Altun Ha

Altun Ha Mayan Ruins

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.

"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.

The largest of Altun Ha's temple-pyramids, the "Temple of the Masonry Altars", is 54 feet (16 m) high. A drawing of this structure is the logo of Belize's leading brand of beer, "Belikin".

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.

Archaeological 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 archaeologists until 1963, when the existence of a sizable ancient site was recognized from the air by pilot and amateur Mayanist Hal Ball.

Starting in 1965 an archaeological team lead by Dr. David Pendergast of the Royal Ontario Museum began extensive excavations and restorations of the site, which continued through 1970. Among the discoveries is a large (almost 10 pounds, or 5 kilograms) piece of jade elaborately carved into an image of the head of the Maya sun god, Kinich Ahau. This jade head is considered one of the national treasures of Belize.

The Old Northern Highway connects Altun Ha to Belize's Northern Highway, and the site is accessible for tourism.

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