Copan Sculpture Museum

Introduction to the Ancient Mayan Ruins at Copán, Honduras

"From the map one can see that Copán is far to the southeast of the center of the Maya Old Empire. In the country beyond there are no other large cities with vaulted buildings and sculptured monuments.

Yet there is about it nothing of the character of a frontier city. There are no fortifications to indicate that its relations with neighbors to the south and east were anything but friendly, and there is little in its art which suggests foreign influences.

If anything, the art of Copán surpasses that of the Petén and is strikingly individual, as if the city were itself the nucleus of a cultural subdivision of the Old Empire.

In most Petén cities architectural decoration was executed in stucco, and sculpture is largely confined to stelae and altars, whereas at Copán stone carvings, often in full round, adorned every important building.

As if jealous of this superb creation of man, all the most violent forces of nature seem to have conspired to destroy it. Even in historic times, earthquakes have shaken the ruins, and now the beautifully carved fragments of its buildings lie scattered on the slopes of its pyramids like the pieces of a gigantic jigsaw puzzle in stone.

The Copán River has wantonly changed its course to gnaw at the east side of the Acropolis.

It has devoured entire several buildings and has washed away thousands of tons of stone, leaving exposed a vertical cut a hundred and eighty-five feet in height.

Seen thus in section, ancient plaza floors and the remains of partially dismantled walls, covered by layer upon layer of later construction, testify to untold centuries of human effort."

Tatiana Proskouriakoff, An Album of Maya Architecture, p. 31

Copan Sculpture Museum

The Copán Sculpture Museum

The Copán Sculpture Museum was built by the Honduran government and opened on August 3, 1996. It is beaultifully designed and contains many treasures. Photos of many of these pieces are accessible from arrows on the Copan map, but some are associated with buildings either buried or no longer in existence.

I present a few of these pieces photographed from different angles so that my gentle reader can savor and enjoy.

Copan Sculpture Museum

During the reign of Ruler 12, "Smoke Imix" (628–695 AD), a new high relief style developed which used tenoned stone sculptural features such as this water bird.

In the opinion of William Fash, Ruler 12 was perhaps the single most accomplished Copán dynast. Fash writes:

"Monolithic mosaic sculpture from Hijole Structure, buried beneath Structure 10L-26 [Hieroglyphic Stairway], dated to the reign of Ruler 12, showing high-relief sculpture of a water bird, and tenon used to secure it into the building."

William L. Fash, Scribes, Warriors and Kings: The City of Copán and the Ancient Maya, p. 120

Copan Sculpture Museum

"Carved from a single block of stone, this sculpture depicts the storm god Chaak in a particularly snake-like form, with upturned snout and sharp tooth."

Mary Miller & Simon Martin, Courtly Art of the Ancient Maya, p. 74

I find the vitality and energy of this piece absolutely astonishing.

Copan Sculpture Museum

"Structure> 10L-20, now completely destroyed by the ravages of the Copán River, once displayed an ominously decorated façade.

Members of the Peabody museum and Carnegie Institution expeditions record that a series of large sculptures of Killer Bats adorned the exterior of the building.

The bats were identified by death signs (%) on their pectorals, and the 'death eye' collars, as the same grisly Underworld denizens described in the Popol Vuh.

More recently, we have collected all the surviving fragments of these bats from the Acropolis and the local museum and storage facilities, and calculated that there were at least six of these Killer Bats."

William L. Fash, Scribes, Warriors and Kings: The City of Copán and the Ancient Maya, p. 129

Killer Bat from Copan Sculpture Museum

"Structure 10L-20 had been described by Palacio in the 16th century as a 'tower', and before its destruction by the river at the turn of this century it was partially excavated by Maudslay.

His excavations revealed that the super-structure had two floors, and that the building's cord-holders (for securing the doors) were set on the outside.

This placement was taken to indicate that the building was designed to be sealed from the outside, and led the Austrian architects Hasso Hohmann and Annegrette Vogrin to conclude that structure 10L-20 was a jail.

Its adornment with Killer Bats, its similarity to the 'House of Bats' described in the Popol Vuh, and the Lacandon Maya custom of confining prospective victims of sacrificial rites in wooden cages all strengthen this interpretation."

William L. Fash, Scribes, Warriors and Kings: The City of Copán and the Ancient Maya, p. 130

Killer Bat from Copan Sculpture Museum

Killer Bat from Copan Sculpture Museum

The Killer Bat sculptures, as noted by Proskouriakoff in An Album of Maya Architecture, were roof ornaments.

Crab plate from Village of Copan Archaeology Museum

Village of Copán Museum of Archaeology

The Village of Copán Museum of Archaeology is a small and wonderful museum containing artifacts found at the site.

I have used many photos of their objects in the main parts of this website, for example the eccentric flints or the incensario lid effigies of Copán's rulers from Smoke Imix's Tomb, but there are many interesting and whimsical objects here that haven't found a place in the main website. Here are just a few.

This crab plate looks similar to painted pottery that can be purchased in markets today.

Ceramics from Village of Copan Archaeology Museum

A spiky caraffe and an elegant goblet

Acrobat Effigy Lid from Village of Copan Archaeology Museum

Possibly this little acrobat once served as a lid handle on some sort of container.

The site of Copán is blessed with two amazing museums. Neither should be missed!