Maya Mysteries Revealed: Visiting Copan, Honduras

In the dark jungle night, the music of ancient flutes and drums swirled around me, along with pungent odors of fire mixed with forest dampness. Flaming against the black sky, burning eight pound rubber balls rolled down the sloping ball court wall. Muscular ball players wearing brilliant turquoise, green, red and blue quetzal feathered headdresses batted the burning disks with the Maya equivalent of hockey sticks, just as they had over 2000 years ago. I sat among the hundreds privileged to be experiencing a precise reenactment of important rituals of the greatest empire of the ancient Meso-American world: the Corn Dance, Pok Ta Pok Ballgame, and Fire Dance.

When we were recently invited to attend the third—in the past 100 years—International Maya Conference at Copan, my husband, photographer John Montgomery, and I grabbed notebooks, cameras, and sunscreen, and headed for the cloud forests of Honduras.

Thirty years earlier, I had visited many of the great Maya sites of Central America and Mexico. At that time, Copan was in the early stages of excavation. To get there, I stuck out my thumb and hitched a ride with a Honduran military jeep deep into the rain forest on a rutted dirt road leading to Copan Ruinas. Many hours later, after pushing the jeep across numerous river fords, we arrived at Copan, what some now call “The Paris of Maya Culture,” or “The Athens of the New World.” …………..

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