The Sesesmil Caves: George Byron Gordon, 1893

The Sesesmil Caves, 2.5 miles from the Copan ruins, with local guide inside. Photo by George Gordon Byron, 1893. PM 2004.24.515
Small ceramic jar, from the Sesesmil cave, found by George Byron Gordon, 1895. PM 96-35-20/C1047
Ceramic jar with Olmec style designs, found in the Sesesmil cave by George Byron Gordon. PM 96-35-20/C1049

During the second of the Peabody’s Copan expeditions, Harvard graduate student George Byron Gordon made an arduous climb to nearby caves up the Sesesmil stream 2.5 miles from the ruins. The man in this photograph may be Clemente Vasquez, who guided Gordon, or a third man, Saturnino (last name unknown), who accompanied them. Considering the dangerous ascent, it is remarkable that a camera was even taken along and that a photo survives.

Gordon made several trips to the caves and excavated two of the ceramic vessels seen here, some of the earliest pieces known from Copan, dating to around 1000 BC.

A great limestone mountain rises almost perpendicularly from the stream to a height of 2000 feet or so. The ascent is very steep, two thirds the way, but we climbed it with much labour and some risk by clinging to roots and shrubs.… The rest of the ascent is perpendicular with great projecting masses of rock in every fantastic shape.... A simple false step, a loose stone laid hold of, or the giving way of a projection and one would be precipitated over the boulders and brambles a thousand feet or more below.

— George Byron Gordon, field journal, March 31, 1893