Maya Mañana

Ann Hills explores long-term excavations on the ancient Central American civilisation.

'Western scholars have over-idealised the Mayans. Now they are having a glorious time knocking that civilisation off its pedestal', said Bill Fash who, together, with his wife Barbara, is heading long-term excavations at Copan in Honduras. Assisted by a team of 130 these archaeologists from the Northern Illinois University, are exploring a classic period city where social and health problems contributed to disintegration.

Evidence of blood-letting, ancestor worship and numerous deities is appearing. Residents of high status were given sumptuous burials with appropriate offerings, but 'infants could be chucked into the rubbish heap, which destroys illusions of the noble Mayan', continued Bill Fash, sitting on the steps of Temple 16, above where his colleagues are tunnelling deep inside, attempting to enter the burial chambers of kings.

This comprehensive study of Copan, which began twelve years ago, has documented a lineage of sixteen rulers in the years 430-822. The oldest stela, dated to AD 435, was found this year and is now in the nearby laboratory, along with hundreds of sculptures and carvings. Thousands litter the vast site.

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