Copán Ruinas, part I

By Arturo Sosa for La Prensa
On July 9th of 695 A.D, when Conejo 18th, the thirteenth governor took over the kingdom of Copan over, the city started to stand out as a beautiful jewel among de Mayan civilization. Seventeen kings marked the period of gold in Copan and thanks to them, but especially thanks to Conejo 18th and his work, Copan is now the most studied out of all the Mayan cities.

The first news of Copan that arrive to the west come from a relationship sent to king Felipe II in 1576 by Diego Garcia Palacios which read: On the way from Guatemala to the city of San Pedro, in the first town in Honduras called Copan, there are certain ruins and evidence of a great population, magnificent buildings of such splendor that do not appear to have been built by the natives.

The words of Palacios caught the attention of the adventurous, but it wasn’t until 1839, when John Lloyd Stephens and Frederick Catherwood that started the now famous exploration trip to Copan Ruins which marked the beginning of the interest in the mayans. After that, great names of arqueology started to make their way to Copan forming a cycle of investigations that goes bad more than one hundred years back. Today, along with investigators, more than 160 thousand visitors a year come to Copan, Honduras to appreciate the greatness of the dynasty started by Kinigh Yax Kuk Mo.

But something has changed in the panorama, now there are exquisite hotel here and there, restaurants and new attractions that offer the opportunity for visitors to stay for three, four or more night without having to repeat the same activities.

Where to Eat?

Travelling to Copan Ruins is a true gastronomical feast. From the high class restaurants to the carne asada stand in the corner of the central park. Here’s a list of a few places:

Pupusas Mary

The best typical food restaurant in Copan, Mary and her staff create the best pupusas and soups. The prices here are very accessible.

Nía Lola

Located a couple of blocks from the park, Nia Lola offers a friendly environment, cold beers, delicious pinchos (Kabobs), and some really good fried beans. As if this isn’t enough, the waitresses are the true queens of equilibrium.

Café Deli

At around five o’clock, a fruit smoothie or a coffee are good options to enjoy the view from a very intimate terrace. Located at Casa Villamil.

La Casa de Todo

Here you will find the best tortilla soup of Copan; this restaurant offers mostly vegetables and chicken. All made with fresh ingredients.

Restaurante Los Glifos

The favorite restaurant to investigators and university students from abroad. Located at the Hotel Marina, this restaurant offers a first class menu and service. They serve the best breakfast and their Marinita spaghetti is delicious.

Where to Stay?

Hotel Marina Copán

The favorite hotel for the great Mayan culture connoisseurs such as Professors, arqueologist, investigators, students and Hollywood celebrities.

The hotel has an ideal pool, gym and all the comforts, tour operator, conference room, presidential suite, honeymoon suite and many more amenities.

Hacienda San Lucas

For cosmopolitan travelers; Hacienda San Lucas is located at the top of a hill where the valley and the Copan River dominate.

This hacienda has only a few rooms made out of adobe that offers an authentic lodging Honduran style, along with high hotel delicacy and refinement.

Casa Rosada

An exquisite B&B, where the discrete elegance captures each visitor. Five bedrooms, pillow menu, plasma TV’s, and steam in the showers. Cigars, coffee, wines, silence and first class service.

Expert Weavers

Very few textiles from the Mayan culture have survived, so the treasure trove of fabrics excavated from a tomb at the Copán ruins in Honduras has generated considerable excitement.

Textiles conservator Margaret Ordoñez, a professor at the University of Rhode Island, spent a month at the site examining 100 textile samples found in a tomb, and since then she has been analyzing tiny fragments of 49 samples she brought back to her lab to see what she could learn from them.

The tomb, one of three excavated by archaeologists from the University of Pennsylvania, was of a woman of high status who was buried during the 5th century.

“What was most amazing was that there were as many as 25 layers of fabrics on an offertory platform and covering pottery in the tomb, and they all had a different fabric structure, color, and yarn size, so it’s likely that the tomb was reopened – perhaps several times — and additional layers of textiles were laid there years after her death,” said Ordoñez.

One fabric in particular had an especially high thread count – 100 yarns per inch – which Ordoñez said is even considered high for modern textiles. “It speaks to the technology they had at the time for making very fine fabrics. It’s gratifying that we’ve been able to document that the Mayans were quite skillful at spinning and weaving.”

Analyzing these ancient textile samples is a complex and laborious process, particularly because the remnant samples are so small.

Ordoñez pulled out about 30 plastic containers the size of a film canister, and inside each was what looked like a rock or bit of compressed mud about an inch in diameter. Within each piece were flecks of what only an expert could tell are tiny fragments of fabric.

“Sometimes you really have to use your imagination to tell that there’s a textile in there,” she said.

Handling each piece very carefully so it doesn’t crumble, Ordoñez uses a stereomicroscope to examine the yarn structure, the fabric structure, and the finish on each sample. She then brings the sample to the URI Sensors and Surface Technology Laboratory to use a scanning electron microscope to look in more fine detail at the plant material from which each piece of yarn was made.

