They provided us with much of what we know of Copan in the Middle Pre-classic period, about 1000 to 300 B.c.”
PEOPLE CAME here around 1000 B.C.,”says Fash, “and probably the reasons were simple. The valley had water and good bottomland —everything you needed to be a good Maya farmer.” Little is known of those earliest Copanecs, save for the information afforded by a Pre-classic cemetery seven feet beneath the surface of Las Sepulturas. A necklace of jade jaguar claws placed with one burial of about Erected by the ruler who founded the royal line, Copcin’s oldest dated monument captures the attention of epigraphist David Stuart, the author’s son. The glyphs for December 11, 435, appear at the top of the stela, which was found last spring in a building buried under Structure 26 and its Hieroglyphic Stairway (right). Just enough text remains below the break to read the king’s name, Mah K’ina Yax K’uk’ Mo’.
900 B.C. indicates trade in luxury raw materials, for the jade came from the Motagua River Valley of Guatemala. And the decoration on the accompanying pottery suggests affiliations with the Olmec people, who, centered in the apartments to rent in barcelona coast some 500 miles northwest of Copan, exerted their still little understood influences up and down the Pacific coast. Other burials of the same time proved devoid of goods, suggesting, even then, a thriving village population with a growing differentiation between elite and commoner.
We know even less of Copan during the several centuries around the time of the birth of Christ. As a frontier settlement between the Maya area and various other groups to the east and south, it was situated in a locale propitious for trade. The archaeological record, however, is without evidence of any public buildings or ceremonial precincts. Perhaps the clues still lie buried deep in the very lowest levels of the Acropolis or under the present town, where several important Early Classic monuments have been found. Or maybe such remains were simply razed by later builders.
At any rate, while the burgeoning Maya centers at El Mirador, Tikal, and Uaxactlin, in the lowlands of Guatemala’s Peten, immortalized their powerful Late Preclassic elite in painted stucco adorning great public buildings, and while such highland centers as Kaminaljuyd in Guatemala and Chalchuapa in El Salvador passed through spectacular periods of prosperous state formation, Copan remains almost mute until the fifth century A.D.
Around A.D. 450 a shaman died and was buried at Las Sepulturas with all the trappings of his office—tortoiseshell rattles and a ritual “kit” containing divining stones, a codex, and animal teeth and bones. The accompanying pottery, lidded vases with slab legs, is typical of Early Classic times, reflecting relationships with the Maya highlands to the west and, ultimately, with the metropolis of Teotihuacan in Mexico’s central highlands. This burial of such an important person away from the Main Group suggests that power in the valley may have been shared among several lineages.