of these two structures are additional stairways that lead down to a plaza. The archaeological camp is located within the plaza. On the east side of this plaza is the Central Acropolis, an elite residential complex. This complex has seen some investigations and excavations though it has not been restored and is currently jungle covered.
An important cache was discovered within Structure A6 consisting of a stone vessel. Inside the vessel was a jadeite mask, pieces of malachite, spondylus shells, and jadeite beads all wrapped in a small cloth bundle. What is of special note here is that the cloth bundle was placed upon a pool of mercury within the vessel. It has been dated to c.70 A.D.
Structure A3 forms the north side of Plaza A. This is a five-tiered pyramid with a central stairway. The summit contains the remains of a temple structure having three entrances into a single chamber. An additional chamber is located to the rear of the main chamber. Large masks adorn the lower stairway. A circular altar is located in the center of the plaza.
Structure A1 is a partially excavated pyramid on the south side of the plaza. Stelae 1, 13-16, and Altars 1 and 7 are associated with this structure. Stela 16 records a Katun Ending of ruler Kan II on 22.214.171.124.0, July 3, 534 A.D. What is interesting to mention is that it also names a person from distant Copan, Lord Bahlam Nehn. What the significance and reason for his appearance here is not explained, though it is very intriguing.
To the south of Structure A1 is Ball Court A, Structures A11 and A12, along with other associated structures. Within the ballcourt is located Altar 21 which commemorates a Katun Ending in 633 A.D. along with other historical events relating to the wars against Tikal and Naranjo.
At the south end of the core area is Group D. It consists of a dozen or so structures built upon earlier platforms that date to the Late Pre-Classic, and was a residential and funerary complex. The main complex here is the South Acropolis. It is built upon a rectangular platform base that runs along an east west axis, and contains three structures, D16-18. Within Structure D16 a royal burial was discovered that dates to c.480A.D.
Group B is found at the north end of the central core area. The largest complexes are found here, as well as a second ball court, and are arranged about a plaza.
Caana, Sky Place, is an impressive pyramidal complex on the north side of the plaza that rises off of a massive base and reaches a height of 140 feet/43.5 meters. It is the tallest structure at the site, and in all of Belize. At the top of this truncated pyramid is a courtyard that houses three temples. They are set up in a standard triadic fashion; that is, the main temple is at the rear of the courtyard, in this case Structure B19, with the other two flanking temples, B18 and B20, facing each other onto the courtyard. These structures display the remains of stuccoed, and stone block masks.
Structure 19, Canna Temple, is the central and most important structure. A broad, central stairway rises up to the summit terrace. A two-chamber structure is located on the terrace exhibiting three entryways. Two shrines, each with an entryway, flank the courtyard level of the stairway. A number of tombs have been discovered within the shrines, as well as within the entire pyramidal structure. The most important is a tomb crypt that was painted in white stucco with a linear red line encircling it about halfway up the wall. At the rear of the tomb a red panel displayed a number of glyphs containing a date of 634 A.D. The occupant was a female interred with jade earrings and ceramic vessels, and may be that of Lady Batz’ Ek’. At the foot of the structure is an altar encased within a shrine, Altar 16, that commemorates the important Baktun ending date of 10.0.0.0.0, 7 Ahau 18 Sip, March 13, 830 A.D.
Four tombs have been discovered within Structure B20 which is located on the east side of the courtyard. The most important here dates to 537 A.D., and is thought to be of a female due to spindle whorls associated with weaving found within the tomb. This pyramid temple is the smallest of the three. A broad stairway leads up to a one-level platform. The pyramid then rises up five levels to a single chamber at the summit. A smaller stairway leads up from the terrace to the chamber.
Structure B18 is located on the west side of the courtyard. It rises up several levels from the courtyard with a central stairway that extends to the summit. The summit houses three chambers, the center chamber being accessed by a central entryway. The other chambers are accessed from the side. Residential compounds are interspaced between the three pyramids.
On the summit courtyard level and again further down on the Canna pyramid base are two palace structures that run the length of the base. These each contain numerous chambers. The remains of several mural paintings have been discovered within some of the chambers. All told, there are over seventy chambers associated with this structure.
The south side of the plaza is anchored by Structure B5. This pyramidal structure, with flanking platforms, has a central plaza facing stairway that extends upward to its summit. Stuccoed earth monsters flank the central stairway, and appear to extend farther up the stairway as well. The platforms each have their own stairway that lead to chambers at the rear of a terrace. It is in a partially restored condition, and exhibits two construction phases.
Ballcourt B, Structures B8 and B9, is situated on the southwest corner of the plaza. The structures have been partially excavated, though any upper chambers have long since collapsed. A ballcourt marker, BCM4, displays a date of 126.96.36.199.9. (December 10, 799 A.D.) with glyphic text relating to the accession of K’inich Joy K’awiil. It was discovered in the center of the ballcourt.
On the east side of the plaza is the North Acropolis. This complex is built upon a huge, raised platform and has its origins in the Pre-Classic. Several structures, Structures B21-26, were built and enlarged upon throughout the Classic Period (200-900 A.D.). These include two palaces along with residential structures.
There are numerous single structures, residential areas, and acropolis groups that are found within the core area and throughout the extended periphery.
updated February 2020
structure 19 tomb dennis jarvis
structure A6 rear view caracol .org
structure A3 jon ferrara
structure B20 mask sean hogan
welcome to the mayan ruins website .
museum recreation dennis jarvis
structure A6 jon ferrara
structures 18 and 19 caana courtyard dennis jarvis
caana pyramid dennis jarvis
structure B20 charlemange
structure 19 Caana pyramid temple ryanacandee
residential complex dennis jarvis
structures A2 and A3 elelicht
plaza B west structure victor & erin gonzalez
ballcourt marker dennis jarvis
caana pyramid complex kenneth davan coles
structure A6 rear view dennis jarvis
canna courtyard view to structure B5 elelicht
structure A3 axel waldman.
structure B18 caana courtyard elelicht
plaza B structure B5 victor & erin gonzalez
structure B5 jon ferrara
steala 5 drmucker
canna summit courtyard jon ferrara
south acropolis str D16 &D18 drmucker
structure A6 jonathan gerber
ballcourt B sean hogan
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altar 23 ballcourt B dennis jarvis
structure B5 mask
canna pyramid jon ferrara
residential complex david germain
structure A1 axel waldman.
structure 19 glyphic text and mask dennis jarvis
structure A2 jon ferrara
site map caracol.org
altar 13 plaza B 820 A.D, suraj
south acropolis caracol.org