Ancient Maya Architecture and Spatial Layouts: Contextualizing Caana at Caracol, Belize

Arlen Chase, University of Nevada, Las Vegas
Diane Z. Chase, University of Nevada, Las Vegas


Architecture and architectural mass convey many meanings and can serve multiple functions. Monumental architecture not only impresses, but can also serve to create viewsheds and to channel traffic. The differential distribution of public and residential architecture at any one site provides a key for interpreting the organization of that settlement. For Caracol, Belize, a city covering over 200sq km, the clear focal point for the site is Caana, a massive architectural complex that even today rises 43.5 m above the plaza to its south. There is no other architectural construction like Caana at Caracol and this huge complex is located in the site epicenter and forms the central hub for the city’s dendritic road system. Thus, it should not be surprising that the archaeological data suggest that Caracol’s rulers occupied the buildings at the complex’s summit and utilized the summit temples for private ceremonies. The stone rooms and buildings that comprise Caana have all been excavated and their forms and artifactual associations provide clues as to the function of various buildings. This paper reviews that data and shows how the Caana complex was used within the milieu of the ancient city of Caracol.