Featured Sites: Copán
Archaeological Site: Copán
Title: Copán - Hieroglyphic Stairway
Date of Photograph: 1970
Photographer: Dr. Brian Hayden
Time Period: Late Classic
Subject: Art Site
Copán was established about AD 426 in western Honduras, on the south-eastern frontier of the Mayan lowlands. By the Classic Period, Copán had emerged as an important Mayan city and a centre of religious and public activities. Stela A, erected in AD 731, lists Copán as one of the four great Mayan capitals, along with Tikal, Palenque and Calakmul.
The Copán valley is a fertile agricultural area, but nearby hillsides with thinner soils were also used for farming to support growing populations in the valley. The plentiful food supply allowed the population of Copán to reach a peak of 20,000, but over-farming may have contributed to its decline in the 9th century.
Copán's architecture is much like that of other Mayan cities, with temples surrounding plazas and ball courts. Altars and stelae are scattered throughout the city to honour Copan's gods and rulers. The Hieroglyphic Stairway at Copán contains the longest Mayan text yet found. More than 2,000 glyphs on the staircase document the births, deaths and important achievements of the rulers of Copán.