This site is a major ceremonial center whose tallest structure is the
highest in the Orange Walk/Corozal area where it is located. Here "twin"
ceremonial groups are connected by a raised causeway or "sacbe", and the site
once controlled an area covering 20 square kilometers. The center shows thriving
occupation in the Late Preclassic and Late Classic Periods (c.a. 350 B.C. - 250
A.D. and 600 A.D. - 900 A.D.). The name is Maya for "big hill" and was called
thus by the people living in the vicinity of the site for years.
Nohmul is located in the sugar cane fields behind the village of San Pablo.
The site entrance is one mile down the road going west from the center of the
village. Public transportation from Belize City, Orange Walk and Corozal passes
through the village of San Pablo several times daily. Accomodations can be found
in Orange Walk Town 8 miles away.
Nohmul's early extensive occupation -during the Late Formative- was
associated with drained fields (in the Pulltrouser Swamp area, this association
being amongst the first to be demonstrated in the Maya lowlands). The site
declined, becoming a "ghost town" in the Early Classic, the acropolis being
abandoned as a public place. Then, in the Terminal Classic/Early Postclassic the
acropolis was re-used as the locus of residences; at that late date Nohmul was
apparently governed by a non- local elite, probably of Yucatecan origin.
Nohmul ("Great Mound") is a major ceremonial centre whose main precinct lies on
the crest of a ridge, about 20 metres above sea level, the precinct measuring
500 by 550 metres. The site consists of twin ceremonial groups, containing in
total some ten plazas and connected by a sacbe or raised causeway. Those
groups are surrounded by other plazas and temples and at least one ball court.
The focal ceremonial structure is a 50 by 52 metre rectangle 8 metres high.
This massive acropolis is of Late Preclassic date; traces of a huge, multi-sided
' post-built Classic structure have been found on its southern end. The
acropolis dominates the main plaza and surrounding landscape. Excavations in
1986 showed that the structure had been rebuilt three times: Thomas Gann had
removed the uppermost temple in his search for burial vaults below. The
partially excavated stairway on the pyramid's southern terrace belongs to an
earlier construction and the walls within the looters' tunnel on the east side
belong to a yet earlier phase.
The importance of the site -a regional centre of government according to Norman
Hammond- is evinced by the 20 sq. km. (7.5 sq. mile) settlement area around the
centre, encompassing lesser foci such as those in San Luis and San Estevan. The
late, Yucatecan influence noted above has also been found elsewhere in Northern
Belize, for example at Santa Rita.
Nohmul, situated on the low limestone ridge east of the Rio Hondo on the Orange
Walk - Corozal boundary, was first recorded in 1897 by Thomas Gann, who
described the great pyramid as a "signal or lookout mound". Gann returned to the
site in 1908 and 1909 to dig burial mounds which yielded polychrome vessels and
human effigy figures; in 1911 and 1912 he did surface collection of effigy
incensario fragments in one of the site's outlying mounds, and in 1935 and 1936
he and his wife excavated in the main group and settlement areas. The Ganns
uncovered tombs and caches which yielded human long bones, jade jewelry, shells,
polychrome -vessels, chultuns and artifacts of flint and obsidian, most of which
were taken to the British Museum.
During the construction, in 1940, of a road from San Pablo to Douglas one
structure was partially demolished for road fill and at least three burial
chambers were uncovered, one of which was smashed and looted by the time A. H.
Anderson and H. J. Cook got to the scene. Twenty-four vessels were salvaged from
this wreck; many of them are our prime national exhibition material today.
Tragically, these artifacts are only a fraction of the contents of those three
In 1972 Ernestene Green of Western Michigan Univversity did test-pitting in
the Nohmul area as part of her location analysis of sites in Northern Belize.
Mapping and small-scale excavation was done under the direction of Norman
Hammond in 1973, 1974 and 1978.
In 1982 Hammond began the full Nohmul Project and by 1986 the ceremonial
precinct and outlying areas including raised fields had been excavated.
Structural consolidation has begun, with both preservation and tourism in mind.
Locale and access
The focal structure at Nohmul, which lies amongst sugar cane fields, is the
highest landmark in the Orange Walk/Corozal area; it is located a mile from the
Northern Highway and is part of the twin villages of San Pablo and San Jose.
Seven miles from Orange Walk, Nohmul is easy of access and has educational as
well as tourist potential.
The site entrance is one mile along the road from San Pablo; Sr. Estevan
Itzab must be contacted before visiting the site or upon return -his house is
across from the water tower. Buses from Belize City, Orange Walk Town and
Corozal pass through San Pablo several times daily. Accommodation is available
in Orange Walk Town; at the site itself there are no facilities.
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