Carvings on the peak of the El Castillo pyramid (Structure A6) at Xunantunich, Belize (cjuneau /CC BY-SA 2.0)

11,000 Years Of Ancient Culture In Belize


Not even 50 years ago, Belize, in Central America, gained independence on September 21, 1981, but its history dates back to 9,000 years. In prehistory the territory was home to several ancient civilizations, including the Maya from around 1500 BC, who thrived between 250 and 900 AD. During this time, the Maya built impressive cities, developed a complex system of writing and mathematics, and made important scientific and cultural contributions to their ancient environment.

The extent of the Maya civilization territories in Mesoamerica. Lamanai is in Belize (Kmusser /CC BY-SA 3.0)

The extent of the Maya civilization territories in Mesoamerica. Lamanai is in Belize ( Kmusser /CC BY-SA 3.0 )

Before the rise of the Maya Civilization in Belize the region was inhabited by various groups of indigenous people, often referred to as the pre-Maya or the Proto-Maya, who lived off the land as hunter-gatherers and practiced simple agricultural lifestyles.

Pre-Maya Belize

The first people in Mesoamerica are believed to have arrived around 12,000 years ago during the last Ice Age and these hunter-gatherers lived on wild plants and animals for sustenance. Around 2,500 BC, the first civilization in Mesoamerica emerged in the region known as the Olmec heartland, which is located along the Gulf Coast of Mexico. The Olmec Civilization was characterized by the creation of large stone sculptures, such as the famous colossal heads, as well as advances in agriculture, art, and architecture. The Olmecs were also known for their trading networks, which allowed them to obtain exotic goods from distant regions and as the Olmec Civilization declined, other civilizations rose to prominence in Mesoamerica including the Zapotec, Maya, and Aztec. Each of these civilizations made significant contributions to the development of Mesoamerican culture, including advances in writing, mathematics, astronomy, and architecture.

With clouds and fog frequently covering the sharp ridges, the Maya Mountains in southern Belize can be challenging to navigate. While this abundant precipitation is beneficial for the lush rainforest that blankets the region, it has posed a significant problem for archaeologists as the climate promotes the rapid decomposition of human bones, which are a valuable source of research of ancient cultures. Notwithstanding, the earliest evidence of human habitation in Belize dates back to the Preceramic Period, around 9000 BC, and evidence suggests small groups of nomads moved from place to place hunting and foraging for food and resources using two types of lithic technologies


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Ashley Cowie is a Scottish historian, author and documentary filmmaker presenting original perspectives on historical problems, in accessible and exciting ways. His books, articles and television shows explore lost cultures and kingdoms, ancient crafts and artifacts, symbols and architecture, myths and legends telling thought-provoking stories which together offer insights into our shared social history .

Top Image : Carvings on the peak of the El Castillo pyramid (Structure A6) at Xunantunich, Belize ( cjuneau /CC BY-SA 2.0)

By: Ashley Cowie



In this article and many others I noted that astronomical observers are often identified as priests. Why is this? Why not call them scientists or astronomers. Making them “priests” has a negative connotation

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Ashley is a Scottish historian, author, and documentary filmmaker presenting original perspectives on historical problems in accessible and exciting ways.

He was raised in Wick, a small fishing village in the county of Caithness on the north east coast of... Read More

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