Saturday Art and Archaeology: Copán, Altar Q
Among the treasures excavated at Copán Mayan Archaeological Site is the Altar Q that represents a lineage that has been traced from its origins to the regime in power at the time of its construction. Each historical figure is recognizable by the glyphs that associate with him.
Altar Q is the designation given to one of the most notable of the rectangular sculpted stone blocks (dubbed “altars”) recovered at the Mesoamerican archaeological site of Copán, present-day Honduras.
Copán was a major Maya civilization center during the Classic period of Mesoamerican chronology, and Altar Q records a dynastic lineage for the Copán-based polity in the Maya script. It was created during the rule of King Yax Pac in 776. Each of the sixteen leaders of Copan are shown with a full body portrait, four on each side of the monument. It starts with Yax K’uk’ Mo’, who ruled starting in 426 AD, and extends through 763 AD, ending with Yax Pasaj Chan Yoaat. Therefore, the monument’s depictions span three hundred and fifty years of time. Each ruler is seated on a glyph that represents his name. The most important part of the picture is Yax Kuk Mo handing down the insignia of reign to Yax Pac. This was a form of propaganda, intended to show that Yax Pac was just as worthy of rule as the first leader.
As with other changes of regime, the altar shows what has gone before, and represents a change that was accompanied by renewing and rebuilding of the structures of the ceremonial site. From the excavations that have been conducted there, layer upon layer has been found that track back to the past from rebuilding that represented change.