Virtual Tour of the Lamanai Archaeological Reserve
It's 7:00 am, and after a short boat ride from Amberguise Caye to the village of Bomba, a short buss ride, and another boat ride to the docks at the Lamanai Archaeological Reserve, we started our tour at the Lamanai Archaeological Museum. Our naturalist/guide from began by discussing the site's history. Excavations began at Lamanai in 1974, under the direction of Dr. David Pendergrast of the Royal Ontario Museum.
The settlement pattern of Lamanai is rather unusual, in that Lamanai's eight major plazas and other groups of ceremonial structures are arranged linearly along the banks of the New River Lagoon. The tour will take you through the central and southern parts. You also learn that many crocodile representations have been identified on pottery vessels, figurines and even structures.
Looking around now, you examine the hundreds of pottery vessels, stone tools, bone tubes, and other artifacts that surround you. You learn about different pottery styles, what the animal heads and other motifs on these vessels represent, and how the styles of pottery changed over time. You are also surprised to hear that -- later on -- the Maya at Lamanai began metalworking. Lamanai survived the decline that afflicted most of the southern lowland sites in the 9th century, and came through this collapse with most of its political and social structure intact. When the Europeans arrived they faced a vibrant culture that has survived in Belize to the present day.
At the end of his talk,the naturalist/guide takes you northward through some impressive tall forest where he points out toucans, oropendolas, and perhaps one of the twenty troops of howler monkeys. The wildlife is prodigious here. You eventually come to a clearing in the forest... and the Mask Temple stands before you.

The exposed mask is 13 feet tall, and is unusual in that it was carved directly from large blocks of limestone as opposed to worked stucco. Construction of this temple began by 200 B.C., with many additions in the following centuries. Much of what you see today dates to the 5th or 6th century.  Next you continue to the High Temple, a massive structure for which construction began about 100 B.C. Standing at 112 feet tall, its obvious importance at Lamanai belies the fact that the area was once a residential zone before the temple's construction.

Next you enter the temple's plaza, at the south end of which is the ball court. Constructed in the tenth century, this ball court is perhaps better thought of as a symbolic structure rather than a functional game area, it is too small to have served that purpose. The stone marker denoting the center of the court is the largest known. Later, much of the south part of the plaza was converted into a larger ball court .

After listening to the known history of the ceremonial ball game, you head a short distance eastward to the Lord Smoking Shell Stela, a stone which tells the story of the once-great ruler and his family. Though stelae seem to be few and far between at Lamanai, this large carved stone is perhaps one of the better preserved examples of stone carving from Maya times. Its misfortune in falling face-down was actually a fortuitous event - it prevented the erosive forces of weather from damaging the monument's face.

A short walk from the stela temple takes you to the plaza bordered by the "Ottawa" residential complex, as it is nicknamed by the archaeologists. The Ottawa group represents excavation undertaken in the summer of 1999 , although work on the complex began in 1980.  Fieldwork, directed by Elizabeth Graham, is supported by the efforts of many organizations: the Belize Department of Archaeology, the Lamanai Outpost Lodge, Lamanai Field Research Center, and York University. 

Both the Jaguar Temple and the Ottawa group reveal evidence of Lamanai's continuing survival through the years of collapse and decline of other sites. Limited use of the Jaguar Temple and continued occupation of the buildings of the Ottawa group date to the late 15th century.

With your visit to the Jaguar Temple comes the end of your ruins tour and the boat trip back to the Amberguise. You also get the opportunity to see other archaeological discoveries from more recent times during other lodge activities. For example, not far from the lodge are the ruins of a 19th century British sugar mill, and nearby, the remains of two Spanish churches from the 16th and 17th centuries.  In front of the larger church is a stela erected after 1638, when the Maya rebelled against Spanish authority, and drove the Spaniards from Belize.