site museum                                                               dr mucker

tomb 4 items                                                           sky7 news

structure 3                                                                  dr mucker

stela 1 structure 3                                                      cantrelli

tomb 4 teotihuacan vases                                    prager/braswell

stela 2                                                                    kaldari

structure 24 platform                                                  nich belize

wind jewel obverse                                       trip/braswell

structure 7 tomb 5                              prager/braswell

wind jewel pectoral                                           trip/braswell

tomb ceramic                                               dennis jarvis

ball court                                                                  nich belize

structures 7, 7a, and 6 sub-plaza                                          luna

structure 28                                                                         shawn

structure 2 (L) structure 3 (R)                                        dr mucker

structure 7                                                                          luna

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

structure 50                                                                                           braswell

stela 21                                                         Kaldari

structure 7 tomb  5                                              lovefmbelize

structure 5                                                                        shawn

structure 6                                                                                           braswell

plaza of the royal tombs/plaza 6                            marios travels

structure 8 tombs 1 and 2                                       dennis jarvis

stela 15  "Big Hat"                                    kaldari

​​​share your photos with us

stelae plaza                                                       dennis jarvis

NIM LI PUNIT-Toledo District, Belize 

DESCRIPTION

Nim Li Punit is an important archaeological zone located in the south of Belize. It is a modern name derived from the Kekchi/Q’eqchi Maya language meaning “Big Hat” after an image of a ruler depicted on a stela recovered from the site.  Its original name has been tentatively deciphered as “Kawam”.

The site is set upon the leveled summits of small hills within a tropical forest valley situated at the foothills of the Maya Mountains. It was established to exploit the area's natural resources and to take advantage of the extensive river trade network that existed in the region. It is situated 9 miles/15 km northeast of, and was contemporaneous with, the Maya site of Lubaantun which was the main political/economic center in the region.  The population has been estimated between 5,000 to 7,000 individuals.

The ruins are known for the significant number of stelae located therein, including the tallest stela in Belize and possibly second only to the monumental Stela E located at Quirigua, Guatemala. The second largest worked piece of jade found in Belize has also been recovered from one of the royal tombs discovered here. The site encompasses about 121 acres/48 hectares. A very nice museum has some of the stelae on display along with other artifacts from the site.

Nim Li Punit is about 30 miles/50 km from the town of Punta Gorda, capital of Toledo District. There is no single named highway that leads south from either Belize City or Belmopan, though most roads south lead eventually to the Southern Highway. Once on the Southern Highway proceed about 70 miles/112 kms towards Punta Gorda. Prior to arriving at the small settlement of Indian Creek, a turnoff to the northwest leads .5 mile/1 km to the site.

HOURS: 8 A.M.-5 P.M, everyday
ENTRANCE FEE: U.S. $5/10 BZD
GUIDES: informal guides may be found outside the site as well as in Indian Creek
SERVICES: Bathrooms, service pavilion
ON-SITE MUSEUM: yes
ACCOMMODATIONS: Punta Gorda is the closest main town
GPS: 16d 19’ 16” N, 88d 49’ 27” W
MISC:

HISTORY AND EXPLORATION

Ceramic evidence indicates an early settlement dating to the Late Preclassic (300 BCE-250 CE). Most of the structures seen today date from the Late Classic (600-900 CE) with the site’s apogee occurring between c.700-800 CE. It was a contemporary of the nearby site of Lubaantun located about 9.25 miles/15 km to the southwest that was considered a regional political and economic center.


Lubaantun and Nim Li Pinit were at one time thought to be strongly related. Recent investigations, however, have revealed that both sites were independent kingdoms, though thay probably shared some form of a trade relationship.

Large amounts of obsidian have been recovered from the site indicating a likely trade relationship with El Chayal and Ixtepeque in Guatemala, which has been identified as the source of the material.

Several rulers have been identified from the stelae, and the site was important enough to have its own emblem glyph tentatively deciphered as “Kawam”.  A number of the glyphic texts mention “Ek’ Xukpi/Black Copan Lords”, a title that was used at both Quirigua and Copan, and could indicate a possible dynastic relationship. The site of Water Scroll/Altun Ha (?) has also been identified and could indicate interactions with that site as well.

Tomb 4 within Structure 7 is located in the Plaza of the Royal Tombs and has been dated to c.400 CE. It contained three Teotihuacan style tripod vessels that could indicate the extensive influence that Teotihuacan exerted in the Maya area after “the arrival” of the warlord Siyaj K'ahk'/Fire is Born in 378 CE. Siyaj K'ahk' is a fascinating, yet enigmatic figure who profoundly altered the social, political, and economic dynamics of the Maya world.