“I can look at the cell structure of the yarn and compare it to reference materials to identify the kind of plant each thread is made from,” explained Ordoñez, who may spend as many as three days examining each fragment. “We’ve found threads made from cotton, sedge grasses, and all kinds of other plant fibers.”

After completing the analysis of the textile samples in her lab this summer, the URI professor plans to return to the Copán ruins in 2009 to examine more fragments from the woman’s tomb and other sites. She said the working conditions at the site are challenging and the research facilities are primitive, but the site provides the best opportunity to learn more about the Mayan culture.

She may even do a study of Mayan statuary at the site to see what she can learn from the way that sculptors represented textiles from the period.

Maya’s Used “Glitter” Paint for Temples

According to scientist studies, the Mayas painted some of their ornate temples with mica which is a glittery mineral to make them sparkle in the sun.
They have taken flakes of paint from the Rosalila temple in Copán, Honduras, and discovered traces of the shiny mineral in the analysis.

This particular temple was built in the sixth century A.D., today it sits “entombed” in a giant pyramid that has been built around it.

The sacred site was given a dazzling appearance by the sparkling paint, because the mica pigment would have had a lustrous effect, according to a doctoral student in physical sciences and the study’s lead author, Rosemary Goodall.

Presently Mica is used today in paints to create a shimmering finish.

The gleaming paint also appears to have been applied periodically, scientist believe this was perhaps in honor of important anniversaries or ceremonial events.

Shining Masks

Goodall’s team used a new high tech infrared analysis technique to study red, green, and gray paint implemented on stucco masks that appear on the exterior of the temple that is very well preserved.

This technique reads the chemical “signature” of each particle it samples, she explained.

“We’ve been unable to differentiate the different particles that have made up the paint, but by using this technique, we are able to get an image of the surface of the material and spatially separate the different particles from that paint”.

“The new infrared analysis gives us more information much more rapidly.”

The mica from the paint most likely came from beyond the Maya realm.

The team of scientist believes that mica was available in what is now known as Guatemala, and the Maya would have had to trade for something like that.

The analysis of the materials used by the Maya offers an insight into their technology and knowledge exchange and trade networks. As well as give us an insight into how people in the southern periphery of the Maya realm interacted with people in the northern regions.

So far Mica has only been found on the Rosalila temple.

“We know the building was in use for one hundred years because the Maya dated the opening ceremony of the building, as well as the closing ceremony”.

“We also know the building was repainted somewhere between 15 and 20 times, it is estimated that mica was only used, in every fourth or fifth repainting. Because it’s not on every layer.”

“The next step for us is to look at the core of the paint layers and see if we can find out the frequency mica was used, which may give us an indication of whether or not it was applied to celebrate one of these period endings, or to mark some significant date.”

Cynthia Robin is an anthropologist and Maya expert at Northwestern University in Illinois.

“I think that’s a very interesting idea,” Robin said of Goodall’s theory, “because the Maya numerical system is a base-20 system, so their calendar is based on a 20-year period called a katun.

“We know from hieroglyphs that these katun endings, or these 20-year periods, were important times of ceremony in the life of the king.

“Obviously Rosalila would have been a very important place for Copán’s royalty.”

Dave Hansford
for National Geographic News
February 7, 2008

Researches Learn from Infrared Technology

Ancient Maya rulers knew a thing or two about pizzazz.

Some 1,500 years later, we still marvel at the stone temples they built. Now, according new findings, we have even more to marvel at.

The temples – known today for their massive size, shape and astronomical alignment – once literally dazzled in daylight.

Rosemary Goodall, a Queensland University of Technology researcher, attributes the effect to two special pigments the Mayan builders used.

Goodall applied a new analysis technique to examine tiny paint samples from a once vibrantly-coloured Rosalila temple in the Mayan city of Copan – a famous tourist site in Honduras, Central America.

“The Rosalila would have been one of the highest buildings of the valley in its time, built by the Maya ruler to exhibit his power and impress his subjects,” Ms Goodall said.

The Rosalila

Using special infrared technology called the FTIR-ATR spectral imaging and Raman spectroscopy, Goodall found that the temple had more than 15 layers of paint and stucco.

She also found the “signature” of each mineral in the paints from samples measuring only millimetres in size.

“The mineral make-up of the pigments tells us what colours were painted on each layer,” says Goodall.

“I discovered a green pigment and a mica pigment that would have had a lustrous effect…I’m sure that when the sun hit it, it must have sparkled”

Goodall also found that the stucco changed over time. It became more refined and changed in colour from grey to white.

Next steps

While the information will allow historians (and Hollywood) to more accurately depict these ancient structures, the research will also help better preserve what’s left of the ruins.

