Caracol Mayan Ruins

Caracol or El Caracol is the name given to a large ancient Mayan archaeological site, located in what is now the Cayo District of Belize. It is situated approximately 25 miles south of Xunantunich and San Ignacio Cayo, at an elevation of 1500 feet (460 m) above sea-level, in the foothills of the Maya Mountains. The site was the most important political centre of Lowland Maya during the Classic Period within Belize.

The site was first reported by a native logger named Rosa Mai, who came across its remains in 1937 while searching for mahogany hardwood trees to exploit. Mai later reported the site to the archaeological commission for British Honduras, as the British colony, later to become independent Belize, was known at the time. In 1938 the archaeological commissioner, A.H. Anderson, visited the site along with a colleague H.B. Jex, spending two weeks in preliminary surveys and noting a number of carved monuments, stelae and Maya inscriptions. It was Anderson who gave the site its name —from the Spanish: caracol "snail, shell", but more generally meaning spiral- or volute-shaped— apparently on account of the winding access road that led to the site.



Ancient Caracol as a site was occupied as early as 1200 BCE. Its greatest period of construction was in the Maya Classic period, with over 40 monuments dated between 485CE to 889CE which record the dynastic sequence of the rulers. All are in Classic Choltian, the prestige tongue of the Lowland Maya. Its real name is provisionally translated from its glyph, as of 2003, ox witz ha (hispanicised, "Oxhuitza") or "place of three hills"; K'antumaak is also possible.

The town grew into one of the largest ancient Maya cities, covering some 65 square miles (168 km²) with an estimated peak population of about 120,000, or possibly as many as 180,000 people.

Caracol was at first a client of Mutal (at the Tikal site) 70 km to the northwest. Mutal's influence weakened during the mid sixth century; losing control of Naranjo, between the two cities, to rival Calakmul. In 553 CE Mutal's king Double Bird appointed a new lord over Caracol in attempt to outflank Naranjo. But then Caracol also allied itself with Calakmul. Three years later, Tikal declared an "axe war" against Caracol - "a war with intent to destroy" - and defeated it; but not, it turned out, decisively. In 562, Lord Kan ("Water") I of Caracol, alongside Calakmul, declared a "star war" against Mutal - a holy war, planned in accordance with astrology - and captured and sacrificed Double Bird. This event is seemingly concurrent with archaeological and epigraphic evidence indicating the beginning of the Tikal Mid-Classic Hiatus, when an apparent decline in the Tikal site's population, a cessation of monument building, and the destruction of certain monuments in the Great Plaza occurred as Caracol's population and urban development seemingly skyrocketed. After that, the Tikal site took on cultural characteristics of Caracol.

Lord Kan I passed on his throne to the eldest of two brothers 26 June, 599. His younger brother succeeded him 9 March 618 and took the name Lord Kan II. He performed a ritual of alliance in Calakmul's territory the following January.

Caracol's sometime ally Naranjo by this time had meanwhile made feelers toward Mutal. So, in 28 May 626, Lord Kan II pre-emptively attacked Naranjo. He attacked again 4 May 627, and sacrificed its king. This destabilised Naranjo, provoking a third attack 27 December 631. He did it a fourth time 4 March 636. On 24 November 637, he capped it off by celebrating his first katun of reign at Naranjo itself; and, on 6 December 642, he imposed the Hieroglyphic Stairs monument upon it.

In 682, Tok-Chan-K'awil of the Tikal royal family-in-exile at Dos Pilas installed his daughter as queen in Naranjo, removing it again from Caracol's demesne. In 800 CE, Hok K'awil captured the lord of Ucanal. The last recorded date in Caracol (and Choltian-speaking Belize) is 859 CE, on Stele 10.