Photo Tour from Western Belize – El Pilar Maya Monuments

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**ALL WORDS & INFORMATION BELOW COPIED FROM SIGNS POSTED AT PARK**

Known timeline at El Pilar:

1000 B.C. – First Established occupation across the Maya forest

700 B.C. (Early  Pre-Classic) – First public monuments established at El Pilar

  • First constructions at Xikna
  • Earliest occupation of Tzunu’un household
  • First occupation of Tikal – 30 miles west

250 B.C. (Pre-Classic) – Public monuments at  Tikal constructed

  • Plaza Copal designed and completed at El Pilar
  • Xikna expanded at El Pilar
  • Development of Plaza Axcanan at El Pilar
  • Major occupation of the El Pillar area

250 A.D. (Early Classic) – Tikal emerges as regional power center in Maya forest

  • Maintenance and stability at El Pilar
  • Construction at Plaza Jobo at El Pilar

600 A.D. (Late-Classic)

  • Major construction on Xikna at El Pilar
  • Tikal re-assumes regional power in Maya forest

800 A.D. (Terminal Classic)

  • 869 A.D. – Last dated construction at Tikal
  • Continued construction at El Pilar until 1000 A.D.

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One of the defining features of El Pilar is how the site blends the archaeological monuments of yesterday with the Maya forest of today. This philosophy is easily visible in the main plazas where you can walk beneath the canopy.

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Plaza Copal was established in a major phase of development during the Late Pre-Classic period (250 BC – 250 AD). This represents an incredible focus of work and effort, demonstrating the power and importance of El Pilar as a regional center.The buildings around the plaza were repeatedly remodeled over nearly 2 millenia and reached their final appearance in the Late Classic Maya period (600 – 900 AD)

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Plazas are an integral part of sites throughout Mesoamerica. These open, easily accessible plazas were important public areas, and served as ceremonial centers and meeting places. Other more enclosed plazas, such as Axcanan, represent exclusive areas within centers of power. Plazas have often been cleared to provide a full view of the monuments.

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The majestic temples of the Maya still rule over the forest, a thousand years after they were abandoned. Archaeological research has focused on these ceremonial centers, but where were the living places of the Maya populace? At El Pilar, there is an example of both the power elite and the domestic household. Maya temples were designed and built, they redesigned and rebuilt, over and over again in many phases of construction, creating layers, much like an onion. For example, Xikna was remodeled over 1700 years. Temples are grouped around plazas and usually face the cardinal directions: North, East, South, and West.

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Wooden staircase to Maya temple view

Although many of the monuments at El Pilar have been excavated, most of them remain covered by the forest. When archaeologists expose monuments at El Pilar, they use selective restoration  a method that requires less maintenance that complete reconstruction. All exposed monuments must endure the heat and moisture of the tropics, which deteriorate the limestone once it has been exposed. When the Maya inhabited the site, the monuments were plastered and maintained by a fleet of civil servants who would repair the stucco, paint the surfaces, and clean the grounds. Today, El Pilar must rely on the work of a few park rangers to care for all of the structures.

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Grave wall at Xikna – El Pilar

In 1983 before restoration a Maya milpa (or farm) existed in Plaza Copal, which was full of corn and clear of trees. Today stands 30 years of jungle rejuvenation.

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Plaza Copal at El Pilar

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Old School Railing design circa 1000 B.C. Maya

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Basket Tie-Tie Rope lashing securing the natural wood railings

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Don’t be another Maya sacrifice, watch your step down!

The trees of Plaza Copal range from 8-20 meters and provide an excellent habitat for the many diverse species of birds who live here. Furthermore  as you can feel, the shade provided by these trees makes El Pilar a cool respite in the hot, humid tropics. Encouraging the forest canopy at El Pilar makes the reserve more enjoyable for tourists and inviting for wildlife.

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Basket Tie Tie Maya designed bench – natural fibers straight from the jungle vine!

