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By blasting huge holes in the sides of ancient monuments, he hoped to find tombs filled with gold. But Gann, like the conquistador Hernán Cortés before him, found no gold in the Mayan lands. Mayans didn’t value the stuff; their most prized substance was jade. And, like Cortés, Gann caused irreparable damage in his obsessive pursuit of riches.

The good news is that the ruined ruins at Lubaantun comprise a tiny part of the entire site. ‘Ninety per cent of Lubaantun has never been excavated,’ Bruno tells me. So there are mysteries still lying here, undiscovered? ‘Oh ja, all around these hills.’ Maybe a crystal skull? ‘No, I don’t think so.’ Bruno does not want anyone turning up with a case of dynamite, but there is a better option. ‘We are hoping to start archaeology tours at Uxbenka, southwest of Lubaantun. Visitors will be able to dig on the ruins, but it will all be done under proper academic supervision.’

As it sinks down into the mists, the sun turns blood orange. The city is quiet, except for the chirping of cicadas. A millennium ago, priests and nobles in feathered headdresses strode the avenues. Merchants traded obsidian in the busy markets. Young men played for cheering crowds in the ballcourts. Now, it has all been swallowed up by the jungle, many of its secrets lost forever. ‘In the setting sun the immensity of the ruins we had uncovered came home to us with overwhelming force,’ wrote Mitchell-Hedges at this very spot. ‘Slowly the sky crimsoned, a red glow tinged the jungle and the desolate courtyards, the terraces, the pyramids of this great city which we had called Lubaantun – the Maya word for “The City of Fallen Stones.”’

And the crystal skull? Lubaantun is full of mysteries, but that isn’t one of them. The Old Belize Bar in Belize City has a plastic copy you can have your photograph taken with. It’s only slightly less authentic than the Skull of Doom. Should you wish to be seduced by pineapples, they’ll even serve you another piña colada while you, like Mitchell-Hedges, watch the sun set over the horizon. Unlike him, you won’t need to invent your adventures.

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The article ‘The kingdom of the crystal skull’ was published in partnership with Lonely Planet Magazine.

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