Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Maya II

The Great Plaza in Tikal was surrounded by grand palaces and temples. This is Temple I.

Peeling Back the Jungle

By the time the Spanish conquered Honduras in the 1520s, Copán had long been overgrown by rainforest. Several explorers visited it in the early 19th century and wrote about the barely visible ruins. In 1839, explorer and travel writer John Lloyd Stephens (1805–1852) paid a Maya guide to lead him to the site. In Stephens’s book Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan, he offers this riveting account of how the jungle was stripped away to rediscover the ruins.

It is impossible to describe the interest with which I explored these ruins. The ground was entirely new; there were no guide-books or guides; the whole was virgin soil. We could not see 10 yards before us, and never knew what we should stumble upon next. At one time we stopped to cut away branches and vines which concealed the face of a monument, and then to dig around and bring to light a fragment, a sculptured corner of which protruded from the earth. I leaned over with breathless anxiety while the Indians worked, and an eye, an ear, a foot, or a hand was disentombed. When the machete rang against the chiseled stone, I pushed the Indians away, and cleared out the loose earth with my hands. The beauty of the sculpture, the solemn stillness of the woods, disturbed only by the scrambling of monkeys and chattering of parrots, the desolation of the city, and the mystery that hung over it, all created an interest higher, if possible, than I had ever felt among the ruins of the Old World.

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