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(kōpän`), ruined city of the MayaMaya
, indigenous people of S Mexico and Central America, occupying an area comprising the Yucatán peninsula and much of the present state of Chiapas in Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, parts of El Salvador, and extreme western Honduras.
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, 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 TeotihuacánTeotihuacán
, ancient commercial and religious center in the central valley of Mexico, c.30 mi (48 km) NE of Mexico City. Once thought to be the great religious center of the Toltec, it is now held to be the relic of an earlier civilization.
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, 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.
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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



one of the major cities of antiquity in what is now Honduras (named after a modern-day village near the ruins). It came into existence in the first centuries B.C. and flourished in the seventh and eighth centuriesA.D. At its peak, it was the center of an independent political union of the Mayas, who had captured what is now southeastern Guatemala and northeastern Honduras. The city’s decline was evidently linked to the general crisis of the Mayan city-states in the ninth century.

Archaeological excavations were conducted in the 1890’s, 1930’s, and 1940’s. Numerous architectural and sculptural re-mains were unearthed, among them the remains of pyramids, platforms, temples, a stadium, and stairways richly decorated with sculpture. Also found were stelae with figures in high relief. The central complex of buildings (temples with the hieroglyphic stairway and a palace dating from the second half of the eighth century) was situated on an enormous artificial mound. Copán is presently an archaeological open-air museum, and many of its architectural monuments have been restored.


Kinzhalov, R. V. Iskusstvo drevnykh maiia. Leningrad, 1968.
Kinzhalov, R. V. Kul’tura drevnykh maiia. Leningrad, 1971.
Morley, S. G. The Inscriptions of Copán. Washington, D. C., 1920.
Longyear, J. M. A Historical Interpretation ofCopán Archaeology. New York, 1949.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.