National Geographic Specials (1965–…): Season 0, Episode 0 - Lost Kingdoms of the Maya - full transcript

They were here thousands of years
before Columbus.

While Paris was still a village,

they were carving cities
out of the jungle.

They played a ball game for
life or death.

They planned their lives according
to the heavens.

Their writing is a puzzle
we're still learning to decipher.

Wow! Look at this.

Really something.

Now the pace of discovery
is quickening.

We are finally finding out
who they were.

Bone? There's a lot of bone.

Look. It's a black kind of a...

Oh, man!

This is really a powerful work of art.

They are the people who say
that the gods made them from corn.

They are the Maya.

The year is 1839.

The place-western Honduras.

An American explorer named
John Lloyd Stephens

is leading an expedition in search of
an abandoned Maya city called copan.

Almost nothing is knows about the Maya

Stephens is about to learn more.

Draped with a thousand years
of tropical growth,

the brooding temples and
tumbled stones sprawl for miles.

Stephens is overwhelmed
by a sense of mystery.

Who built this place?

What happened here?

In the following days Stephens and
English artist Frederick Catherwood

record their impressions
of the ruined city.

It lay before us like a shattered bark
in the midst of the ocean,

her masts gone, her crew perished.

And none to tell when she came,

or what caused her destruction.

All was mystery, dark,
impenetrable mystery.

During the next three years Stephens
and Catherwood

visit the better known Maya sites
to the north.

In Yucatan they ecplore Uxmal
and chichen ltza.

In Chiapas they visit Palenque.

And still questions plague them.

Who built these cities?

Why had they been abandoned?

The land of the Maya spread from parts
of Honduras,

El Salvodor, and Guatemala
in the south

to Belize and Mexico in the north

It was dotted with hundreds
of small kingdoms,

each with its own unique history.

The heartland of what scholars call

the "Classic" Maya civilization lay
in the southern lowlands.

It is there that our story
takes place

starting at the site where scientific
excavations first began... Copan.

Today, this partially restored site
still retains its air of mystery.

Bill Fash is the director
of the Copan Acropolis Project.

Copan was one of the premiere
Maya cities.

Now we can't say that in terms
of its size.

Cetainly there were other cities
that were larger.

But while it was booming
for about 400 years there,

it was quite a place.

It had incredible artists, sculptors,

architects, engineers, astronomers,
scribes, and so forth.

So I suppose if you had to put it
in our cultural terms

...if Tikal were like say New York,
Copan was like Paris.

Every year of the past few decades,

a handful of Maya specialists and
hundreds of workers have been trying

to piece Copan's history back together

The story of what happened here
is still unfolding,

stone by stone.

There are over 30,000 fragments
of stone sculpture

that once adorned these buildings.

The problem is,
for this particular puzzle,

there is no box top.

There is no picture that enables us
to know how they went back together.

We have to try and figure that out.

And the problem is made worse
by things like this.

This is what we call a GO piles

and pull out the examples that
are just like those we have dug up,

and try and put the whole thing
back together.

But in spite of the difficulties,

Fash's team of experts has reassembled
thousands of sculptures

and conserved dozens of buildings.

Every year the pictures of what Copan

was like more that a thousand years ago
becomes clearer.

Many clues still lie hidden

in the temples
where the Maya elite buried their dead

The Classic Maya had virtually
no interest in metal,

so there is no gold buried here.

But sometimes something
even more valuable is unearthed.

Watch the wire.
See this face.

All right. It's repainted.
It's a stucco coating over...

In 1992 Robert Sharer discovered
the tomb of a royal family member.

Buried with him were some pots.

One glyph is there.

What makes these vessels
especially significant

are the painted designs

and the hieroglyphic writing.

Well, those are fantastic vessels,

although I don't know if I can say much
about the glyphs on them.

Forty years ago we could read only
a few Maya hieroglyphs.

Today we can read about half.

But it takes an expert.

There's another pot just like the one
with the feet in the tomb.

David Stuart is the son
of Maya scholars

and one of the world's
foremost epigraphers.

By being able to read the glyphs now,

it makes the Maya
a little bit more normal.

It makes them more human because
we see that they did have history,

that they were a people that had
real concerns about themselves

and the events in their lives.

One kind of Maya writing
was almost lost forever.

When Spanish priests arrived
in the 16th century,

they found hundreds of
folding books called codices,

and promptly burned them.

Today, only parts of
four codices remain,

but they have helped to shape the way
we think about the Maya.