An impressive jade pectoral was recovered from Tomb 5 also within Structure 7. The text names a ruler and his parentage. The ruler, Janaab Ohl K’inich, acceded to the throne on 9.10.19.4.15, 7 Men 13 K’ayab G5-January 1, 652 CE. There are indications that he and his father, K’inich Balam, came from the area of Caracol and would indicate a relationship with that important kingdom. His mother, Lady Ix Pitz Kan Hix Balaw, has a royal title that was also used at Cahal Pech located about 59 miles/95 km to the northwest.

Stela 15 depicts three individuals involved in a fire ceremony/scattering event on 9.14.10.0.0, 5 Ajaw 3 Mak G9- October 9/10, 721 CE. The glyphic text includes a reference to the Teotihuacan War Serpent/ Waxakalajun U-B’aj Ka’an, whose image was conjured through a bloodletting rite by a noble woman named Ixik K’an K’uhul. Interestingly, a partial lunar eclipse also took place that night as noted within the text. The ruler of the site is named in the text as “Sun-Eyed/Sun-Faced Scatterer, the Youthful Lord, the Tree Lord of Nim Li Punit, the divine 28 Lord.”

An Initial Series Date on Stela 2 has been reconstructed as 9.14.15.4.14, 1 Ix 12 Pax-December 16, 726 CE. The stela commemorates an accession to rulership ceremony, and included lords from both Quirigua/Copan and Altun Ha, though their name glyphs are unfortunately eroded.

One Katun, or 19.7 years later from the Stela 15 date, Stela 1was erected, and displays a short glyphic inscription. The text begins with an Initial Series Long Count date of 9.15.10.0.0, 3 Ajaw 3 Mol-June 28, 741 CE. This is a Period Ending, and depicts a scattering event; either of blood droplets or pom incense. The ruler is named Lahun Ka’an, possibly after one of the five Gods of Venus/Morning Star as recorded in the Dresden Codex.

Stela 21 has an Initial Series date of 9.18.0.0.0, 11 Ajaw 18 Mak G9- October 9, 790 CE. The iconography depicts a ruler engaged in a Period Ending/scattering ritual. The text describes the event, and names the ruler as Lord Macaw 28 Bakab. The text continues with a parentage statement naming his mother, IX-yu-?-yo-o-? lx B'alam Ajaw- Lady ?? Noble woman of Balam, and an undeciphered name for his father.

Stela 14 is the second largest stela in the Maya world after Stela E located at Quirigua, Guatemala. The Initial Series date is written as 9.18.0.0.0 (11 Ajaw 18 Mak G9-October 9, 790 CE), though the actual Calendar Round date shown would seem to indicate a Long Count date of 9.18.10.0.0, 10 Ajaw 8 Sak G9-August 17, 800 CE. Some researchers have suggested that it is a conflation of both dates. At any rate, the scene and text depict a Period Ending/scattering event and names a ruler whose title includes the phrase “28 Bakab”. This may be the same ruler that appears on Stela 21.

Stela 3 has been tentatively dated to the important Baktun Period Ending 10.0.0.0.0, 7Ajaw 18 Sip G9-March 13, 830 CE. This is the latest dated text found at the site.

The glyphic texts of the other carved stelae are too fragmentary to be able to provide dateable interpretations, though other archaeological evidence suggests that Nim Li Punit was inhabited deep into the 9th century.

Nim Li Punit was rediscovered by oil prospectors in 1976, and an investigation was immediately carried out by Joseph O. Palacio, the Archaeological Commissioner of Belize, who also named the site. Norman Hammond and Barbara MacLeod conducted additional investigations later that year. There followed Richard Leventhal (1983-87), and Nikolai Grube (1986). In 2015 the Toledo Regional Interaction Project led by Geoffrey Braswell and with the Belize Department of Archaeology began important investigations that unearthed several royal tombs and their contents, along with the excavations and consolidations of several structures.

STRUCTURES
Please Note: My original report used a structure numbering system that was instituted by Normand Hammond in 1976 that has since been changed. This updated report reflects the new structure numbering system.

Nim Li Punit consists of three main plaza groups spread across artificially leveled hilltops. The stone used here is similar to that found at Lubaantun consisting of black slate and sandstone blocks as opposed to the use of limestone as is found in most other Mayan sites. The site is set mostly on a north/south axis. The first group seen when entering the site is the East Group.

