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Ruins of Quirigua - Ruin - Guatemala


Cauac Sky was the greatest ruler of the city of Quirigua during the Maya classic period.  He is depicted on Stela E at Quirigua, the most impressive of the Mayan stelae, or tall, carved standing stones.  The largest of the Mayan stelae, stela E stands thirty-five feet (11 meters) tall and weighs an estimated 130,000 pounds (almost 60,000 kilograms).  Archaeologists estimate the stela was finished around 771 A.D. 


It is one of twenty or so at the Quirigua archaeological site, once an important Maya city.  The glyphs (Maya picture-writing) on the stela show Cauac Sky receiving the trappings of power from the ruler of the nearby city of Copán, 18 Rabbit.  Later, Cauac Sky would defeat the forces of Copán in battle and order the beheading of 18 Rabbit, one of the greatest of Copan’s rulers. 


The Mayan empire wasn’t really an empire at all, but a collection of city-states that were unified by language and commerce.  The Mayans were great builders, warriors and astronomers, and their culture peaked around 600-800 A.D. before mysteriously disappearing.  Historians have a number of theories for their decline, including too much warfare among the city-states, natural disasters and disease.  Whatever the reason, by the time the Spanish arrived in the sixteenth century, the descendants of the Maya were scattered into smaller pockets of civilization spread out over southern Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and northern Honduras. 


The Quirigua archaeological site is noteworthy for several reasons.  Besides stela E and the other magnificent carved standing stones, the area is one of the few places which features “full-figured glyphs” which is a certain intricate form of Mayan writing into stone.  It also features “zoomorphs”, which are great stones carved into animal shapes.  Much of the site has yet to be excavated: it is managed jointly by the University of Pennsylvania and the Guatemalan government. 




Getting there and around:  Quirigua is about 220 kilometers from Guatemala City, and relatively easy to visit as it is not far from the highway that links the city to the coast.  There is a small town nearby by facilities are limited: Quiriguá is better done as a day trip.  Admission to the site costs about $3.  It is a UNESCO World Heritage site.


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