Xunantunich is an Ancient Maya archaeological site in western Belize, about 70 km (43 miles) 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 km (0.6 miles) 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.
There is evidence of Xunantunich being settled as early as the ceramic phase of the Preclassic period. The findings have been insubstantial to prove that Xunantunich was a site of importance. It was not until the Samal phase in 600–670 CE that Xunantunich began to grow significantly in size. Architectural constructions boomed in Hats'Chaak phase (670–750 CE) when Xunantunich's connection with the polity Naranjo solidified. Left in a state of abandonment at approximately 750 CE due to an unknown violent event (see Euan MacKie's work in 1959–60, above, which may be relevant here), Xunantunich did not re-establish itself as a strong presence in the region until Tsak' phase in 780–890 CE.
View over Xunantunich Plaza A1 in the foreground, structure A1 in the center, Plaza A2 behind it, and structure A13 behind Plaza A2. Structure A2 is on the right. (1432k) Structure A6 called "El Castillo", the second tallest structure in Belize (after the temple at Caracol), at some 40 m (130 ft) tall. (1237k) El Castillo with the stucco frieze on the north side. The frieze depicts the birth of a god associated with the royal family, gods of creation, as well as the tree of life (which extends from the underworld, the earth, and the heavens). (1303k) Detail of the north frieze, symbolizing the World Tree in the center and a Bacab (Skybearer) in the upper left. (1429k) Detail of the north frieze, symbolizing the World Tree. (1479k) Detail of the north frieze, symbolizing Chaac, the Rain God. (1241k) Detail of the north frieze, symbolizing the Moon Goddess. (1433k) Frieze on the west side. (1409k) Detail of the west frieze, symbolizing the Sun God Kinich Ahau. (1308k) Detail of the west frieze. (1.5M) Detail of the west frieze. (1.5M) Part of El Castillo. This is the only Maya place in Belize with round pillars. (1.7M) Structure A2. (1.7M) Structure A1. (1445k) Structure A1. (1463k) Stairs on structure A1 from Plaza A2. (1202k) Plaza A2. (1225k) Structure A9 on Plaza A2. (1.8M) Structure A13 (front), Plaza A3 behind it, and structure A11 behind Plaza A3. (1.7M) Structure A13. (1260k) Structure A11. (1188k) View from structure A11 towards A13, A1, and El Castilo. (1252k) Ball court. (1.7M) Ball court hoop. It was mounted vertically on the side of the ball court. (837k) Explanation of the ball game. (906k) Stele 1 from 849 CE (10.1.0.0.0 Long Count). (1058k) Stele 9 from 830 CE (10.0.0.0.0 Long Count). (981k) Stele 8 from 820 CE (22.214.171.124.0 Long Count). (1083k) Closer view of Stele 8. (1217k) Plate with hieroglyphs. The one in the upper left shows the number 18 (three vertical bars (5 each) and three dots). (656k) Plate with hieroglyphs. (762k) Incense burner. (871k) Incense burner. (838k)