LAMANAI MAYAN RUINS
"THINGS TO DO"
MAYAN RUINS: Your full day journey takes you to the Belize mainland, where you will then travel by a private van, along the old Pan American Highway to the Orange Walk District, a northern district of Belize.Here you will board a boat and take a ride up the New River, where the flora and fauna abounds with hundreds of different species of birds, fresh water turtles, green iguanas, insect bats, wild orchids, monkeys, crocodiles, and much more - this is a true wild jungle river ride!
After this exciting ride, you will arrive at your final destination, the Lamanai Mayan Ruins. Lamanai's setting, along the New River is one of the few, where the original Maya name is known (which translated means) "Sub-Merged Crocodile". Hence you will see numerous carved representations of crocodiles at this site. Lamanai's remoteness contributed to its being occupied up until at least 1,650 AD.
Lamanai features the second largest Pre-Classic structure in the Maya world and the view across the surrounding forest from the top of the temple is magnificent. In front of the temple stands a 13 foot stone mask of a Maya King. You will also be given the chance to tour the small museum and souvenir shop.
INCLUDES: Park fees, lunch, tour guide, transportation to and from the site. Does not include transportation to and from the island. Alcoholic beverages are not included.
WHAT TO BRING: Shorts, T-shirts are suggested along with a good pair of tennis shoes or hiking shoes, if you have them. Sunscreen, wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, camera, rain jacket (depending on the time of year), hand sanitizer, insect repellent, money for tipping your guide (we recommend 15%).
DEPARTURE TIME & LOCATION: 6:30 a.m. for a 7:00 a.m. flight, or 6:00 a.m. boat. All trips return between 4:30 & 5:30 p.m. (Note the boat ride takes about 1-1/2 hours. You leave at 6:00 in the morning, arriving to the mainland at 7:30 a.m. The plane ride takes 15 minutes, but it is also more expensive.)
Tours are booked independently through licensed tour guides, with the Belize Tourism Board. We do not sell tours.
LAMANAI MAYAN RUINS
About the Ruins
The Orange Walk district abounds in archaeological sites. Lamanai, one of the largest Mayan cities in Belize, stretches for several miles on high ground along the west side of the New River Lagoon. Lamanai was occupied from the early formative period of the Maya until well after contact with Europeans - one of the longest continuing spans known for any Mayan site. Lamanai was probably first inhabited 3,500 years ago. The earliest permanent buildings were erected around 700 B.C. and were continually enveloped by larger, more elaborate structures. The last stage of the major temple at Lamanai was completed around 100 B.C. and might well have been the tallest Mayan structure of its day. Lamanai was excavated by a team of archaeologists from the Royal Ontario Museum, led by David Pendergast. More than 700 buildings were identified in the two-square mile central section. A ghastly cache of children's bones found under one stela suggests that human sacrifice might have been practiced. A ball court marker dates from around the tenth century A.D., a time when Maya civilization elsewhere had declined. The city's name might mean "submerged crocodile", reflecting the special esteem held by the Maya for that animal. The crocodile motif shows up on pottery and architectural decorations. The term is fitting, since the lagoon nearby was and is a perfect crocodile habitat. Many representations of the reptile have been found here, including ceramic decorations and plaster masks, some of which may be seen in the excellent on-site museum. A figure wearing a crocodile headdress, found in many forms throughout the area, is thought to represent one of Lamanai's important rulers.In a part of Lamanai known as Indian Church, walls still stand from a sixteenth-century mission, one of the few remaining signs of Spanish presence in Belize. An earlier church stood on the site of a Mayan temple, and might well have been sacked by unwilling converts who reverted to their traditional practices.The people of Lamanai, who survived whatever it was that brought down Mayan civilization elsewhere in the eighth and ninth centuries A.D., fared less well in their encounters with Europeans and new diseases. By the time the British established a sugar mill at Indian Church in the nineteenth century, Chinese laborers had to be brought in to work the plantations nearby.
Lamanai is unusual in that it was occupied longer than almost any other known Maya site, from about 1500 BC (or earlier) until at least A.D. 1650 - and for varying intervals to the present day. As an important trading center and ceremonial site, its history extends from the formative years of the civilization until well after Franciscan friars arrive from Spain in the 1540's to convert Lamanai "heathens". The city enjoyed its greatest pyramid - referred to as the Southern Temple and was completed about 100 B.C., then modified several times before A.D. 600.
