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However, it suffered a catastrophic defeat at the hands of its former vassal state Quirigua in 738, when the long-ruling king Uaxaclajuun Ub'aah K'awiil was captured and beheaded by Quirigua's ruler K'ak' Tiliw Chan Yopaat (Cauac Sky).
The area of Copán continued to be occupied after the last major ceremonial structures and royal monuments were erected, but the population declined in the 8th and 9th centuries from perhaps over 20,000 in the city to less than 5,000.
The greater Copán area consisting of the populated areas of the valley covered about a quarter of the size of the city of Tikal.
It is estimated that the peak population in central Copán was between 60 in an area of 0.6 square kilometers (0.23 sq mi), with a further 9,000 to 12,000 inhabitants occupying the periphery—an area of 23.4 square kilometers (9.0 sq mi).
Additionally, there was an estimated rural population of 3,000 to 4,000 in a 476-square-kilometer (184 sq mi) area of the Copán Valley, giving an estimated total population of 18,000 to 25,000 people in the valley during the Late Classic period.
Little is known of the rulers of Copán before the founding of a new dynasty with its origins at Tikal in the early 5th century AD, although the city's origins can be traced back to the Preclassic period.
It was the capital city of a major Classic period kingdom from the 5th to 9th centuries AD.
The city was located in the extreme southeast of the Mesoamerican cultural region, on the frontier with the Isthmo-Colombian cultural region, and was almost surrounded by non-Maya peoples.
Copán is located in western Honduras close to the border with Guatemala.
The ceremonies involved in the founding of the Copán dynasty also included the installation of a subordinate king at Quiriguá.
A text from Tikal mentions K'uk' Mo' and has been dated to AD 406, 20 years before K'uk' Mo' Ajaw founded the new dynasty at Copán.
Copán lies within the municipality of Copán Ruinas in the department of Copán.
It is situated in a fertile valley among foothills at 700 meters (2,300 ft) above mean sea level.
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This AD 159 date is mentioned in several texts and is linked to a figure known as "Foliated Ajaw".