The books are almanacs,

filled with astrological information.

The men and women who wrote
the almanacs were scribes,

well versed in astronomy.

Using a sophisticated mathematics,

they calculated the movements
of the night sky

thousands of years into the past
and thousands of years into the future.

They knew that the universe moved
in cycles,

some very large, some very small.

They even predicted eclipses
of the sun.

They seem to have been fascinated
by the relationship between time

and the events in their own lives.

The Maya also left a record in a
medium much more permanent than paper.

And this writing contains much more
than dates and numbers.

On these stone the Maya recorded
the important events

in the lives of their rulers.

This is the Hieroglyphic Stairway
at Copan,

the longest inscribed text
in the New World.

But early archaeologists reassembled
it out of order,

so today we can read it only
in segments.

Sculpture specialist Barbara Fash
is making a catalog

of the 1,200 glyphs on the stairway.

Someday, these drawings may tell
a more complete story of Copan's kings

This means "to plant with a stick
in the ground."

Other hieroglyphs are more accessible,

thanks to dramatic breakthroughs
in the past few decades.

This is the date. It's a...

Epigrapher Linda Schele has done
her share of the recent detective work

This is a little tree-tey.

And on this side,
facing the east, he's young.

But on the west side you can see...

Look at the beard.

It is a rare thing when a people
develop historical consciousness

and make recorded history
a part of what they do.

What we are participating in now

is the recovery of lost history...

...because American history does not
begin in 1492 with Columbus.

It begins in 200 B.C.

With the first Maya king
who wrote his name on a stone.

Long before the first king wrote
his name on a stone,

the Maya were living
in the fertile Copan valley.

They were corn farmers.

Their lives were ruled by the rhythms
of the natural world,

planting and harvesting,
birth and death.

But around A. D. 400,

at about the time Rome
was starting to collapse,

a change swept through the valley.

On a lazy bend in the Copan River,

buildings made from stone were rising
from the jungle floor.

Brilliantly colored buildings
surrounded a whitewashed central plaza

where thousands of people could gather

There was trade in shells
and cacao beans,

tobacco, jade, and feathrs.

At the center of the city
stood the ball court.

The object of the ball game seems
to have been to keep

the heavy rubber ball in motion,

without using hands or feet.

Stone carvings at some sites show

ballplayers with severed human heads
dangling from their belts.

But no one knows if they depict
what actually happened to the losers,

or illustrate something more symbolic.

The ball was supposed to be a metaphor
for the movement of the sun

and by extension, also the moon
and the stars.

And you wanted to make sure that there
was regularity in that movement.

They thought that if they played
the game in the right way,

and honored the gods in the right way,

that they would ensure the
agricultural cycle

and enable the sun to rise
and the rains to come on time

and for there to be
a bountiful harvest.

In the secret world of
the Maya

the gods were the source of all life,

and only the kings had the power
to intervene with them.

The gods sustained the
physical universe with sun and rain

and expected humans to nourish them
in return.

The supreme source of
that nourishment was blood.

When the Maya wanted to acknowledge

the sacredness of the moment or
an important event,

they would let blood.

Blood was the vehicle that carried
a quality that they called chu'lel,

which means their soul.

It was something that not
only permeated human bodies,

it permeated buildings,
it permeated the trees, the sky.

It permeated all things sacred
in the world.

And when they gave blood,

what they were doing was
they were activating the chu'lel.

It's like George Lucas's the "Force."

If you can think of Obi-wan-kenobi,

you know,

calling the "Force"out,
or Luke, as he guides the plane in

you know, in the final Death Star battle.

That's what the Maya were doing
by these rituals.

They were touching what they
considered to be

the living force
of the univers and it's still here.

On special occasions

the king himself would give blood.

This was one of the most
secret rituals in Maya life.

After days of fasting
and spiritual preparation,

the king would pierce his foreskin
with a stingray spine

and let the blood drip
onto paper strips.

With this act of sacrifice

a doorway to the gods was opened.

When the paper strips were burned,

the Maya believed they could see
their gods in the rising smoke.

the descendants of the ancient Maya

still live much like
their ancestors did.

The myths they remember

and the ceremonies they perform are
all part of a tradition

that the Maya say God gave them
at the beginning of time.

Casimiro Sagajau is a Maya priest
who blesses the fields at harvest time

We are Cakchiquels, direct descendants
of the ancient Maya.

Our religion is from a long time ago.

I learned as a child
from the Maya priests.

