Xunantunich Travel Blog

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Xunantunich "Maiden of the Rock" a Classic period (300 AD - 900 AD) Maya ceremonial center located in the Cayo District of western Belize on the west side of the Mopan River across from San Jose Succotz. It is pronounced "zshoo-NAN-too-NEECH." At the completion of the road and ferry (ferry hours 7:00 AM to 5:00 PM) in 1954, this was the first Belize site to be opened to the public. There is a plaza surrounded with pyramidal platforms. "El Castillo" is the tallest at 130 feet. This is large by Maya standards and is only exceeded by the Caana pyramid at Caracol. Xunantunich was occupied until about 900 AD and was likely abandoned after an earthquake. Evidence of an earthquake was documented by archaeologists in the 1990's.
Everyone should climb to the top of "El Castillo." You will be provided with a 360 degree view of the jungle canopy of the Macal, Mopan and Belize River valleys. You will also have the opportunity to view the restored portions of two stucco friezes of the east and west sides of the upper portion of the pyramid.

Xunantunich was first investigated in the late 1800's by a British medical officer named Thomas Gann. The first known photographs of the site were taken in 1904 and displayed in the Peabody Museum of Archaeology, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. No further investigations took place until Gann returned in 1924. The report of these activities have been lost. Gann reportedly excavated many Maya treasures. Gann provided no record of these items. No one knows of their total number, types of artifacts or their whereabouts.
It is likely that Gann sold these items to finance his explorations. It is also likely that many museums and private collectors of Maya artifacts are displaying them, with no idea of their origin. Where ever Gann worked he is responsible to much lost information. At some sites Gann used dynamites as a method of excavation. Continuous excavation and restoration has been taking place since 1990 by the University of California (UCLA) under the direction of Dr. Richard Leventhal. The most extensive excavations of Xunantunich took place from 1991 to 1997 by the Xunantunich Archaeological Project. This work produced ceramic, architectural, and epigraphical data needed to accurately place Xunantunich within a time frame. This work refined the "Barton Ramie" ceramic chronology, which was the first step in clarifying the Xunantunich chronology.
Radiocarbon samples place Xunantunich ceramics in absolute time.  The results of the radiocarbon dating indicate that Xunantunich emerged as a regional center from 600 AD to 780 AD. Archaeological eveidence indicates the Xunantunich was subserviant to nearby Naranjo during this time period (600 AD to 780 AD).  Archaeologist thinks that Xunantunich gain independence from Naranjo some time shortly after 780 AD. Current archaeological evidence suggest that Xunantunich was abandoned by 900 AD.

There is now a new visitor's center which displays a model of the site, photos, maps and numerous exhibits of the city. I recommend seeing the displays at the visitor center prior to exploring the ruins.
windycitykitty says:
Hoping to go here in September if our cruise ship makes this port!
Posted on: Apr 28, 2009
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photo by: Biedjee