Temple of the Masonry Altars, Structure B-4, is the most imposing building at Altun Ha. It rises 54 feet above the floor of Plaza B. Archeologists have probed the entire construction history of this temple, determining that it was built in eight phases, the first beginning around 550 A.D. The present reconstruction is of the temple as it would have appeared around 600-650 A.D.
Seven tombs have been uncovered in this temple, each of them rich in artifacts. The most impressive of the tombs was found within the huge stair block at the top of the temple. In it was found the remains of an elderly male and also numerous spectacular jade objects. One of them, a carved jade head of Kinich Ahau, the Sun God, is almost six inches high, making it the largest carved jade object ever found in any Mayan ruin. The tomb also contained remains of cloth, cordage, and wooden objects which are rarely preserved in the humid tropics.
One of the neat things about Altun Ha is that the temples may be climbed by visitors. Karen and I climbed to the top of the Temple of the Masonry Altars, using wooden steps part of the way. The most difficult part of the climb was using some of the ancient stone steps laid by the Mayans. The steps were so high, even for a long-legged person like me, that I wondered what size the people must have been who built them.
Atop the Temple of the Masonry Altars is a stone platform from which there are spectacular views down on the plazas, ruins, and the surrounding jungle. It is believed that burnt offerings were made from this platform.
The Temple of the Green Tomb, also known as Temple A-1, is the most imposing structure in Plaza A. It consists of a terraced platform marked by a broad stone staircase which extends about halfway up the structure to a chambered building. The temple was built during several construction periods in the 5th and 6th centuries A.D. Several minor modifications continuted to be made in succeeding centuries.
Found hidden deep inside this temple was a single tomb dating back to about A.D. 550. It is the earliest known tomb of several that have been unearthed at Altun Ha. The tomb was constructed in a manner that is unique among Mayan sites to those at Altun Ha. It is called the "Green Tomb," because it contained almost 300 jade objects. Other artifacts included shell necklaces and ornaments, pottery vessels, stingray spines (used in ritual bloodletting), and more.
It is believed that ritualistic bloodletting, but no human sacrifice, was carried out atop this temple.
Upon entering Altun Ha the first feature that caught our eye was this impressive mound to the right, facing Plaza A, known as Structure A-6. Less is know about this mound that the other structures in Plaza A due to its great size and poor condition. It is thought that an earlier building may be hidden deep within what appears to be an earthen mound.
Archeologists believe that the entire mass may have been raised in just two stages, between 550 and 600 AD. Adjoining Structure A-6 is a smaller low mound known as A-7. It is in the northeast corner of the plaza.
Plaza B, is similar to Plaza A, but differs in its sequence of construction. Little is known about most of the six structures which are believed to have been both residences and temples. Some of them have been damaged by local quarrying. Plaza A and Plaza B are divided by a low divider mound between the two plazas.
The most imposing feature of Plaza B, and the focal point of the entire city of Altun Ha, is the Temple of the Masonry Altars, which I will show in the next tip.
Plaza A, the first that you will enter on a walking tour of Altun Ha, is enclosed by the ruins of eight large temples and palaces. This plaza is different than most Mayan centers in that there are no carved monuments or stelae in front of these structures. Archeologists can only guess the reason. Some think that the stela cult simply did not extend this far - on the fringe of the Mayan area.
You will need a map and brochure or a good guide to tell what is what since there are no interpretative makers in the Plaza.
Our visit to Altun Ha commenced at the small open-sided pavilion pictured here. Our guide began by giving us an overview of the site, outling some of the basic facts and history of Altun Ha. A guided tour is not necessary to enjoy the site.
A couple of displays in the pavilion give some highlights, however, there are no interpretative displays within the area of the ruins themselves. I felt it would be a big improvement to place interpretative signage in front of each of the buildings and features that are to be seen. However, there is a brochure available at the entrance gate for $2 which gives a lot of helpful information for a person who wants to take a self-guided tour.
The only way to actually experience the ruins at Altun Ha is to take a walking tour. The ground is mostly level and the plazas are covered by a thick carpet of grass. There are a few shady areas around the sides of the site offering a bit of relief from the tropical sun.
There is no trail as such, but the natural configuration of the site leads first through Plaza A, then Plaza B, where we found a wooden staircase leading up to the top of the highest pyramid. After taking the steep zig-zag stairs back down the other side of the pyramid there was a footpath that led back to the starting point, restrooms, souvenir shops and the parking lot.
This is the largest and most well-known temple in Altun Ha; if you have seen photos this is probably the one you saw. Seven tombs were discovered during excavation, including the Sun God's tomb that contained a huge jade head of Kinich Ahau, the Mayan Sun God.
It is possible to climb to the top of this temple, there are carved stairs on each side. Very steep.
More than three hundred jade objects were found in a tomb inside this temple. A good view of this temple can be seen from the top of the Temple of Masonry Altars.