Plants, Stone, California Landscapes


Altun Ha Mayan Ruins

Altun Ha

Hmmm, I meant to post this sooner. Our Belize vacation already feels like it was a long time ago. As I mentioned just after we got back, we spent most of our Belize vacation on a small island, hanging out, sometimes snorkeling but mostly just sitting in a hammock. At the end of our trip we did one true sightseeing thing, we went to the Mayan ruins of Altun Ha.

Anita and I have both been to Mayan ruins before, but not for about ten years. Altun Ha is a good one. The entire site is about 25 square miles, mostly focused around two main plazas that are cleared and excavated, with pyramids as tall as the trees. The name means Stone Water or Rockstone Pond, named for the limestone wells. It was settled around 250 BC, with the first buildings going up around 100 AD. The population got up to 10,000 people at it height; it was abandoned around the 10th century. Now there’s just forest around it and it would be hard to imagine a lot of people ever living there if it weren’t for the big stone pyramids.

The Other, Adjacent Plaza

Mayan ruins are great, and I of course was interested in the stonework. Each building was built over about a one hundred year period, sometimes directly on top of previous buildings. During the Mayan times the stone would have also been covered with stucco and painted.

More detail photos than anyone really needs to see are below.

The Mayan style of arch is not a true arch; rather the stones are cantilevered in until they are close enough for a single lintel stone to span them. Very cool.

I liked where it was possible to see the cross-sections of the walls. The facing is limestone with a different stone used as rubble backfill.

The large mound is the oldest building at the site, a royal palace. It was built using only limestone, before the masons started backfilling with rubble. The archaeologists had trouble excavating because of all the tree roots penetrating it, so the structure was only uncovered a little at the top.

The Temple of Masonry Altars has carved faces. Pretty spooky. I saw the name Temple of Masonry Altars and wondered if I should be making some kind of offering, pray that my own walls might last 1,000 years.

This seemed like a window and not just a gap in the masonry. I don’t actually know, I don’t think of Mayan temples as having windows, but it did have a view of another major building and there was a similar opening on the wall directly across from it.

5 Responses to “Altun Ha Mayan Ruins”

  1. May 8th, 2011 at 5:28 am

    Randy says:

    Enjoyed the tour! We did Belize a few years ago and visited another ruins. This one is massive and you did a great job on the photographs.

  2. May 11th, 2011 at 9:23 pm

    lostlandscape (James) says:

    Pretty stunning site. You’ve got to admire all the stonework, as exposed as it is now. Western cathedral gargoyles look like Hello Kitty compared to the fearsome faces you photographed.

  3. May 13th, 2011 at 1:57 pm

    Dirty Girl Gardening says:

    sounds like a fabulous vacation!

  4. May 15th, 2011 at 12:33 pm

    ryan says:

    @Randy Belize is great. I’ve also been to El Pilar, which is very different from Altun Ha. I’d like to see more of their ruins.

    @James I would actually like to see a Hello Kitty sculpture that has aged several hundred years. A whole bunch of them around a building would look pretty cool. These faces are pretty terrific though. The’ve have aged wonderfully.

    @Dirty Girl We had a great time. We want to go back.

  5. December 31st, 2011 at 7:06 pm

    DryStoneGarden » Blog Archive » 2011 Miscellany says:

    […] country, to Belize. We hopped around to a few little islands and then went to the Mayan ruins at Altun Ha. I want to go back. Tobacco Caye Mist […]

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