In dreams we learned
from the Maya gods

when to plant and when to harvest,

when to set the fires,
and when to do the corn ceremony.

The Maya passion for ritual

was one of the first things
Spanish missionaries observed

when they arrived in Yucatan
almost 500 years ago.

When the Catholic Church banned
traditional forms of worship,

the old ways went underground.

Today the religion the Maya follow
is a blend of these two ancient faiths

The Maya have clung tenaciously to
many aspects of the old culture.

In the highlands of Chiapas
and Guatemala

their unique dress not only defines
them as Maya,

but identifies the particular village
where they live.

It is said that when a Maya woman

puts on her traditional blouse,
called a huipil,

her head emerges at the very center
of a world woven from dreams,

just as the great tree of life
emerges from the earth.

In the highlands of Chiapas, Mexico,

Chip Morris had been working
with weavers for 20 years.

The weavers have always said that

their designs come from the beginning
of the world,

meaning the beginning of their culture

When I started looking at
the archaeology of the sculptures

and the statues, the things that show
what the weaving was like,

there are a number that are all
but identical to the weavings of today.

What's in the designs is a map
of the Maya world,

but not the surface of the earth,

not where we are standing now,
but it's the dream world.

It's that world where the gods are,

where the beings that control rain,
where Angel, the lightning bolt lives.

There are no trucks,
there are no houses on a blouse.

It's all images of that
sacred universe that creates rain,

that creates life,
that maintains the world.

In a world where the line between
the secular and the sacred

is almost imperceptible,

everything is more than is seems.

Pyramids symbolize sacred mountains
where the ancestors dwell.

Doors represent the mouths of caves

passageways into the mountian's
dangerous underworld.

The Maya believed they went to
that underworld when they died.

They called it Xibalba.

It was the "place of fright"

a watery realm of disease and deacy
that ordinary people

had little hope of escaping.

How the Maya treated their dead
is being investigated here

at a site 130 miles north of Copan.

These are the ruins
of a city called Caracol.

Once it was a prosperous
administrative center.

Today it is remarkable for the scores
of tombs discovered here.

I think we'll leave the rest
of this until we move the rocks.


Arlen Chase is a potter expert.

Diane Chase is an authority
on human bones.

They're trying to understand
how the Maya thought about death.

We tend to think of things
in Westernized terms.

The Maya were not a Western society;

they didn't do anything
the way Europeans do.

It's so hard for our own society
to understand how the Maya lived.

I mean we don't have dead living
with us, you know, every day.

We don't put them in a room
in our house and maintain them there.

Well, the Maya essentially did that
in their living groups.

Okay. Oh, this is nice. Arlen.

This is real nice.

We've definitely got a royal tomb here

Ordinary people were usually buried
under the floors of their houses.

The vessels are nice
and they're in good shape.

The elite were placed in tombs.

This polychrome over here

is in better shape on the back
than the front side.

What about the bone?

Bone? There's a lot of bone.

There are at least two individuals
whose heads are to the south.

They're in pretty good shape.

Someone else's legs are up
in this corner.

It doesn't go with either one
of the first two individuals.

It's not the man
and the possible woman.

It's somebody different.

It wasn't uncommon for the Maya
to bury more than one family member

in the same space.

I like to think of it more like
a family mausoleum

where grandpa may have died
and you place him inside first.

Grandma dies. You put her inside too.

A number of years pass and maybe
the son or daughter dies.

You might move grandpa to the side
a little bit, grandma too,

and stick the son in.

And a little bit further along
a few more people in the family die

and eventually the mausoleum has quite
a lot of bone material inside.

This one's got a ring...

For archaeologists,
tombs are like time capsules.

The objects buried with the dead

sometimes yield precise dates and names.

These help to fill out
our picture of

how the ancient Maya lived. the lab it should pop out.

And sometimes what they find
is simply beautiful.

Like the tombs at Caracol,

the buildings of Copan contain
their share of buried history.

But finding it has often been an
elusive undertaking.

Honduran archaeologist Ricardo Agurcia
has been working at Copan since 1978.

My primary interest was finding out
what happened to these people.

It's something that's part
of my heritage too.

It's something that's part
of my country.

And I grew up I mean
I wasn't very young

when I came to these ruins
the first time.

But it impacted me and it was
a fascinating issue-question that

you were always thinking about.

What happened to these people?
Who were they?

How did they do the things they did?

For the past four years

Agurcia has been excavating
a temple pyramid

that may tell us more about how
the people of Copan lived.

