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A Sacred and Defensive Hill and the Memory of Ruler 12 in Late Classic Copán, Honduras

Jorge Ramos, Instituto Hondureño de Antropología e Historia, Fellow 2014–2015

My research at Dumbarton Oaks has contributed to an enhanced understanding of the sculptural corpus from a newly excavated archaeological site on the outskirts of the Copán Valley. Building upon previous on-site analysis, conducted as part of the Proyecto Arqueológico Rastrojón Copán (2007–2014, Harvard University), I addressed the various iconographic motifs from a broader comparative perspective within the “Mesoamerican tradition.” Imagery at the site attests to the emergence of important ritual loci within the sacred landscape around the valley centering on the memory and veneration of Ruler 12, K’ahk’ Uti’ Witz’ K’awiil (628–695), who was one of the most celebrated figures in the Copán historical record. He is believed to be featured posthumously on the paramount structure of the site, Structure 6N-10, surrounded by mountain, cave, and water imagery designed to portray him as a powerful supernatural, central to rain and fertility ideology. The cosmic motifs are depicted on the building facades in a hybrid style replete with meanings that evoke other themes related to sacrifice and warfare within Teotihuacan symbolism. The convergence of different aspects of other supernaturals—evident in the most elaborate mythical creatures—is indicative of stylistic innovation and, probably, the reinvention of local ideologies at the time Rastrojón Group 6N-1 was constructed. Research at the site suggests the emergence of a new social group in apparent connection with royal efforts to stabilize the traditional political system in the eighth century AD, perhaps in consonance with the political and ideological changes occurring at Copán during this time of population growth and cultural diversity.