The valley of the Copán River was first built with stones in the 9th century BC. In 159 was for the first time a kingdom located in the area. This was in the 5th century one of the most important Mayan cities. Since the 9th century to century the kingdom was governed by a single kingdom called Xukpi, which means "Maize Bundle". Copán, Oxwitik then called, was one of the most powerful Mayan cities. Because the board a long time lay in the hands of the same dynasty, came to the city of great economic prosperity. Oxwitik was founded in a hilly area was fertile by the presence of a tributary of the motagua: the Copán. Unlike most other great Maya cities Oxwitik struggled with a lack of limestone for the building could be used. We therefore made use of clay, lime, and the few that was available was used for a protective plaster to be applied on floors and exterior. From the year 1000 the population began to decline significantly. The cause thereof is not known. One theory is increasingly accepted that drought was the cause of the decline of the Maya, and therefore of Copán. Copán was located in an area where no large rivers flooded, the river Copan was dependent on rainfall. A study of soil samples showed that around the year 900 a drought occurred. It could be that the river was so dry and that the reservoirs in Copán no longer could be filled. Then in the 16th century, the Spaniards set foot through the valley was only a handful of farmers lived.
A unique structure is a hieroglyphic staircase, built along a 30 meter high pyramid. This staircase is lined with the longest cartoon of the Americas: more than 2000 hieroglyphs in the 72 steps of the staircase carved. Here is the history of the Copan dynasty to read. Through these hieroglyphics could much of the history of Copán studied. There are also sculptures made by the various princes of the dynasty imagine. The restoration of this stage has lasted nearly a century.
A remarkable edifice is the ball court. The field is narrow with angled walls. At the sides are six parrot heads, in place of the rings with other ball games fields in Maya cities were found.
The Flashes, Barbara and William, who discovered and uncovered Rosalila, among other features of Copan are still very active in the field. In 2011, for example, Barbara Flash published the Copan Sculpture Museum, published a full color text showing all the exhibits in the Museum, which is the official guide of sorts and on sale at the gift shop and well worth the purchase. I found numerous errors in other books that we book that were published for tourists.
Anyway, on the second floor are several building facades taken from the field to be preserved here. The most famous are the old man's head (Ex#37) from Structure 11, Temple 22 Witz Corners (Ex#41), and Sculptured Doorway (Ex#39), and Scribes House Motif from Las Sepulturas (Ex#42-44), and Temple 22a artwork from Popal Noh (Ex#46-48).
There are numerous masks and statues obviously too fragile to remain in the field although many were found as fill within temple walls. Those which are enclosed in glass or otherwise out of reach of visitors are presumed to be priceless originals. Unfortunately, some of the best works ware carted off to the Peabody Museum or the British Museum, and so are completely detached from the field perspective.
Sorry I forgot the entrance price. I did that a lot in Honduras where everything happens to be very reasonable in price even for Extranjeros like me. Anyway, buy the ticket and get in. This is a beautifully naturally lit museum, where the entrance is like an archeological tunnel.
The first floor begins with a focus on Rosalila, the big red temple in the center of the museum, and the original Altar Q, just to the left as you enter (Ex#6). Altar Q is worthy of considerable study even if you don't know how to read any glyphs because all 16 rulers are pictured there (See my tip for Altar Q for better images and description). Rosalila is a reproduction, so don't get too excited about that just yet. But scattered in three places on the first floor are originals for Stelae P (Ex#3), 2 (Ex#9), and A (Ex#15), which you can also find linked here to the field tips.
Don't be bothered by the fragmentary nature of various heads from the temples and so on. These are the priceless originals that are easier to appreciate in place on the structures to be sure. But, among these you will probably not want to miss noticing on the first floor, the Macaw Head Bench Markers (Ex#22) that were taken from the Macaw Ballcourt.
Oddly enough, the trail leading back to the Grupo Principal from Las Sepulturas goes through private property, so it's not possible to walk the entirety of this route. However, there is a portion of the trail that passes overgrown residential mounds, back toward the park entrance building. Along the way, the older vines twist themselves like rope.
Near Sacbe', the causeway access to Grupo Principal from Las Sepulturas, there are several very expansive residential areas which are very nicely landscaped and worth every photo click. While steps naturally lead up to sleeping an escape from the tropical downpours, these steps no doubt were a place to sit and visit socially, for children to play on, and the like. The Honduran grounds keeps do a very nice job of keeping the landscape up.
