Copán (kōpänˈ) [key], ruined city of the Maya, W Honduras, in a small river valley of the same name. Copán is noted for its fine sculptured stele and majestic architecture. The ruins were the site of extensive research and restoration from the mid-1930s to the 1950s. Copán was a rich and powerful city-state during the Classic Maya period. The construction material used at the site, volcanic stone, makes it one of the most well-preserved Classic Maya sites. After 1975, the decipherment of the Maya hieroglyphs allowed investigators to read many of the inscriptions at the site and to reconstruct its dynastic history between the years A.D. 426 and 850. The inscriptions reveal that Copán was ruled by a single dynastic lineage of 16 rulers during this period. Excavations that began in 1989 uncovered a set of extremely well-preserved older monuments beneath the main pyramid and the adjoining acropolis. These include the likely tombs of the founder of the ruling dynasty, Sun-eyed Green Quetzal Macaw, and his wife. Ceramic offerings indicate this ruler was closely allied with Teotihuacán, the great urban center in the Valley of Mexico. The Hieroglyphic Stairway, comprising nearly 2,000 glyphs, and Altar Q, a stela depicting the 16 kings of Copán, are considered two of the most important Classic Maya monuments at the site.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.