Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Copán Ruins #3

I'll wrap up these posts on Copán with a few random tidbits I learned that I think are just plain cool. Walking around the site, one really does get the feeling of stepping into a world one thousand years old. It was fun visualizing what the city would have looked like full of people carrying out their daily lives - drawing water from the river, buying and selling food and clothes in the market, going to the temples, working on the almost constant construction projects, and gathering to watch that ancient mayan ball game whose name escapes me (to be explained later...) or listen to one of the intellectuals speaking in the auditorium.

First things first- I meant to include the above pic in yesterday's post. On the south side of this huge temple is the Hieroglyphic Stairway, which holds the longest pre-Columbian hieroglyphic inscription in America and is one of the most remarkable monuments built by the maya during the Classic Period. Most inscriptions at Copán are very short, relating specific ritual and dedicatory information on the monuments. The exception is the Hieroglyphic Stairway. In over two thousand hieroglyphs on 63 steps, the text recounts much of the dynastic history of Copán, beginning with references to its founder, K'uk' Mo'.

As with the temple I mentioned in yesterday's post, the Hieroglyphic Stairway was built on top of a series of previously existing structures, some built almost 300 years before the Heiroglyphic stairway was built. In the photo above, a huge tarp stretches over the entire structure in order to prevent rain from flooding the many tunnels that archeologists have dug to explore the buried temples.

Okay, so I mentioned a ball game. Mayans all across mesoamerica played a variation of this ball game that involved a solid rubber ball that weighed about 10 pounds, which had to be struck with the knees, chest, head, and elbows towards a post that was a sculpture of a scarlet macaw.

I don't remember everything the guide said about the game, but I remember him saying that each team had around 6 players - 3 goalies and 3 attackers. The three goalies would stand in front of the macaw sculptures and try to prevent the other team from striking the it with the ball. The three attackers would have to advance up the slanted stone incline and try to hit the ball at the macaw sculptures. The game was pretty physical, so the largest members of the town were the ones that played. The games drew a huge number of spectators, and were actually about 70% acting. One team was to represent good and the other evil- the game was a microcosm for war, with each side representing the respective territory of each team and the macaws representing the cities they had to defend (or attack).

Yin/Yan, perhaps?
In the above picture is the complex where the richest members of the city lived. An interesting fact about Copán is that no cemeteries have ever been found. Rather, the remains of family members would be buried in the walls of their house. Evidence has been found that these super wealthy mayans would carve jade pieces into their teeth, implying that the mayans had also developed some sort of anesthetic (or they just had a huge tolerance for pain). Part of the reason for the burials in the houses is because of the mayans' strong belief in, or more like obsession with, the afterlife. They felt that the spirit of the deceased would be more comfortable in it's own home. Speaking of religion and afterlife, I couldn't help but notice a very strong connection between mayan religion and many eastern religions. According to my guide, there was a huge emphasis on meditation. There is also a theory that ancient civilizations from east Asia at one point made their way across the pacific and brought their intellectualism and spiritual practices to mesoamerica.
Looks kinda like lotus pose.

This picture represents a huge part of mayan spiritual beliefs. It portrays a man being swallowed by a snake and then emerging, purified, on the other side. This reveals the mayan emphasis on purification and reincarnation through death.
I still have tons of pictures from Copán, but I think I've pretty much covered all the highlights in these posts. Overall, an awesome experience that I would definitely recommend to anyone traveling through Central America.

No comments:

Post a Comment