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Ancient Mayan city of Caracol declared largest ruin found to date

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
June 28th, 2011
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Located in west central Belize near the border with Guatemala, Caracol is an important Mayan city that enjoyed its heyday in the 6th century AD. Caracol remained obscured in the jungle until its discovery in 1938. The ruins contain numerous pyramids, royal tombs, dwellings and other structures, as well as a large collection of Mayan art.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Caracol once occupied a large area of 88 square kilometers and supported a population of about 140,000 people. Its Mayan name was Oxwitzá, which translates to "three hill water." The name Caracol means "snail" in Spanish and refers to the large number of snails found here during early explorations.

Mayans resided in Caracol as early as 900 BC. The first Mayan ritual complexes date around 70 AD, when both the Temple of the Wooden Lintel and locus B34 burial were built. Caracol flourished from the 6th to 8th centuries, after which it rapidly declined.

In 562, Caracol defeated the Mayan city of Tikal and assumed leadership of the region. It went on to defeat another rival city, Naranjo, in 631. The last date recorded on a stele at Caracol is in 859 and the city was totally abandoned by 1050. Caracol was overtaken by the jungle and forgotten until its rediscovery by a woodcutter in 1937.

Extensive clearing of the jungle and dedicated archaeological work did not begin until 1985, under the leadership of archaeologists Diane Chase and Arlen Chase of the University of Central Florida. An on-site museum was opened in 1998 and excavations continue today.

Located in the Chiquibil Forest Reserve of west-central Belize, Caracol is just 47 miles from the Mayan city of Tikal. Designated the Caracol Archaeological Reserve, the site is not as extensively cleared as others in the region.

Caracol archaeologists have uncovered two ball courts and three main plazas surrounded by pyramid temples and other structures. Over 100 tombs have also been found, as well as a wide variety of hieroglyphic inscriptions, which reveal the history of this lost Mayan city.

The most impressive sight at Caracol is a hillside complex known as Caana, which is Maya for "Sky Place." Caana contains four palaces and three temples, and is one of the most elaborate complexes found so far in the Southern Maya region.

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