Maya // Copán
My goal with this Maya Archaeology series was to share some inspiring images and give a glimpse of pre-Columbian life in North and Central America. The mastery of the Maya people continue to amaze me, and I’ve been exploring their culture, philosophy and spirituality since my university days. Thankfully, I’ve also been fortunate to travel to some of the places I had been dreaming about for years. There is simply no comparison to standing in these ancient places, feeling the stone with your hands, the slant of light that has continued through the centuries, the powerful energy atop a 2000-year-old pyramid. With a history of challenges that extends far beyond the conquests of the 16th century to present day, the Maya I’ve met are gracious, kind-hearted people with a deep understanding of their environment — and their place within it. This connection with both the earth below and the universe above allowed the ancient Maya to flourish and develop practices in mathematics, astronomy, agriculture, architecture and religion that resound to this day.
Finally, then, we arrive at the spectacular art city of the Maya: Copán. I’ve published a few photos and write-ups on Copán previous — Step on Stone, Face the Past, The Mayan Temazcal — and now for a larger collection from the ‘zona archeologica’ beyond the small town of Copán Ruinas, Honduras. You’ll find mostly detail shots here – the precise carvings are beyond anything I saw at other sites in Mexico and Guatemala and worthy of a closer look. Truly these craftsmen were at their peak during the rule of Copán, a dynasty that covered much of the Mayan history with about 2000 years of occupation at this site. While the pyramids are not as grand as Tikal or Chichén Itzá and the stella aren’t as physically massive as neighbouring Quiriguá, the scope of knowledge and history embedded in these stones and this place is overwhelming.
After a short stroll from the town, passing stelae along the way, you are greeted by Scarlet Macaw, recently re-established in the wilderness here in Honduras. Gorgeous birds, their motif is seen throughout Copán, notably the huge, 3D wall sculpture overlooking the ball court. The path then leads to a large clearing and this is where we spent some time. Stelae, altars, small pyramids and a temazcal are present. The stelae are incredibly detailed, telling the long story of the Mayan calendar, the rulers and dynasties, the battles and victories. Look carefully at the detail here – the rock, quarried from elsewhere in the valley and transported to site, now carved so distinctly and with great care. Each unique, with the ruler’s specific motif running through time.
From here, we explored the Hieroglyphic Stairway – at 2200 glyphs, the longest such known – as history travels the extent of these steps. Now covered by canvas tarp, the ravages of time and environment are slowed for preservation and study. Next to the stairway, another massive set of steps formed part of a cauldron of seating, with a ballcourt below and throne above. Turtle sculptures peak from beneath altars, skulls decorate the upper acropolis, the Macaw appears, caught in flight. A howler monkey god holds a torch high. Jaguar motifs overlook the grounds. It’s clear the natural world was one with these people. Experiencing Copán today, hundreds of years later, may reveal secrets and truths to help us live in harmony with our lands, too.
Copán, Honduras, 2011.