This group is a series of recessed, raised terrace plazas that gradually climb up a hill ridge and merge into the Northeast Group. It is a residential area consisting of numerous platforms that once held structures of a perishable nature. The visitor path leads into an upper terrace plaza that houses some small mounds and Structure 36, an excavated and restored platform. A pathway continues down to the lowest terrace plaza, Structure 24.

The lower terrace plaza, Structure 24, overlooks the Ball Court and is sometimes referred to as the Ninki Pec Plaza. On the north side of the plaza is a large pyramidal platform, Structure 28. The east and west sides of the terrace plaza have small mound structures with the southside of the terrace featuring two plain, standing stelae. A central stairway flanked by smaller stairs leads down to the Ball Court Plaza.

The Ballcourt Plaza’s main structure is the Ball Court comprising two parallel structures with sloping walls, Structures 18 and 19, having a length of about 67 feet/20 meters. They have been mostly restored, though any superstructure has long since deteriorated. A plain, round marker is located in the center of the ballcourt alley. The Ball Court has an axis of about 13 degrees east of North, and features open “end zones”. A stepped retaining wall acts as stairway at the south end of the Ball Court Plaza and leads up to the South Group.

The South Group consists of two plazas. The main plaza is known as the Plaza of the Stelae, and is considered the civic/ceremonial center of the site. It measures about 102 feet/31 meters x 167 feet/51 meters, and contains most of the 32 stelae identified at the site. Recent investigations have shown, however, that some of the individual numbered stelae are actually pieces of each other. The entry into the plaza proper is between Stelae 8 and 9.

The most significant of the stelae once located here is Stela 14, and now in the site museum. This huge monument has a height/length of 31 feet/9.5 meters and is the tallest stela in Belize. Most of the other stelae at the site depict one or more individuals engaged in a ritual scattering event to mark Period Endings. In this case there is only one individual displayed. It is interesting to note that this stela was never raised into an upright position. In all there are seven stelae with glyphic text which date to a short timespan between 721-830 CE.

The Plaza of the Stelae is ringed by Structures 1-4. The northeast side of the plaza is open and leads down into the ballcourt.

Structure 1 is a linear platform that takes up the entire east side of the plaza and has been partially restored. It has a lengthwise measurement of  about 212 feet/65 meters. A bend in the platform accommodates the topography of the hilltop. Any superstructures that may have once existed atop the platform have long since deteriorated. In front of the structure originally stood several stelae, Stelae 10-18, some of which, though fallen, are still in place, while others have been moved to the site museum.

The south side of the plaza is anchored by Structure 2. This is an elongated platform mound about 79 feet/24 meters in length. Five to six stelae have been reported on in front of this structure including Stela 21 since relocated to the site museum.

The northwest side of the plaza features a portion of the large platform mound that supports Plaza 6. The east side of the mound displays an inset stairway that once led to a now ruined structure. The west side of the platform forms the base for Structures 4-6 located above in Plaza 6. There are several stelae at the foot of the platform mound including Stela 4 protected under a palapa.

The most notably structure here is Structure 3 situated on the west side of the plaza. It is of a pyramidal design and rises up some 36 feet/11 meters from the plaza floor, and is the tallest structure at the site. It has a single plaza facing stairway. There are two stelae associated with this structure, Stela 1 and Stela 2, though Stela 2 is now in the site museum. It has been suggested that Structures 1 and 3 may have acted as an astronomical “E Group” with the stelae in front of Structure 4 possibly placed as reference points to mark the equinoxes and solstices. While the front of the pyramid extends up from the plaza floor, the rest of the pyramid is embedded into a secondary, raised plaza, Plaza 6, which is accessed from a northwest stairway. The current visitor path is located on the southside of Structure 3.

Plaza 6, also known as the Plaza of the Royal Tombs, is set on a large platform base that rises about 10 feet/3 meters above the Stelae Plaza. It houses several structures, and is considered an elite residential area. As mentioned above, Structure 3 is located here and forms the southeast corner of the plaza.

The west side of the plaza is taken up by Structure 8. This structure is an elongated platform about 130 feet/40 meters in length, and 6.5 feet/2 meters in height. It is accessed by a central, plaza-facing stairway that leads up to a large terrace. It is thought to have been a council house/popal nah. Any super structures that once existed would have been made out of perishable materials, and have long since vanished. Tombs 2 and 3 were located at the base of the structure. A small platform mound, Structure 9, is on the southside of the plaza.

