Xunantunich is an Ancient Mayan archaeological site in western Belize, about 80 miles (130 km) west of Belize City, in the Cayo District or about 8 miles west of San Ignacio Town in the Cayo District.
Xunantunich is located atop a ridge above the Mopan River, well within sight of the Guatemala. It served as a Maya civic ceremonial center in the Late and Terminal Classic periods to the Belize Valley region. At this time, when the region was at its’ peak, nearly 200,000 people lived in Belize.
Xunantunich’s name means “Stone Woman” it is a combination of Mopan and Yucatec Maya, and, like many names given to Maya archaeological sites, is a modern name; the ancient name is currently unknown. The “Stone Woman” refers to the ghost of a woman claimed by several people to inhabit the site, beginning in 1892. She is dressed completely in white, and has fire-red glowing eyes. She generally appears in front of “El Castillo”, ascends the stone stairs, and disappears into a stone wall.
The first modern explorations of Xunantunich were conducted by Thomas Gann in the mid-1890s. Gann moved from Britain and served as the district surgeon and district commissioner of Cayo, Belize starting in 1892. He chose this area to settle in because he had an interest in Mayan archaeology, and he wished to be able to explore the unknown wonders of the indigenous people. Gann’s successor, Sir J. Eric S. Thompson, implemented a more methodical approach, and was able to establish the region’s first ceramic chronology.