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Lamanai & Cerros

Based on local recommendation we chose Lamanai EcoTours, Carmelita Village, right off the Northern  Highway,in Orange Walk District (Tel: 501-610-1753), who's service I can heartily recommend! We were greeted by Errol Cadle - the owner and made most welcome - our guide for our visit was a young Mayan descendant Nathaniel Calderon who turned out to be the most knowledgeable individual I have ever met on the subject at hand, in my long years visiting historic sites around the world.

The Maya ruins of Lamanai once belonged to a sizable Mayan city in the Orange Walk District of Belize. "Lamanai" comes from the Maya term for "submerged crocodile", a nod to the toothy reptiles that live along the banks of the New River up which we sailed to reach the site. Lamanai Belize jungle brims with exotic birds and hydrophilic iguanas. There is evidence on Mayan life that dates from about 1500 B.C. through Postclassic (A.D. 950-1544) and Spanish colonial times (A.D. 1544-1700)

Lamanai (from Lama'anayin, roughly translated means  "submerged crocodile" in Yucatec Maya) is a Mesoamerican archaeological site, and was once a considerably sized city of the Maya civilization estimated to have been in the thousands, located in the north of Belize, in Orange Walk District. The site's name is pre-Columbian, recorded by early Spanish missionaries, and recorded over a millennium earlier in Maya inscriptions as Lam'an'ain.

Lamanai was occupied as early as the 16th century BC.

 The site became a prominent center in the Pre-Classic Period, from the 4th century BC through the 1st century CE.

I spent considerable time examining “Stele 9” which is housed in the onsite museum. In 625 CE, "Stele 9" was erected there in the Yucatec language of the Maya. Lamanai continued to be occupied up to the 17th century AD.

During the Spanish conquest of Yucatán Spanish friars established two Roman Catholic churches here, the remains of which are still visible today; but a Maya revolt drove the Spanish out. The site was subsequently incorporated by the British as part of British Honduras, passing with that colony's independence to Belize. Also the British had settled in Lamanai and made a sugar mill.

The vast majority of the site remained unexcavated until the mid-1970s. Archaeological work has concentrated on the investigation and restoration of the larger structures, most notably the Mask Temple, Jaguar Temple, and High Temple all of which I visited during my brief stay. The summit of this latter structure affords a view across the surrounding jungle to a nearby lagoon, part of New River.

A significant portion of the Temple of the Jaguar Masks remains under grassy earth or is covered in dense jungle growth. Unexcavated, it can be seen to be significantly taller than the High Temple. I was told there is a legend that somewhere in Jaguar Temple you can find an ancient spear called the heart of the jaguar, even though the temple got his name from the jaguar masks on each side.

Quite accidently we chose my wife Roses birthday to visit the site of Cerros. Situated as it is half way between Orchid Bay and Corozal we made a short stop on our return from shopping. Known for its mosquitoes, the legend has it the Maya planted a certain plant that attracts these dreaded insects as a defense barrier to keep out their enemies!

Had we not had our ‘Bug Off’ spray it would have worked on me!


Cerros is a Maya archaeological site in just outside Corozal  that reached its apogee during the Mesoamerican Late Preclassic. At its peak, it held a population of approximately 1,089 people. The site is strategically located on a peninsula at the mouth of the New River where it empties into Chetumal Bay across from Orchid Bay where we were staying.

 As such, the site had access to and served as an intermediary link between the coastal trade route that circumnavigated the Yucatán Peninsula and inland communities. The inhabitants of Cerros constructed an extensive canal system and utilized raised-field agriculture according to my Wiki source.


The core of the site immediately abuts the bay and consists of several relatively large structures and stepped pyramids, an acropolis complex, and two ball courts. Bounding the southern side of the site is a crescent-shaped canal network that encloses the central portion of the site and encloses several raised-fields. Residential structures continue outside of the canal, generally radiating southwest and southeast; raised-fields are also present outside of the canal system. We made the mistake of following the Ball Court sign and ended up walking for miles further than we had intended!


Site History

From the time of its inception in the Late Preclassic Era, around 400BC, the site of Cerros was a small village of farmers, fishermen and traders. They made use of its fertile soils and easy access to the sea, while producing and trading product amongst the other Maya in the area. Around 50 BC, as their economy grew and they began to experiment with the idea of kingship, the inhabitants of Cerros initiated a great urban renewal program, burying their homes to make way for a group of temples and plazas.


The first of the new constructions was the Structure 5C-2nd, which has become the most famous piece of architecture at the site. It marked the northernmost point of the sacred north-south axis of the site, which was complemented by a ball court which lies at the southernmost point. As kings died, others came along and new temples were constructed in their honor. The last of the substantial constructions at the site  occurred around AD 100, and many of the other structures appear to have been abandoned before then. From then on, any new construction was probably limited to the outer residential area, as the population began to decline severely.


Apart from a small occupation at the end of the Late Classic period, Cerros has been abandoned since AD 400. This once glorious site was left for ruin and remained virtually unnoticed until Thomas Gann made reference to "lookout" mounds along the coast in 1900, drawing interest to the site.


Archaeology at Cerros

Archaeological work began at Cerros around 1973 when the site was purchased by the Metroplex Corporation of Dallas, who intended to build a tourist resort around the ceremonial center. These plans apparently failed according to Wiki, however it is my considered that properly supervised a tourist development could have greatly improved the visitors experience without necessarily taking from the majesty of the location and its archaeological importance. the site was given to the government of Belize. In 1974, archaeologist David Freidel and his team uncovered evidence that suggested that the site was of the Late Preclassic period. In 1975, when a dedicatory offering cache was uncovered at Structure 6, further evidence was provided that Cerros was indeed a Late Preclassic site.

Throughout the 1970s, research was allowed to continue when the National Science Foundation funded further excavations. The original team completed their excavations in 1981.

In the 1990s, Debra Walker and a team of archaeologists began a series of new excavations to investigate the site's demise at the end of the Late Preclassic Era. In addition to the research done at the site, Walker's team also had radiocarbon dates run on newly found artifacts. They also recalibrated several dates from the original research in order to establish a tighter chronological sequence.

I found our visit interesting however if your schedule allows only one visit to a Mayan site my choice would be Lamanai!

And don’t forget the ‘Bug Off’!


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