The kingdom, anciently named Xukpi (Corner-Bundle), fluorished from the 5th century AD to the early 9th century, with antecedents going back to at least the 2nd century AD. Its name is an apparent reference to the fact that it was situated at the far southern and eastern end of Maya territory. The city of Copan itself may have anciently been known as Oxwitik.
|Table of contents|
2 Pre-Columbian History
3 List of known Xukpi ruliers
4 Copan in modern times
5 Books for further reading
6 External links
Description of the Ruins
The city of Copan is perhaps best known for producing a remarkable series of portrait stelae, most of which were placed along processional ways in the central plaza of the city and the adjoining "acropolis" (a large complex of overlapping step-pyramids, plazas, and palaces). The stelae and sculptured decorations of the buildings of Copan are some of the very finest surviving art of ancient Mesoamerica.
Many structures are elaborately decorated with stone sculptures, usually constructed from a mosaic of carved stones of the size that one person can carry.
The site also has a large court for playing the Mesoamerican ballgame.
At its height in the late classic Copan seems to have an unusually prosperous class of minor nobility, scribes, and artisans, some of whom had homes of cut stone built for themselves (in most sites a priviledge reserved for the rulers and high priests), some of which have carved heiroglyphic texts.
The buildings suffered significantly from forces of nature in the centuries between the site's abandonment and the rediscovery of the ruins. There have been numerous earthquakes -- no roofs of the stone buildings intact when the site was rediscovered, and the heiroglyphic stairway was collapsed. The Copán river changed course and meandered, destroying part of the acropolis and apparently wiping out various subsidiary architectural groups in the region. In the long period when the site was overgrown the buildings and scuptures suffered from the invasive thick jungle vegetation and periodic forest fires.
Archeologists have consolidated and restored many structures at the site.
A kingdom seems to have been established in Copan in 159. It grew into one of the most important Maya sites by the 5th century. Large monuments dated with hieroglyhic texts were erected in the city from 435 through 822.
Xukpi was one of the more powerful Maya city states, a regional power, although it suffered a catastrophic defeat at the hands of the kingdom at located at Quirigua in 738. It eventually withered in the face of the depletion of natural resources which was a factor in bringing most of the Classic-Age Maya city-states to their end.
The area continued to be occupied after the last major ceremonial structures and royal monuments were erected, but the population declined in the 8th century - 9th century from perhaps over 20,000 in the city to less than 5,000.
The ceremonial center was long abandoned and the surrounding valley home to only a few farming hamlets at the time of the arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century.
List of known Xukpi ruliers
Copan in modern times
By the time of the Spanish conquest of Honduras, the site had long been overgrown by rainforest. Although this large ruined city was known localy since early colonial times, it remained largely unknown by the outside world until a series of explorers visited it in the early 19th century. Juan Galindo wrote a description of the ruins in 1834, which was published the following year. This sparked the interest of North American explorer and travel writer John Lloyd Stephens and English architect and draftsman Frederick Catherwood whose illustrated books describing Copan and other sites excited a great deal of interest in Mesoamerican antiquities among American and European scholars, and its publication is regarded as the commencement of modern Mayan studies which continue to this day. The site was the subject of one of the first modern archeological surveys and excavations in the Maya area, conducted by the Peabody Museum and Harvard University from 1891 to 1894. Further excavations and restorations were begun by the Carnegie Institution in the 1930s, the Peabody Museum again in the 1970s, followed by the Government of Honduras's Proyecto Copan beginning in the late 1970s and continuing to this day.