Some of the Lamani's ruins are among the oldest surviving buildings from the Classic period, dating back to 700 B.C. Pollen samples show that corn was being cultivated here at least 800 years earlier. There are over 700 buildings in the complex, which is believed to have supported as many as 35,000 people. Only about 5 percent of the known structures have been excavated.
These intriguing ruins are about 70 miles northwest of Belize City, on a patch of high ground that looms over the west bank of the shimmering New River Lagoon, the country's biggest lake. Although it is possible to drive here (about 2 hours from Belize City), many visitors prefer to visit Lamanai by boat up the New River, exactly as the ancient Maya did. After navigating through miles of constantly dividing tributaries and closed-in landscape (full of water birds and their predators), a pyramid-shaped temple suddenly looms 112 feet above the New River Lagoon. When the temple's crown was placed in about 100 B.C., this was probably the tallest building in the Maya world. At the apex of its considerable power, this well-situated city state is said to have had a wide trading influence that extended over much of present day Guatemala and Honduras, plus all of Belize.
The site's central core covers about one square mile, with residential structures and smaller buildings spread over another thousand acres. Vegetation makes it difficult to get an adequate perspective on the ground, so a hike to the summit of one of the temples is a good idea; three are over 100 feet tall.
In one section, accessible by a short path, are a few crumbling walls that remain from a 16th century Catholic mission, one of the few remainders of Spanish occupation extant in all Belize. Attempts at conversion to Christianity began here in 1544 and the Spanish remained until 1641, when the Maya rebelled and burned their church to the ground as part of a regional uprising that included Lamanai's sister city of Tipu, on the Macal River (largely destroyed when a citrus plantation was put in). A second chapel was built at Lamanai using stones from one of the Maya's most sacred temples, which contributed to the friction between Europeans and Indians. In fact, a Maya stela (still visible) was erected in front of this church has gaping jaws at either end with a god coming out of one of these mouths. It is thought to be a Maya warning along the lines of, "Beware, this could happen to you!"
Virtually no one lived here when the British loggers arrived with their Jamacian slaves in the 18th century to extract mahogany and other trees. Chinese and East Indian laborers were imported about ninety years later to work in the local sugarcane fields, but they did not react well to the demanding climate and debilitating diseases; most of the plantations were soon abandoned. The ruin of a 19th century sugar mill, with ficus strangled flywheel and boiler, is still visible. It was built in 1866 and burned by the Maya (along with other European constructions) the following year. A corroded molasses storage chamber, now home to bats, lies a short distance from the abandoned mill.
Vegetation here is lush. Common trees at Lamanai include the guanacaste, mahogany, rubber, cohune palm, poisonwood, and ficus. The adjacent lagoon, fed by a maze of underwater springs and aquifers, is teeming with fish and virtually unpolluted. Waterbirds thrive here. On the western bank stretch miles of swampy savannas that are an important habitat for jaguars and other cats.
The wide array of artifacts found suggests that Lamanai's residents were enthusiastic and successful merchants. One ancient pottery vessel contained several small offerings floating in pools of liquid mercury. Other oddities include an unusually small Maya ball court and an extraordinarily preserved carved stone monument that now lies under a protective palm thatch. It is believed that this stela escaped destruction because it apparently fell face forward to the ground during a Maya fire ceremony and was therefore left unmolested for fear the event itself portended evil. The stone's outstanding depiction of the Lamanai priest-king Lord Smoking Shell (whose reign began about A.D. 608) clearly shows his open mouthed serpent headdress and other accountrements. He holds a ceremonial bar in his arms, symbolizing his royal authority.
The museum at Lamanai contains incense burners (censers), burial urns, and chalices discovered here, along with eccentric flint carvings, tools, and many ceramic objects.
Lamanai has the longest known history of occupation in the Maya area. The site may have been first settled around 900 BC. Nearly three thousand years later, when the Spaniards, arrived around AD 1544, they found a vibrant community that was still thriving and practicing many of their ancient traditions.
The Spaniards dominated Lamanai for almost a hundred years, but in 1640, the Maya at Lamanai rebelled, they burned the church and nearby houses, and allied themselves with the people of Tipu, once a politically important centre in what is now the Cayo District. Spanish records also provide the city's name, which was recorded as Lamanay and Lamanyna, probably referring to Lama'anayin, or "Submerged Crocodile". Excavations have revealed numerous representations of crocodiles on buildings and on pottery vessels and figurines which indicate that the crocodile was symbolically important to the people of Lamanai. Access to early Spanish documents, give us the Maya name for what we call the New River. In the sixteenth century it was known then as Dzuluinicob, meaning "foreign men".
