Cahal Pech (Place of Ticks in Yucatec Mayan) is a noteworthy archaeological zone in San Ignacio. It is situated on the ridge of a high hill overlooking the Macal River. This vantage point allowed the site to control the trade on the river and the rich, fertile valley to the north. The site has a long settlement history beginning in the Early Pre-Classic (1300-1000 B.C.).
The site encompasses 22 acres/8.8 hectares, with the core area much more minor. It is set up on a SW/NE axis. It has eight interconnected plazas containing pyramids, temples, stelae, ball courts, and elite residences, counting 34 structures so far detected. The site and surrounding area peaked at 10-15,000 inhabitants during the Late Classic (600-900 A.D.). Take the Western Highway from Belmopan towards the Guatemala border to reach the site. In San Ignacio, continue on the Western Highway (Buena et al.) until one reaches a roundabout and take the road to the south (left) off of it. The road then splits and takes the right fork up to the site.
History and Explanation
Ceramic and other cultural evidence places the beginnings of Cahal Pech to a very early 1300-900 B.C. date. These early inhabitants built large circular platforms that were used for ceremonial purposes. They carved Olmec-style symbols on their pottery and imported jade and obsidian from Guatemala. Ceramic female figurines and decorative beads made from Conch shells brought in from the Caribbean coast were produced.
While the site was known to the local inhabitants, no research was undertaken until the 1950s by Litton Satterthwaite of the University of Pennsylvania. There followed investigations by Gordon Willey, Peter Schmidt, Joseph Ball, and Jennifer Taschek. Current excavations and consolidations are being carried out under the direction of Jamie Awe, director of the Belize Institute of Archaeology, and Mat Saunders of AFAR, with the Belize Valley Archaeological Reconnaissance Project. Mat is the organizer of the successful and informative Maya at the Playa and Maya at the Largo conferences held each year in the U.S.