The Prehistoric World

E. A. Allen

Chapter XIV: The Maya Tribes


the Central American region of the Western Continent are found the ruins of what are pronounced by all scholars to be the highest civilization, and the most ancient in time, of any in the New World. There it arose, flourished, and tottered to its fall. Its glory had departed, its cities were a desolation, before the coming of the Spaniards. The explorer who would visit them finds himself confronted with very great difficulties. Their location is in a section of the country away from the beaten track of travel. Their sites are overspread with the luxuriant vegetation of tropical lands, through which the Indian's machete must carve a passage. The states in which they are situated are notorious for anarchy and misrule, and the climate is such that it is dangerous for those not acclimated to venture thither during a large part of the year. So it is not strange that but few have wandered among these ruins, and described them to the world at large.

Image: Map of Central America.

But the accounts thus presented are interesting in the extreme, though they have raised many questions that have thus far defied solution. There is no doubt but what there exist large groups of ruins not yet described, structures and monuments which might, perhaps, throw some light on a past that now seems hopelessly lost. But the ruins thus far described are so numerous, their similarity is so evident, that we feel we have but little to hope from such undiscovered ruins. There are, doubtless, richly ornamented facades, grotesquely sculptured statues, and hieroglyphic-covered altars, but they would prove as much of an enigma as those already known. Our only hope is that some fortunate scholar will yet discover a key by whose aid the hieroglyphics now known may be read. Then, but not until then, will the darkness that now enshrouds ancient Maya civilization be dissipated.

As will be seen from a glance at the map, the most important ruins are in the modern states of Honduras, Guatemala, Chiapas, and especially Yucatan, the northern portion of this peninsula being literally studded with them. The river Usumacinta and its numerous tributaries flowing in a northern direction through Chiapas is regarded as the original home of the civilization whose ruins we are now to describe. From whence the tribes came that first settled in this valley is as yet an unsettled point. We notice that we have here another instance of the influence that fertile river valleys exert upon tribes settling therein. The stories told us of the civilization that flourished in primitive times in the valleys of the Euphrates and the Nile are not more wonderful--the ruins perhaps not more impressive--than are the traditions still extant, or the material remains fallen in picturesque ruins, of the civilization that once on a time held sway in the Usumacinta Valley.

One of the most famous groups of ruins in this section of the country is that of Copan, situated in Honduras, but very near the Guatemala line. This is commonly spoken of as "the oldest city in America," [1] and has some evidence to substantiate this claim. Whatever be its relative antiquity, it is doubtless very old, as it was probably in ruins at the time of the conquest. There are several facts going to prove this assertion. When Cortez, in 1524, made his march to Honduras, he passed within a few leagues of this place. He makes no mention of it, which he would have been very apt to do had it been inhabited. Fifty years later Garcia De Palacio made a report on these ruins to the king of Spain. According to this report, it was then in much the same state as described by modern travelers, and the same mystery surrounded it, showing that it must have been in ruin much longer than the short space of time from the conquest to the date of his report. But few travelers have visited Copan, and fewer still have left a good description of it. Mr. Stephens, accompanied by Mr. Catherwood, explored it in 1839, and this constitutes our main source of information. [2]

We feel that here is the place to speak a word of caution. In common with other writers, we have used the word cities, in speaking of the ruins of Maya civilization. In view of the criticisms that have been freely expressed by some of the best scholars of American ethnology, as to the generally accepted view of the civilization of the Mexican and Central American races, it is necessary to be on our guard as to the language employed. In the case of Copan, for instance, all the remains known, occur in an irregularly inclosed space of about nine hundred by sixteen hundred feet, while but a portion of such inclosed space is covered by the ruins themselves. Now it can, of course, be said that this space contains simply the remains of public buildings, so to speak--such as temples, palaces, and others--while the habitations of the great body of the common people, poorly built, and located outside of this area, may have vanished away. But, on the other hand, it may also be that in this small area we have the ruins of all the buildings that ever stood at Copan. In which case the word city is a misnomer; pueblo would be more appropriate. But looking at them in the simplest light, we shall find there is still a great deal to excite astonishment. Fragments of the wall originally inclosing the area in which are located the temple pyramids and statues, are still to be found. Very few particulars have been given of this wall. It was made of blocks of stone, and seems to have been twenty-five feet thick at the base, but the height is not given. The northern half of this area is occupied by a large terrace, somewhat irregular in outline, and impressed Mr. Stephens with the idea that it had not all been erected at the same time, but additions had been made from time to time. Instead of describing the ruins in full, we will let the illustration speak for itself. The dimensions of this terrace are, six hundred and twenty-four feet by eight hundred and nine feet. The side fronting on the river was perpendicular. The other three sides consist of ranges of steps and pyramidal structures. All these steps and pyramidal sides were once painted. The general height of the terrace was about seventy feet above the surface of the ground.

Image: Ruins of Copan.

Though Mr. Stephens warns us that this terrace was not as large as the base of the Pyramid of Ghizeh, still it must have required an immense amount of work, since careful computations show that over twenty-six million cubic feet of stone were used in its construction. This stone was brought from the quarries two miles away. We must not forget that this work was performed by a people destitute of metallic tools.

On the terrace were the ruins of four pyramids, one rising to the height of one hundred and twenty-two feet. The surface of the terrace was not continuous. In two places there were court-yards, or sunken areas. The larger is ninety by one hundred and forty-four feet, and has a narrow passage-way leading into it from the north. Whatever buildings that once stood on this terrace, have vanished away. At one place only, on the terrace, fronting the river, are the remains of small, circular towers, thought to have been watch towers. The whole terrace was thickly overgrown by trees of a tropical growth. Mr Stephens noticed two immense Ceiba trees growing from the very summit of one of the pyramids. This structure has been called the Temple, and a great many surmises have been made as to the scenes once enacted there. If analogous to other structures in Central America, this terrace was surmounted with buildings. They may have been temples or palaces, or they may have been communal houses, not unlike those of New Mexico, to the north.