The Copan Museum Exhibits 42-45 came from the Scribe's House, some of which is replicated now in the field, but other of which appears original at the protected Scribe's House within Plaza A. Plaza A is well reported in the literature as being a place where a powerful shaman's grave dating back to 450AD was found. So, this family not only appears to have a "university" of sorts in the scribes house living quarters, but also a history of spiritual power that may have dated the family back hundreds of years. Settlements in this area date back to BCE, with Las Sepulturas being possibly equal in status as a residential compound to that of what existed where the town of Copan Ruinas is today. Suffice to say that the artwork recovered here is the best at Las Sepulturas. When we were there, a Honduran university experimental tarpaulin project was underway.
One of the larger living groups in Las Sepulturas, Plaza C has a sign dating it to 750AD. There's a nice large shelter for the roomy restored living quarters, and a very large open plaza. Plaza C appears to have a drainage culvert, or possibly an unmarked tomb of some sort. In general proper grading near the river must have been very important to avoid flooding during even the average daily tropical down pour during the rainy season. It would seem that size of the plaza and number of surrounding sleeping quarters may be related to the size, prestige, and power of the family living there.
Plaza B has a sheltered ruin with the noble woven pattern on the way, and a very nice clean sleeping area that appears to have been smoothed out by mud stucco. Plaza J ruins shelter appears to be a work in progress of ruins restoration.
Plazas D and H, the surrounding structures and pathways between them provides a good layout of how the wealthy lived. Most rooms were for sleeping, as the density of living here is surprisingly high. Mattresses made of local materials were placed on the paved sleeping platforms. Some sleeping quarters appear more elevated than others. The ruins are missing the upper construction of these otherwise finely built stone block structures, of course, but with a little imagination one can see how comfortably nobles lived in this tropical climate. Also, these buildings were constructed very carefully, showing the straight line construction both vertically and horizontally. Meanwhile, cooking and all other home life activities were conducted in the central open plaza areas. Near this area of Las Sepulturas is a foot bridge across the Copan River, so water supplies were very close by.
After visiting Grupo Principal, Las Sepulturas is the usual hike for most visitors to Copan. From Grupo Principal, the entrance to Sepulturas can be walked, or one can pay for the motorcycle ride. The price to get into these ruins is very nominal, of course. These ruins are better walked without the guide, as this is a very relaxed place of meditation and easy climbing. The spread out trails and unprotected landscape of Las Sepulturas seems to have required that the more valuable sculpted features here have been removed to the Copan Museum. Nevertheless, the layout is very instructive about how the nobility of Copan lived. Presummably, outside neighborhoods like this, there were a large number of farmers who lived in mud brick homes which they made on their own. I'll write more about this in the next couple of tips.
The landscape of Copan is worth a lot just in images. Here are a number of images I couldn't include in the content analysis of the ruins. These will help the visitor place the content in perspective, I hope.
The Copan River encroached upon the ruins in modern times, creating a landslide that exposed the multilayer construction of the temples. The river has since been rerouted away from the ruins, and the landslide side of Temple 21 has been built up stone by stone. There's some great views from above the East Court, and from below Temple 21.
Below the East Court, Temples 21 and 22 is the archeologist created Tunnel of the Jaguars, which exposes part of the buried temples below along the side water cut by the Copan River. Actually, the river cut though destructive was also important to revealing the layers of temple construction at Copan. In any case, there are a number of important buried frescos, that were preserved by burial. Early work included mud frescos that needed to be repaired frequently. When they were exposed, the rain washed them away. Note that in these photos the Roman keystone arches of stone were built by the archeologists to create a safe tunnel network. The Mayan's used corbeled arches.
Many structures remain buried by vegetation and their own rubble to protect them from the relentless tropical rains. Structures exposed and reconstructed face the problem of erosion of the exquisite sculpted reliefs, so many of the best of these are gradually being incorporated into the shelter of the Copan museum. But, field setting is important, and so archeologists have uncovered structures in places just to show how they were buried. A good example of this is the north face of Structure 16, where the temple steps are exposed in the center, but the right side has been layered over with concrete to show how this temple was found. Recall that buried below Structure 16 is Rosalila, the temple for Ruler 1, K'inich Yax K'uk'Mo'. Also, in this area is a great view of the so-called Cemetary Group, which is, in fact, the residences of nobles. This whole view was greatly modified in the late period of Ruler 16, Yax Pasaj Chan Yopaat.