Marco Gonzalez:

  • 2,000 Years Old
  • Post Classic Occupation
  • 49 Structures
  • Occupation 100BC
  • Maya Ruins
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History to Present

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Mayan Life Uncovered... History

On the southern end of Ambergris Caye is a 2,000 year old mystery. Marco Gonzalez Maya site is located nearly at the center of a small area south of Laguna de Boca Chica. While the site is surrounded by mangrove marshlands, the site's distinctive vegetation clearly delineates its present boundaries. The ancient Maya site was previously unrecorded. As a result of an archaeological reconnaissance in 1984, Drs. David Pendergast and Elizabeth Graham bestowed upon it the name of their young guide. The site was recorded as 39/197-1 Marco Gonzalez.

Although known to the islanders, over the years both locals and tourists alike have trekked about the site. It has been heavily looted leaving obvious pits and trenches still showing today. During the late 80s and early 90s, Pendergast and Graham led teams of archaeologists to study the area. Their reconnaissance pointed to links between the Post Classic occupation at Marco Gonzalez and the Buk Phase, ca. AD1000-1200 (1) at the major center of Lamanai (2) some 182 km (approx.113 miles) away by river and sea. 1986 excavations at Marco Gonzalez provided solid documentation of those links, and also enabled them to delineate some aspects of both earlier and later use of the caye site. (3)

(1) Graham 1987a: 81-86
(2) Pendergast 1981a, 1982b, 1986
(3) Graham and Pendergast 1986: Excavations at the Marco Gonzalez Site.


Of the 19 recognized sites on Ambergris Caye, no dedicated attempts had been made to preserve any of them. In 2007, talk of Marco Gonzalez being surrounded by a new large community/resort development prompted action by a small group in San Pedro to petition the Government of Belize and Institute of Archaeology to raise the site's status from "recognized" to "Reserve". As a result, in August 2010 Marco Gonzalez Maya Site was officially put in "Maya Site Reserve Status", which in itself is historic as the first Reserve Status of a site on a Belizean island. Current day Marco Gonzalez is approximately 8 acres on a small area of elevated terrain. Over 2,000 years ago, the area would have been much larger as evidenced by archaeological debris underlying mangrove stands. Before sea levels rose, the area is thought to have had beaches and a direct access to the sea. The rise in sea level of about 60cm (approx. 2ft) over the past 20 centuries plus accretion of weather environs has significantly altered the land mass.

Marco Gonzalez vegetation contrasts sharply with the surrounding swamp. The dominant trees are gumbo limbo, white poisonwood (or Chechem), white mangrove species, various saltwater or silver palmettos and cabbage palms and a variety of vine, sedges and tall grasses. Scattered coconut palms are testimony of the site's former status as a coconut plantation. The rich black soil suggest the existence of a strong relationship between Pre-Columbian* use of the site in land clearing, refuse disposal and artificial in-filling and also the enrichment of the soil by decomposition of organic refuse including large quantities of fish and shellfish remains, evidenced by very large conch shell middens. (3) site in land clearing, refuse disposal and artificial in-filling and also the enrichment of the soil by decomposition of organic refuse including large quantities of fish and shellfish remains, evidenced by very large conch shell middens. (3)

The Pre-Columbian Era refers to civilizations in the Americas before the advent of voyages by Columbus and/or the influence of the European occupation.

Most of the structure mounds are between five to ten feet tall. One mound, however, is composed of limestone and conch shell and approximately 15 feet tall. Due to its location on the lagoon side of the site, it may have been a kind of lighthouse used for navigation. (Graham, conversation, 2010)

A field school in the summer of 2010 recovered potsherds dating to about A.D. 200-300. Earlier excavations put possible occupation to 100BC.

Partial excavation of Strs. 12 and 14 revealed existence of two platforms which at one time supported wooden buildings as residences. A common Maya practice was to have interred their dead beneath these platforms. Human skeletons have been exposed at these burial sites accompanied by offerings of jars, bowls, jewelry and conch shells. These date to about A.D. 800 to 1000.

Walking the grounds is like a step back into time. The black soil is blanketed by broken pottery many centuries old. Pieces have been identified from a span of 200AD to 1500 AD. Larger pot fragments can be seen which have remains of painting whereas others are decorated with typical Buk-Phase-style incised designs. Many of the pieces excavated during the 1980s indicated trade connections with Lamanai. Perhaps pottery made at Marco Gonzalez only emulates Lamanai pottery and was not actually brought back in trade. Much has yet to be learned through excavations.

It is an awe inspiring experience to be so close to the ancient Maya, to imagine platforms supporting houses with thatched roofs, to visualize the making of jewelry from Queen Conch and sea shells and shark's teeth. A sharp eye may see pieces of obsidian and flint used as cutting tools or a stone ax and spearhead.

This Eco-Tour is unlike any other as you walk through history.


In preparation of the 2010 field school, a temporary footbridge was built 1,420 feet across the marshland. With the event of receiving Reserve Status and having easier access, Marco Gonzalez is now available to the public. Future plans include an environmentally friendly access using raised boardwalks into the site. This will allow for free movement of aquatic life and tidal water. The Visitors/Educational Center will house a showroom of Marco Gonzalez artifacts as well as an educational center for both island children and visitors alike. Development of the archaeological site will be on-going. A quote from the field school professors (Graham, Simmons and Howie) is that "the knowledge coming from the Marco Gonzalez Site will forever change how history of the Mayas is perceived in Belize".


Eco-tours are available to this first-of-its-kind island site. The Maya site in-the-rough will become the gem of Ambergris Caye.

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