“By understanding what’s there, you can suggest ways to stop damage,” says Goodall, noting that her tests did not destroy the samples she used.

The Maya

The site of Copan was first populated in 1600 BC, but research indicates that it wasn’t until about AD 400-800 that the Rosalila temple was built.

Mystery surrounds the civilization, which largely disappeared by about AD 900.

by: Dragana Kovacevic

Copán Ruinas – Eco-tourism and Archaeology

Honduras’ raw authenticity and lush beauty leaves even the most culturally jaded deeply affected. The newly elected president’s push for increased stability, safety and education is evident. And in an effort to fight poverty, Honduras is following in the footsteps of its Central American neighbors Belize and Costa Rica by encouraging eco-tourism. Still largely undiscovered by tourist masses, the slow and friendly town of Copán Ruinas is an outdoor enthusiast’s utopia, with birding, waterfalls, hiking and hot springs, while its ruins are a mecca for archaeology buffs – more than 7,000 Maya descendents live in nearby mountainous villages.

Georgia native Jennifer Mathews and her business partner, the vivacious Brit restaurateur known as Twisted Tanya (, operate Copán Connections
( Working with a network of hotels, tour operators and transporters from across Honduras, they provide information and book services. Mathews shares what first-time American tourists ought to know:

“The village of Copán Ruinas takes a minimum of three days to enjoy. The magnificent archeological park, located in the Copán Valley, has been a major source of information regarding the ancient Maya civilization. UNESCO declared Copán a heritage of humanity in 1980 and continuous study of the city by archeologists for over a century make it the most studied city of the Maya.”

“Hacienda San Lucas is a 100-year-old family owned eco-B&B situated above the world-renowned Maya ruins. The Hacienda is only five minutes from town, but secluded in the mountains, away from the town’s activity. Its well-traveled clientele will enjoy simplicity, authenticity, cultural exchange and quality in nature. Its restaurant serves up a signature adobe sauce, an authentic Maya sauce similar to the Mexican mole, except without the chocolate. A base of sesame and pumpkin seeds and exotic peppers are roasted in a clay dish over a firestone and browned by hand in a Maya stone metate. The adobo is served over fire-roasted chicken with handmade fresh ground corn tamales, wrapped in banana leaves, then steamed, and pickled green papaya. The owner, Flavia Cueva, is a native Honduran.”

“The 15 stage zip-line ride through the forest is one of the most astounding canopy tours . The tour begins at the top of one of the hills near Hacienda San Lucas, and leads you through a beautiful birds’-eye view of the town, the Mayan Acropolis and the river valley. The tour ends by zipping straight over the Copán River and stopping right at the southwest side of the Acropolis.”

“Macaw Mountain Bird Park and Nature Reserve is an innovative tropical bird reserve in Western Honduras that cares for rescued and endangered birds. North American conservationist Mandy Wagner began rescuing parrots and toucans out of devotion to these intelligent, social creatures, and by the 1990s, her private collection had grown to more than 40 birds representing 15 species. The 9-acre nature reserve, one of the last old-growth forests close to Copán, includes an extraordinary forest including mahogany, Indio desnudo (gumbo limbo), Chico zapote, Spanish cedar and fig trees. Elevated wooden trails and decks offer spectacular viewing of the park’s pristine river, year-round freshwater springs, huge boulders and sloping canyon walls. The whisper of Blue Morpho butterflies is a soft counterpoint to noisy flights of wild parakeets. At the Blue Morpho restaurant on the property, owners Pat and Lloyd also serve up cups of the best coffee in the region, harvested from their nearby coffee finca.”

“The best souvenir shop in town is Casa de Todo, offering Mayan calendar jewelry, original carved stone, Mayan paintings, Mayan literature, local children’s art, Honduran music, a range of local coffees and cigars, and Mayan design T-shirts. It is located just off the main square and run by Sandra Guerra, native Copaneca.”

Getting to San Pedro Sula, the main airport serving Northern Honduras, isn’t the hard part; it’s the pilgrimage to Copán Ruinas that can be tedious. An airport and welcome center are slated to open – just 30 miles outside town – in 2009. Fly from San Francisco to Houston; then connect to San Pedro Sula International Airport. A U.S. passport is required.

The three-hour drive to Copán is best done with a private driver. There is also a luxury bus, which is safe and reliable ( Copán Ruinas is a walking town, but for further locations, for about $1 U.S. per person, mototaxis will zip you to your destination.

Banks are open Monday through Saturday morning. It’s best to go into the bank and get a cash advance and receipt. ATM’s are not always reliable or trustworthy. Most places accept credit cards, but there will be a service charge of up to 16 percent. Visa is more widely accepted than Mastercard. Xibalba’s Coffee Shop and Pub, located on the main square, will exchange dollars, lempiras, euros and quetzals, and does so after bank hours.

A departure tax is required (currently $34 U.S.).

by: Charyn Pfeuffer