But of more importance than the ruins of this temple, are the statues and altars peculiar to this region. Mr. Stephens found fourteen of them. It seems very singular, indeed, to come upon these statues in the depth of a Central American forest, and they give us an idea of the state of advancement of these old tribes that nothing else does. They raise many queries. Why is it that so many are found here--so few elsewhere? Are they statues of noted personages, or idols? We are powerless to answer these questions. These secrets will only be yielded up when the hieroglyphics with which they are covered shall be read.

The places where these statues are found is seen to the right of the main body of ruins. It will be seen that only one is within the terrace area of the temple. Three others are situated near it, but the majority are near the southern end of the inclosure. We are not given the dimensions of all, but the smallest one given is eleven feet, eight inches high, by three feet, four inches width and depth; the largest, thirteen feet high, four feet wide, and three feet deep. No inconsiderable part of the labor on the statues must have been that of quarrying the large blocks of stone out of which they were carved, and transporting them to the place where found. They came from the same quarry as the other stones used in building; and so were transported a distance of about two miles. Mr. Stephens found, about midway to the quarry, a gigantic block, "which was probably on its way thither, to be carved and set up as an ornament, when the labors of the workmen were arrested."

Image: Copan Statue (Bureau of Ethnology).

There is such a similarity in all these statues that a representation of one will suffice. This is the representation of one of the largest statues. It is seen to be standing on a sort of pedestal. A face occupies a central position on the front. Some of the faces have what may be a representation of a beard. In all but one, the expression is calm and peaceful. They were once painted red. Traces of color were still visible at the time of Mr. Stephens's visit. In all but one the hands are represented as placed back to back on the breast.

The complicated headdress and the ornaments on the robes utterly defy description. The sides and back of the statues are covered with hieroglyphics, though now and then a face is introduced. A side view of another statue shows this feature. All are convinced that we have in these hieroglyphics an explanation of each statue, but what it is, is yet unknown. Mr. Stephens says: "Of the moral effect of the monuments themselves, standing as they do, in the depths of a tropical forest, silent and solemn, strange in design, excellent in sculpture, rich in ornament, different from the works of any other people; their uses and purposes--their whole history--so entirely unknown, with hieroglyphics explaining all, but perfectly unintelligible, I shall not pretend to convey any idea. Often the imagination was pained in gazing at them. The tone which pervades the ruins is that of deep solemnity."

In front of most of the statues is what is called an altar, which would seem to imply that these monuments are really idols. "The altars, like the idols, are all of a single block of stone. In general, they are not so richly ornamented, and are more faded and worn, or covered with moss. Some were completely buried, and of others it was difficult to make out more than the form. All differed in position, and doubtless had some distinct and peculiar reference to the idols before which they stood."

Image: Statue, Copan.

These altars are strongly suggestive of sacrificial scenes. The altar before the idol found in the court-yard on the terrace of the temple, is one of the most interesting objects found at Copan. It is six feet square and four feet high. The top is divided into thirty-six tablets of hieroglyphics which we may well imagine records some events in the history of this mysterious people. Each side has carved on it four human figures. They are generally all represented as facing the same way. We give an illustration of the east side. Each individual is sitting cross-legged on a hieroglyphic, and has a ponderous head-dress.

Image: Hieroglyphics, top of Altar.

Mr Stephens found the quadrangle at the south-east corner of the plan to be thickly strewn with fragments of fine sculpture. Amongst the rest was a "remarkable portrait." (Shown later.) "It is probably the portrait of some king, chieftain, or sage. The mouth is injured, and part of the ornament over the wreath that crowns the head. The expression is noble and severe, and the whole character shows a close imitation of nature." Colonel Gallindo, who visited Copan in 1835, discovered a vault very near where the circular towers are located, on the terrace fronting the river. This vault was five feet wide, ten feet long, and four feet high. It was used for burial purposes. Over fifty vessels of red pottery, containing human bones, were found in it. [3]

Image: Bas-relief, East Site of Altar.

In this hasty sketch we do not feel that we have done justice to Copan. It is, however, all the space we can devote to this interesting ruin. We call special attention to the hieroglyphics on the altar and the statues. We will find other hieroglyphics at Palenque, and in Yucatan, evidently derived from these. [4] They have been made the subject of very interesting study, and we will refer to them again at another page. We also notice especially the fact that we have no ruined buildings at Copan. In this respect it stands almost alone among the Central American ruins. The distinguishing features, however, are the carved obelisks. They are evidently not the work of rude, people. Mr. Stephens, who was every way qualified to judge, declares that some of them "are in every way equal to the finest Egyptian workmanship, and that with the best instruments of modern times, it would be impossible to cut stone more perfectly."

Image: Portrait, Copan.

A dark mystery hangs over these ruins. Their builders are unknown. Whether we have here some temple sacred to the gods of the Maya pantheon or some palace made resplendent for royal owners, who can tell? Whether these are the ruins of the more substantial public buildings of a great city, of which all other buildings have vanished--or whether this is the remains of a prosperous pueblo, whose communal houses crowded the terraces, with sacrificial altars on the lofty pyramids--who knows? At long intervals a passing traveler visits them, ponders over their fast disappearing ruins, and goes his way. The veil drops, the tropical forest more securely environs them--and thus the years come and go over the ruins of Copan.

