By FREDDY CUEVAS, Associated Press Writer
TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras - Scientists working at the Copan archaeological site in western Honduras said Sunday they have unearthed the 1,450-year-old remains of 69 people, as well as 30 previously undiscovered ancient Mayan buildings.
Copan, about 200 miles west of Tegucigalpa, the capital, flourished between A.D. 250 and 900, part of a vast Mayan empire which stretched across parts of modern-day Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador (news - web sites) and Honduras. The site was eventually abandoned, due at least in part to overpopulation, historians believe.
Seiichi Nakamura, one of a team of Japanese scientists working alongside Honduran counterparts, said the human remains likely belong to people who inhabited Copan around 550.
Nakamura said offerings were discovered in and around the sites where the bones were buried and artifacts found near the remains of a 12-year-old child were among the richest ever discovered in Copan, meaning the youngster was likely an important member of Mayan society.
Scientists hope to open the area to tourists in 2007, Nakamura said.
The first European report of Copan is believed to be that of Diego Garcia de Palacios, a representative of Spain's King Felipe II. On March 8, 1576, he wrote to the crown with news of the archaeological site. Accounts published by U.S. explorers John L. Stephens and Frederick Catherwood made the site an international phenomenon in the 1840s.
Once a thriving commercial center, the ancient Maya are thought to have first settled in Copan around 1200 B.C.