Results of 16 years of archaeological research at Copán, Honduras, based on different methods and theoretical perspectives, can be used in combination to better understand the developmental trajectory of Classic period sociopolitical evolution in the Copán Valley. Although research continues, findings to date demonstrate the advantage of conjunctive research that applies archaeological, epigraphic, and iconographic data in a crosscutting, self-corrective strategy. While the use of any single data set may produce incomplete or inaccurate conclusions, as in the use of settlement data alone to reconstruct Middle Classic population size and assess the developmental status of the Copán polity, more complete conclusions can be reached by applying a fuller range of data from excavations in both the valley and Acropolis of Copán's urban core, along with epigraphic and iconographic evidence. These combined data show that from its beginning in the fifth century, the Classic Copán polity was ruled by powerful kings who controlled large populations and, quite likely, an extensive territory that may have included the site of Quiriguá in the Motagua Valley to the north.
At the other end of the developmental trajectory, the combination of research findings from the Acropolis and surrounding elite residential compounds and valley settlement data, has led to a redefinition of the Classic “collapse” at Copán, now seen as a long-enduring process involving the decentralization of political authority, the end of centralized dynastic rule, and gradual depopulation of the valley. This reconstruction, in combination with evidence for the end of the Classic period at other Lowland Maya sites, supports the long-standing conclusion that there was no single cause for the collapse, but rather that a complex and long-operating series of processes was responsible for the end of lowland Classic Maya civilization.