Nearly north from Copan (see map), about half-way to the coast, on the bank of the river Montagua, is found a small hamlet, by the name of Quiriga. Mr. Stephens, when traveling in the country in 1840, after many careful inquiries, heard of ruins near that place. Though not able to explore them himself, his companion, Mr. Catherwood, did. The result of this gentleman's exertion makes us acquainted with another group of ruins, in many respects similar to those of Copan, though apparently much farther gone in decay. His visit was a very hurried one; and he was not able to clear the moss away from the statues so as to draw them as it should be done. [5]

We must notice that, though called a city, all the monuments and fragments thus far brought to light are scattered over a space of some three thousand square feet. No plan has been given. We gather, however, from Stephens's work, that a pyramidal wall inclosed the ruins, as at Copan. [6] No dimensions of this wall are given. Within the inclosure (if such it was) was a terrace. Here, again, dimensions are not given; but we are told it was about twenty-five feet to the top, and that the steps were, in some places, still perfect. It was constructed of neatly cut sandstone blocks. No monuments or altars were observed on the terrace, but in close proximity to it were fragments of sculpture. At another place near the wall, Mr. Catherwood mentions eight standing statues, one fallen one, and saw fragments of at least thirteen others. They are represented as being very similar to those of Copan, but two or three times as high. The hieroglyphics are pronounced identical with those already described.

There are no traditions extant of these ruins. No thorough exploration has been made. A city may have stood there; but, if so, its name is lost, its history unknown. "For centuries it has lain as completely buried as if covered with the lava of Vesuvius. Every traveler from Yzabel to Guatemala has passed within three hours of it. We ourselves have done the same; and yet there it lay, like the rock-built city of Edom, unvisited, unsought, and utterly unknown."

A large extent of territory in Guatemala and Yucatan is as yet an unknown country, or at least has never been thoroughly explored. Strange stories have flitted here and there of wonders yet to be seen. The country swarms with savages, living in much the same state as they were when the Spaniards invaded the country. They have never been conquered, and, in the rugged fastnesses of their land, bid defiance to all attempts to civilize them. From all we can learn, there are numerous groups of ruins scattered here and there--but of their nature we are, as yet, mostly in the dark.

We have, indeed, historical notices of a few places; but, as the color of an object is the same as that of the medium through which it is viewed, we can not help thinking that the glamour of romance, which the early Spanish writers threw around all their transactions in the New World, has woefully distorted these sketches. This same effect is to be noticed in all the descriptions of the ruins. Where one party sees the ruins of imperial cities, another can detect but the ruins of imposing pueblos, with their temples and pyramids. It can be truthfully stated, that this is a land of ruins. Every few leagues, as far as it has been explored, are the remains of structures that excite astonishment.

The meager reports given us raise our curiosity, but fail to satisfy it. Almost all explorers relate stories of the existence of an aboriginal city. The location of this city shifts from place to place; always, however, in a section of country where no white men are allowed to intrude. The Cure of Santa Cruz, in whom Mr. Stephens expressed confidence, declared that he had, years before, climbed to the summit of a lofty sierra, and then "he looked over an immense plain, extending to Yucatan and the Gulf of Mexico, and saw, at a great distance, a large city, spread over a great space, with turrets white and glittering in the sun." We are afraid a search for this mythical city would be attended with much the same results as rewards the child's pursuit of a golden treasure at the end of the rainbow.

As a sample of known ruins, we might cite two in the immediate neighborhood of Quirigua. At the distance of a few leagues, both above and below this latter place, are the remains of former settlements. The accounts are very brief. Of the ruins below, we are informed that they consist of the remains of a quadrilateral pyramid, with traced sides, up which steps lead to the summit platform, where debris of hewn stone are enveloped in dense vegetation." Of the ruins located above Quirigua, we are simply told "of a large area covered with aboriginal relics--in the form of ruined stone structures, vases and idols of burned clay, and monoliths, buried for the most part in the earth."

These descriptions will serve as samples of many others, and, though they are interesting in their way, we are afraid they would grow tiresome by repetition. We will, therefore, only make mention of one or two important points; premising, however, that, beyond a doubt, similar ruins are scattered up and down the river valleys of the entire country. [7]

Two cities of ancient Guatemala especially mentioned by Spanish writers are Utatlan and Patinamit. Here, if we may believe their recitals, were the capitals of two powerful monarchies. The pictures they draw for us are those of cities of Oriental magnificence. The system of government they describe is that of absolute monarchy, founded on feudalism. We will briefly glance at the remains of these "imperial cities." Their location is seen on the map. The approach to Patinamit is very difficult, indeed. Situated on a high table-land, it commands an almost boundless view. On every side are immense ravines, and the only way of entering it was by a narrow passage cut in the side of the ravine, twenty or thirty feet deep, and not wide enough for two horsemen to ride abreast.

Mr. Stephens mentions coming to a wall of stone, but broken and confused. The ground beyond was covered with mounds of ruins, and in one place he saw the foundations of two buildings, one of them being one hundred and fifty by fifty feet. He does not give us the area covered by the ruins, but there is nothing in his description to make us think it very large in extent. He also quotes for us Fuentes's description of this same place, written, however, one hundred and forty years earlier. In this he speaks of the remains of a magnificent building, perfectly square, each side measuring one hundred paces, constructed of hewn stones, extremely well put together. In front of the building is a large square, on one side of which stand the ruins of a sumptuous palace; and near to it are the foundations of several houses. [8] He also asserts that traces of streets could still be seen, and that they were straight and spacious, crossing each other at right angles. Fuentes certainly had remarkable eyes. He wrote a description of Copan which not only differs from all accounts of modern travelers, but also from the still earlier description by Garcia De Palacio. [9]

Patinamit means "The City," and is represented as the capital city of the Cakchiquel "monarchy." The site of the city was certainly admirably chosen for defense, and we have no doubt but what here was the head-quarters of a powerful tribe of Indians; but, until scholars have settled some very disputed points about the civilization of the Central American nations, we must be cautious in the use of the words monarchy and palaces as applied to these old people or these ruins.