Temple 16 is a typical royal structure
in terms of its construction.

And there in lies
the archaeologists' challenge.

For the Maya,
certain spaces were sacred,

so they built their temples one
on top of another.

Workers would collapse the upper levels
of an existing structure,

encase what was left with heavy fill,
and build a new structure around it.

As Agurcia's crew remove the fill,

they create a labyrinth of tunnels.

Working in tunnels tends
to be very confusing.

You're working like
in three dimensions.

You're going up, down, sideways,
in between.

And oftentimes you get lost

and you can't really understand
what you're looking at.

The flat wall on the left

used to be the outer wall
of an older temple.

Only by following its walls
to their ends

can Agurcia determine
building's original dimensions.

I only traveled a short distance

and bingo, we hit another wall.

It still goes farther
on towards the south.

So we then tried going up to see

whether we had the bottom part
of a substructure

or the higher part of it
and started going up.

And you can see here the terraces
going up of

what was a very large pyramid.

It goes up, as far as we've traced it,

eight stories high and each one
curving back and going further up.

What Agurcia found next was
totally unexpected.

There was yet a third structure
inside the first two,

this one was different.

The building Agurcia calls Rosalila
was perfectly preserved.

The loose dirt was removed,

exposing a set of giant masks

still tinged with traces
of the original paint.

Most of the masks we found before
were perhaps a meter or two tall

and would extend as much as five,
six meters.

But these masks just kept going
and going and going

and to this moment
we still haven't found the end of them

Hey, partner.

How's it going, boss?


You haven't been here in a while,
have you?

Wow! Whoa!

Can you believe it?

Red paint all over the place.

Yeah, we've got lots of good paint.

We're coming down below the molding

and we've got two birds out.

We've got one over here on the left

and he's facing north.

And I think we have another one.

You see, he's got his beak bent
over his eye.

All the feathers behind him.

All the feathers radiating out

and also it's higher up
than anything else in the Acropolis.

So this thing shone out
for miles around.

It's outrageous, it's just outrageous.

Adorned with brightly painted sculpture

Rosalila once crowned
the highest point in Copan.

Framing the central doorway,
two giant birds face the setting sun.

Above them undulating serpents extend
their bodies toward the sky.

For the archaeologists,

the careful treatment given Rosalila
poses a question.

We're all just itching to know
what Rosalil is all about.

Why was it left there for 150 years

and nobody touched it other than
to maintain it?

Why was it buried intact?

They didn't touch any of it
when they buried it.

All the rest of them they smashed
to pieces

to build something bigger
and better over it.

Why was it so revered that is had
to be mummified when it was buried?

And most of all, what's inside of it?

What is that thing housing?

And that's what we're hoping Ricardo
will find.

But before any new discoveries are made

the rainy season descends on Copan.

The archaeologists return home

and all excavations are suspended
until it ends.

Nearly six months later
the rain is over.

The weather clears.

At last the excavation of temple 16
can be resumed.

For another half year workers continue
to peel away the dirt from Rosalila.

And just before the rains resume,

the enigmatic temple yields
one more surprise.

> From a small cache found in a doorway,

Agurcia removes something
buried 1,300 years ago.

Look at this. It's a black kind of a...

Oh, man!

It doesn't fit.

It's close enough.

You would not believe how sharp
the edges on these things are.

What they have found
is a bundle of blades

chipped from an especially
sacred material

flint, the firestone.

They were probably used on
ceremonial occasions

and the faces may
depict royal ancestors,

or sacrificial victims.

No one knows how long it took to
create these delicately flaked blades

since no one today has the skill
to make one.

In all, nine flints were found
in Rosalila

perhaps corresponding
to the nine Maya "Lords of the Night."

It's been here for 1,300 years

and it's unbelievable.

It's a beautiful piece of art.
I mean

the finesse,
the work in it is incredible.

And I just feel like

incredibly privileged, you know.

You get caught up in the heat of
the battle

and you try not to forget to

take your pictures,
take your measurements.

And at times you forget
to think about it

and to think of the face
that it's human beings

that did this a long time ago and that

when they did it,
this was very important to them.

I'm touched by it, I really am.

And it's a special feeling.

It doesn't happen every day.

It is likely the flints Agurcia found
in Rosalila

were placed there sometime
in the 7 th century A. D.

When the classic Maya civilization
was at its peak.

In many Maya kingdoms

there was a boom in the construction
of new buildings.

