"Altun Ha - ruins of an ancient Maya" Altun Ha by Sambawalk

Altun Ha Travel Guide: 12 reviews and 63 photos

Temple of the Masonry Altars - Altun Ha

Altun Ha is the name given ruins of an ancient Maya city in Belize, located in the Belize District about 30 miles (50 km) north of Belize City and about 6 miles (10 km) west of the shore of the Caribbean Sea. The site covers an area of about 5 miles (8 km) square. The central square mile of the site has remains of some 500 structures.

My visit here was part of the 7 days Holland Amercia West Carribean cruise visit, including Belize, Gatamela , and Cozumel, Mexico.
The tour was 4.5 hours long and it costs US$59.

"Altun Ha" is a modern name in the Maya language, coined by translating the name of the nearby village of Rockstone Pond. The ancient name is at present unknown. Altun Ha is made up of two central plazas surrounded by towering temples that enclose the palm strewn land. The larger of the two plazas, Plaza A, is the site of a mysterious tomb discovered beneath one of the temples called Temple of the Green Tomb. Jade, jewelry, flints and skins are among the three hundred remnants that were unearthed here.

The Temple of the Masonry Altars is Altun Ha's largest temple and is thought to have been the focal point of the community's religious activities. It is 54 feet (16 m) high. A single stairway climbs the temple to an altar perched at the peak. Inside, several tombs were discovered that are believed to have kept the bodies of Altun Ha's high priests. One of these digs yielded a priceless piece of history in the form of a 15-centimeter high, jade head of the Maya Sun God, Kinich Ahau.

Archeological investigations show that Altun Ha was occupied by 200 BC. The bulk of construction was from the Maya Classic era, c. 200 to 900 AD, when the site may have had a population of about 10,000 people. About 900 there was some looting of elite tombs of the site, which some think is suggestive of a revolt against the site's rulers. The site remained populated for about another century after that, but with no new major ceremonial or elite architecture built during that time. After this the population dwindled, with a moderate surge of reoccupation in the 12th century before declining again to a small agricultural village.

The ruins of the ancient structures had their stones reused for residential construction of the agricultural village of Rockstone Pond in modern times, but the ancient site did not come to the attention of archeologists until 1963, when the existence of a sizable ancient site was recognized from the air by pilot and amateur Mayanist Hal Ball.

Archeologists believe Rockstone Pond, the literal translation for Altun Ha, was first settled somewhere around 250 BC, with construction of the buildings beginning in 100 AD and continuing throughout the Classic period that ended in the 10th century. Some 10,000 Maya lived in and around Altun Ha, which was a significant trading center as evidenced by the large amounts of jade and obsidian excavated here in the early sixties and seventies.

Though not much else has been excavated, there are also several other areas of interest at the site, notably another temple at the eastern edge that was found to contain artifacts from the great city of Teotihuacan in the Valley of Mexico.

Altun Ha is not the easiest place to reach if you're traveling without a guide. A daily bus from Cinderella Plaza in Belize City passes the village of Lucky Strike, a two-mile walk to Altun Ha, on the way to Maskall.

Temple of the Masonry Altars - Altun Ha

  • Last visit to Altun Ha: Oct 2007
  • Intro Updated Dec 8, 2008
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