Caracol is the name given to a large ancient Maya archaeological site, located in what is now the Cayo District of Belize. It is situated approximately 40 km (25 miles) south of Xunantunich and the town of San Ignacio Cayo, and 15 km (9 miles) away from the Macal River. It rests on the Vaca Plateau at an elevation of 500 m (1,640 ft) above sea-level, in the foothills of the Maya Mountains. Long thought to be a tertiary center, it is now known that the site was one of the most important regional political centers of the Maya Lowlands during the Classic Period. Caracol covered approximately 200 km² (80 square miles), covering an area much larger than present-day Belize City (the largest metropolitan area in the country) and supported more than twice the modern city's population.
The Caracol area was occupied as early as 1200 BCE, yet occupation in the epicentral area was no earlier than 650 BCE and lasted no later than 950 CE. Caracol boasts 53 carved stone monuments (25 stelae and 28 altars), and more than 250 burials and 200 caches.
By the Early Classic (between 250 and 550 CE) Caracol was tied into extensive trade networks and pan-lowland ideological systems, leading to a unified regional economy. The Caracol was officially founded in 331 CE (126.96.36.199.4 Long Count) by Te' K'ab Chaak. Special Deposit C117F-1, a Teotihuacán style cremation of three individuals dates precisely to this period, indicating early influences from northern México
Beginning in 636 CE, there was a building boom at Caracol at the conclusion of the Tikal-Naranjo wars. Entering the Late Classic period, the site still demonstrated widespread cohesion.
The last recorded date at Caracol is 859 CE – 10.1.10.0.0 Long Count, on Stele 10. Caana's abandonment dates to approximately 900 CE; several other structures have occupation that dates to the Terminal Classic period. Structure A6 was abandoned in 1050 CE, and marks the final abandonment of the site.
At its height, Caracol supported 120,000 to 150,000 people.
Rulers of Caracol
Note that this list is not continuous, as the epigraphic record is incomplete.
Caana ("sky-palace") is the largest building at Caracol. (1338k) Structure B19 on top of Caana, the highest structure in Caracol. It contained the large tomb of an elite woman. (1387k) Top of Caana with structure B18 (left) and structure B19 (right). (1.5M) View from Caana across the B-group plaza towards structure B5. (1425k) View from top of structure B19 over the courtyard on top of Caana towards structure B5. Structure B18 on the right, B20 on the left. (1305k) Monkey sculpture on structure B20. (1.5M) Close-up of the monkey sculpture on structure B20, showing remnants of red paint. (1.8M) Altar on top of Caana. (1.7M) Altar on top of Caana. (1.9M) Structure B5. (1.5M) Large mural on structure B5, depicting the Jaguar God in the lower part and the Rain God Tlāloc in the upper part. (1.8M) Depiction of the Jaguar God. (1.6M) Depiction of the Rain God Tlāloc. (1.8M) Ball court formed by structures B8 (right) and B9 (left), with two markers. (1.9M) Ball court marker. (1.6M) Ball court marker. (1.8M) Detail of ball court marker, showing the number 14 (two bars, 5 each, and four dots). (1.9M) Badly eroded ball court marker. (1.8M) View over the A-group plaza to the north. (1.8M) View of the A-group from the Central Acropolis east of the A-group. (1074k) Structure A3 on the north side of the A-group plaza. (1.8M) Mural on structure A3. (1.8M) Close-up of the mural on structure A3. (1.8M) Structure A2 on the west side of the A-group plaza. (1.6M) Structure A1 on the south side of the A-group plaza. (1.7M) View of the A4/A5/A6/A7 structure complex on the east side of the A-group plaza. (1.5M) Structure A4/A5/A6/A7 on the east side of the A-group plaza. (1.6M) Backside of the A4/A5/A6/A7 structure complex. (1.6M) Closer view of structure A6, the Temple of the Wooden Lintel on the east side of the A-group plaza. (1443k) A ramp on structure A4. (1.5M) Altar in the A-group plaza. (1.7M) Group A ball court, comprised of structures A11 (right) and A12 (left), with altar 21 in the center. (1455k) Altar 21, erected in 633 CE by Lord K'an II (188.8.131.52.0 Long Count). (1.9M) Stele 5, erected in 613 CE (184.108.40.206.0 Long Count). Elaborate Early classic style, showing Knot Ajaw holding the ceremonial bar, surrounded by open portals with emerging named ancestors, with elaborate headdress. (2M) Closer view of the figure on stele 5. (1.8M) Closer view of the figure on stele 5, showing the elaborate headdress. (1.6M) Close-up of the face on stele 5. (1.9M) View of the South Acropolis. (1.7M) South Acropolis. (1.8M) Part of the South Acropolis. (1.9M) Central Acropolis. Most of the structures in this area are not excavated. (1.7M) Raleigh group, the oldest parts of Caracol from pre-Classic times. (2M) Raleigh group, the oldest parts of Caracol from pre-Classic times. (1.8M) Tomb in the Raleigh group. (1.8M) Face sculpture with remnants of red paint. (1023k) Altar. (1028k) Detail of the head sculpture on the altar. (946k) Detail of inscription. (1048k) Marker with inscriptions. (1036k) Detail of the inscription, showing the number 14 (two bars, 5 each, and four dots). (1001k) Marker with two figures facing each other. (1306k) Marker with two figures facing each other. (1191k) Detail of one of the figures, surrounded by inscriptions. (1095k)