Copán was an important Mayan city during the Classic period (about 250 to 900), located in the present-day state of Honduras. It experienced its heyday in the 8th century, but was abandoned soon afterwards and fell into disrepair, like most other Maya cities in the lowlands of the Yucatán Peninsula.
When Stephens and Catherwood excavated this sculpture, the clothing and the absence of a beard led them to believe that it was the image of a woman. Although it is worth noting that Mayan men used to wear long tunics in their religious ceremonies, and today experts agree that this image represents one of the most famous rulers of Copan, King Waxaklajun Ub’aah K’awiil, dressed as one of the maize gods. (Morgan Middlebrook)
IDOL, AT COPAN. ON STONE,
BY A. PICKEN.
“No. 1 Stone Idol Front View”
The ruined city of Copan being described in general terms in the Introduction, it is only necessary here to enter into more minute detail as regards the monolithic statues, or idols, which form her characteristic feature. The Plate gives a front view of one of the most perfect of a group of eleven. They were all deeply buried amidst tropical trees when first discovered, and it was with no small difficulty that a sufficient space was cleared away to admit of a drawing being made.
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The Idol is carved out of a single block of compact limestone, and measures eleven feet eight inches in height, and three feet four inches on each side, standing on a pedestal six feet square. It is surrounded by a circular stone curb or rim, measuring, in its outer diameter, sixteen feet six inches. A sacrificial stone, or altar, stands in front of it, at a distance of eight feet ten inches, but is not introduced into the drawing, as it would have hidden the lower part of the figure. It is placed diagonally towards the Idol, measuring seven feet across. There is every probability (from the deep groovings, or channels, on all the altars) that they were used for the immolation of human victims.
The Idol, viewed in front, represents a woman of middle age, with the arms curiously raised and bent before her; the wrists are adorned with bracelets of beads, and the neck profusely covered with necklaces; on either side of the head descends a tress of hair; the ears are large, unnatural in their shape, and are decorated with ear-drops; immediately over the forehead appears a row of beads attached to the hair. The head-dress is not easy to describe: it is very lofty, and one of its peculiarities is a skull, or upper part of the head of some animal, the lower jaw being wanting. Whether the remainder of the head-dress is intended to represent feathers, or flowers, or a mixture of the two, is doubtful. The lower part of the dress has the appearance of a cotton robe (cotton being indigenous to the country, and much used), ornamented with chequer work, and fringed with beads.
The feet are clothed in sandals of precisely the same form as are found in some of the old Roman statues they appear to have been a conspicuous part of the dress. The sides of the Idol have rows of hieroglyphics, and the back is as elaborately carved as the front, but the subject is totally different. It presents a mask, surrounded by complicated ornaments, with a gracefully disposed border, and, at the base, rows of hieroglyphics.
Source: Views of ancient monuments in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan by Frederick Catherwood. London: F. Catherwood 1844.