Okay, a deceptive title, but this post will focus on some Mayan ruins. We visited Copan in western Honduras and Tikal in northern Guatemala. In addition, you can read about our visit to Joya de Ceren in El Salvador in that post. Because Copan is in Honduras, and everyone is afraid of Honduras, we saw about 10 people there. Tikal was rather crowded, but still bearable. Tikal also had good birds and animals in the area.
The Mayans had one of the earliest systems of writing in the world. It was fairly complex, and much of it is still being deciphered. Here is a good example of some writing that commemorated a ceremony of some type. Apparently, they just figured out about a decade ago by comparing these types of markers from different cities that some of the symbols were the name of the city. The name of Copan (from where this one comes) is symbolized by a stylized bat because they have a lot of caves around with bats.
This statues represents the first recorded ruler of Copan, whose name was something like Blue Quetzal Macaw. Not a lot is known about early leaders because it was custom for a long time to destroy everything that had been written about the previous ruler when a new one came to power. Then, some guy needed to claim this ruler as an ancestor to give himself some legitimacy and all the sudden the first ruler was everywhere...
Copan is famous for these giant statues called stellae (singular: stella, no idea why they use a Latin word for a Mayan statue in a Spanish country). They all have leaders in the pose of gods and generally commemorated important events. They almost inevitably have a big round table in front of them where common people are expected to leave presents for the ruling class. Often, the ruling class would sit on high structures and watch who was leaving stuff for them.
Here is another stella. These come from about 600 AD. This area developed what is known as the cult of the stellae. Sounds like a geeky scientist cult, but it was really around the quasi-worship of the quasi-gods depicted in these statues. While stellae exist in other parts of the Mayan world, they aren't very fancy and were often just painted.
Tara took this beautiful picture looking out through one of the temples in Copan. Copan is set among the hills and small mountains. All the temples in Copan are built on top of old ones. Every couple hundred years, a new ruler would order bigger, better pyramids and temples built. Apparently, they shared this with the Incas.
If you look closely, you'll see that's me in the middle of what is known as a false arch. The Mayans weren't quite as good as Greek real arches, but they have held up well over time.
On to Tikal, an even bigger Mayan city. Almost 3 million Mayans lived in the area at the peak of the Mayan empire in about 1200AD. The site is huge, but they have only excavated parts, and even keeping those from being reclaimed by the jungle is challenging. There are 7 major temples in the shape of the Big Dipper. This is one of them. You can see how much moss is growing on the sides, slowing breaking down the pyramid.
A gray-throated woodrail along the edge of a lake at Tikal. Why is it called a woodrail? No idea. But I understand the gray throated part.
Our guide was terrible, but he did grab a tarantula and carry it around for a few minuted. We were cheering for it to bite him. Afterall, he told us all about how it was painful but not lethal. And then we probably would have had a better tour guide replace him.
This is another of the temples. Layers of pyramids with a building on the top. The priests and rulers would go up to the top and look down menacingly at the people. I don't think they sacrificed people in this one, but they definitely did in some of them.
A view looking out from the top of one of the temples. You can see a couple other temples. It also gives a sense of how hard the jungle tries to take over the ruins. In the day of the Mayas, there were no trees anywhere. Not only because it was a city, but because there was massive deforestation for firewood.
Tara in front of one of the temples. I know, they all start to look alike, but this one also has Tara! The stairs going up them are very steep. We climbed a couple of them and were certainly tired by the end of the day.
Last one. This one has both of us with some ruins in the background. A tour guide was demonstrating from the ruins in the background that the acoustics were so good that he could speak in a normal voice and anyone on the square could hear him. They should build more public squares like that today.
Last, but certainly not least, is a picture of the wild turkey that is everywhere in Tikal. It not only has colorful feathers, but a blue neck and head with orange spots. From now on, I only plan to eat this type of turkey for Thanksgiving. I think it will make me prettier.
That's the story of the Mayan ruins. Overall, the Mayans were very skilled. They did a lot of weird stuff, like binding the heads of the ruling class to make them all pointy, and sacrificing a lot of people, but they also invented zero, understood a ton of astronomy, and apparently predicted that the world will end on Tara's birthday, 2012 (actually, their calendar just runs out then--they never predicted the end of the world).