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Mayan Ruins in Belize

An important part of Belize's history is the Mayan ruins, a legacy of exceptional palaces and temples. The Mayan civilization began as early as 2000 B.C., but this is still under discussion, and began to decline in 900 A.D., although some Mayan cultural centers continued to be occupied until the arrival of the Spanish in the 15th century. Belize's population was thought to be over 1 million people during the Classic period (250 A.D. to 900 A.D.) when Belize became the heart of the Mayan civilization. To this day, there is still a significant Maya population living in small villages throughout the country.

Belize's oldest Maya ruin appears to be Cuello on Orange Walk, (carbon dating 2600 BC) Then came the pre-classical era when the cities of Lamanai, home to the largest pre-classical Maya structure in Belize, and Cerros flourished. In the Classic period, the period of the coronation of the Mayan civilization, the enormous sites of Caracol and El Pilar emerged from the jungle and ceremonial centers, such as Xunantunich; in this era the Mayans built beautiful temples and pyramids.

The ancient Mayan world centered around the Yucatan Peninsula, extended into the tropical rain forests of the lowlands of Mexico to the east and Belize to the west, and eventually ascended to the highlands of Guatemala and the Pacific coast of Guatemala. The eastern edges of Honduras and El Salvador were also part of the Mayan world. Today, most Mayans live in three areas: the highlands of Guatemala, the Yucatan peninsula, and the state of Chiapas in Mexico. Today's Maya are between four and six million divided into many different ethnic groups that speak about 30 different languages. Today, most sites are under excavation and preservation, but some sites such as Cerros lack the funds necessary to preserve them. It is important to preserve these sites as enduring monuments of the great Mayan civilization.