Civilizations: Ancient and Modern
Trip Start Jan 20, 2004
187Trip End Ongoing
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For six hours we meandered throughout the 24 sq km area, stopping occasionally to read the background information, but primarily just quietly admiring the magnificent architecture - especially the intricate carvings on the stelae and altars for which the Copán site is best known. Having been designated a world heritage site by UNESCO in 1980, the ruins (the remains of 3,450 structures) are set amidst well maintained lawns and surrounded by the dense forest of the Copán Valley.
As with most ancient ruins, archeologists are still working to discover the real story behind this incredible settlement. However, it is known that more than 20,000 people lived here at the peak of the Mayan civilization during the 7th and 8th centuries. So how is it that such a talented and rich civilization simply disappeared? According to the experts, the population expanded so rapidly that they were unable to sustain themselves. The farmers spread out further across the valley, slashing, burning, and deforesting as they went, but the overused land soon became infertile. Without sufficient food, the inhabitants became malnourished and had little resistance to disease, and the population gradually declined for several centuries. By the year 1200 the dense jungle had totally reclaimed the entire city of Copán.
Fast forward to 2007. Gone is the incredible Mayan dynasty of kings and subjects. Gone are the talented sculptors and temple builders. All that remain are the incredible ruins that tell a story steeped in history. But Honduras, like the rest of our world, is now part of a new global economy and inter-related civilization. The economy of Honduras has long been influenced and controlled from the US - mainly through companies such as Standard Fruit and United Fruit - don't forget this is the quintessential 'Banana Republic'.
Driving through the city of San Pedro Sula, we might as well have been in Texas - the "strip" was lined on both sides with huge signs for Pizza Hut, Burger King, McDonald's, Chevrolet, Esso, and every other imaginable North American chain. We wondered whether these would be the monuments of our civilization to be unearthed by archaeologists of the future - maybe from another galaxy? What would they make of our consumer society temples, fast food complexes and car showrooms?