Archaeologists recently discovered the remnants of an ancient Mayan water temple at Cara Blanca, tucked away in the center of one of Belize's lush forests. The structure is situated alongside a deep pool of water where Mayans from across the region gathered to sacrifice bowls, pots, and jars to the water god, and to pray for rain.
"It was a special place with a sacred function," explained Lisa Lucero, the archaeologist who led the discovery, in a recent National Geographic article.
The water temple serves as a timeline of the drought that's thought to have contributed to the Maya's demise after A.D. 800. The Mesoamerican civilization, known for their art, architecture, and fully developed pre-Columbian writing system, thrived due to plentiful rainfall for centuries. During this time, sacrifices to the water temple were irregular and seldom. But after an unexpected and dramatic shift in the climate, repeated droughts wreaked havoc on the Mayas and their water-dependent society, making the temple quite a busy place.
Archaeologists also suspect that this lack of rain ignited a "drought cult" of people who understandably became obsessed with pleasing Chaak, the ancient Maya rain god. But despite their daily sacrifices and prayers, Chaak and his friends in the underworld continued to withhold rain, unraveling the Maya’s intricate agriculture system.
"I do agree this was likely a shrine where ritual practices took place that point to times getting tough for people," Holley Moyes of University of California, Merced told National Geographic. "When you start getting down to actual drought, we are starting to see sacrifices picking up across the Maya world."
Want to learn more about the Maya and their relationship to water and agriculture? Check out these fascinating, free articles from the Journal of Field Archaeology: