Ancient Maya Discoveries in Belize that Will Blow Your Mind 

by Larry Waight
jade pendant
Photo Courtesy: Geoffrey Braswell/UC San Diego

While Belize is a beautiful Central American nation with a rich history of Maya culture, that history only continues to grow. Two recent finds have come to the public’s awareness and only further intrigued people interested in the Maya or Belize’s early history.

Paynes Creek Ancient Fish Factory

A joint archaeological study between the universities of two countries has uncovered an ancient Maya fish factory within a peat bog. While previous research indicated that coastal Maya towns commonly produced salt, the lack of fish bones left most researchers to conclude that salt production was solely for economic reasons of trade. This recent study looked at local stone tools on a microscopic level, revealing that the Maya used salt to preserved food.

Paynes Creek was once on dry land but is now submerged beneath in southern Belize. The area is flanked by a mangrove forest that transitions into preservative peat; peat is devoid of oxygen, allowing it to preserve organic material. Preserved within the site are over 4,000 wooden markers of where these fish-salting factories once stood.

King JanaabOhl K’inich’s Jade Pendant

An archaeological team from the University of California and led by Professor Geoffrey Braswell recently uncovered a T-shaped pendant. Said pendant is carved from jade and believed to have been made for JanaabOhl K’inich, a Maya king whose reign began around 672 CE. A lot of data has been collected from this particular piece of jewelry, a pectoral discovered within a tomb beneath a palace in Nim Li Punit.

Braswell mentioned that while the effort involved in shaping jade is remarkable in itself, the true cultural find would be the pendant’s 30 hieroglyphics describing its first owner. Even the T shape is significant as it resembles “ik,” the Mayan glyph for “wind/breath.” The wind was widely perceived by the Maya as a symbol of life, signifying when monsoons would come. Maya kings were believed to be walking divinities and tasked with performing rituals to influence the weather.

While the research is ongoing, Braswell’s team has come to some conclusions regarding the pendant. 

  • It belonged to King JanaabOhl K’inich. 
  • It was first used to ritually scatter incense. 
  • K’inich’s mother came from Cahal Pech and his father died before K’inich had turned 20. 
  • It may connect K’inich’s influence to Caracol. 

Considering the distance between Cahal Pech and Nim Li Punit, Braswell believes the pendant hints at a transition to a new Maya dynasty. Notably, the pendant seems to be the oldest hieroglyph depicting royalty within the site.

Both of these discoveries, an early example of a fish factory and a relic connected to royalty, have shone new insights upon the Maya’s way of life. When you have a country that continues to reveal new truths about its history in the 21st Century, it makes you wonder just what else might be on the verge of discovery regarding Belize’s earliest culture. 

Written by Larry Waight

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