For the ancient peoples of the Americas, birds were an integral part of daily life and played fundamental roles in religion, art and politics. The ancient Maya - who between 600 BC and AD 1500 lived in what is today Southern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Western Honduras and parts of El Salvador - appreciated birds for their beautiful plumage, enchanting songs, and their ability to fly between the earth and the sky as no other creature can do. They particularly valued the feathers of birds such as quetzals and macaws and traded these for use in elite costumes.
Although the art and sculpture of ancient Maya cities (such as Copan) contain many images of macaws, quetzals, herons, and eagles, archaeologists are just beginning to understand the role birds played in ancient Maya society. Researchers search for clues in the art and architecture, in the hieroglyphic inscriptions, in the remains of bird bones encountered during excavations, and in the oral stories that the living Maya have passed down from generation to generation. At Macaw Mountain visitors can learn more about the intricate relationship between the ancient Maya and their avian friends.
Painting of Margarita Panel (detail), 6th century (right). This stucco panel of intertwined macaws was discovered by archaeologists deep below
the Hieroglyphic Stairway at Copan. It adorned the platform of a temple built over the tomb of K’inich Yax K’uk Mo’.
We will soon unveil our educational exhibit that addresses the relationship between the ancient Maya civilization and tropical birds, particularly the scarlet macaw. Specifically, the exhibit explores the importance of birds in daily life, economy, art, and religion of the early peoples of the Copan Valley. The exhibit is being assembled by resident scholar, Dr. Jennifer Ahlfeldt, Assistant Professor of Pre-Columbian Art and Architecture at the University of New Mexico.
Replica of image of Copan Ruler from Altar Q, 8th century.The ruins at Copan have a great deal of bird imagery. In fact, the name of the dynasty's founder, K’inich Yax K’uk Mo’ means Resplendent Sun Lord Quetzal Macaw.