The Lamanai Ruins
Lamanai consists of Today, visitors can see four large temples, a residential complex, and a reproduction stela of a Maya elite, Lord Smoking Shell. Excavations reveal continuous occupation and a high standard of living into the Post-Classic Period, unlike in other colonies in the region.
Lamanai is believed to have been occupied from 1500 B.C. to the 19th century—Spanish occupation is also apparent, with the remains of two Christian churches and a sugar mill that was built by British colonialists.
The landscape at most of Lamanai is forest, and trees and thick vines grow from the tops of buildings. The only sounds are birdcalls and howler monkey voices echoing off the stone temples. These are some of the notable sites:
The Mask Temple N9-56: Here two significant tombs were found, as well as two Early Classic stone masks. It was built around around A.D. 450. The second mask on the temple was exposed in late 2010.
The High Temple N10-43: At 100 feet high, this is the tallest securely dated Pre-Classic structure in the Maya area. Among many findings were a dish containing the skeleton of a bird and Pre-Classic vessels dating to 100 B.C. The view above the canopy is marvelous, and on a clear day you can see the hills of Quintana Roo, Mexico.
The Ball Court: The game played in this area held great ritual significance for the Maya, though because of the small size of Lamanai’s court, some think it was just symbolic. In 1980, archaeologists raised the huge stone disc marking the center of the court and found lidded vessels on top of a mercury puddle. Miniature vessels inside contained small jade and shell objects.
Royal Complex: Excavated in 2005, this was the residence of up to two dozen elite Lamanai citizens; you can see their beds, doorways, and the like.
Jaguar Temple N10-9: Dated to the 6th century A.D., this temple had structural modifications in the 8th and 13th centuries. Jade jewelry and a jade mask were discovered here, as was an animal motif dish. Based on the animal remains and other evidence, archaeologists now believe that this was the site of an enormous party and feast to celebrate the end of a drought in 950 A.D.
The Stela Temple N10-27: In 1983, archaeologists began an investigation of structure N10-27, where they discovered a large stone monument, designated Stela 9. The elaborately carved stela depicts Lord Smoking Shell in ceremonial dress. Hieroglyphic text of Stela 9, while incomplete, indicates that this monument was erected to commemorate the accession of Smoking Shell, the Lord of Lamanai. Further excavations near the base of the monument revealed a cache of human remains and artifacts, believed to be associated with a dedication ritual. Today, a replica stands at the stela temple; the original can be viewed in the museum at Lamanai.
© Joshua Berman and Avalon Travel from Moon Belize, 9th Edition