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LAMANAI-Orange Walk District, Belize
Lamanai (submerged crocodile), is one of the oldest continuously inhabited sites in the Maya World. This is one of a handful of Maya sites that have retained their original name. The archaeological Park covers about 860 acres/384 hectares, and is the second largest site in Belize. Most of the site is unrestored and the trails lead over rainforest covered pyramids with howler monkeys roaring in the background. The main ceremonial structures have been nicely restored.
The site lies along the west bank of the New River. The majority of visitors to the site take a water taxi from Orange Walk, or from the Tower Hill Toll Bridge. This is usually a 4 hour tour with most of it spent on the river. These are open sided boats and you are in a tropical rain forest, so plan on getting wet. A lunch is served on arrival at the site, and then a quick tour is offered before returning.
For those who would like a more relaxed experience, with time to visit the museum and to explore a little deeper, it is recommended to travel to the site by vehicle. This presents its own problems though, especially in the rainy season, as the route is along a gravel/dirt road. Four-wheel drive is recommended. Travel by vehicle can be made south from Orange Walk to the town of San Felipe, and from there to the site.
HOURS: 8 A.M.-5 P.M.
ENTRANCE FEE: U. S. $5/BZD $10
GUIDES: Inquire at visitor center
SERVICES: Bathrooms, visitor center, food and drink
ON-SITE MUSEUM: Yes
ACCOMMODATIONS: None on site. Orange Walk is the closest town
GPS: 17d 44' 13" N, 88d 39' 00" W
MISC: Dry season (November-March) is the best time to visit
HISTORY AND EXPLORATION
Lamanai was first settled in the Early Pre Classic (1000-800 B.C.), and was not abandoned until the late 1600’s. It was still occupied upon the arrival of the Spanish making it one of the longest settled sites in the Maya World.
The earliest monumental architecture began to appear in the Late Pre Classic (300 B.C.-200 A.D.). The structures seen today range from the Early Classic (200-600 A.D) to the Post Classic (900-1200 A.D), with some modifications taking place as late as the 1400’s.
The Spanish built two overlapping churches using cut stone from the existing Maya structures, a common practice at the time. There was an uprising by the suppressed Maya in the 1640’s, and the church was burned. The ruins are still visible. The site was eventually abandoned by the end of the century.
A sugar mill was built on the site in the 1860’s, and was abandoned a few decades later. The ruins can be visited if you plan your time accordingly.
Lamanai was first explored and reported on by Thomas Gann in 1917. Major excavations and restoration commenced in the 1970’s. Consolidation and conservation work continues under the direction of Jamie Awe of the Belize Institute of Archaeology.
The main structures at Lamanai are grouped into three separate yet close complexes. There are smaller groups and residential units spread out from the civic/ceremonial core.
The Temple of the Masks is in the northern most complex. This structure rests on a low platform and rises up three tiers to a height of 56 feet/17 meters. There is a central stairway that leads to a temple on the first terrace. Flanking the stairway is a stunning pair of huge, well preserved stucco masks. A second stairway from behind the temple leads to the summit. The substructure dates to the Late Pre Classic and was found to contain stucco masks reminiscent of those found at the site of Cerros.
The impressive Great/High Temple is located in the central complex. This is the highest pyramidal structure at the site at 108 feet/33 meters. This pyramid also has a central stairway flanked with masks. There are two smaller stairways that lead to the first tier outside of the masks. From the first tier the central stairway continues to the top with a further 4 masks flanking the stairs. There is a temple structure at the summit. The first phase of this structure dates to 100 B.C. Several offerings have been recovered including jade and shell featuring Olmec style characteristics.
A rather small ball court is also located in the central complex, and dates from the Late Classic (600-900 A.D.). A dedicatory offering was found beneath a ball court marker containing ceramic, shell, jade, and surprisingly, mercury. There are several other structures here with most being unrestored. Stela 9 was located near the ball court. It commemorated the accession of ruler Smoking Shell in 188.8.131.52.0, March 8, 625 A.D.
The Temple of the Jaguar is located in the southern complex. This pyramidal structure rises up on seven levels. There are two jaguar masks that flank the lower stairway. Only the front of this structure has been excavated and restored. The acropolis and attendant structures have yet to be restored and are covered in jungle vegetation.
high/great temple martin falbisoner.
temple of the jaguar berbtrostad
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ball court elelicht
temple of the stelae cephas
temple of the masks cephas
plaza civic area cephas
civic area cephas
civic area cephas