Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Monday, March 3rd, Copan


 As Pat remarked at dinner tonight, "Today was a perfect day for Gregory".  After breakfast, we spent the morning at Copan, walking the grounds of one of the finest Mayan ruins in the world.  After lunch, we went zip-lining (yes, Pat did it too) from atop Macaw Mountain.  Returning to the hotel, we had a swim in the pool, and then went to a great dinner at a restaurant owned by a Canadian.  She was right.  This was a great exploration day.  But I do have to thank her for tagging along on the zip-line portion of the afternoon.  What a brave lady.

The first ruler of Copan was named after the gorgeous birds (Great Sun, First Quetzal Macaw) flying all around the grounds. Later in the day, we visited the bird park where there being nurtured back to a health wild population.  It's next to the base of the zip-lining camp.  There are lots more photos of them in today's album.

Our guide, Juan Carlos Caderon, did a magnificent job of helping our group understand the reign of the 18 rulers of Copan from 426 AD to 822 AD, the significance of Copan in the Mayan world, and of the Mayan civilization.

In summary, the Olmecs arrived from Vera Cruz, Mexico about 1400 BC, but left only pottery and jewelry.  First of 18 Mayan kings invaded from Tikal in 426 AD, evidence does exist that he had ties to Teotihuacan in Mexico, and the ruling elite lasted 400 years.  Aztecs, Incas, and Mayans wee the great American civilizations, but only the Mayans had writing, astronomy, base 20 number system, and knowledge of zero.  They had solar, lunar, Venus, and Mars calendars.

Their main calendar (Long Count) reset itself when the lunar and solar calendars coincided every 52 years, and the reigning king buried the temples in new temples.  When the 13th King (18 Rabbit) was captured and beheaded by a former vassal state chief, it put an end to the myth of ruling deities, and resulted in a serious blow to the family dynasty.  It may have provided the impetus for a peasant revolt which contributed to the decline of the site in the next 100 years.
 The ball court at Copan was one of the first constructed in the Mayan world, and contains changing rooms for the visitor and home teams,  Winning or losing team captains were sacrificed, and were rewarded with virgins in the afterlife.
 The canopy is there to keep the stairway, the hieroglyphics on each of the 2,200 pieces of the stairs - a precious part of a remarkable library of information - from deteriorating from acid rain.

Inside the structure was a three-story building, housing the burial of a king whose queen had been kidnapped and never returned.
Quarried stone were transported from a mountain two miles away.  By the early 9th century, most of the Mayan civilization had disappeared,

The Copan Museum contains a very well designed collection of sculptures from the facades and grounds of Copan.

This sculpture, dedicated in 776 AD,  contains profiles of 16 rulers.  On the main frieze, the first ruler is handing off the scepter power stick to the 16th ruler, and is meant to legitimize his descendency from the gods.
The integration of bats, and turtles, and snakes, and birds, and lots of mythical creatures can be seen in many of their sculptures.

Finally, not enough tribute can be given to Linda Schele, who pioneered the work deciphering Mayan hieroglyphics.  A huge memorial is dedicated to her in the museum, and it was her writings (Blood of Kings) which inspired me to pursue the love of the Mayans.  The Mayan meetings at the University of Texas at Austin which she organized, and the meeting notes compiled by Merle Robertson Greene, proved invaluable to advancing our knowledge of this important culture.

To see all of the photos taken today, click on Monday, March 3rd, Copan.

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