Thirty-five or forty miles north-eastward from Patinamit we come to the ruins of the most renowned city in Guatemala at the time of the conquest. This was Utatlan, the Quiche capital, a city which the Spaniards compared to Mexico in magnificence, and which, at the time of its destruction, was at its zenith of prosperity. The location was very similar to that of Patinamit. It also stood on an elevated plateau, with immense ravines on every side. It was approached only at one point, and guarding this one point of approach was a line of fortifications. They consisted of the remains of stone buildings, probably towers. The stones were well cut and laid together. These fortifications were united by a ditch.

Within this line of towers stood a structure, generally regarded as a fort, directly guarding the line of approach. Steps led up a pyramidal structure having three terraces, one over the other. The top was protected by a wall of stone, and from the center rose a tower. Beyond this fort was the ruins of the city. Mr. Stephens describes a large ruin which is called The Palace. It is said, in round numbers, to have been eleven hundred by twenty-two hundred feet. As this area is more than fifty-five acres in extent, we can see it was not a palace in our sense of the word. The stones of which it was composed have been largely removed to build the modern town of Santa Cruz. But the floor could still be traced, and some remains of partition walls. The floor was still covered with hard cement.

Adjoining the palace was a large plaza or court-yard, also cemented, in the center of which was the ruins of a fountain. Another structure still remaining was a small pyramid, at the top of which was probably a temple, or, at least, a place of sacrifice. No hieroglyphics or statues have been found here. A few terra-cotta figures have been found, and one small gold image. It would seem from this description that the ruins simply consist of a few large structures. For aught we know, they may have been communal houses.

Mr. Stephens, however, condenses Fuentes's account, which is truly wonderful. According to him, the center of the city was occupied by the royal palaces, around which were grouped the houses of the nobles. The extremities were inhabited by the plebeians. He tells us there were many sumptuous buildings, the most superb of which was a seminary, where between five and six thousand children were educated at royal expense. The palace was formed of hewn stones of various colors. There were six principal divisions. In one was lodged the king's body-guard, in the second the princes and the relatives of the king, and so forth.

It is not necessary to remind the reader that it is very doubtful whether such a state of things ever existed. It is related, for instance, that the king marched from Utatlan with seventy-two thousand warriors to repel the attack of Alvarade. This would indicate a total population of between two and three hundred thousand souls. It seems to us that a city of that size would not so completely disappear in a little over three centuries that a careful explorer could find only the ruins of a few large buildings.

We do not feel that we have done near justice to the ruins of Guatemala. As we have before remarked, there are, doubtless, many ruins not yet brought to light. They are rapidly disappearing, and we do not know that we will ever possess a description of them, or understand their real import. The light of history, indeed, fell on the two groups of ruins last described. But the Spanish writers were totally unacquainted with Indian society, and may, therefore, have widely erred in applying to their government terms suited only to European ideas of the sixteenth century. And it is not doubted but that their estimate of the population of the towns, and of the enemies with which they had to contend, were often greatly overdrawn. In short, the remains themselves are remarkable, but every ruined pyramid is not necessarily the remains of a great very great city, nor every large building in ruins necessarily a palace.

Going northward out of Guatemala, we pass into the modern state of Chiapas. This is described a country of great natural beauty and fertility. And here it is that we meet with a group of ruins which have been an object of great interest to the scientific world. They have been carefully studied and described, and many theories have been enunciated as to their builders, their history, and civilization. The place is supposed to have been deserted and in ruins when Cortez landed in the country. At any rate, he marched within a few leagues of it, but, as in the case of Copan, he is silent in regard to it.

They take their name from the modern town of Palenque, near which they are located. This town was founded in 1564. It was once a place of considerable importance, but its trade has died away, and now it would not be known were it not for the ruins of a former people located near it. Though distant from the village only some eight miles, nearly two centuries went by before their existence was known. Had they been visited and described at the time of the founding of the village, no doubt much that is now mysterious in regard to them would have been cleared away. But for two centuries they were allowed to sleep undisturbed in the depths of the forest, and in that time the elements played sad havoc with the buildings, inscriptions, and ornaments. What are left are not sufficient to impart full information. Imagination is too apt to supply the details, and these ruins, grand in proportion, wonderful in location, enwrapt by dense forests, visited by the storms of tropical lands, are made to do service in setting forth a picture of society and times which we are afraid has but little real foundation to rest upon.

The ruins of Palenque are the first which awakened attention to the existence of ancient ruins in America, and, therefore, it may not come amiss to state more particularly the circumstances of their first discovery. The existence of an aboriginal city in this locality was entirely unknown; there were no traditions even that it had ever existed. Of course the natives of the modern town of Palenque must have known of their existence, but no account of them was published. They are said to have been discovered in 1750 by a party of traveling Spaniards. This statement Mr. Stephens doubts. The first account was published in 1784. The Spanish authorities finally ordered an exploration. This was made under the auspices of Captain Del Rio, who arrived on the ground in 1787. His report was locked up in the government archives, and was not made public until 1822.

The reception of this report illustrates how little interest is taken in American antiquities. It was scarcely noticed by the Scientific World. As Mr. Stephens remarks, "If a like discovery had been made in Italy, Greece, Egypt, or Asia, within the reach of European travel, it would have created an interest not inferior to the discovery of Herculaneum, or Pompeii, or the ruins of Paestum." But, from some cause, so little notice was taken of this report that in 1831 the explorations of Colonel Galindo, whose works we have referred to at Copan, was spoken of as a new discovery. In the meantime another government expedition under the direction of Captain Dupaix explored these ruins in 1807. Owing to the wars in Europe and the revolution in Mexico, his report was not published until 1835. Mr. Stephens visited the ruins in 1840. His account, profusely illustrated, was the means of making known to a large class of readers the wonderful nature of the ruins, not only at Palenque, but in Yucatan as well.

