Rock Stone Water
Location: Altun Ha - Belize
by Wayne & Karen Brown
Today we set out to explore an ancient Mayan ceremonial center that Divemaster Juan had told us about called Altun Ha. Juan said Altun Ha in the Mayan language means "Rock Stone Water". This name is from the nearby pond the Mayans made with rock and stone to hold water. Juan told us that the Mayans built Altun Ha over 2,000 years ago. About 10,000 people lived in and around Altun Ha. The Mayans lived here for about 750 years then they mysteriously abandoned the city about 1,000 years before Columbus came to the New World.
We stopped our 4-wheel drive near Altun Ha and hiked along a jungle trail. The rainforest around us was so thick with plants that it was like we were in a tunnel.We heard bird calls all around us and mosquitoes buzzed around our ears. After a short walk we found a clearing with a beautiful pond. We knew we had reached Altun Ha, but this was not the Temple of the Sun God. This was Rockstone Pond. It was the pond the Mayans built. The water for this pond came from an underground spring. Around this pond we found house mounds. That means people had houses around this pond. We guess that like people today the Mayan liked waterfront homes.
We continued along the trail until we approached a large clearing in the jungle. Through the jungle we could see the Temple of the Sun God! As we entered the clearing we saw the there was more to this than the Temple of the Sun God. There are 13 buildings here around two large grassy plazas. Each plaza is about the size of a football field. These ancient temples and buildings have been partially excavated so dirt and grass still cover most of them, but we can see that they were all made of big limestone blocks.
The Temple of the Sun God is the largest of all the buildings. It is about 60 feet high. Divemaster Juan had told us that the main thing his ancestors studied here was the sun and the sun god. The Temple of the Sun God was where the human sacrafices were done. As we approached the bottom of the temple we saw five huge carved stone heads. There are two heads on each side of the wide steps that go up the front of the temple. One head is on the front of a platform that sticks out from the middle of the steps. The stone heads are pretty worn away, but the bottom head on the left side looks like it has its tongue sticking out. We don't know if all the heads at one time had tongues that stuck out or if someone has stuck in a tongue for fun.
We climbed up the steep limestone steps to the top of the temple. At the top of the temple is where the Mayan priests made their human sacrifices. The Mayans thought that they could please their gods by killing someone as a sacrifice. That was a long time ago so we didn't see any old blood on the stones.
From the top of the temple we see another smaller temple. It is called the Temple of the Green Tomb. It is got its name from a tomb that archeologists found with 300 jade (a green stone) carvings inside. The largest Mayan jade carving was found here, too. It is a carving of the head of the Sun God, Kinich Ahau. The carving is round, almost 6 inches across, and weighs almost 10 pounds. We can't show you a picture of it because it is locked a bank vault in Belize City where nobody can see it!
As we were looking around from the top of the temple we heard the sound of footsteps coming up the steps. Could they be Mayan priests coming to sacrifice us? Fortunately for us Mayans living today do not believe in human sacrifices any more. The footsteps got closer and we saw three Belizean boys coming us to see us, Edwin (age 9), Orlando (age 8), and Luis (age 7). They told us school is out for Christmas vacation and they like coming here to play around the trees and ancient buildings. If we had been kids in Belize when we were growing up we would have liked to play here, too!
The sun was starting to set, so we left to hike back to our 4-wheel drive before the sun when down. We did not want to get trapped in these spooky ruins after dark.
Wayne & Karen Brown
Altun Ha, Belize
Position: 17º 47' N / 88º 19' E
Altitude: 22 feet above sea level
Air Temp: 88ºF
Weather: light breeze, sunny with scattered clouds.
Rock Stone Pond was built by the Mayans. Some Mayan lived in houses around this pond.
Karen is standing on the sacrificial platform at the very top of the Temple of the Sun God
Can you see the carved stone face? It wearing a hat and round earrings and is sticking its tongue out.
From the top of the Temple of the Sun God we can see across the plaza to the Temple of the Green Tomb. (It is the temple in the center of the picture.)
These three Belizean boys surprised us playing on the temple. From left to right are Luis, Orlando, and Edwin.