Freedom8 Mesoamerica



Encircling Corozal, Santa Rita may be the most accessible ruin in northern Belize. Archaeologists theorize that Santa Rita was probably the ancient and important Mayan city of Chetumal. Santa Rita most likely controlled trade routes to and from Chetumal and other Yucatan cities within present-day Mexico and Guatamala. Mayans inhabited Santa Rita from 2000 B.C. to approximately the 16th century A.D, when residents forced conquistador Alfonso Davila to leave. The only existing structure at the ruin dates from the Classic Period. This building is a complex series of rooms and passages. The central room appeared to be some sort of ceremonial chamber where offerings were made. Two burial chambers were uncovered here. One was that of an elderly woman complete with elaborate jewelry and pottery. The second burial chamber was that of a warloard, evident from the artifacts found near him - a ceremonial flint and a stingray spine used in bloodletting rituals.
The Postclassic Period at Santa Rita, the Period to which the importance of this site is normally attached, is revealed through artifacts rather than structures. Because the Maya of this period built low platform structures on top of which they placed buildings constructed of perishable materials, little remains of the structures of this time period. The artifacts found at Santa Rita from the Postclassic Period reveal that exotic rituals such as blood-letting, so important during the Classic Period, continued to play an important religious role. The presence of turquoise and gold ear-flakes of Aztec origin, which also date from the Postclassic Period, attest to the continuing trade importance of Santa Rita several hundred years after the decline of the major ceremonial centers of the interior.
Santa Rita then, has been identified as the most important center of Mayan activity in the northern section of Belize at least twice in its history. During the early Classic period, it dominated Chetumal Bay and controlled trade to and from the Rio Hondo and New Rivers. Archaeologists have identified strong trade links with major centers deep within the interior. After a short decline during the Late Classic Period, Santa Rita once again rose to promenence. With the decline of Classic sites to the north, Santa Rita became the capital of one of the 19 Mayan political entities as recorded by the invading Spanish. At that time it was called "Chactemal", corresponding to the present day Chetumal.