Approximately 800 meters to the west of Plaza Copal is the plaza complex of Pilar Poniente.The western area of El Pilar lies in what is now Guatemala. The two sides of El Pilar were joined by a causeway that runs almost due west and was plastered over in much in the same way of the plazas. The causeway is still visible but covered by thick jungle and and unguarded border crossing!

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Wildlife Photos of El Pilar – Lizard on a tree

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Orchids in the Canopy

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Young Strangler Fig Tree / Vine

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Looters Trench in Maya Monument

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Looters trench and tree vines – El Pilar

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Sotzna Tunnel – El Pilar Archaeological Reserve

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Enterance to Maya tunnel at El Pilar Maya Settlement in Cayo District, Belize

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Stepping inside a dark Maya tunnel without a torch!

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Excavated and reconstructed Maya tunnel between temples

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Plaza Jobo – El Pilar Maya Tour in Western Belize

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Royal Residence – El Pilar Maya Site

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Reconstructed Maya limestone wall

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Arched doorway unique to Maya elite residence

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Stone bench inside Maya elite room

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View from the top of Kin structure, looking down into elite structure

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Arched doorway from inside the Maya room

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Kin Maya Temple – El Pilar, Belize

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Lookout view of Guatemala from Kin Structure at El Pilar Belize Maya Monument

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Birds Without Borders Birding hike at El Pilar, Belize

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Maya tour signs are available for self-guided tours

The Maya houses were grouped around plazas or patios where daytime events took place.  Each structure faced onto the patio, was built to suit specific needs of the family, and serve domestic purposes. The family compound had an eastern shrine that served their local spiritual needs. The large southern building was suited for receptions. The northern spacious structure would be comfortable for privacy, relaxation, and sleeping. Other buildings are imagined to be fore other household needs like kitchen and storage.

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Tzunu’un Maya thatch house with choune tree leaf and tie tie rope

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Tzunu’un Maya stone house structure at El Pilar

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The Maya Forest Garden at El Pilar

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Diagram of the Maya Forest Garden Polyculture Theory by Dr. Anabel Ford

The Maya lived on the same land for thousands of years supporting a population far greater than current density. The Maya Garden at El Pilar demonstrates how the ancient Maya may have worked the land.

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Maya Garden Flower

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Maya tree identification signs

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Maya tree in the forest garden – “Pacaya”

For more information on El Pilar and the archaeology seen there visit the BRASS website.

http://www.marc.ucsb.edu/elpilar/

 

 

 

 

 

Corozo aka Cohune Palm – Multi-Purpose Maya Tree

Cohune Palm
ARECACEAE, Attalea cohune

One of the most prevalent trees found on Lower Dover Jungle Lodge’s 100 acre property is the Cohune Palm. Local Maya researchers observed that Cohunes are abundant where Maya ruins are found. Many believe the Maya had many practical uses for the tree (oil, roofing material, and even salt). Local guides go a step further and describe Maya shamans using the palms as proof of their spirit connections. When the wind would blow through the palms located around their settlement, shamans would say…”I told you the Gods were listening!” Visit the Maya site at Lower Dover for proof of this phenomenon.

Maya Ruins at Lower Dover with Cohune Palms with dead leaves (left) and new growth (right).

Cohune Palms found at Maya site of Xunantunich (Right Front)

Another reason Cohune Palms are found in abundance is that the tree trunk is resistant to the common slash and burn agriculture practice used throughout Belize. On your trip to Belize, you will likely see many Cohune Palms still standing in farm pastures for that reason. When hiking the trails at Lower Dover Jungle Lodge, it is possible to see all the Cohune’s stages of growth, from seed bunches to well established trees. Along the Maya ruins of Lower Dover, the remains of past Cohune stumps are long gone, but perfectly round stump holes remain.

