Lamanai: The Mask Temple (N9-56)

Mask Temple
W0745: Structure N9-56 – Mask Temple
Structure 9N-56 at Lamanai is known as the Mask Temple because it features two huge carved limestone Masks which flank the main stairway. Buried beneath the temple you see today (fig. W0745) are several earlier construction phases and two burials. The earliest phase of construction appears to be from the late Formative Period, approximately from 200BC to 200AD, and this phase included building the large carved masks.

Mask from Mask Temple at Lamanai
W0744: Mask from Structure 9N-56
The huge masks that adorn Structure N9-56 (fig. W0745) are quite unusual as they are carved limestone, rather than moulded stucco – which was far more common for large pieces during this period.  The masks are that are thought to represent one of Lamanai’s early rulers. He wears a crocodile headdress, which further supports the idea that the city was called Lamanai as throughout the Classic Period. The masks feature characteristics of Olmec influence, such us the rubbery lips with an upturned top lip, and wide “African” nose.

Structure N9-56 was demolished and then rebuilt to as mortuary temple in the mid-5th century. The burials were of a male and a female, with the male burial containing a large number of jade artefacts which could indicate a trade network with Copan or Quirigua – or at least the people of that region, as the burials date approximately to the same these two cities were founded amongst the jade mines of Guatemala.

Censer at Lamanai
W0758: Censer


Evidence that the temple was continued to be used throughout the Classic Period is inferred by the types of pottery that were deposited around it during sacred rituals. The pieces include distinctive types of Mayapan influenced censer (fig. W0758) which were used during a ritual to burn incense and then broken and left as debris.  These can be dated to the late Classic Period or early Post Classic period and are believed to have been deposited during a ritual performed when the temple was re-founded, with a new platform being added to the front on which a Stela,  moved from an unknown location, was  placed.


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