Situated at some 30 miles from the Belize City and some 6 miles from the Caribbean coast, Altun Ha refers to the identity of the excavated ruins of an old city of Mayans. Literally meaning the Rockstone Pond, Altun Ha was derived from the name of a close by village as its ancient name was not found. The central site today holds some 13 temples and residential edifices grouped in the two plazas of the Classic period (300–1000 AD). It is considered to be a vital trading and religious ceremonial site where the growth of its sacred temples was in progress until 1,000 AD.
According to the archeologists, Altun Ha saw its first settlement somewhere around 200 B.C. or even earlier, whereas the construction of the site reached its peak in the Maya Classic era. It has flourished as an important trading and agricultural town. Somewhere in 900 A.D., some raiding of top tombs had taken place. After this, many ups and downs were noticed in the population of the town and turned into a small agricultural town in the 12th century.
Maximum temples belong to the period between 550 to 650 A.D.
It took me an hour from the Belize City by a daily bus from Cinderella Plaza. I alighted at the village of Lucky Strike from where I need to walk 2 miles to reach Altun Ha. Altun Ha is the home of two central plazas namely, Plaza A and B, ringed by towering temples and the palm sprinkled land.
When I entered the site, I first saw Plaza A surrounded by many huge temples on all sides. It is the largest plaza known as the home of an unexplained tomb of a priest king of 600 A.D. found beneath the Temple of the Green Tomb. Although the king’s garments were damaged due to tropical humidity, his riches were thankfully in good state. Belonging to the period of 550 A.D., this area when excavated was found to be the treasury holding 300 pieces composed of jade objects such as small beads and pendant, jewelry such as shell necklaces and pottery pearls, skin flints, and stingray spines along with the relics of a Maya book. Due to these treasuries, the tomb was known as the Green Tomb.
The neighboring Plaza B is famous for its largest and a primary temple named the Temple of the Masonry Altars (B-4) among all the temples here. It is said that the community’s religious ceremonies were performed herein. The route to the temple is via a single stairway that reaches an altar at the summit. Within the area, there are many tombs discovered, which are said to be those of the Altun Ha’s high priests.
Most of these tombs have lost their charm or are desecrated due to political unrest before the decline of the town. However, one tomb B-4/7 inside the stone structure jutting out from the upper steps of the staircase had the relics of an aged dignitary along with a myriad of jade objects. It was here that the archaeologists obtained an invaluable largest piece of Mayan history found no where else – the six-inch carving called Jade Head of the Maya Sun God, Kinich Ahau. Regarded as the national treasure, a copy of this Jade Head is seen at the Museum of Belize and appears on the top-left corner of the Belizean currency notes. This temple rising 60 feet high was the last one to be built here.
A short route outside these two main plazas takes you to the Clay-lined Rockstone Pond via a forest, which served as a reservoir in Mayan era.