Many places tell a vivid history through a lost language, and Nim Li Punit is one of those places that is full of stories, ancient stories carved in stone. Nim Li Punit, a Maya Classic Period site in Toledo, Belize, is one of the smaller Maya sites in the district and it’s well known for the large amount of stelae found there. Many of the stelae, found in the Plaza of the Stela, illustrate the ancient city’s rulers, events and sacred rituals for the Mayas. Of the twenty-six stelae found in the site, only eight were carved. The unfinished state of the other stelae suggest a sudden halt to work and abandonment of the site.
Today, some of the most elaborate stelae found at Nim Li Punit are housed at the small visitor center located at the entrance of the site. These are some of the most interesting stelae in terms of their history and glyphs:
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.
This stela 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.