“The borders that encircle the countries we recognise today as Belize, Guatemala and Honduras mean little in the story of the Maya.”
Copan: A mysterious piece of the Maya jigsaw puzzle
Then: Although the Copan Valley is thought to have been inhabited since 2000BC, little is known of its society and rulers during that period. Even the meaning of the site’s original name, Oxwitik, is still unclear. Evidence shows that a takeover by a ruler of Tikal turned its fortunes around in 436 AD, allowing Copan to rise to dominance as a regional capital of the southern Maya area. At its peak, the wider Copan Valley and its fertile soils were home to over 20,000 inhabitants who enjoyed success in trade, agriculture and social events.
Next: Similar to other Maya strongholds, archeologists have studied a large population decline at Copan from the eighth century onwards. In fact, by the time the Spanish arrived in the early 1500s, the royal residences and temples had been completely abandoned. In the centuries that followed, Copan was subjected to looting of its treasures and significant natural erosion from the nearby river.
Today: Climbing to the top of the temple nearest the hieroglyphic stairway rewarded me with views of Copan’s surrounding mountains as well as the site’s royal residences. As I looked in more detail at the walls either side of me, I picked out detailed friezes that had been cleverly restored. Below where I stood was one of the best examples of an ancient ball court, while in the trees above, a protected population of scarlet macaws made their presence known.