Structure 7 is a considered the royal residential palace and located in the northwest corner of the plaza. It measures about 194 square feet/18 meters square with a height of about 6.5 feet/2 meters, and has a set of plaza-facing steps This is the most important structure of the group and indeed of the entire site. A number of rich tombs have been excavated here. Tomb 4 was placed in the center of the structure, and contained the remains of an individual along with green beads and ceramics including three Teotihuacan-style ceramic vessels. This tomb has been dated to c.400 CE, and may indicate a relationship with the intrusive Teotihuacan presence in the Maya area at that time.

Tomb 5 was excavated in the northeast corner of the structure and has been dated to c.830 CE. Numerous ceramics, shell and jade ornaments, and other burial goods have been discovered. An exceptional jade pendant, the second largest piece of worked jade found in Belize, was also recovered here. This piece is known as the “Wind Jewel”.

The “Wind Jewel” is a carved pectoral cut in the shape of the Maya “Ik” glyph, which is similar to a truncated “T”. The glyph itself appears on the front side. The glyph stands for “breath of the gods”, or wind. On Stela 15 in the site museum a similar pectoral can clearly be seen hanging from the neck of one of Nim Li Punit’s rulers. The reverse of the pectoral contains a beautifully inscribed text. It references a Katun Period Ending/incense scattering event on 10 Ajaw 8 Yaxk’in-June 29, 672 CE, and an accession date of 7 Men 8 Kayab-January 21, 652 CE. The text includes the name of the ruler and his parentage. What is important to note here is that the ruler and his father may be lords from the powerful site of Caracol, and his mother a royal noble from Cahal Pech. With such scarce information on the political relationships of Nim Li Punit to its neighbors, this has been an intriguing find for researchers.

The text on the “Wind Jewel” pectoral has been tentatively deciphered:
“He was “necklaced” for the scattering on 10 Ajaw 8 Yaxk’in(9.12.0.0.0), Janaab Ohl K’inich Son of the divine Lady Ix Pitz ?? K’an Hix Balaw She of five ??(slaves?); son of K’inich Bahlam, incense scatterer (in his) first twenty years (of life). On 7 Men 13 K’ayab (9.10.19.4.15) he acceded as lord, Janaab Ohl K’in-Nich Muwaan Bahlam, Nine-Province (person), he of Three Stony ?? (Caracol?)”.

A small annex structure, Structure 7a, once featured a north facing stairway that led down to the Ball Court Plaza. giving the illusion of a large pyramid. This structure acted as a grand entryway into the Plaza of the Royal Tombs.

Structures 4-6 are set on the east side of the plaza and share a low platform base, with Structure 5 being the larger of the structures.

Structure 5 displays plaza facing steps with a fallen stela located in front. A ruined temple is set at the back of a raised terrace. Tomb 1 was discovered in front of the temple structure which may have acted as an ancestor shrine. Structure 4 is a ruined mound, and at the corner of the plaza platform base that extends down to the Stelae Plaza.

Structure 6 is a small platform with plaza-facing steps annexed to the north side of  Structure 5. An Early Classic tomb dated to c.400 CE, Tomb 6, was discovered here. Ceramic plates and another Teotihuacan-style tripod vessel were found within the tomb crypt. Interestingly, these Teotihuacan-style vessels are the only ones so far discovered in Belize, and raise more questions than answers regarding the possible influence of Teotihuacan. Structures 6, 7a, and 7 form a small sub-plaza.

Located to the west of the Ballcourt Group is the West Group. This group was terraced into the sides of a hill which were leveled and buttressed with retaining walls. It is a residential compound with several platforms and a pyramidal structure that surround a plaza, also known as Plaza Akam. The pyramid, Structure 48, is located on the west side of the plaza and reaches a height of about 20 feet/6 meters. Structure 50 is found on the southside of the plaza and is an elongated platform.

Other significant residential groups are located to the North, Northwest and Southwest from the site core. When information becomes available they will be reported on here.

updated April 2024 

structure 5                                                                       shawn

stela 4                                                                     marios travels

wind jewel drawing                                         christian prager

NIM LI PUNIT

structure 8                                                                ela ginalska

stelae plaza east side                                                 texas tech

structure 5 tomb 1                           ela ginalska

structure 5 tomb 1                                dennis jarvis

structure 7 tomb 5 wind god ceramic                       trip/braswell

structure 1                                                                     dr mucker

stelae plaza north side  stela 4                                ela ginalska

structure 36                                                                     cantrelli

site map                                                                trip/braswell