Sunday, March 29, 2009


On our way down from the Caribbean coast of Guatemala, we crossed just over the border into Honduras to visit another Mayan archaeological site at Copán. The site is famed for its immaculately-preserved stelae - Mayan stone carvings depicting rulers and significant calendar events such as solar eclipses. The site flourished during the Classic Mayan era, and most of the artifacts date from around 700 AD.

The stelae are often paired with ceremonial altars, used for animal and human sacrifice and ritual blood-letting.

The site itself is very well excavated and the most comprehensively studied site in the entire Mayan region.

The most well-known structure is the hieroglyphic steps. These present a history of the city in Mayan glyphs. The first fifteen steps were, apparently, discovered first and were reasonably well-ordered considering the damage caused to the site by earthquakes that occurred between the sites abandonment and rediscovery. A later (well-meaning) reconstruction of the steps badly jumbled the rest, with the result that they'll probably never be deciphered.

At the foot of the stairs is a lower jaw. Originally, an upper jaw completed a huge mouth at the top of the stairs. Many of the figures in the carvings are emerging from mouths; the Maya believed caves to be the mouth of the earth, from where creation came.

Another prized artifact is Altar Q, which depicts the succession of rulers of Copán. The carving around the side, showing the various kings as figures, and the glyphs on the top surface are amazingly well preserved. The rock they had available is volcanic and extremely hard. They often had to carve around or incorporate peices of volcanic glass that they encountered (credit to our friend Ricardo Ataide for that interesting fact!).

The most sacred of all animals for the Maya was the Jaguar. There are lots of depictions around the site; here I am looking like one.


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