Recently Discovered Underwater Mayan Temple


Nestled in a quiet forest in Belize, a deep aquamarine pool holds ruins from a time when the ancient Maya turned to a “drought cult” and hurried sacrifices to a water god to stave off the fall of their civilization.

At the Cara Blanca site in Belize, archaeologists report the discovery of a water temple complex: a small plaza holding the collapsed remnants of a lodge and two smaller structures. The main structure rests beside a deep pool where pilgrims offered sacrifices to the Maya water god, and perhaps to the demons of the underworld.

The find paints a picture of drought-stricken devotion during the collapse of the Maya. The pyramid-building civilization thrived across Central America for centuries, only to see most of its cities collapse after A.D. 800. (See “New Evidence Unearthed for Origins of the Maya.”)

Beneath Cara Blanca’s white cliffs, pilgrims sacrificed pots, jars, and bowls to the temple pool’s depths. The sacrifices came from both near and far, pointing to the ruin as a place where people from across the region came to pray for rain.

“It was a special place with a sacred function.”

Exploration of Belize’s Cara Blanca pools has revealed an increase in rain god offerings during a time of drought.Nestled in a quiet forest in Belize, a deep aquamarine pool holds ruins from a time when the ancient Maya turned to a “drought cult” and hurried sacrifices to a water god to stave off the fall of their civilization.

At the Cara Blanca site in Belize, archaeologists report the discovery of a water temple complex: a small plaza holding the collapsed remnants of a lodge and two smaller structures. The main structure rests beside a deep pool where pilgrims offered sacrifices to the Maya water god, and perhaps to the demons of the underworld.

The find paints a picture of drought-stricken devotion during the collapse of the Maya. The pyramid-building civilization thrived across Central America for centuries, only to see most of its cities collapse after A.D. 800. (See “New Evidence Unearthed for Origins of the Maya.”)

Beneath Cara Blanca’s white cliffs, pilgrims sacrificed pots, jars, and bowls to the temple pool’s depths. The sacrifices came from both near and far, pointing to the ruin as a place where people from across the region came to pray for rain.

It was a special place with a sacred function.

“The pilgrims came there to purify themselves and to make offerings,” says University of Illinois archaeologist Lisa Lucero, who led the team that explored the ruins. She has plumbed the depths of the cenote, or natural pool, for four years, finding long-lost offerings of ceramics and stone tools in its depths. “It was a special place with a sacred function,” she says.

But the temple wasn’t always so busy, a paucity of early offerings suggests. That may point to the time when the Maya’s need to placate Chaak, the rain god who lived in the depths, grew dire. In an upcoming Cambridge Archaeological Journal report on the temple, Lucero and archaeologist Andrew Kinkella of Moorpark College in California note that offerings picked up at the shrine only after widespread drought had engulfed the ancient Maya world.

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