Tuesday, 22 January 2013

The Ancient Maya World of Copan

We have been in Copan for a week and Eric is feeling much better (it took about 9 days for him to recover).  We really haven't done much in that week but somehow it feels completely okay.  We did get to the Mayan ruins of Copan when Leah was down visiting and that was a nice stroll through ancient temples and carvings and ball courts and all sorts of remnants of the ancient Mayan city.  The coolest part was seeing the trees and tropical forest crowding around the ruins... waiting to reclaim it's spot.  Some of the trees were huge with long big roots spreading down amongst the rubble... like an octopus ensnarling it's prey.  The wildlife is still around too... brilliant scarlet macaws that are indifferent to all the human activity and we've also seen a few blue crowned MotMots around as if they are as common as robins back home.  And some ground creatures like Agoutis and a possum.... no evidence of the jaguar which was revered in the time of the Maya.  The Scarlet Macaws were revered back then... the Ball court at Copan is decorated with Macaw head markers (stone carvings) and seeing the live Scarlet Macaws still hovering around made the connection between the era of classic Maya (about 1300 years ago) to now seem much more tangible.  This whole valley was once an important hub of the Mayan world with powerful rulers and prosperous chiefs peaking from about 400 A.D to 900 A.D before things went down hill - theories on deforestation and warring with neighbouring kingdoms.

Copan famous for it's carvings and Stelae

Looking down into the principal plaza

Alter depicting the lineage of Copan Rulers 

blue crowned MotMot



The boys weren't that impressed but Sean showed peaks of interest in the ruler called 13 Rabbit and we tried to equate the building of the temples and palace complex to building in Minecraft which helped Liam make some sense of it.  When we explored the Museum a few days later they were really not impressed except for the wide open gallery spaces to roam around but again there were glimmers of interest when I told them bits of the Popul Vuh, the creation story of the Quiche Mayan - stories of twin brothers in Xibalba (the underworld) fighting demon scarlet macaws and stuff like that.  Sean wants more of that... so I'm a bit heartened to know there is some glimmer of interest there.  Eric and I soaked it all up and were able to appreciate the glimpse into this ancient civilization that used a lot of animal mythology and symbolism.  All the carvings were done with stone-age technology!... ie no metal tools... so it's pretty impressive how they managed to make the intricate carvings and so much of it! The glyphs.. their language was not understood until just recently..in the last few decades only.. they think it's more phonetic based and most of the glyphs on the Stelae talk of the succession of rulers and their deeds.

Red structure in the back is a model of what they found underneath the main temple..
the Mayan built newer temples over the older ones.

I thought they were actually talking about the carvings...
but they were looking at a dragon fly.

The cultural exposure has been great... the rural town of Copan alongside the ancient site of Copan has been a rich place to see the workings of a small village community.  The town of Copan has grown quite a bit since we last visited and seems more prosperous but there is still the evidence of the subsistence living with little kids coming around to sell you corn husk dolls and if not successful then to ask for some food.  People on the street corners selling their green mangos or a bushel full of tangerines. Women with baskets on their heads wandering from store to store to sell their prepared foods, young men laden with plastic baskets of all kinds hanging around them going from street to street to make a few Limperas.  On the weekend there was a stir of activity with trucks arriving with their loads full of pineapples and eggs and people setting up their wares and taking up a whole street to take advantage of the non-city people coming in to do their shopping.  The boys haven't said much about the little kids or people coming up to us trying to sell things but Liam does seem to be trying to make order out of it.  He has come to the conclusion that people that sell food already have food but they need money to buy other things and people that sell non-food things need money to buy food.  The need for money and doing what ever they can to make some is definitely a theme we see daily here - very industrious people.

Though I think what Liam will remember the most about Copan are the steep streets... he loved to run down, and back up, and then back down again.

We are  now off to Antigua, Guatemala (change of plans... not going to Belize just yet)... we have a 6 hour shuttle bus ride ahead of us today... wish us luck!

1 comment:

  1. Hi

    Wow , lots of great photos. Don`t worry kids...I would start to look at the Dragon Flies after a while too. Take it easy on those hills , running up and down with the crocks on ! Here is a project for you kids! How do you say Cobble Stones in Spanish?