The Copán Ruling Dynasty

 

Altar L with God/Kings of Copán

When I first began traveling in Maya lands, the Maya did not appear to have a history. Now that so many of their glyphs have been translated, we see that—particularly in the Classic Period between AD 600 and and some point in the 9th century AD, most of the major archeological sites not only had a history, but a rich one as well.

The first event recorded at Copán in Honduras was in 321 BC on Altar I. There was a founder of a dynasty called K’inich Yax K’uk’ Mo’ who ruled between 416 and 437 AD. Then there were two unnamed rulers before K’altuun Hix dedicated a carved step inside the Papagaya Structure around 480 AD. There were two more unnamed rulers before Balam Nehn (524-532 AD) and Wil Ohl K’inich (532-551 AD).  After an unnamed Ruler 9, we have a filled-chronology that takes us all the way to 822 AD:

  • Moon Jaguar (553-578)
  • K’ak’ Chan Yopaat (578-628)
  • Smoke Imix (628-695)
  • Waxaklajuun Ub’aah K’awiil, better known as 18 Rabbit (695-738)
  • K’ak’ Joplaj Chan K’awiil, better known as Smoke Monkey (738-749)
  • K’ak Yipyaj Chan K’awiil better known as Smoke Shell (749-763)
  • Yax Pasaj Chan Yopaat, better known as Yax Pac (763-820)
  • Ukit Took’ (began reign in 822 AD)

It was Ukit Took’, the last known ruler of Copán, who dedicated Altar L, shown above, identifying his predecessors. There are no known dates at Copán after 822 AD.

What happened in 822? The kingship failed for various reasons, as it did around then through most of the adjacent area, for environmental reasons (probably drought), overpopulation, and a change in the form of governance.

As alien as the dynastic names above may seem, the chronology is surer than that of many European dynasties of the period. The calendar was sacred to the Maya, so they were sure to note the exact date that events occurred—and that didn’t even happen in most European countries of the Dark Ages.

 

A Great Travel Resource

In Australia, Travelers Posted Notes on the Thorns

A few years ago, I was an active member of Bootsnall.Com, which had great postings on travel to every corner of the Earth. Of late, Bootsnall has yielded pride of place to Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree (though I have hopes they’ll make a comeback). According to Lonely Planet:

Lonely Planet’s travel forum (Thorn Tree) has been a leading online destination for travel enthusiasts and thrill seekers since 1996. It was created as a place for travelers to exchange travel advice, hints, hacks, and tips in order to help them get to the heart of a destination.

Thorn Tree is by travelers, for travelers, and covers every place on the planet including places we don’t have guidebooks for (yet). More than 2 million members have joined the community since its inception and have engaged in conversation with others, while making countless connections, over the past 20+ years.

To get there, click here.

You may recall that, a few days ago, I wrote a post entitled “You Can’t Get There from Here … Not Easily, Anyhow.” I was researching how to visit the Mayan ruins of Tikal, Copán, and Quiriguá, which are not too far from one another as the crow flies—but, alas, I have to take the roads, not crows, to get there. I checked out Thorn Tree, and found out how to get to Copán and Quiriguá easily enough . (Tikal will have to be a separate trip.) This is what the poster wrote:

If you are coming back to Antigua, there are tourist shuttles that stop by Quirigua, another Maya site with the largest stelae in the Maya world. It is small compared to Copan, but if you are already in the area, it is worth the stop. There are no shuttles that stop there on the way to Copan, only on the return.

Thank you, CraigAdkins! I found a number of helpful posts. If you are interested in solving any knotty travel problems, I suggest you give the Thorn Tree a look. And check out Bootsnall.Com as well.

You Can’t Get There from Here … Not Easily, Anyhow

Maps Can Be So Deceiving

There are three Mayan ruins that I hope to visit on my trip to Central America. You can see all three of them on the above map: Tikal in Guatemala’s Petén Department, Quiriguá in Guatemala’s Izabal Department; and Copán in Honduras’s Copán Department. As the crow flies, the distance separating the three cannot add up to more than three hundred miles. Ah, but tourists do not travel as the crow flies. They must take planes or roads; and in the jungles of Central America, airports are few and roads are not built for the convenience of tourists.

Probably the easiest thing to do is to make three separate trips from Antigua or Guatemala City: to Tikal and back, to Quiriguá and back, and to Copán and back. Take Copán and Quiriguá: They look so close to each other on the above map. But to go by public transport, I’d have to go by way of Chiquimula or Rio Hondo, and probably spend the night at one of those two towns. The buses are mostly for the convenience of the locals, and they just don’t go traipsing between Mayan ruins.

I could probably hire a driver, but there’s this international boundary between Honduras and Guatemala, which complicates things.