Mayan Magick


Maya Classic Period:

The Historic Ancient Mayas of Belize

By: J. Alexander Bennett

            The literature regarding the most renowned temples of the Maya in Mexico and Guatemala (for example, Chichén Itzá and Tikal) is extensive. To the layman in archaeological knowledge, these sites are the remains of enormous temples where various kinds of religious ceremonies were held, led by Maya priests. The populace participated in the rituals at the base of the temple, following which they retreated to their villages, which were rural in nature. However, expert archaeological investigations propose that there were urban centres within which many of the huge Mayan edifices were erected, among them, a number in Belize.  

            Arlew F. Chase and Diane Z. Chase provide the example of Caracol in their treatise “Ancient Urban Development: Insights from the Archaeology of Caracol, Belize”. Chase and Chase locate Caracol on the Vaca Plateau, where they claim the settlement must have commenced around 500 B.C. In time, the population grew, along with it “the construction of monumental architecture”. By the period of the Early Classic (A.D. 250-550), Caracol was a well-established urban centre existing under dynastic rule. In A.D. 562, the ruler of Caracol waged a war with that of Tikal in Guatemala. A hundred years later Caracol conquered Navanjo, thereby consolidating Caracol’s dominance over eastern Petén. It was in this context that the city of Caracol was established. Chase and Chase describe this urban centre as follows:


“At this same time, the site’s settlement became more tightly integrated into a single urban system. The city built a fully planned causeway system, whose roads radiated out from monumental epicentral architecture to integrate agricultural fields, residential households, dispersed reservoirs, and outlying architectural complexes containing markets.”


            At that time, Caracol had a population of over 115,000 people, comprised of the wealthy and those who were stratified below the level. It may be that bureaucrats replaced the dynastic rule by A.D. 680 to run the metropolitan centre that Caracol had become. The information on which the investigation has based their conclusions relating to the rise and fall of Caracol has been based partly on stone hieroglyphic record found on the site. By some 100 years later, Caracol seems to have had well-established long-distance trade and linkages with the regions around it. That was just before its collapse due to war, before 900 A.D. Shortly after this time the site was deserted. It was not until the beginning of mahogany logging in the area in the colonial era of Belize, that word regarding the ruins of Caracol began spread.

            About the middle of the last century, archaeologists began to take an interest in the Caracol ruins. Continuous research carried out there have revealed that Caracol actually made us of city planning, which resulted in a network of causeways that connected markets, administrative sections, residential areas. These were spaced so as to give consideration to health, water control, agriculture, and drinking water.

            Chase and Chase close their treatise with a description of the negative elements that wreaked havoc on Caracol and other Maya cities, and brought about their downfall. Such factors included “drier climate, changing social orders and participation in an external world system.” By the beginning of the tenth century, Caracol had been abandoned and “slipped into the shadow of time”, until rediscovered by “loggers, archaeologists,  and now tourists.”


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