Monday, March 11, 2013

History of Honduras

Pre-columbian history

The oldest known evidence of human presence in present-day Honduras are stone knives, scrapers and other tools thought to be 6000 to 8000 years old, and uncovered by archaeologists in 1962 near La Esperanza, Intibucá. Central America’s earliest occupants almost certainly were Paleo-Indians from the north, but linguistic and other evidence suggests that many indigenous people present in Honduras today (Pech, Tawahka and probably Lenca) are descended from later migrations of people from rainforest regions of South America, especially present-day Colombia.
The Maya arrived in Honduras by way of Guatemala and Mexico, and settled in the fertile Sula, Copán and Comayagua valleys. Over centuries, they came to dominate the area, as they did much of Mesoamerica. Copán was a heavily settled, agriculturally rich trading zone and eventually became one of the great Maya city-states of the Classic Period (AD 300–900). The Classic Period ends with the rapid and mysterious collapse of most Maya centers, including Copán, where the last dated hieroglyph is from AD 800.
The Maya population declined precipitously, but did not disappear, of course. They were just one of many indigenous groups that made up Honduras’ native population when European explorers began their conquest of the American mainland. Copán has since returned to prominence as an archaeological mother lode, having more hieroglyphic inscriptions and stone monuments than any other Maya ruin. Copán was the first site visited by John Lloyd Stephens and Frederick Catherwood on their groundbreaking exploration of Mesoamerica in 1839. It was also the first site to be studied by Alfred Mausley (in 1885), whose compendium of Maya stone monuments remains a classic in the field, and whose work prompted the preeminent Harvard Peabody Museum to enter into Maya investigation (and which in turn selected Copán as its inaugural excavation). And it was the first stop for Sylvanus Morley and the Carnegie Institute in the 1920s. More recently, research has focused on Copán’s outlying areas; the site has provided important insight into the lives of ordinary Classic-era Mayas.

Conquest & colonization

On his fourth and final voyage, Admiral Christopher Columbus made landfall near present-day Trujillo. The date was August 14, 1502, and was the first time European explorers set foot on the American mainland. Columbus named the area Honduras, or ‘depths, ’ for the deep waters there. Before the historic landing, Columbus also had had his (and Europe’s) first encounter with mainland indigenous people: a crew of a large canoe he spotted near the Bay Islands. Columbus commandeered the canoe, which was laden with trade goods, and forced its captain (probably a Mayan merchant) to serve as his guide. The expedition continued east around Cabo Gracias a Díos (another of Columbus’ placenames) all the way to present-day Panama, where the admiral dropped his unlucky captive before returning to Spain.
Having been the site of such a historic landing, the Honduran Caribbean coast was all but ignored by explorers for the next twenty years, who focused instead on Mexico, Panama and the Caribbean islands. Hernán Cortés’ expedition into the Aztec heartland, however, revived interest in Central America. Exploration of the region was marked by feuding among would-be conquistadores: Gil González Davila ‘discovered’ the Golfo de Fonseca and tried claiming it as his own, only to be captured by rival Spaniard Cristóbal de Olid, who had similar designs. González Davila turned the tables, however, by luring Olid’s men to his side, then capturing and beheading Olid. Hernán Cortéz and others tried to quell the feuding, but to no avail.
The discovery of gold and silver in the 1530s drew even more Spanish settlers and, more importantly, increased the demand for indigenous slave labor. Native Hondurans had long resisted Spanish invasion and enslavement, and in 1537, a young Lenca chief named Lempira led an indigenous uprising against the Spanish. Inspired by Lempira’s example, revolt swept the western region, and the Spanish were very nearly expelled. But Lempira was assassinated at peace talks arranged with the Spanish in 1538, and the native resistance was soon quelled. A cycle of smaller revolts and brutal repression followed, decimating the native population. African slaves were introduced in the 1540s to fill the growing labor shortage.
Mining sustained the colony for the remainder of the century, but a collapse of silver prices (and the constant challenges of excavating such rugged terrain) devastated the Honduran economy. Cattle and tobacco enterprises gained some traction, and a change in the Spanish throne in the early 1700s reduced corruption and helped revive the mining industry. However, another upheaval in Spanish rule in 1808 – when Napoleon installed one of his own on the Spanish throne – sparked revolts on both sides of the Atlantic, which irreparably damaged Spanish colonial rule.

Columbus Discovers Honduras