Visitors who climb the steep hill to the ruins of Lubaantun will be rewarded with an enchanting sight. The dense rainforest setting with its beautiful foliage and the unusual style of stonework give this site a visual impact that none other has.
Located in the far southern reaches of Belize, 26 miles northwest of Punta Gorda, Lubaantun is one of the least visited major Maya sites. Dated to the mid-Late Classic period, it is built on a hilltop, 200 feet above sea level and surrounded on three sides by two streams which come together at the southern tip of the hill. The name, which is Yucatec Mayan for “Place of the Fallen Stones,” was given by the explorer Thomas Gann in 1924, in reference to the state of the ruins. Prior to that it was known as the Rio Grande Ruins. The original Mayan name is not known.
All of the plazas are surrounded by large mounds that are faced with the finest masonry work found in the Maya world, and unique to this site. The stones used on the outside of the mounds and surrounding terraces are dressed and trimmed blocks of closely fitted sandstone and limestone. While this stone is relatively easy to work, one must remember that the Maya had only primitive tools, generally using harder stones to work this soft material.
Other than clearing the bush, no restoration work has been done here, so you will see the mounds as the Maya left them. The walls of dressed stones have been moved around some, by earthquakes and large tree roots…making the name Fallen Stones seem appropriate. The intense green of the surrounding grass and bush provide a striking contrast with the dark gray stones. If you visit Lubaantun early in the morning, you will see many colorful birds in the canopy overhead, as well. You will likely be the only visitors at the site, and Santiago, the friendly caretaker, will gladly guide you around and teach you about the Maya of past and present.
The first planned effort to map the site was in 1915, by the Peabody Museum of Cambridge, Massachusetts, and excavations were later continued by the British Museum in 1926. The most striking characteristic of Lubaantun is the scarcity of sculpture found there. Only five pieces of sculpture were ever found here, three of which were ball court markers (now in the Peabody Museum). The markers were well worn and the glyphs illegible, but the figures of two ball players were evident. A popular local theory is that Lubaantun was the Olympia of the Maya world, based on the fact that it has three ball courts. Most sites have only one or two. However, Dr. Hammond, of Boston University, conducted some excavations here in 1970, and his findings disproved this theory. The lack of sculpture is made up for by the abundance of pottery figurines found. They were made from molds and used as whistles. This pottery yielded considerable insight into the life of the Maya, and good reproductions can be purchased locally.
A trip to Toledo would be incomplete without visiting Lubaantun. The combination of history and natural beauty make this a memorable journey. It is an easy excursion from the Fallen Stones Jungle Lodge (see “Where to Stay”), or for those staying in nearby Maya villages.