The site consists of eight major plazas or groups of large structures which make up Lamanai's central core. At the north end of the site centre there is a huge platform (90 m x 110m) supporting several large buildings that stand about 28 meters high. Adjacent to this complex there is an ancient harbor.
THE MASK TEMPLE
A tour through the central core of Lamanai will take you to the mask decorated temple. The exposed mask and its concealed counterpart at the left side of the stairway, are unique in the Maya area because they are cut from blocks of limestone rather than modeled from plaster over a stone core. The facial features of the masks are clearly related to characteristics of Olmec iconography as seen in the Gulf Coast of Mexico; particularly in the upturned upper lip and broad nose. The masks are each adorned with a headdress representing a crocodile. This symbol validated the ancient site name recorded by the Spaniards as Lamanay, "place of the crocodile".
It is believed that construction began on the Mast Temple by 200 BC. This building was modified several times between 200 BC and AD 1300. Beneath the existing building, there is a preclassic temple with stucco masks similar to those found at Cerros (ca. 100 BC). Even after the building had been abandoned, the Maya, then living in the southern part of the site, returned to this temple and constructed several small low platforms to support a new stela. During this time, a large offering of pottery, figurines and incense burners was made.
The temple also enclosed a tomb containing the remains of a man adorned with jade and shell objects and accompanied by a variety of textiles, mats, and other perishable objects. Nearby lay a second tomb of almost the same date, occupied by a woman. The two burials surely represent a succession of Lamanai leaders, perhaps husband and wife or brother and sister.
THE TALLEST TEMPLE
Father south, near the center of the ceremonial zone, stands the tallest temple on the site, 33 meters high. This massive building, now partly restored, was begun in 100 BC, and its first phase of construction was a tall as the present building. No major additions were made after about AD 700. Like others sites in the area, the temple fell into disrepair around AD 900. Sometime after its abandonment, perhaps in the 1200's.
The ballcourt at Lamanai boasts that it had the largest known ballcourt, although it has one of the smallest playing areas. Beneath the stone marker there was an offering containing a lidded vessel holding miniture pots and other items resting in a pool of liquid mercury; the first discovered in the Maya lowlands.
STELA FOUND & SKELETAL REMAINS OF CHILDREN
East of the ballcourt plaza, a stela was found laying face down over the bottom steps of a small temple. Erected in the Late Classic Period (AD 600-700), this is one of the only monuments found in its original location at the site. The figure on the monument was the ancenstor of the important Lamanai Lord, Smoking Shell. The dates on the stela celebrate the conclusion of the (year) 7, and the anniversary of the regin of Lord Smoking Shell. The festivities for this occasion took place on estimated sometime around March 7,625 AD, in our calendar.
A burial/offering found under the stela's base contained the remains of five children, ranging in age from newborn to eight years old. There are no signs of violent death, and since children's remains are not normally found associated with the dedication of monuments, this offering must have had a special siginificance.
South of the stela temple there is a complex of residential and administrative buildings. From this complex one can look out at the southernmost major temple in the site centre. Known as the Jaguar Temple, this structure was built in the sixth century (Early Classic period). Major modifications were made in the eighth century, and also in the thirteenth century (Post-classic period). The most recent additions to the temple, tiny shrines at the foot of the stiar, were made in the 1400's, or later.
Temple embodies much of Lamanai's history, and shows how many aspects of the city's early life were retained even after the first Europeans arrived. Here, there is clear evidence of continuing vitality at a time when other cities were falling into decline.
ROYAL & ELITE RESIDENCES
South of the ceremonial complex, is the main residential zone occupied by the Maya when Spaniards arrived in the sixteenth century. The neighborhood was once home to a large part of Lamanai's upper society. Houses in this area were spread across the slightly rolling terrain, similar to that of a modern day village.
We enjoy viewing the Lamanai ruins today, due to the hard work of several archaeologists. Lamanai was first visited by Thomas Gann and J.E.S. Thompson in the early 1900s followed by William Bullard, and Thomas Lee. Intensive archaeological excavations were conducted between 1974 and 1986, under David Pendergast of the Royal Ontario Museum. In 1997, Dr. Elizabeth Graham began the Lamanai Archaeological Project (LAP). More recently Scott Simmons has investigated Colonial period developments, and miuch of the monumental architecuture has been conserved by the Tourism Development Project coordinated by Jamie Awe and Claude Belanger.