Mayan mysteries abound among the amazing carved stone stele at Nim Li Punit archaeological site and the crystal skull mystery at the Lubaantun site in Belize.

The main plaza at the Lubaantun archaeological site in Belize.

Lubaantun archaeological site: home of the Crystal Skull (or not)

Lubaantun  means “place of the fallen stones” and there are a lot of those lying about. What differentiates the piles of stones at Lubaantun, a pre-Columbian Mayan city that dates back to 730 AD, from those at every other Mayan archaeological site is that many of the stones used at Lubaantun were actually cut to fit. That’s a fact. What may not be a fact is the legend of the Crystal Skull of Lubaantun as we learned when we traveled to the site.

According to Frederick A. Mitchell-Hedges–adventurer, self-made archaeologist (with a disturbing propensity for dynamiting sites), and one of the first excavators of Lubaantun–an intact, anatomically correct skull carved out of a solid piece of crystal was allegedly found under a fallen altar at Lubaantun by his adopted daughter Ana on her 17th birthday. This is incredible, and perhaps even in the strict Websters definition of the word.

Numerous intense and detailed investigations of the skull have lead many scientists to believe that the skull was machine made in the 1800s before being purchased by Mitchell-Hedges in London in the early 1900s. Particularly damning evidence is given in a report printed in the journal Archaeology (published by the  Archaeological Institute of America) in 2010.

The remains of a temple at the Lubaantun archaeological site in Belize.

Authentic or not, the Belize government has asked for the Crystal Skull back on numerous occasions but Ana has never given up the most famous paperweight in the world. She’s dead now and some dude named Bill Hollman now has the skull which he has dubbed the Skull of Love and has taken “on tour” through the US and Europe.  He also says he’s writing a book, in counsel with Native Americans and Mayans, about what the Skull of Love can teach us about the meaning of the mysterious end of the Mayan calendar on December 21, 2012. You be the judge.

The Lubaantun archaeological site in Belize.

An elegantly collapsed wall at the Lubaantun archaeological site in Belize.

The remains of a pyramid at the Lubaantun archaeological site in Belize.

The Lubaantun architecture is unique in that buildings were constructed using stones that were cut to fit.

Nim Li Punit archaeological site: stunning stele

Nim Li Punit means “big hat” in the Kekchi Mayan language and is thought to have been inspired by the enormous head dresses worn by figures carved into some of the stele found here.  Stele–giant stones carved with historical information and details of important events–are the main draw at this tiny site.  An incredible 26 stele were found at Nim Li Punit (weirdly, none were found at nearby Lubaantun), many of them in excellent condition.

One of the 26 intricately-carved stone stele that were found at the Nim Li Punit archaeological site in Belize.

Four stele,which oil prospectors stumbled upon in 1976, are on display in a modest museum near the entrance to the site .

A detail of one of the 26 intricately-carved stone stele that were found at the Nim Li Punit archaeological site in Belize. Each of those square images is a Mayan glyph representing a word or date or other important piece of historical information.

The Nim Li Punit archaeological site in Belize.

The ball court at the Nim Li Punit archaeological site in Belize.

The Nim Li Punit archaeological site in Belize.

 

Here’s more about travel in Belize