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Caracol (the Snail) - Large Classic Period Site

Archaeology of the Central American Country of Belize


Caracol, Maya Ruins of Belize

Caracol, Maya Ruins of Belize

Tony Beeman (c) 2006

The site of Caracol ("the snail" in Spanish) is a large Classic-period Maya site located in the Cayo district on the Vaca Plateau of central Belize. Its location near the Maya Mountains made the site an important access point to resources such as flint for stone tools and copal resin for ceremonial activities and making Maya blue; but the site lacked in water resources, and the people had to rely on rainwater captured in man-made reservoirs.

First occupied during the Late Formative period (300 BC), Caracol grew in importance over the centuries, reaching its heyday about AD 650, with an estimated 115,000 within an area of about 177 square kilometers. Hieroglyphic texts provide a king list for Caracol as early as AD 331. Caracol was occupied through the Terminal Classic Maya period of AD 810-1000.

Archaeology and Caracol

Archaeological investigations at Caracol were first instituted in the 1940s by Linton Satterthwaite and A. Hamilton Anderson. Beginning in the 1980s, a large project has been led Caracol by Arlen F. and Diane Z. Chase. Some of the Chase investigations led to a reassessment of the role of warfare among the Maya people, who were up until recently considered among the most peaceful people on the planet. The Chases' resarch, including historical documents, proved that Caracol was involved in at least two major wars during its heyday, when it defeated Tikal in AD 562 and Naranjo in AD 631.

Caracol was the object of a virtual reality (VRML) project in the early 21st century; and in recent years, Caracol has become an important site for tourists to Belize.

Sources and Further Information

Chase, A. F. 1985 Troubled Times: The archaeology and iconography of the terminal classic southern Lowland Maya. In Fifth Palenque Round Table, 1983, edited by M. G. Robertson and V. M. Fields, pp. 103-114. vol. VII. Pre-Columbian Art Research Institute, San Francisco. Free download (at the moment)

Chase, A. F. and D. Z. Chase 1989 The investigation at Classic Period Maya Warfare at Caracol, Belice. Mayab 5:5-18.

Hughes, Charles E., J. Michael Moshell, Dean Reed, Diane Z. Chase, Arlen F. Chase. 2001. The Caracol Time Travel Project. The Journal of Visualization and Computer Animation 12(4):203-214.

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