In this outline we have given an account of the early explorations at Palenque. Private individuals have visited them, and governments have organized exploring expeditions, and by both pencil and pen made us familiar with them. As to the remains actually in existence, these accounts agree fairly well, but we have some perplexing differences as to the area covered by the ruins. Where the early explorers could trace the ruins of a large city modern travelers can find but a few ruined structures, which, however, excite our liveliest interest. One of the earliest accounts speaks of the ruins of over two hundred buildings. Another speaks of them as covering an area of many square miles. Mr. Stephens thinks a few acres would suffice.

From the researches of M. Charney, it would seem that the ruins are really scattered over quite an area. His exploration made in 1881, seems to confirm the older writers. With abundant means at his command, he was enabled to explore the forest, and he found many ruins which escaped the other observers. According to him, the ruins are scattered over an area extending about one mile and a quarter from north to south, and about one and three-fourths from east to west. Throughout this space, the ruined structures were in all respects similar to those previously described, consisting altogether of what he calls palaces and temples. [10]

There seems to be no especial order in the arrangement of the buildings. They are separated by quite an interval, excepting to the south of the palace, where there are groups of buildings near together. The fact that such careful explorers as Stephens and Waldeck failed to notice these additional ruins, gives us a faint idea of the density of the forest.

Image: Plan of Palenque. "Native Races," Vol. IV

The plan represents the distribution and relative size of the ruins of which we have definite descriptions. Those having no numbers are some of the groups that were passed by as of no account. We must understand that so dense is the forest that not one of these structures is visible from its neighbors. Where the trees are cut down, as they have been several times, only a few years are necessary for it to regain its former density, and each explorer must begin anew.

The largest structure, marked one on the plan, is known as the palace. This is only a conjectural name. We have no reason, except its size, to suppose it the residence of a royal owner. Its base is a pyramid which, Mr. Stephens tells us, is of oblong form, forty feet high, three hundred and ten feet in front and rear, and two hundred and sixty feet on each side. The pyramid was formerly faced with stone, which has been thrown down by the growth of trees, so that its form is hardly distinguishable. The sides may once have been covered with cement, and perhaps painted. Dupaix, who examined these ruins in 1808, so represents them. Mr. Stephens expressly states that the eastern front was the principal entrance. Mr. Waldeck, however, detected traces of stairways on the northern side. M. Charney has settled the point, that the principal entrance was on the northern side.

The principal bulk of this pyramid seems to have been earth; the facing only being composed of stone. Mr. Bancroft thinks he has discovered evidence that there were four or more thick foundation-walls built from the surface of the ground to support the buildings on top of the pyramid; that the space between these walls was subsequently filled with earth, and that sloping embankments, faced with stones, were built upon the outside. [11] The summit platform of this pyramid supports the building, or collection of buildings, known as the palace. Though generally spoken of as one building, we think we have here the ruins of a number of buildings.

Probably the original inhabitants built a continuous structure close to the edge of the platform, leaving the interior for an open court. Subsequently, as population increased, rather than resort to the labor necessary to raise a new pyramidal structure, they erected other buildings on this court. From the plan, as given by Mr. Stephens, there seems to have been no less than five such put up, besides the tower. Thus covering the platform with a somewhat confused mass of buildings, and, instead of the large open court, there were left only three narrow courts, and one somewhat larger--seventy by eighty feet. [12] The building erected near the edge of the platform, inclosing the court, was some two hundred and twenty-eight feet on its east and west sides, by one hundred and eighty feet on its north and south sides, and about thirty feet high.

Image: General View of Palace.

Our general view, taken from Mr. Stephens's works, represents the ruined eastern front of this building, surmounting the pyramid. Trees are seen growing all over the ruins. The outer wall is pierced by numerous doorways which, being somewhat wider than the space that separates them, gives to the whole the appearance of a portico with wide piers: no remains of the doors themselves have been discovered. Drilled holes in the projecting cornice, immediately above the doorway, gave Mr. Stephens the impression that an immense cotton curtain, perhaps painted in a style corresponding with the ornaments, had been extended the whole front, which was raised or lowered, according to the weather. The lintels of the doors were of wood. They had long since vanished, and the stones over the doorway fallen down. Of the piers separating the doorways, only fifteen were found standing, but the crumbling remains of the others were readily traced on the ruins.

Image: Bas-relief, Palenque.

Each of the standing piers, and presumably all the others, was ornamented with a bas-relief in stucco. This cut gives us a good example of this style of ornamentation. We notice portions of a richly ornamented border. This stucco work consists of human figures in various attitudes, having a variety of dress, ornaments, and insignia. The stucco is said to be nearly as hard as the stone itself. Traces of paint, with which the figures were once ornamented, were still to be seen. The conjectures in regard to these figures, have been innumerable. Vividly painted, and placed in a conspicuous place on the wall, we may be very sure they were full of significance to the builders. Three hieroglyphics are placed over the head of each group, but so far, they are as little understood as the figures themselves. We can imagine the effect, when the building was still perfect and entire, and all the piers were thus ornamented.

Image: Cross-section Palace, Palenque.

Passing to the top of the pyramid, we find the construction of the building whose outer wall we have been describing, to be substantially as follows: Three parallel walls, from two to three feet in thickness, composed of hewn stones, were erected about nine feet apart. At the height of ten feet, the walls commenced approaching each other; not, however, in an arch, for this was unknown, but in a triangular manner, the stones in each course projecting a little farther out. This cut represents a cross-section of the buildings, and shows also the slight cornice. All inequalities in the surface, as here represented, were then filled with cement, thus furnishing a smooth surface, which was then painted. The two outer walls were plentifully supplied with doorways; the central wall had but few. We are only given the description of one, which may not apply to all. This one, opposite the entrance on the east side, has a trefoil-shaped arch over the door, thus giving it this shape. Besides the few doorways, the central wall had numerous depressions, or niches, some of which served for ventilation, others for the support of beams, and perhaps others as receptacles for torches or idols. This principle of construction is substantially the same for all the buildings in the interior of the court, and indeed for all the buildings at Palenque.