Some cities were even connected
by roads,

and trade among them flourished.

Copan lay on the southern frontier.

But to the north

events had taken place
in the Maya world

that would eventually shake it
to its core.

Tikal was one of
their greatest Maya cities,

a prosperous urban center
that the envy of its neighbors.

It was probably inconceivable
to the kings of Tikal

that any other kingdom posed a threat,

but in the spring of 562,

Caracol attacked Tikal and defeated it

During the upheaval that followed
in Tikal,

members of the royal family
moved away into the jungle

and established their own city.

Today, a research base camp
marks the spot.

What was once the great city
of Dos Pilas

has again been reclaimed by jungle.

The effort to piece together a picture
of its dramatic rise to power

is being led by Arthur Demarest.

What he has learned is changing
the way we think about the Maya.

Forty or fifty years ago

we thought of the Maya
as this peace-loving,

theocratic society, these scholarly
kings who studied the movements

of the planets and lived kind
of in a world of their own.

Now we know, from the
recent hieroglyphic decipherments

and from excavations like these
that have found fortifications;

that the Maya were a
very violent people,

one of the most warlike peoples
of the New World,

and that they were constantly engaged
in warfare,

battles of dynastic sucession,

and earthly pursuits.

In 1990

Demarest's team discovered concrete
evidence to support this view.

It is a large,
perfectly preserved hieroglyphic text,

and on it it talks about
a series of wars, battles,

and conquests involving
the big players-Tikal,

Dos Pilas battling each other.

And it records the outcomes.

It's tremendous piece of information,

and its decipherment,

I think, is going to change the way we look

at this very critical period
in Maya history.

This is really amazing.

They're saying that he is
the subordinate of this lord,

presumably of Calakmul.

It's an incredible title.

It's saying we were competitive
with Tikal.

Well, we have to think about it.
I mean is it subordination or...

Epigraphers David Stuart
and Steve Houston

are called in to see
how much of the text they can read.

...with references to
Bonampak and Tonina.

And then after that-X.

And look, there it is.

Yeah. This, Arthur,
refers to a kind of altar.

And here it refers to a dedication.

It's referring to the stair.
And look! It's a step. It's a step!

It's a pyramid.

what it's saying is that this event,

this war event...

And then over here you've got a new
event involving Ruler A's father.

The skull glyph here is the name
of the ruler of Tikal.

Initially, it seems that Maya warfare
was to some extent ritualized.

It was more devoted to religious ends.

Literally, these guys dressed up
in silly outfits,

archaic costumes with
big Paleolithic spears

and went out there and met
in some place

and knocked each other around.

One of them was captured
and brought back and sacrificed.

What the hieroglyphs on the stairway
seem to confirm

is that sometime
in the 8th century A. D.

Ritualized warfare gave way
to campaigns of expansion.

The kings of Dos Pilas attacked town
along the Pasion River,

and thereby seized control
of a vital trade route.

It looks like there was a change
in warfare

that led to an intensification and
to a shifting to warfare for conquest,

actually absorbing the territory
of others.

This seems to have somehow gotten out
of hand.

An arms race, in a way, started.

Attacking centers becomes acceptable.

Attacking population bases,
burning temples, that kind of thing.

The new warfare would eventually
come to Caracol as well.

The eighth century and ninth century

at Caracol and throughout
the Maya area

was a time of tremendous change
and a lot of warfare.

Caracol, up to that point in time,

had been very successful in warfare.

What happens, we think at least,
is that in this late time horizon,

it's not just a question of defeating
a neighboring civilization

and taking them into your realm,

but talking large numbers
of captives to sacrifice.

I think people were really scared.

Picture yourself in a Maya city.

And here you're been having warfare
and you say okay,

I'm going to be captured and
I'm going to be put to work

probably have to give three months out
of the year

to that foreign country over there.

But rather than that happening to you,

you've got this marauding army
that comes in,

pulls all the men together,

and rather than marching them off
to work in the fields,

they instead cut off their heads
and mount them on sticks

and make huge skull platforms.

Now that would strike terror into you.

That would be enough to say,
"My god, let's get out of here!"

Even Dos Pilas would finally face
the terror.

On the Hieroglyphic Stairway
itself lie the ruins

of a hastily erected stockade.


this defensive wall is one
of the most important

and exciting features
that we've found here.

One of the reasons why
this masonry line is so neat

and is placed so well is that
it is made out of neatly carved blocks

which were ripped off.

They're the facings from
the palaces around you.

