The Royal Crypts Of Copan Essay, Research Paper
The Royal Crypts of Copan
In his article The Royal Crypts of Copan, George Stuart explores the ruins of the Mayan culture. Along with Kenneth Garrett, Christopher Klein, and an archeological team from the University of Pennsylvania Museum, this Chairman of the Committee for Research and Exploration at National Geographic leads his readers through a stunning tour of the ancient crypts in Honduras. His article can be found in the December 1997 issue of National Geographic (Volume 192, No. 6), between pages 68 and 93.
George Stuart’s first exploration of the city of Copan occurred 25 years earlier, in 1962, when he instantly fell in love with the architecture and artwork of the Mayan people. The discovery of the remains of a very important Mayan King caused Stuart to return to the site in late 1997. The author made it very clear that he had a certain attachment with this place, and was very excited to have an excuse to return.
The discovery was that of the remains of K’inich Yax K’uk’ Mo’, Sun-eyed Green Quetzal Macaw, the god-king who was revered and referred to in fables as “the founder”. Scholars believe that he was a lord who founded Copan after the downfall of his hometown (believed to be somewhere in the northern region of the Mayan territory). It is also believed that he is the King who established the dynasty that ruled the region for over 400 years.
The city of Copan is located a few miles east of border between Honduras and Guatemala. This city was the central kingdom during the Maya Classic period, between 400 and 850 AD. There stands the Acropolis, a large structure utilized by the Mayan people for parties, gatherings, and religious ceremonies. There was a ball court, where a soccer-style game was held, rooms for ritual weddings, and even secret courtyards where religious ceremonies, ancestor worship and vision quests would take place. The Acropolis was built on top of 80 million cubic feet of fill, and located right next to the Copan River. It is believed that each of the 16 kings during the Copan dynasty added to what their predecessor had completed in his lifetime.
The focus of the article, however, is on the crypts that are hidden in the many mounds beneath and surrounding the Acropolis. For over 150 years archeologists have been excavating the Acropolis and the many tombs below, but this discovery may prove to be the most significant to all previous findings. All archeological work done in this area over the past few decades has found pictures and icons referring to a great “founder”, a god-king who is credited with the success of the Mayas. This discovery will help archeologists to fill in the gaps on many questions that remain about the Mayan culture.
The article goes on to describe a room in the Acropolis that has been nicknamed Rosalila, just below Unit 16 on the excavation site, where the body of a woman of royal personage was discovered. She was buried on a rectangle-shaped stone with over 10,000 jade beads around her lower legs, fine engraved jade beads, hematite and cinnabar were around her neck, and many inscriptions depicting K’inich Yax K’uk’ Mo’ around her tomb. This place was revisited by many generations of Mayas, which would lead to the thought that she was very important to their culture. It has also been discovered that she has scars on her pelvic bone, as to show that she had at least one child during her life. Archeologists now believe that she was the wife and widow of the founder, and that would make her into the Queen Mother for the 15 generations that followed her husband’s rule.
As I stated before, this site apparently holds great significant value to the author, for he spends a great deal of time describing each picture that appears, so as to not loose any of the magic or mystery that is sealed in each shot. Many are pictures of hieroglyphics and long explanations as to what is depicted in them. Some are just pictures of the tombs themselves, and the treasures that are buried in them. Each picture, however, has an obvious deep meaning to the author’s study.
The cover picture of the story shows the skeletal remains of the founder. It is an amazing shot, showing the bones that are now a red color from the cinnabar (mercuric acid) that was coated on the dead body before the burial. Cinnabar was sacred to the Mayas, and it is thought that they believed the red color to symbolize the sun rising in the east, or even resurrection itself. Both the founder and the female’s bodies were covered with this, proving that the Mayas did believe these people to be very great. The picture shows the king as he was found in his crypt, with many precious stones around him, all turning red from the cinnabar.
Other pictures in the article show how the archeologists work so hard to preserve the bones and artifacts that they find. It shows glimpses of the delicate care that they take to clean and store everything they remove and how they try to piece together skeletons and artifacts that have been damaged over hundreds of years of environmental torture.
My favorite pictures, however, were the two cutaways of the Acropolis, showing the many tombs and passageways that both the Mayas and the archeologists used to explore the great structure. Artists have taken a great deal of time working to draw a real life representation of what the Acropolis looked like in its days of glory.
I feel that the author is coming to the conclusion that the Mayan Culture is of the most important aspects of our history. We have often heard that history repeats itself, so we can treat the information that we have gained about that culture as a valuable lesson, so that we might not repeat their mistakes. Granted, I don’t see too many people going around offering jaguar sacrifices to the Sun God today, but I do believe that there are many similarities between their culture and some of the cultures that we see today.
Archeology has always been one of my interests, and that is why I chose this article. I enjoy learning about past civilizations, what their strengths and weaknesses were, and mostly, what kind of technologies they utilized to make themselves so great. The fact that a king’s remains can be found and restored almost 1500 years after he died is very intriguing, and I really believe that the more that we learn about them, then the more we can learn about ourselves.