Image: Trefoil Arch.

Passing through the doorway just described, we come into the second corridor, and continuing through that, we come to what was once a large court; but, as we stated, it was subsequently built over so as to leave only a few courts. The largest one, eighty by seventy feet, is immediately before us, with a range of steps leading down into it. On each side of the stairway is sculptured, on stucco, a row of grim and gigantic figures. The engraving opposite represents the same. "They are adorned with rich headdresses and necklaces, but their attitude is that of pain and trouble. The design and anatomical proportions of the figures are faulty, but there is a force of expression about them which shows the skill and conceptive force of the artist." From this small court stairways lead to the other buildings situated around it.

Image: Entrance to Principal Court.

Stucco ornaments were plentiful. In one room, rather more richly ornamented than the others, was found a stone tablet, which is the only important piece of stone sculpture about the palace. We are told it is of hard stone, four feet long by three feet wide, and the sculpture is in bas-relief. It is set in the wall, and around it are the remains of a rich stucco border. Its significance is unknown. We must notice the small medallion, containing a face, suspended by a necklace of pearls from the neck of the principal figure. Mr. Stephens conjectures that it may represent the sun. Mr. Waldeck gives a drawing of this same subject; but instead of a face, he represents a cross. [13]

Image: Stone Tablet.

In the general view we see a tower rising up from the mass of ruins. Mr. Stephens speaks of this tower as follows. "This tower is conspicuous by its height and proportions, but an examination in detail is found unsatisfactory and uninteresting. The base is thirty feet square, and it has three stories. Entering over a heap of rubbish at the base, we found within another tower distinct from the outer one, and a stone staircase, so narrow that a large man could not ascend it. The staircase terminated against a dead stone ceiling, closing all further passages, the last step being only six or eight inches from it. For what purpose a staircase was carried up to such a bootless termination we could not conjecture. The whole tower was a substantial stone structure, and in its arrangements and purposes about as incomprehensible as the sculptured tablets."

At the best we can do, it is hard to give such a description of this ruin that it can be readily understood, so we will present a restoration of it by a German artist, [14] taken, however, from Mr. Bancroft's work. [15] This is very useful to us, since it conveys an idea of how the palace looked when it was complete. This view also includes a second structure, which we will examine soon. We notice the numerous doorways leading into the first corridor, the ornamental pier-like portions of the wall separating the doors, and the several buildings on the court; rising over all, the tower, which would have been better if the spire had been omitted.

Image: Palace, Palenque.

This may have been a real palace. Its rooms may have been the habitations of royalty, and its corridors may have resounded with the tread of noble personages. M. Charney thinks the palace must have been the home of priests, and not kings--in fact, that it was a monastery, where the priests lived who ministered in the neighboring temples. He thinks Palenque was a holy place, a prehistoric Mecca. We must he cautious about accepting any theory until scholars are more agreed about the plan of government and society among the Central American tribes. But, whatever it was, many years have passed by since it was deserted. For centuries tropical storms have beat against the stuccoed figures. The court-yards and corridors are overrun with vegetation, and great trees are growing on the very top of the tower. So complete is the ruin that it is with difficulty the plan can be made out. The traveler, as he gazes upon it, can scarcely resist letting fancy restore the scene as it was before the hand of ruin had swept over it. In imagination he beholds it perfect in its amplitude and rich decoration, and occupied by the strange people whose portraits and figures may perhaps adorn its walls.

Image: Ruined Temple of the Three Tablets.

e must now describe the more important of the remaining structures of Palenque. Glancing at the plan for a moment, we see to the south-west of the palace a ruin marked 2. This is the site of a pyramidal structure known as the "Temple of the Three Tablets," or "Temple of Inscriptions." The pyramid is not as large in area as the palace, though of a greater height. It measures in height one hundred and ten feet on the slope, but we are not given the other dimensions. All the sides, which were very steep, seem to have had steps. Trees have grown up all over the pyramid and on the top of the building. This illustration, taken from Mr. Stephens's work, can not fail to impress on us the luxuriant growth of tropical vegetation, and we can also see how such a growth must accelerate the ruin. The stone steps leading up the sides of the pyramid have been thrown down, and such must be in time the fate of the building itself. The building on the summit platform does not cover all the area. It is seventy-six feet front by twenty-five feet deep and about thirty-five feet high.

This small cut is a representation of the same building on a small scale, but cleared of trees and vines. The roof is seen to consist of two parts, sloping at different angles. The lower part was covered with stucco ornaments, which, though too much injured to be drawn, gave the impression that, when perfect and painted, they must have been rich and imposing. The upper slope is of solid masonry. "Along the top was a range of pillars, eighteen inches high and twelve apart, made of small pieces of stone laid in mortar and covered with stucco, having somewhat the appearance of a low, open balustrade."

Image: Elevation Temple of the Three Tablets.

In this wood-cut the front wall, as in the palace, presents more the appearance of a row of piers than any thing else. Each of the corner piers contains on its surface hieroglyphics, each of which contains ninety-six squares. The other piers have ornaments of stucco similar to those we have already examined on the palace. In the building itself we have the usual three parallel walls. In this case, however, the second corridor is divided into three rooms, and there is no opening in the third wall, unless it be three small openings for air. The central wall is four or five feet thick. [16] The interior is very plain.

The principal point of interest about the building, from whence the name is derived, is three tablets of hieroglyphics. One on either side of the principal doorway of the middle wall, and the third in the rear wall of the middle room. Being so similar to other tablets, it is not necessary to give separate cuts of them. The similarity to those of Copan is very great, the differences being in minute points, which only critical examination would detect. Mr. Stephens tells us that the Indians call this building a school. The priests who came to visit him at the ruins called it a temple of justice, and said the tablets contained the law. We do not think either are very safe guides to follow.

