Land of the Maya
Nim Li Punit
Discovered in 1970, Nim Li Punit is one of the smaller Maya sites in the Toledo District of Belize. This site is well known for twenty-six stelas found in one of its plazas, eight of them carved with hieroglyphs. Nim Li Punit means “Big Hat” in Kek’chi Maya language, taken from the image of a big hat in one of the carved stelas
The site is set in the foothills of the majestic Maya Mountains. From the highest point of the site (219 feet), the Caribbean Sea is visible on a clear day. The structures at the site are covered with a layer of bright green moss. The well-kept grounds have large trees with thick trunks and huge canopies, making this a perfect place for picnicking. Birds sing all day long and the cool breeze rustles through the trees.
The site is composed of three main areas designated as the west group, the east group, and the south group. The West group is separated from the rest of the site by a small seasonal creek. This group may have served as an access route to the city in ancient times. It consists of a upper and lower terrace with large plazas on each level.
The South group is comprised of two of the most fascinating complexes at Nim Li Punit-Plaza of the Royal Tombs and Plaza of the Stellae. Three tombs were excavated in the Plaza of the Royal Tombs in the residential area of the royal family. In the Plaza of the Stellae, 26 stone monuments were found. These stone monuments were used to commemorate and record important political events such as alliances, wars and battles, family trees, and visits from official delegations from surrounding cities.
The east group is an assemblage of buildings that may function as an astronomical observatory. A long structure of terraces, arranged north to south facing west, provide a fixed location for observing the sun, moon, and stars.
Stela 14 is the second tallest stelae ever carved by the ancient Maya (the longest one in Belize) and is the monument from which the site takes its Q’eqchi’ name –Nim Li Punit– meaning “Big-Hat”.
This stela is also well known for its monumental error in the dates referenced in its hieroglyphics – like if erecting a monuments in 2011 with “2021” inscribed in the date.
While it is not known if this scribe error was intentional or not, it is believed that this stela was taken down soon after it was in place to fix the error, but it was never put back in place.
Stela 15 hyeroglyphs contain several important political references to the southeastern kingdoms of Quirigua and Copan as well as another reference to a still unidentified site called B’alam.
This stela also mentions an astronomical event involving a partial lunar eclipse that was visible at Nim Li Punit on the evening of October 9th, 721.
The glyphs show a “fire-scattering” ritual that occurred “in front of” or “before” this monument on the day if its dedication. It also references the Teotihuacan War Serpent (Waxakalajun U-B’aj Ka’an), whose image was “created” or “conjured” through a bloodletting rite by a royal woman named Ixik K’an K’uhul.
Stela 21 is particularly interesting as it was almost missed by archaeologists because it was originally located face down on the ground. Stela 21 was first reported in 1976 as an unmarked stela, but it wasn’t until 1998 that workers decided to flip it and discovered the hieroglyphs in almost pristine condition. In fact, the glyphs in this stela are some of the best-preserved stelae texts and images in the Maya World. The text makes reference to another “fire” ritual, similar to the one depicted in Stela 15.
In addition to looking at the stelae housed at the visitor center, it is also interesting to see all the other stelae located in their original place at the Plaza of the Stela. There you’ll see many of them still standing, broken, and even half carved. This site plaza does sparks the imagination and makes you think how it might have looked like when the Mayas inhabited this site and performed their ceremonies.