So they literally tore down
the royal palace and built this,

running it up against
their hieroglyphic stairway

to create this desperate
defensive system.

A picture of the city
in its final days begins to emerge.

In a frantic attempt to keep
the invaders out,

the citizens of Dos Pilas erect
two defensive walls

around the center of the city
and move inside for protection.

These are low house platforms
that held little huts

that filled the central
ceremonial plaza here at Dos Pilas

at the time of the siege
and the collapse.

And it indicates that again
the desperation

of those final moments
of this great kingdom

was so great and its fall had been
so complete that,

at this point, you had the population
living within the ceremonial plaza,

below the towering temples,

below the monuments
of the strutting great kings.

It's almost as if you had a

squeezed in living
on the White House lawn,

holding out at the very end of
the collapse of American civilization.

That's what you have here
that moment in time.

Copan, meanwhile, is struggling
with problems of a different sort.

When one of its most powerful rulers
is captured and beheaded,

faith in the divine authority
of the kings wavers.

At the same time, the population in
the Copan Valley continues to grow.

Basically, the Copanecs

became the victims
of their own success.

And as this city grew

and became more vibrant
and more attractive,

eventually all this nice, fertile,

alluvial bottomland was covered
by houses,

and they were basically
cutting themselves off

from their own food source.

As time went by, all of the forest
was eliminated.

This caused widescale erosion
throughout the valley.

This eventually resulted
in less rainfall,

and people just weren't table
to live here any more.

It is now the middle
of the eighth century.

Throughout the southern Maya world
the power of the kings is waning.

Disease and hunger are
becoming commonplace.

People begin to drift away
from the cities.

In Europe the Dark Ages
are halfway over.

Here in the jungle,

they are just beginning.

Slowly, one by one,

the great southern cities
are abandoned

In 761

the king of Dos Pilas
is captured and killed.

> From that point on there are no more
hieroglyphic inscriptions here.

The last written date
at Palenque is 799.

Twenty years later, Copan falls silent

Caracol stops recording in 859.

The last inscription date
at Tikal is written in 879.

Only a handful of Maya cities

in the south survive beyond
the first years of the tenth century.

The northern cities
of the Yucatan Peninsula

places like Uxmal and Chichen itza

will prosper for
several hundred years longer.

But they are no longer ruled
by divine kings,

and gradually the old ways of building

and writing, and worshiping slip away.

The Classic Maya civilization
is at an end.

One of the thins, I think,

that strikes the public consciousness
about the Maya civilization is

to see this sophisticated culture with
its monuments and architecture

and science and writing system
in the jungle,

covered, destroyed

an area that's now abandoned today.

I think that there's an immediate

impact when you see that.

It reminds us that we can fail,

that civilization is a complex
phenoneman, and we can screw up.

And the consequences can be
totally catastrophic.

Yet, while the Classic Maya
civilization may have disappeared,

the Maya people have not.

For 3,000 years they have survived
the ambitions of their own kings

and those of foreign conquerors.

And once again they are under assault.

In Guatemala,
during the past three decades,

the Maya have been caught in
a civil war they barely comprehend.

In that time, 100,000 Maya
have been killed

and another 40,000 have "disappeared."

No one can count the number of widows
and orphans.

And through it all, they endure.

They weave their huipils.

They farm their corn.

I feel that the Maya of today
are very much

in the same traditions
as the Classic Maya.

What they've lost is that big covering

that overlay of nobility,
and they dropped it themselves.

They basically told the kings,
that's it.

You're not working anymore.

And they went and they continued
their own lives.

I don't like it when people talk about
the Maya collapse,

because they never collapsed.

They evolved.
They went through different hard times

good times, bad times,
but they're still with us.

They still maintain their customs;

they still maintain their ways
of organizing their societies.

And it's very exciting to see
how much of the ancient

Maya way of life is still alive
and well.

What we're digging up
or coming up with,

it's part of our history.

And the men that lived here

are some of the greatest men
we've ever had.

And it's a fact that we're getting
to know more and more and more

about the life of these people

more than I ever thought was possible.

I think if somebody had asked me
as a graduate student whether

we would know what we know today

about the Maya at Copan,

there's no way
I would have believed him

What is happening now

is the people who made these places

people like Yax Pak or Bird Jaguar
or Pacal

are getting back their voices

They are becoming real to us

and speaking to the people
of the 20th century

about who built this place and why,

and what they felt,

and what they thought about the world.

These are not anonymous people
any more.