Tags: Copán, Honduras, Maya ruins

Date: January 29, 2020

View of Temple 16 again - the one with the stone skulls sitting midway up the steps:

On the lawn in front of Temple 16 (in the shade to the right on the picture above) stands Altar Q, or rather a replica of Altar Q. The original has been relocated to the sculpture museum of Copán and is shown below:

Altar Q is the most famous monument at Copán. It was dedicated in AD 776 and has the first 16 rulers of Copán carved around its four sides, four rulers on each side. The rulers are depicted seated on their name glyph while the hieroglyphic text on the upper surface of the altar describes the founding of the dynasty in AD 426–427. On the side shown in the above picture, the first ruler and founder of the dynasty K'inich Yax K'uk' Mo' (second figure from the left, ruled AD 426-437) is transferring power to the 16th ruler, Yax Pasaj Chan Yopaat (third figure from the left, ruled from AD 763 to sometime after 810), thereby legitimizing Yax Pasaj Chan Yopaat's position in the dynasty of Copán rulers.

In spite of the grand ideas with altar Q, it did not turn out so well for Copán. There is only one ruler known after Yax Pasaj Chan Yopaat. He was called Ukit Took and ruled from 822 until the collapse of Copán which happened some time between 822 and 830. He started the production of an altar similar to altar Q, and one face of the altar was done, but in the middle of the second face, work stopped and the altar was never finished. This indicates that the collapse of Copán was very sudden.

As mentioned in the previous post, Temple 16 was built on top of the palace of the dynastic founder, K'inich Yax K'uk' Mo'. In fact, temple 16 is the final version of a number of temples built on top of each other, as was common practice in Mayan cities. Usually the previous temples remain mostly hidden and unknown beneath the newest version but in the case of Temple 16, extensive tunneling by archaeologists under the temple have revealed a number of well preserved earlier structures. We were allowed inside a short passage of one of the tunnels excavated under Temple 16:

The best preserved structure under Temple 16 is the so-called Rosalila Temple. It was built over the remains of five previous versions, the first of which being the tomb of the first ruler. Rosalila was found in an excellent state of preservation, including the entire building and its highly elaborate painted stucco decoration. The date of dedication of Rosalila Temple is not known but an inscription with a date in AD 571 has been deciphered. The Rosalila phase of Temple 16 stood until the 8th century AD when a new phase was built on top - though great care was taken not to damage the older structure.

A reconstruction of Rosalila is exhibited in the sculpture museum:

Rosalila is painted in the colors it would have had during its "active" phase as Temple 16. While the latest Temple 16 phase has facades of naked stone, Rosalila and all the older versions beneath were covered in stucco before being painted in bright colors. It is believed that deforestation of the Copán valley made it impossible to spare the vast quantities of firewood necessary to reduce limestone to plaster for the stucco in late structures.

Altar Q in the museum with the Rosalila reconstruction in the background:

A carved head (one of two such so-called Pauahtun heads found at Copán) often referred to as the Old Man of Copán:

Pauahtuns would often be found in the corners of important buildings - holding up the roofs. Therefore, the two existing Old Man of Copán may have been two of four heads once mounted on a building somewhere.

A large stone carved like a conch shell lying on the ledge of pyramid structure 12 (seen from above):

The conch is one of three conchs placed on top of a platform on a temple structure next to Temple 16. The temple platform with the conchs may have represented the surface of the sea and persons ascending the steps may have seemed to emerge from the sea.

View of the ball court and the hieroglyphic staircase:

Sculpted head on the steps of a temple:

Félicie in front of one of the many large trees growing on top of stone structures:

Another tunnel excavated by archaeologists in the search for older structures beneath the pyramids:

"Wall" showing the outside of the temple complex:

The wall is not actually a wall but a large vertical cut through the temple complex revealing a vertical cross-section 37 meters high at its tallest point and 300 meters long. The cross-section was revealed when the Copán River gradually changed its course over the centuries and washed away various architectural groups, including at least one courtyard and 10 buildings. In order to avoid further destruction of the site, the river was diverted southwards in the 1930s. In the 1990s, the now dry former riverbed was filled in and the "wall" was consolidated.

Steps of a temple structure that has been cut off to the left by the river:

An nice arch:

Sculpture of a toad in the Sculpture museum:

Sculpted macaw heads like the ones that used to be on the ball court:

Sculpted waterfall to the left and to the right a bird with a head in its beak:

This is one of the most intricate Maya sculptures known.

Stela in the sculpture museum in front of the Rosalila reconstruction:

Here is a reconstruction of a building in the museum:

This is the original building in the archaeological site: