Civil and Environmental Engineering


First Advisor

Christine E. Wittich

Second Advisor

Richard L. Wood

Third Advisor

Heather Richards-Rissetto

Date of this Version

Spring 5-4-2023


Tuarez Mejia, L. F. (2023). THREE-DIMENSIONAL STRUCTURAL ANALYSIS OF TEMPLE 16 AND ROSALILA AT COPAN RUINAS. University of Nebraska - Lincoln - Digital Commons.


A THESIS Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment Requirements For the Degree of Master of Science, Major: Civil Engineering, Under the Supervision of Professors Richard L. Wood & Christine E. Wittich. Lincoln, Nebraska: May, 2023

Copyright © 2023 Luis Francisco Tuarez Mejia


Temple 16 is an ancient Maya structure located at the heart of the Copán Ruinas Acropolis in Western Honduras. Temple 16 contains several earlier structures within it that were built on top of each other throughout Copán’s history. One of these earlier structures, Rosalila, is one of the most culturally significant structures within the Acropolis due to its preservation. An intricate series of archeological tunnels have been excavated throughout Temple 16 to allow for its study. However, significant cracking has been observed within Rosalila and several tunnels have experienced partial collapse. This not only poses a life safety issue for those utilizing the tunnels, but also demonstrates the risk to invaluable cultural heritage. To this end, this thesis aims to provide a rigorous structural assessment of Temple 16 and the buried Rosalila structure, accounting for its complex 3D tunnel system, to understand the leading causes of tunnel collapse and structure deterioration.

Geometric data was collected of the acropolis, Temple 16, Rosalila, and the complex network of tunnels using a combination of ground-based lidar and uncrewed aerial systems. The resulting point clouds were vectorized to yield a series of connected surfaces, which were then meshed as a solid to facilitate finite element analysis. Analyses were conducted to understand both the current stress distribution within Temple 16 as well as to study the impact of various hypothetical tunnel backfilling scenarios to provide recommendations for preservation and tunnel safety. The generated finite element models were analyzed under three water saturation levels to account for the impact of heavy rainy seasons and water infiltration on the stress levels of the tunnels. From the analyses, sixty-three highly stressed areas were identified among the current tunnel system, with most of them being close or directly underneath Rosalila. From the tested hypothetical backfilling scenarios, it was found that, backfilling excavated sections can improve or worsen these stress concentrations depending on the location of the tunnel within the system. Finally, by analyzing Rosalila’s current geometry, it was observed that the structure experiences high levels of stress on its southern side due to its location within Temple 16. From this, it was concluded that fixing exposed areas of Rosalila that were affected by excavation on its southern side can significantly alleviate the existing deterioration and improve the stress flow in these areas.

Advisors: Christine E. Wittich & Richard L. Wood.