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Copán, a major pre-Hispanic Maya center on the western border of Honduras near Guatemala. It marks the eastern boundary of Maya territory and undoubtedly controlled trade between the Maya area and Central America during its time of major activity, the Late Classic Period. The earliest and latest dated monuments show (455 ce) on stela 20 and (790 ce) on altar 61. The site has been known since reported by Don Diego García de Palacios in 1576.

The site center consists of a large open plaza to the north, bounded by modest structures, in which stand numerous ornately carved stone stelae of the rulers of Copán. Many have burial caches beneath. In the southeast corner of the plaza are an elegant ball court and a hieroglyphic stairway with the longest known carved Maya inscription (1,500-2,000 glyphs), with details of Copán's long dynastic history. The southern half of the site center consists of a large elevated (120-foot) platform, the Acropolis, with multiple construction phases and numerous elite ceremonial buildings. The Copán River eroded a portion of the east side of the Acropolis, exposing an archaeological cross-section noted for its size (900 feet long by 120 feet high). (The river was rechanneled to protect the site.) From the northeast, a sacbe (causeway) leads to an area of elite residences with richly carved, full-figure hieroglyphic inscriptions. Recent studies show that wide areas of the Copán valley surrounding the site center were occupied. The site has several astronomical alignments and carved evidence of a new Maya method for finding the length of a lunar month.

The carved dynastic monuments, in concert with the stelae of nearby Quirigua, record the capture of Copán's ruler, 18 Rabbit, in 737 ce. Though two additional rulers are recorded, Copán's peak had passed and major activity ended abruptly after 800 ce. The site shows its own emblem glyph on monuments, and also mentions Tikal, Palenque, and Calakmul.

See alsoMaya, The .


See Sylvanus G. Morley and George W. Brainerd, The Ancient Maya, 4th ed. (1983), pp. 320-328; Proyecto Arqueológico Copán (Instituto Hondureño de Antropología e Historia), Introducción a la arqueología de Copán, Honduras, 3 vols. and detailed maps (1983).

Additional Bibliography

Agurcia Fasquelle, Ricardo. Secretos de dos ciudades mayas: Copán y Tikal. San José: La Nación, 1994.

Andrews, E. Wyllys, and William Leonard Fash, eds. Copán: The History of an Ancient Maya Kingdom. Santa Fe: School of American Research: Oxford: James Currey, 2005.

Baudez, Claude F. Maya Sculpture of Copán: The Iconography. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1994.

Becerra, Longino. Copán, tierra de hombres, mujeres y dioses. Nueva versión. Tegucigalpa: Baktun Editorial, 2001.

Bell, Ellen E., Marcello A. Canuto, and Robert J. Sharer. Understanding Early Classic Copan. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology And Anthropology, 2004.

Martin, Simon, and Nikolai Grube. Chronicle of the Maya Kings and Queens: Deciphering the Dynasties of the Ancient Maya. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2000.

Newsome, Elizabeth A. Trees of Paradise and Pillars of the World: The Serial Sela Cycle of "18-Rabbit-God K," King of Copan. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2001.

Newsome, Elizabeth A., and Heather S. Orr. The "Bundle" Altars of Copán: A New Perspective on their Meaning and Archaeological Contexts. Bernardsville, Washington, DC: Center for Ancient American Studies, 2003.

Webster, David L. The Fall of the Ancient Maya: Solving the Mystery of the Maya Collapse. New York: Thames & Hudson, 2002.

Willey, Gordon R. Ceramics and Artifacts from Excavations in the Copan Residential Zone. Cambridge, MA: Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University, 1994.

                                  Walter R. T. Witschey