Skip to main content



Caracol, the largest Maya archaeological site in the modern country of Belize. It is centrally located near the resource-rich Maya Mountains about 2.5 miles from the Guatemalan border. Caracol played a prominent role in Classic Maya history, and its archaeological remains document the existence of a sizable middle level of Classic Maya society.

Around 650 ce, Caracol occupied over 35 square miles and contained appoximately 36,000 structures and 150,000 people. The site maintained over 28 miles of internal roads that linked outlying architecture to epicentral groups; intervening areas contained households and terraced field systems, making Caracol a true "garden city." The earliest remains known from Caracol date to approximately 300 bce; the latest are dated to just before 1100 ce. A hieroglyphic text records Caracol's defeat of Tikal, Guatemala, in 562 ce. Following this and other war events, the site prospered and controlled much of the southern Maya lowlands until 700 ce. The site also records a period of prosperity following 800 ce. At this time Caana, a massive building complex rising some 139 feet, was completely refurbished and new monuments erected. Even though Caracol carved no new monuments following 850 ce, archaeological remains indicate that the site was occupied for another 200 years.

Besides its extensive hieroglyphic record and size, Caracol is also noted for its burial practices and for evidence pertaining to the existence of a middle level of Classic Maya society. Of 176 burials investigated, 74 were in formal tombs; 8 tombs contained painted Maya dates. Together with caches and incense burners, the contents and distribution of these chambers throughout the site have aided in the identification of a sizable middle level of Classic Maya society, which arose following Caracol's successful warfare activities.

Despite Caracol's earlier size and prosperity, pottery and other remains left on building floors suggest that warfare may have led to an abrupt and nearly total abandonment of epicentral Caracol shortly before 900 ce. However, portions of the site continued to be occupied sporadically for another 200 years.

See alsoMaya, The .


Diane Chase and Arlen Chase, Investigations at the Classic Maya City of Caracol, Belize, 1985–1987 (1987), Mesoamerican Elites: An Archaeological Assessment (1992), pp. 30-49; Studies in the Archaeology of Caracol, Belize (1994).

Additional Bibliography

Aimers, James J. Cultural Change on a Temporal and Spatial Frontier: Ceramics of the Terminal Classic to Post-classic Transition in the Upper Belize River Valley. Oxford: Archaeopress, 2004.

Demarest, Arthur A., Prudence M. Rice, and Don Stephen Rice. The Terminal Classic in the Maya Lowlands: Collapse, Transition, and Transformation. Boulder: University Press of Colorado, 2004.

Garber, James, ed. The Ancient Maya of the Belize Valley: Half a Century of Archaeological Research. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2004.

Lucero, Lisa Joyce. Social Integration in the Ancient Maya Hinterlands: Ceramic Variability in the Belize River Area. Tempe: Arizona State University, 2001.

Martin, Simon, and Nikolai Grube. Chronicle of the Maya Kings and Queens: Deciphering the Dynasties of the Ancient Maya. New York: Thames & Hudson, 2000.

                                        Arlen F. Chase

                                        Diane Z. Chase

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Caracol." Encyclopedia of Latin American History and Culture. . 21 Oct. 2018 <>.

"Caracol." Encyclopedia of Latin American History and Culture. . (October 21, 2018).

"Caracol." Encyclopedia of Latin American History and Culture. . Retrieved October 21, 2018 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.