Spiegel Online Covers Lower Dover (in German)

For the fall equinox at Caracol in Belize, we had a German filmmaker stop by Lower Dover’s Maya site and talk with the family about life, December 2012, Belize, and the future…

Hope to write a blog about whats been going on lately. I promise I will post some pics of anything crazy if it happens. Good luck and be safe.

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Lower Dover Field Station Mentioned in Maya Climate Change Article

Collecting Samples from Actun Chapat cave in Belize.

The scientists doing caving expeditions out of Lower Dover Jungle Lodge this summer got a little publicity in Kentucky. Lots of interesting learning opportunities in Belize, not just archaeology! This multi-disciplinary study is funded through the Alphawood foundation in Chicago.

Collecting soil samples at Actun Chapat cave in Belize.

Link to article: http://surfky.com/index.php/communities/henderson/244-local-bowling-green-top-news/20421-team-investigates-climate-change-impacts-on-maya-civilization

Newly Identified Maya Site in Belize – Lower Dover (Video)

We have been a little lazy on the blog lately. That’s about to change with the summer archaeology dig season at Lower Dover Field Station & Jungle Lodge starting at the end of this month. Expect full updates and lots of pictures. Maybe even a couple of Maya vids!

To get you primed, here is a video shot two years ago while walking in the jungle area of our property adjacent to the lodge. As you will also notice, the ruins extend throughout the property even to the lodge area where the library sits.

ATM Cave Adventure in Belize


ATM Cave Entrance in Western Belize

One of the greatest known ceremonial caves in the entire world, ATM Cave (Actun Tunichil Muknal), is unquestionably the hottest spot for Western Belize tourism today. In fact, National Geographic Magazine recently dubbed ATM Cave the #1 sacred cave to visit in the world!

Mayan Skull in ATM Cave - Cayo, District - Belize

ATM Cave is also known as Cave of the Stone Sepulcher (burial vault) because of the 14 known partial skeletal remains found inside. Nearly 1-km beyond the entrance of the cave sits the main attraction, a fully intact skeleton of a teenage girl, with fully calcified bones that sparkle from the light of your headlamp.

The Crystal Maiden - ATM Cave Day Tour from Lower Dover Jungle Lodge

Dubbed “The Crystal Maiden”, the bones have preserved for 1,400 years due to the the same processes (water dripping through the limestone) that forms the many beautiful stalactites and stalagmites to be seen and photographed inside ATM cave on the tour.

Limestone Cave Column with PACZ Tours guide Francisco

Amazing cave formations

ATM Cave Adventure in Belize

Dad trying to look like a stalagmite. Notice the full column on the left and stalactites above.

Archaeologists believe this Maya cave was likely used in spiritual practices by shamans and royalty because of the human remains found, but also because of pottery with “kill holes”. These perfectly made ceramic pots were broken in order to release the spirit Mayans believed lived within as part of a ritual sacrifice to the Gods.

Broken Maya Ceramic found in ATM Cave

Mayan Pottery Offerings to the Water God Chac

Archaeologists hypothesize that many of the pots found inside ATM Cave near water sources were broken to appease the Mayan Water God Chac. There are literally hundreds of ceramic bowls, pots, and shards that can be easily photographed from up close. The most unique example shows a monkey glyph easily photographed near the rim. Found, only in one other known location, this Mayan glyph will surely lead to further investigations when archaeologists continue their excavations at ATM Cave in the future.

Maya monkey glyph on ceramic pottery found in ATM Cave

Further into the cave, it is believed the Mayans modified cave formations to worship the Maya Goddess of birth and medicine Ixchel. The lights from your headlamp show the silhouette of her face perfectly against the cave backdrop.

Ixchel Mayan Goddess at ATM Cave in Belize

The one thing the guide from PACZ tours tried to get across was the Maya connection between caves and the underworld. To the Mayans, caves were the passageway to Xibalba, or roughly “place of fear”. The Earth was only the middle plane holding together the heavens and hell. To the Maya, sacred caves like ATM were the origin of the sacred Cieba Tree’s root system (really stalactites). Meanwhile, the Ceiba Tree symbolically connected the people to their God’s above and below.

Large Ceiba Tree at Lower Dover Jungle Lodge Belize

Due to the fragile nature of the artifacts and skeletal remains within the cave, it is
required that tourists take off their shoes during the last leg of the trip. This is to ensure no contaminants are brought into the delicate area surrounding the Mayan remains. This adds to the adventure, and also requires a bit of balance not to step on the pots and skulls inches from your feet!

Only socks and so close to everything!

