1576 – 2020
While the ancient Maya history of Copan is fascinating, the archaeological history of the site is a captivating story of its own. For hundreds of years, the mystery, art and architecture of the ancient Maya have attracted men and women with a thirst for adventure, precious objects, fame and romance.
Colonel Juan Galindo (a.k.a. Irishman John Gallagher), commander of Flores, Peten, Guatemala, “excavates” the tomb that tourists can see in the sub-jaguar tunnels of Copan. His report is published in Europe.
English archaeologist Alfred Maudslay visits Copan and creates the first detailed map of the site, including Temples 11, 16, 20 and 22 (Temple 20 later fell into the Copan River), and the Hieroglyphic Stairway of Temple 26. This is the first serious archaeological excavation at Copan. Maudslay’s incredibly detailed maps and evocative photographs are published in Biologia Centrali Americana (1889-1902).
Maudslay continues excavations now as director of the Peabody Museum of Harvard University’s project at Copan, discovering Temple 21a, Tomb 1 and many new stelae.
Sylvanus G. Morley visits Copan repeatedly and publishes The Inscriptions at Copan in 1920.
The Carnegie years. Copan is explored by Sylvanus G. Morley, Gustav Stromsvik, Tatiana Proskouriakoff, Edward Shook, and Jesus Nunez Chinchilla, the first Honduran archaeologist, who later founds the Honduran Institute of Anthropology and History in 1952. The stone fountain (which still stands in the town’s main plaza) is designed and built for the village by Gustav Stromsvik and Tatiana Proskouriakoff. The Copan River is diverted to protect the archaeological site; Temples 11, 22, 26 (including the Hieroglyphic Staircase) and the ball court are reconstructed. The East/Jaguar Courtyard of the acropolis is reconstructed, the first tunnels are excavated and the first museum in the town of Copan is created.
Although activity at Copan slows down from the previous decade, significant excavations continue in the Maya world along with great advances in Maya research.
Harvard University archaeologists Gordon Willey and student Richard Leventhal begin settlement survey and work in the Copan Valley away from the main site.
The government of Honduras begins the first phase of a major archaeological project under the direction of French archaeologist Claude Baudez of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique. A significant settlement survey is undertaken, as well as serious sculpture studies and the excavation of Temples 4 and 18. The town of Copan gets its first sewer system.
The second phase of the Honduran government-sponsored project is directed by William Sanders of Penn State University. The project finishes the settlement surveys and excavates Las Sepulturas. The town of Copan gets regular electricity.
William Fash of Northern Illinois State University, Barbara Fash and Rudy Larios begin the Copan Mosaics project to record and protect Copan’s hundreds of stone mosaic sculptures.
The Copan Acropolis Archaeological Project and its successors begin excavations supervised by an international team of scholars. Building upon the advances in Maya knowledge from the 1960s-1990s, the most impressive and richest tombs and temples are discovered at Copan. The probable tomb of founder of the Copan dynasty, K’inich Yax K’uk Mo’, is excavated by Dr. Robert Sharer of the University of Pennsylvania. During this exciting time, three kilometers of tunnels are dug under the acropolis, Honduran archaeologist Ricardo Agurcia discovers the most complete Maya temple found to date – “Rosalila”, the East court is excavated, the Hieroglyphic Stairway continues to be deciphered and restored, and Temple 16 and El Cementerio are excavated. The Copan Sculpture Museum opens to rave reviews in 1996.
Using the latest technology, researchers are able to excavate deep in tunnels, remotely sense underneath the ground, discover where offerings were made, recreate facial features and lifestyles from ancient bones and reconstruct ancient environments. Scholars analyze and write about a variety of important discoveries. Better management plans for the archaeological park are discussed; an interpretive center for Honduran children opens in 2002.
Present and Future
2011 Guaras en Libertad La Belleza Regresa a bilateral project between the Copan Association and the Macaw Mountain Bird Reserve begins. The award winning project has brought worldwide attention to Honduras about conservation of the Scarlet Macaw the national bird of Honduras. Large-scale infrastructure and tourism projects have begun with a regional airport inaugurated in December 2014.