At number three on the plan are the ruins of an edifice which is fast disappearing. The outer wall had already fallen at the time of Mr. Stephens's visit. It stands on the bank of the stream. The pyramid base is one hundred feet high on the slope. The building on the top is twenty-five feet front by eighteen feet deep. In the inner corridor could be dimly traced the outlines of a beautiful piece of stucco work. At the time of Waldeck's visit it was still complete, so we are enabled to give a cut of it.

Image: The Beau-Relief.

We are sure the readers will not fail to notice the many points which make this such an exceptionally fine piece of work. In the original drawing the grace of the arms and wrists is truly matchless, and the chest muscles are displayed in the most perfect manner. The embroidered girdle and folded drapery of the figure, as well as the drapery around the leopard's neck, are arranged with taste. The head-dress is not unlike a Roman helmet in front, with the addition of numerous plumes. The sandals of the feet are secured by a cord and rosette, while the ornaments on the animal's ankles seem secured by leather straps. [17] Mr. Waldeck, however, who drew this sketch, is supposed to have drawn at times better than his model. [18] This is generally called the "Temple of the Beau-relief." Mr. Holden, in his able article already referred to, comes to the conclusion that this figure represents the god Quetzalcohuatl, the nature god of the Mayas.

Image: Temple of the Cross. (Smithsonian Institute.)

Eastward from the palace, and across the creek, are seen on the plan the location of two other structures. The one marked is a somewhat famous structure, which, for reasons that will soon appear, is called the "Temple of the Cross." The pyramid in this case is one hundred and thirty-four feet on the slope. It, however, stands on a terrace about sixty feet on the slope. The forest is so dense that, though other structures are but a short distance from it, yet they can not be seen. The last two engravings represent the building and the ground plan. This is not a fanciful sketch, but is a restoration, "from such remains and indications that it is impossible to make any thing else out of it."

Image: Plan of Temple. (Smithsonian Institute.)

"The building is fifty feet front, thirty-one feet deep, and has three door-ways. The whole front was covered with stucco ornaments. The two outer piers contain hieroglyphics." We notice a new feature about the roof. It is similar to the roof of the temple of the "Three Tablets," in having two different slopes--the lower one covered with stucco ornaments, but the range of pillars along the roof is here replaced by a peculiar two-storied arrangement nearly sixteen feet high. Mr. Stephens says: "The long sides of this narrow structure are of open stucco-work, formed into curious and indescribable devices, human figures with legs and arms spreading and apertures between, and the whole was once loaded with rich and elegant ornaments in stucco relief. Its appearance at a distance must have been that of a high, fanciful lattice. It was perfectly unique--different from the works of any other people with which we are familiar, and its uses and purposes entirely incomprehensible."

It was evidently added to the temple solely for the sake of appearance. One writer [19] believes the roof structures were erected by some people that succeeded the original builders of the temple. The plan of the temple gives us a clear idea of the arrangement of the inner rooms. Our principal interest centers in the altar, which we notice placed in the center of the back room. We give an illustration of a similar altar-form in the temple, at number 5 of the plan. In form it is that of an inclosed chamber, having a roof of its own. The altar in the Temple of the Cross was very similar to this. Mr. Stephens's description is as follows: "The top of the doorway was gorgeous with stuccoed ornaments, and on the piers at each side were stone tablets in bas-relief. Within, the chamber is thirteen feet wide and seven feet deep."

Image: Altar in Temple of the Sun (Bureau of Ethnology.)

The room was plain within, and right against the back was the famous "Tablet of the Cross." This tablet was six feet four inches high, ten feet eight inches wide, and formed of three stones. The right-hand one is now in the National Museum in Washington. The central one, though torn from its original place, is still at the ruins. The next cut gives us only the sculptured part of the tablet. On both the right and left-hand were tablets of hieroglyphics. A long chain of ornaments hung suspended from the cap of the right-hand figure. The two figures are regarded as priests. The cross is very plainly outlined, and is the regular Latin one. Considerable discussion has arisen as to what supports the cross. Dr. Brinton thinks it a serpent. [20] Others think it a human skull. [21] We must also notice the bird on top of the cross. It is almost impossible to make out the species. The right-hand figure is offering it something.

Image: Tablet of the Cross.

We must refer to some more tablets found at Palenque before proceeding further. At number five of the plan was a temple but little smaller than the one just described. There is, however, such a similarity between the buildings, that it is not necessary to give illustrations. The temple, also, had an inclosed altar; and against the back of that was placed the tablet which was very similar to the one just described. This illustration represents the sculptured portions. On each side were tablets of hieroglyphics. It needs but a glance to show that the priests are, evidently, the same personages as in the other tablet.

Image: The Sun.

The one on the left is standing on the back of a human being. The one on the right is, perhaps, standing on a beast; or, if a human being, he is crushed beneath the weight of the priest. Two other human figures support a platform, from which rise two batons crossed like a St. Andrew's cross. These support a mask, from the center of which a hideous human face looks out. The Aztecs sometimes represented the sun by such a mask, and hence the name "Temple of the Sun."

In still another temple, situated but a short distance from the others, was discovered a third tablet, which is shown in the cut opposite. We give all the tablet, showing the hieroglyphics as well. We must compare this with the first tablet given. The priests are, evidently, the same--but, notice, they stand on different sides of the cross. The same priest is making the offering as in the first, and the same bird is seen on the top of the cross. The priests stand on flowered ornaments. The support of the cross resembles the same thing as in the first but whether it is a human skull, or a serpent, is hard to tell. The cross itself is not as well outlined. The two arms are floral ornaments. We must also notice the two faces seen on the upright part. [22]

Image: Maler's Cross.