It is important to understand the high level of difficulty that ATM cave presents Belize travelers. This is a serious adventure, and not for the weak, or unsure. From the van drop-off, there is a brisk 35 minute hike through the jungle to reach the cave entrance. Near the entrance is a rest area with an outhouse, where overnight ATM Cave tours camp, and daytime tours eat lunch provided in the cost of the tour.

Jungle Hiking to ATM Cave

You must cross the stream twice in preperation for a hardcore adventure

To enter the cave, you must first cross the stream that is running out of the cave entrance to reach a dry, narrow, passage. This is the point where it hits you that the ATM Cave tour is no walk in the park. Every step presents a different hazard, and requires constant awareness, as to not disturb cave formations, preserve the skin on your legs, and not crack your head or unprotected back on the ceiling.

One of the few dry passages at ATM Cave is the side entrance

The first 3/4s of the cave trip is though the same running stream you cross when hiking in. At no point is it really required to swim, however, being up to your neck in running water is a definite possibility. Because of the tight squeezes, and the rushing water, ATM Cave closes when water levels are high, but this occurs only a couple of times per year. Tell your guide before you leave if you are not a comfortable swimmer and he/she will equip you with a floating vest to wear. They will also be close at your side for any difficulties you might have when in the water.

Walking in Chest Deep Water - ATM Cave Belize

The tour requires moderate upper body strength to lift yourself over rock ledges. More so it requires agility, balance, and flexibility, similar to rock climbing. The largest challenge is searching for footholds and safe places to hold your weight while climbing on slippery rock surfaces. It is probably worse to be scared of heights than swimming, because there is a point that requires tourists to push themselves over a ledge without a safety harness. However, the same people afraid of heights would find Tikal’s staircases worse than the ATM Cave experience.

Stairs at Tikal National Park

The last leg of the trip is a great finish to an exhilarating day. Over the last 200 yards of the cave, the group is instructed to turn their headlights off and travel hand in hand to the light of the exit. It is a totally blind experience, and a true team building activity. Once you see the light at the end of the tunnel, comfort sets in, as you reflect on one of the coolest things you will ever do or see in your life. The finishing touch is a deserved cannon ball into the blue waters of the stream as you swim back out into nature.

Swimming near ATM Cave Entrance

Special note, request your guide to show you the stone altar, which not all guides will do unless asked. It is one of the largest carved stone pieces ever found in the Maya world, and worth the extra effort to see. Unfortunately, our camera was packed away in the waterproof bag our guide was carrying. Otherwise, we would have been able to get a great photograph.

ATM Cave Photo Taken by Bill Holmes - R.I.P.

From Lower Dover Jungle Lodge it is only 30 mintues to ATM Cave. That means an extra hour or more of sleep compared to visiting ATM Cave from most Belize jungle lodges near San Ignacio. This also means being the first to be dropped off on the way back! More time to check out the large un-excavated Mayan site named Lower Dover in the afternoon.

Experience 2012 in Belize on a Private Mayan Ruin at Lower Dover Jungle Lodge

View from Tikal - Experience 2012 in Maya heartland

The Mayan calendar has been criticized lately due to a recent discovery at the Comalcalco Maya site validating the December 21, 2012 date inscription for the second time. This finding was close in proximity to the first original December 21, 2012 date inscription at the Tortuguero Mayan site in the Gulf coast state of Tabasco, Mexico.  Mexico has chosen to not release more information publicly at this time, only letting people know that another instance of the December 2012 date exists.

Map of Mayan empire

The reality is, very little is known about Maya culture, or 2012, because the Spanish burned nearly all of the Mayan literature when they arrived in Mexico seeking gold. What is known, is that the Mayans had mastery of the stars which surpassed the Europeans own grasp many years later when Galileo discovered Earth’s position in the Solar System. Meanwhile, the Mayans literally worshipped Venus and plotted its course to form a highly accurate calendar which charted the alignment of the earth, solar system, and the Milky Way galaxy over a 26,000 year period! In fact, Mayan astrologers even planned the building of ceremonial buildings and temples in perfect alignment with the equinoxes and solstices for ritual and farming purposes.

Solstice marker at Tikal

Belize is often ignored in the Maya conversation, and especially on Mayan maps. Belize actually sits right in the middle of the ancient Mayan empire that once existed long before Columbus voyaged across the Atlantic.  This makes Belize the perfect, centralized location, to participate in December 2012 festivities.  About two weeks is all you need to visit Mexico, Belize, and Guatemala on the same trip, all while getting the full Mayan experience during the Mayan 2012 celebration.

Xunantunich main temple in Belize

It is possible to fly into Cancun from anywhere in the world, often for a cheaper price than Belize. You can visit the famous Chitzen Itza and Tulum ruins, plus swim in cenote pools on 2 different day tours by ADO bus from Cancun.  The Lamani site (take the boat for the adventure in getting there) and Altun Ha Maya site of northern Belize are also nicely excavated. Altun Ha was the site where the largest ever Maya jade mask was unearthed, however this piece is currently held at the national museum in Belize City, not on-site.

