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Saturday Art: Lamanai Mayan Archaeological Site

Jaguar Temple at Lamanai

Jaguar face on Lamanai Jaguar Temple, @ 625 A.D.

(Click on picture to enlarge.)

An hour’s ride down the New River in Belize lies a cluster of ancient temples once used for Mayan religious ceremonies, called Lamanai.

 Lamanai (from Lama’anayin, “submerged crocodile” in Yucatec Maya) is a Mesoamericanarchaeological site, and was once a considerably sized city of the Maya civilization, located in the north of Belize, in Orange Walk District. The site’s name is pre-Columbian, recorded by early Spanish missionaries, and documented over a millennium earlier in Maya inscriptions as Lam’an’ain.


Lamanai was occupied as early as the 16th century BC.[1] The site became a prominent centre in the Pre-Classic Period, from the 4th century BC through the 1st century CE. In 625 CE, “Stele 9” was erected there in the Yucatec language of the Maya[2] Lamanai continued to be occupied up to the 17th century AD. During theSpanish conquest of Yucatán Spanish friars established twoRoman Catholic churches here, but a Maya revolt drove the Spanish out.[1] The site was subsequently incorporated by the British in British Honduras, passing with that colony’s independence to Belize.

The structures that have been excavated show fascinating detail.   The jaguar face dating to 625 A.D. is made by arrangement of the stones, the masks by actual carving which dates into the later PostClassic period, (900 – 1544 A.D.).    Two other temples, the Mask Temple and High Temple, are situated farther along the path up from the river.

The most interesting features at the structure are two masks that decorate the west facade of the temple. The masks are on two levels on the south side of a central stairway, on the lower level the masks more than 15 feet high.It represents a rather humanized face and is bordered by decorative elements. The headdress of the mask represents a crocodile. These masks are construed of stone armature covered with thick stucco into which the details are carved. The masks date to the late fifth to the early sixth century. At lamanai, ceremonialism was strongly developed, providing evidence of ruling authority with tight control over the populace.[11]

Excavations will continue to uncover further temples, and some technological improvements are expected to improve the preservation and understanding we have of these ancient temples.

(Pictures below courtesy of spudtruckowner.)

Lamanai’s High Temple

Opposing masks on Mask Temple, First Mask.

Mask on Lamanai Mask Temple

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Ruth Calvo

Ruth Calvo

I've blogged at The Seminal for about two years, was at cabdrollery for around three. I live in N.TX., worked for Sen.Yarborough of TX after graduation from Wellesley, went on to receive award in playwriting, served on MD Arts Council after award, then managed a few campaigns in MD and served as assistant to a member of the MD House for several years, have worked in legal offices and written for magazines, now am retired but addicted to politics, and join gladly in promoting liberals and liberal policies.