PHOTO FEATURED BY “FROM THE EARTH”, BY “CUBA LIBRE AND OTHER CARIBBEAN COCKTAILS” AND BY “WITHERED” GROUPS
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Xunantunich (pronounced /ʃunantunit͡ʃ/) is an Ancient Mayan archaeological site in western Belize, about 80 miles (130 km) west of Belize City, in the Cayo District. Xunantunich is located atop a ridge above the Mopan River, well within sight of the Guatemala border – which is a mere 1 kilometre (0.62 mi) to the west.
It served as a Maya civic ceremonial center in the Late and Terminal Classic periods to the Belize Valley region. At this time, when the region was at its’ peak, nearly 200,000 people lived in Belize.
Xunantunich’s name means “Stone Woman” in the Maya language (Mopan and Yucatec combination name), and, like many names given to Maya archaeological sites, is a modern name; the ancient name is currently unknown. The “Stone Woman” refers to the ghost of a woman claimed by several people to inhabit the site, beginning in 1892. She is dressed completely in white, and has fire-red glowing eyes. She generally appears in front of “El Castillo”, ascends the stone stairs, and disappears into a stone wall.
The first modern explorations of the site were conducted by Thomas Gann in the mid 1890s. Gann moved from Britain and served as the district surgeon and district commissioner of Cayo, Brazil starting in 1892. He chose this area to settle in because he had an interest in Mayan archaeology, and he wished to be able to explore the (at the time) unknown wonders of the indigenous people. Gann’s successor, Sir J. Eric S. Thompson, implemented a more methodical approach, and was able to establish the region’s first ceramic chronology. The main recent archaeological teams to work at Xunantunich and the surrounding region are the Xunantunich Archaeological Project (XAP) and the Xunantunich Settlement Survey (XSS).
Farmers that fed the people living in Xunantunich typically lived in small villages, divided into kin-based residential groups. The farms were spread out widely over the landscape, though the center of Xunantunich itself is rather small in comparison. These villages were economically self-sufficient, which may be the reason why Xunantunich lasted as long as they did; they were not dependent on the city to provide for them. Settlement density was relative to soil quality, proximity to rivers, and localized political histories. Since the farmers were long established on their plots of land, they would not want to be involved with a polity that was under constant upheaval due to invading forces and more.
Other nearby Maya archaeological sites include Chaa Creek and Cahal Pech, Buenavista del Cayo, and Naranjo.
Image # RF1-0692
Photographer: Jeremy Lavender Photography