Once you make it to western Belize, stay at Lower Dover Field Station and Jungle Lodge for the most intimate jungle mayan adventure and experience. We are located only 3/4 mile from the highway so its easy to reach us by bus!  If you stay in the bunkhouse, it is literally built into the side of a temple…

Excavation of Mayan wall at Lower Dover Field Station and Jungle Lodge

Lower Dover’s ruins sit hidden by 100 jungle acres of private property along the Belize River between Big and Little Barton creeks. The jungle lodge property has been owned for 25 years but only has recently been turned into a hotel to share our amazing location on a Mayan site core with everyone. Only recently discovered, Lower Dover is believed to be a Mayan ceremonial center which overlooked the entire Belize River Valley housing settlement at Barton Ramie. Lower Dover was missed by Harvard archaeologists Willey and Gifford during their 1950’s-70’s excavation of Barton Ramie, located just a stones throw away, on the other side of the Belize River, at present day Spanish Lookout.  Because of the scale of past work done, and the close proximity of the sites, Lower Dover is sure to change views of the Mayan history in western Belize.

Mayan doorway entrance at Lower Dover Field Station and Jungle Lodge

Current archaeology work is being headed by the director of Belize archaeology Dr. Jamie Awe and the Belize Valley Area Reconnoissance Project (BVAR). During the months of June and July the Lower Dover Jungle Lodge closes to the public and becomes a field station and scientific research facility to accommodate university students. We look forward to discovering many new developments about this key piece of the Mayan puzzle during the following years.

Dr. Jamie Awe and 2011 BVAR field school at Lower Dover Field Station

When travelers stay at Lower Dover Jungle Lodge, they will enjoy close proximity to many must see Mayan tourist sites. Full day tours to ATM Cave, Barton Creek cave canoeing, Caracol, Cahal Pech, Xunantunich, and more are booked and arranged free of cost. Notably, a National Geographic book Sacred Places of a Lifetime recently voted ATM cave (Actun Tunichil Muknal or Cave of the Stone Sepulcher) as the #1 most sacred cave in the world to visit! I thought I heard that Jesus was buried in a cave or something like that…until its found we are still on top!

ATM Cave opening Belize

An amazing Mayan burial is found in ATM cave that has withstood the test of time in order to crystalize a Mayan skull into photo perfection. This is an absolute must tour, but be aware that because of the delicate nature of the Mayan ceramics and burials located in ATM cave, limited numbers of tourists are allowed through every day. It is advised that tours are arranged in advance when travel dates are known to ensure your tour spot, especially when planning on traveling during or on December 21, 2012.

Swimming into ATM CAVE Belize Adventure

ATM Cave Maya Pottery Remains - Belize

ATM cave trips pick you up at Lower Dover Jungle Lodge last and drop you off first on trips from San Ignacio area hotels, another plus to staying here!

ATM Cave Mayan Skull - Lower Dover Jungle Lodge Tours

After seeing everything Mayan that Belize has to offer, continue heading west to Tikal near Flores, Guatemala. It is possible to take an amazing 1 day tour of Tikal from Lower Dover Jungle Lodge or any other western Belize hotel, however, stopping and spending a night in Flores allows travelers to take their time. It is best to enter the TIkal Mayan site during the morning and evening hours when the tropical sun does not blast you, and tour groups are not crowding the main sights.

View from the top of Tikal Maya Ruins in Guatemala

Temple at Tikal Guatemala - Day Tours from Lower Dover Jungle Lodge

Tikal Mayan Royal Courtyard

Regular bus shuttle service to the park runs daily from Flores to Tikal. Travelers will also save a bit of money by traveling by bus to Flores from Belize instead of taking an organized tour. This is only really advised for seasoned travelers and/or those fluent in Spanish.

Spend the night in Flores, Guatemala

Swimming in Flores, Guatemala

Let the fiesta begin in 2012 Mayan Adventures await - Flores, Guatemala

From Flores, Guatemala it is possible to bus back to Belize the same way, or (preferred for time purposes) fly to Belize City where you either keep flying to Caye Caulker or San Pedro / Ambergris Caye. If traveling by bus, a connection is made with a water taxi in Belize City to take travelers to the Cayes. It is now possible to get back to Cancun by taking a water taxi to Chetumal, Mexico or by going back to Belize City and connecting back to Cancun with the new nightly direct ADO bus service from Belize City to the Cancun Airport.  The Thunderbolt water taxi also runs once daily to Corozal from San Pedro, where you can connect with the ADO bus north to Cancun.