100's of Cohune Palms in all stages of growth can be seen at Lower Dover

Young Corozo Palms on medicinal plant trail at Lower Dover Belize Jungle Lodge

“Heart of Palm” or “Palmito” is a rare but well known local delicacy that is delicious in salads and commonly enjoyed over the Easter holiday.  Unfortunately, to obtain the palm heart, the tree must be cut down, which is why they are so rare and usually carry a high cost.

Corozo Palm trunk growing mushrooms after palmito harvest

The nut is a favorite food of the gibnut, and is also eaten by people, despite the difficulty in cracking the shell. Cohune has a high oil content, yet it requires extensive extraction processing, so it’s not very economically viable for biofuels.  Many have tried to mechanize the process, but the Maya version of cracking the outer shell on stones, mashing the nuts by hand tool, and boiling the oil out in water remains the most effective way of extraction.

Cohune Palm Seed Cluster. Uniform in size and shape.

Cahoon Palm nuts scattered on the ground. Gibnuts love to eat them!

The British used the nut shell during World War I for charcoal filters in gas masks. Today, it’s not as commonly used, as the nut can explode once the fire reaches the internal oily sections! The Brits used the Cohune nuts because the mature nut is uniform size, perfect for mass production.

Quash on Cohunn Palm Leaf at Lower Dover Belize Jungle Lodge

Today, the durable nut shells are polished & made into lovely brown jewelry. Rings, earrings, and bracelets are found throughout Belize made from the Cohune nuts. Purchase one of these lovely gifts for your friends from one of the many traditional Maya artisans outside of Xunantunich or in San Ignacio.

Lastly, much is being discovered about the actual benefits of palm oil. For the longest time consumers were misinformed about the many positives this oil provides. One such study is ongoing that shows the remarkable strides made in Alzheimer’s Disease patients when they consume a regular intake of palm oil versus taking prescription drugs. Learn more about this fascinating discovery here.

Friday Flower Photos: “Spring” in Belize

The dry season is officially on at Lower Dover Jungle Lodge in Belize. It is a little strange to see all of the flowers in Belize blooming as the leaves are dropping due to lack of rain. Lower Dover has a deciduous rainforest on the property, not the evergreen version found near the equator. This means most of the leaves fall in the spring when the there is no rain so the trees have enough energy to seed.

Growing up in the States, spring time meant green and growth, where as Belize has a lengthy dry season during the same months. It’s just hot and dry in Belize until the hurricane season starts in June. So if you visit Lower Dover in the next 2 months don’t be shocked to see lots of brown leaves on the ground. Luckily there are many bright flowers blooming to offset the lack of forest.

Flower in bloom from a Zericote Tree

Cashew blossom with ant pollinators

Papaya flower blossom

Orange Blossom at Lower Dover Belize Jungle Lodge

Nopal Cactus Blossom

Noni Fruit Blossom with bee pollinators

Purple jungle flower with bee pollinator

This tree gives off yellow flowers to signal the dry season

Pink tropical flower from the bunkhouse garden

Blooming flowers from the bunkhouse garden at Lower Dover

Tropical pink roses with morning dew at Lower Dover Belize Jungle Lodge

Lower Dover dormitory flower garden white blossoms

We grow Marigold's everywhere as a organic pesticide

Pink flowers found at the Lower Dover bunkhouse flower garden

Sunday Snapshots: Orchid (and Ant) Photography in Belize

Yellow orchid growing from Cedar Tree

We spotted this unknown yellow orchid in bloom at Lower Dover Jungle Lodge. It seems like the ants were acting as pollinators for the orchid. Notice the root system holding the plant to the bark of the Cedar tree. Does anyone know what kind of orchid this is?

Orchid Root System

Orchid buds getting ready to bloom

Orchid's being pollinated by ants

Unknown Orchid in Bloom

Orchid at Lower Dover Jungle Lodge in Belize

Orchid picture with ant at Lower Dover Jungle Lodge in Belize

Orchid Photography in Belize