The History of Xunantunich

The History of XunantunichWhat is Xunantunich ?

There are many civilizations that have existed in the world. One of them is the Mayan civilization. This is not just one of the oldest civilizations; it is also believed to be a secret and mysterious civilization. The term “Maya” immediately arouses one’s curiosity. The Mayan Indians settled on Mayan highlands about 11,000 years ago. They were just hunters and gatherers at that time. It was only in 2000 B.C. that there was a fluctuation in the Mayan civilization when the people started using farming techniques and building structures. After the destruction of the civilization, the ruins located in the Honduras, Guatemala, Belize, the Yucatan peninsula and Mexico still reflect their culture and tradition. When we speak of Mayan excavations, Xunantunich stands in the forefront.

What is Xunantunich?

If you are hearing the word Xunantunich for the first time, you might ask “what is Xunantunich?” It is a small area of archaeological ruins located near the Mopan River, in southern Belize. Xunantunich means “stone Woman” or “Maiden of the rock” in the Yucatec dialect. These names are derived from the image of a woman depicted in one of the paintings.

These ruins represent the period of AD 650- 1000 of Mayan civilization when the people had mastered the art of construction. Residential structures spread over 22 acres were found in this site. It seems Xunantunich was abandoned in AD 900 and was again occupied in post classic period. Castillo, a 40m tall building, is one of the tallest Mayan buildings in Belize. The causeways, ball courts and platform mounds excavated here prove that they were far ahead of their generation.

About Xunantunich

Xunantunich was the first excavated Mayan site in Belize that was opened for the public. Though it is smaller compared to the other Mayan sites, it consists of the tallest structures. The huge statue of the Sun God, El Castillo, and the 130-foot tall pyramid are a couple of structures that attract visitors.

In the 1800s, Thomas Gann excavated Xunantunich. He used dynamite to blast the site; this destroyed most of the artifacts. Other excavations after this were equally unreliable with most of the artifacts being destroyed or vanishing. It was only in the 1990s that careful excavation began. Archaeologists discovered 2 altars and 8 stelae. Stelaes found at various other locations were carved and designed, but the ones found at Xunantunich were plain.

The three most remarkable segments of Xunantunich are the elite residential structures, the middle class residential structures and the ceremonial center. The six plazas of the city were surrounded by 25 palaces and several temples. Very brutal games were played in the ball court complex where the losers were put to death.

Life of People in Xunantunich

Most of the people in Xunantunich were farmers who lived in small villages. Their residences were in clusters or residential groups. They were widely spread throughout the village among other professionals. All people seemed self-contained and independent. The farmers were not associated or related to any organization specifically, as they were constantly under the threat of invading forces. This is one of the reasons why people preferred to stay together and ultimately why Xunantunich lasted so long.

Other Structures

El Castillo is situated in the southern end of the complex. The pyramid is not excavated completely but certainly stands as an example of the Mayan fashion. Xunantunich constantly expanded and progressed within the valley while the other cities were not that progressive. Xunantunich is known to have outdated Buenavista. Xunantunich is also considered to be a safe and protected place, as it is situated on a higher level. The evidence proves that trade and communication prevailed among all the neighboring cities. Pine was mainly imported to Xunantunich where its value and disbursement was controlled and managed by the elite class and rulers. This valuable product was used in rituals and in building structures. The art of pottery followed in various cities of Mayan civilization also carried similarity. Different qualities of pottery and baked products signify the social gaps and differences. Though the varieties of pottery differed, the types were similar in all the areas excavated. This proves the strong relationship between other cities and Xunantunich.