Located 30 miles (50 km) north of Belize City and about 6 miles from the shore of the Caribbean Sea, Altun Ha, was first settled around 250 BC. It was around 100 AD that the construction of the buildings - which can be seen there now - were started, something which was to continue throughout the Classic period ending in the 10th century.
About 900 AD a number of the tombs of the elite were looted suggesting some sort of revolt against the city’s rulers. Although the site continued to remain populated for another hundred years there was no new major buildings. The population then started to decline and the city reverted to a small agricultural village with many of the stones from the buildings being used for the construction of the homes by the residents. Altun Ha was rebuilt several times during the Pre-Classic, Classic, and Post-Classic Periods an indication of its turbulent history. The site was discovered in 1963 with excavations beginning in 1965; it is currently the most extensively excavated of all the Maya sites in Belize.
The name Altun Ha comes from the Maya translation of Rockstone Pond. At its height Altun Ha was a significant trading centre with a population of around 10,000 living in and around the city. Covering an area of 5 square miles (8 km), the central square mile of the site has the remains of around 500 structures. At its centre are two plazas named Plaza A and B, these contain a number of structures and are surrounded by towering temples. Plaza A includes the Temple of the Green Tomb where jewellery, flint and jade items were found. In the adjacent Plaza B is the largest temple in Altun Ha the Temple of the Masonry Altars, which is 54 feet high (16 m). It is believed that this temple was the centre of the community’s religious activity. Leading up to the top of the temple is a single stairway at the front.
At the top is a temples with small rooms built with corbel arches and with an altar. Inside the temple a number of tombs were discovered which were believed to have been the burial place of the high priests. It was from this temple that a 15 centimetre high jade head of Kinich Ahau, the Maya Sun God was found, this object is considered to be one of the national treasures of Belize. A unique feature of Altun Ha is that no carved stelae have been found.
Just outside the two main plazas is a short nature trail which leads to Clay-lined Rockstone Pond, which was used as a reservoir in Maya times. This engineering project involved producing a large excavation that was then plastered with limestone cement and the diverting of a stream to provide a plentiful supply of water.