Enigmatic Quirigua Essay, Research Paper
One of the last lowland Mayan cities to collapse, existing well into the 9th century, Quirigua, lies today in the still grasses of the Motagua Basin. This 1,200 years old Mayan city is the focus of the article.
The ruins of Quirigua are found amidst a banana plantation established at the turn of the century by the United Fruit Company. Some of the executives of the United Fruit Co. were interested in archaeology and decided to keep the central plaza from being plowed over. The surrounding smaller buildings are now part of the banana plantation.
Nine monolithic sandstone monuments, called stelae, with dated texts of hieroglyphs, defining the beginnings and the end of the Classic Period of Maya Civilization, from about 300 to 900 AD, is what makes Quirigua an attraction to archeologists. The stelae remain the principal written chronicles of this lost civilization, as well as the key to their highly advanced calendric system. Other Mayan centers erected stelae much earlier and in greater profusion, but the stelae at Quirigua are unsurpassed in their style and technique. Like most Mayan monuments, they were erected to commemorate the passage of time, significant historic events, and also served as ?billboards advertising the kings? standings with the Maya gods? (as the author of the article points out). During its brief period of erecting stelae, from the early 8th century until 810 AD, Quirigua was one of only two cities to regularly erect monuments marking the end of five-year periods (the quarter-katun, or hotun).
The enormously heavy material needed for the construction of the stelae had to be transported from large distances and there is no evidence to show the usage of wheels or animals. These huge monolithic sculptures, weighing up to 65 tons, were artfully carved without the benefit of metal tools. Stone chisels, driven by other stones or wooden mallets, were the only tools available; and yet the Mayan sculptors achieved such a high level of artistry; the carvings, apparently, were done before the stones were lifted up to their vertical positions.
This fine collection of gigantic stone sculptures is arranged in a regular pattern on the main plaza at Quirigua, the Great Plaza. The city is believed to have served as an important way station between Copan and Tikal.
The greatest leader of Quirigua, during whose reign seven of the nine stelae were erected, was Cauac Sky (or Kawak Sky) founder of the Sky Dynasty, who ruled the city for sixty years. The most significant event of his reign, and of Quirigua’s history, occurred in 738 AD (188.8.131.52.6) when his forces defeated the city of Copan, captured its ruler, XVIII Jog (18 Rabbit), and had him beheaded in the Great Plaza. From this time on, it appears that Quirigua was an autonomous city and controlled the main trade route from the Caribbean to the Maya world, which passed through the Motagua basin, as Copan declined. This event is recorded in inscriptions at Quirigua, such as the Zoomorph G, one of the half dozen animal shaped bass-relieved stones present at the site.
The Acropolis, which lies at the North of the Great Plaza, used to be a residential and administrative center for the Mayan rulers; it included palaces of such kings as Cauac Sky and Jade Sky (the last known ruler of Quirigua). The royal figures enjoyed in their residences things like built-in stone benches, curtains, and even temascales (steam baths).
It appears that the Mayans were quite passionate archeologists. As I mentioned before, they used the stelae to record dates and past events; on two of them (D and F) archeologists decoded inscriptions that dated minor events as longs as 90 and 400 million years ago.
Today, there is still some uncertainty over the reasons that led to Quirigua?s downfall, but generally, it is believed that the overall accumulation of overpopulation, resources depletion, and wars were the cause. A possible earthquake could have worsened the situation, too.
There are a lot of other facts and details to be discussed about the ?Enigmatic Quirigua?, but I think the author does a pretty good job of skimming all the information out there and giving a simple overview of what this great, forgotten city used to be…