Caracol Mayan ruin is located south of the Belizean city of San Ignacio. Caracol is the most magnificent Maya site in Belize, and in fact one of the largest in the Maya world. It is not as extensively restored as other sites because it was completely lost in the rainforest for over 1000 years until its discovery in 1937. The first archaeologist who studied Caracol soon after its discovery named it “Snail” (“Caracol” in Spanish) because of the large numbers of snail shells found there, but the original Mayan name translated to “Three Hill Water”, making this one of the few Maya sites where the true name is known.
Habitation began approximately 600 BC and continued until 900 AD, or even as late as 1150 AD according to some sources. At its height, Caracol is thought to have been home to 150,000 people, with over 30,000 structures – a far greater density than at Tikal. It covered an area much larger than present day Belize City (the largest metropolitan area in the country of Belize) and supported more than twice the modern city’s population. Water to the ancient city was supplied by man-made reservoirs as they had no reliable river access. One of the reservoirs is used by on-site archaeologists & other personnel to this day. There are seven ancient causeways or roads leading to the site. The tallest structure in Belize – ancient or modern – is Caracol’s El Caana (“Sky Place”) at a height of 137 feet. Over 100 tombs have been found at Caracol.
There has been a breakthrough in recent years in mapping Caracol, visit this excellent New York Times article about this on-going project: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/11/science/11maya.html?pagewanted=all
For more information on the ongoing archaeological projects at Caracol, visit this website: http://www.caracol.org/