Altun Ha is located 31 miles north of Belize City on the Old Northern Highway. A two-mile dirt road connects the main road to the site. The area around the Altun Ha is rich in wildlife including armadillos, bats, squirrels, agouti, paca, foxes, raccoons, coati, tapir and the white-tailed deer. Two hundred species of birds have been recorded and there are large crocodiles that inhabit the Maya-made water reservoir.
Altun Ha was a wealthy ceremonial center boasting two main plazas, thirteen structures (including the Temple of Sun God or the Temple of the Masonry Altars). Altun Ha is not very far from the Caribbean Sea and it formed part of a unique cultural zone along with other coastal sites. There are also no stelae at Altun Ha but the discovery of rich tombs indicates that the ruling elite enjoyed access to substantial amounts of exotic goods.
Another interesting part of this site is the presence of a large, water reservoir called “Rockstone Pond”. The bottom of this reservoir is lined with yellow clay giving the bottom firmness capable of retaining water.
About Altun Ha
Altun Ha, named after the modern day village that was developed there (Rockstone Pond), was first recognized in 1957 by A.H. Anderson, the Archaeological Commissioner of that time. In February of that year he had followed up on a report made by the Public Works Department of some questionable mounds in the area where they were planning to push some roads. He found them to be archaeological mounds.
In 1961 W.R. Bullard, Director of the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) excavations at Baking Pot and San Estevan at the time, also visited the site and examined portions. No further attention was given to Altun Ha until 1963 when quarrying activities of the local villagers resulted in the recovery of a large and elaborately carved jade pendant. Anderson then contacted David Pendergast who had been involved in archaeological cave research in Belize. The ROM was encouraged to focus their attention on that site and employ David Pendergast, a staff member of the University of Utah, as their field director. That started out as a 4-year research turned into the first long term and full-scale archaeological project in Belize, lasting seven years from 1964-1971. During this time, many rich archaeological finds were made, including the now internationally famed jade head.
The earliest evidence of settlement at Altun Ha dates to 200 B.C., although it is likely that nomadic hunting-and-gathering tribes lived in the area long before then. The first major construction took place around A.D. 100 in the form of a temple near the principal reservoir, but by the beginning of the Classic Period (A.D. 250) the focus had shifted to the area which the visitor sees today. This was to be the central core of the site for some six centuries. The northern plaza (Plaza A) was the primary ceremonial precinct until close to the end of the Early Classic (around A.D. 550) when construction was begun on the Plaza B.
Construction at Altun Ha continued until A.D. 900, though a decline in the quality of new buildings was evident 150 years earlier. As at other Classic Maya sites, the society appears to have been severely disrupted early in the tenth century A.D. Although no single factor explains the decline of Maya civilization, there is some evidence that regional conflicts may have contributed to the downfall of the Maya at Altun Ha. The center was not completely abandoned after the decline, but appears to have been occupied for about 100 years after construction activity had ceased. It was once again reoccupied 200 years later during the 13th and 14th centuries.
Credit: NICH National Institute for Culture and History.