These tablets are all of great interest. That of the cross, the first one given, has attracted more attention than almost any other in the field of American antiquities. This is largely owing to the cross. As far as the sacred emblem itself is concerned, we do not think this tablet of more significance than that of the sun. It is well known that the cross, as a sacred emblem, had peculiar significance in the ancient religions of the world. Its use as such has come down to us from time immemorial. On the first expedition of the Spaniards, in 1518, to the coast and islands of Yucatan, they discovered that the cross was of some significance to the natives. In the island of Cozumel they found a large cross, to which the natives prayed for rain. [23]

Mr. Brinton thinks that the source of this veneration of the cross, like the the sacredness of the number four, of which he gives numerous illustrations, is the four cardinal points. [24] From these points blow the four winds which bring the fertilizing rains, and thus render the earth fruitful; and hence the cross, in so many and widely separated portions of the earth, is used as the symbol of the life-giving, creative, and fertilizing principle in nature. [25] He thinks this is, perhaps, the significance of these Palenque crosses. It is true we have different forms of the cross; but in ancient sculpture they seem to have been of equal importance. [26]

The results of these inquiries into the hidden meaning of these tablets are not devoid of interest; but, thus far, but few conclusions of value have been obtained. They have been made to do service in support of some far-fetched theories. The early Spanish writers on these subjects concluded that the crosses found in Central America were positive proof that St. Thomas had traveled through the country preaching the doctrines of Christianity. The padres, who came to visit Mr. Stephens at the ruins, "at the sight of it, immediately decided that the old inhabitants of Palenque were Christians, and fixed the age of the buildings in the third century."

Wilson finds in the tablets of the cross a strong argument for the existence of a great Phoenician empire in Central America. This tablet represents, he thinks, the sacrifice of a child to Astarte, [27] also called Ashtoreth, the great female deity of the ancient Semitic nations on both sides of the Euphrates, but chiefly of Phoenicia. The original meaning of this word was "Queen of Heaven." Modern scholars do not think these early speculations of the slightest worth. Dr. Charles Rau [28] concludes that as reasonable a conjecture as any is the supposition that it represents a sacrifice to the god of rain, made, perhaps, at a time of drought, apparently influenced to that conclusion by the fact that the natives of Cozumel regarded a cross in such a light, [29] and further that a cross represents the moisture-bearing winds.

E. S. Holden [30] has made a critical study of the hieroglyphics of Copan and Palenque. Though far from complete, most interesting results have been obtained. We can not do more than set forth the results of his investigations. [31] He concludes, from a careful study of the tablets of the cross and of the sun, that in both the left-hand priests are representatives of the god of war, [32] the right-hand priests being in both representatives of the god of rain and water. [33] In Mexico these deities frequently occupied the same temple. [34] He does not state his conclusions in regard to the central figures in the tablets. Mr. Brinton thinks the central figure in the tablet of the cross is a rebus for the nature god Quetzalcohuatl. The cross was one of the symbols of Quetzalcohuatl, as such signifying the four winds of which he was lord. Another of his symbols was a bird. We notice the two symbols present in the tablet. Mr. Holden also finds that the glyph standing for this god occurs several times in the tables of hieroglyphics belonging to this figure.

According to these last views, then, the old Palenquians seem to have been a very religious people, and Quetzalcohuatl, the god of peace, seems to have been their principal deity, differing in this regard from Mexico, where all honor was paid to the god of war. We are not given any explanation of the Temple of the Three Tablets, but the other temples have to do with the worship of this benign deity. The beautiful stucco-work in the Temple of the Beau-relief, Mr. Holden thinks, also represents him. At the Temples of the Cross, if we be right as to the meaning of the central figure, the priests of the god of war and the god of rain do honor to him. [35]

Mr. Bandelier makes a statement in regard to the cross which, if it be accepted, clears away a number of theories. He remarks: "The cross, though frequently used previously to the conquest by the Aborigines of Mexico and Central America as an ornament, was not at all an object of worship among them. Besides, there is a vast difference between the cross and the crucifix. What has been taken for the latter on sculptures, like the 'Palenque tablet,' is merely the symbol of the 'Newfire,' or close of a period of fifty-two years. It is the fire drill more or less ornamented." According to this view, these interesting tablets have reference to the ceremonies observed by the Mayas at the expiration of a cycle. [36]

It now only remains to describe some miscellaneous relics obtained from Palenque. But few specimens of pottery have been found. One of the early explorers speaks of finding an earthen vessel about a foot in diameter. Waldeck made an exploration in a portion of the palace area, and found a gallery containing hewn blocks of stone and earthen cups and vases, with many little earthen balls of different colors. He also speaks of a fine specimen of terra-cotta. [37]

The only statues known were found near the Temple of the Cross. There were two of them, and they supported a platform before the central doorway. One was broken to pieces; the other is here represented. Many writers point out resemblances between this figure and some Egyptian statues.

Image: Statue, Palenque. (Smith. Inst.)

In the village of Palenque, built in the wall of a church, [38] are two stone tablets which once stood on each side of the doorway of the altar containing the tablet of the cross. [39] Mr. Stephens was under the impression that they were originally placed on the altar of the tablet of the sun, and they are so represented in the cut (Illustration of Altar in the Temple of the Sun.) earlier. This plate represents the left-hand figure. The only explanation which we have met is contained in that oft-quoted article by Mr. Holden. He regards it as the representation of the Maya god of war. We are warned that the weak part of Mr. Holden's method is his assumption that the mythology of the Mayas was the same as that of the Aztecs, when the evidence is not strong enough to assert such a fact. [40]

Image: Bas-relief of the left-hand of the Altar of the Cross. (Bureau of Ethnology.)

We feel that we have been somewhat lengthy in describing the ruins of Palenque. But it is one of the most important groups of ruins that this continent possesses. The most faithful work on the part of the scholars of all lands has not as yet succeeded in clearing up the mystery connected with it. We can tread the courts of their ancient citadel, clamber up to the ruined temples and altars, and gaze on the unread hieroglyphics, but, with all our efforts, we know but little of its history. There was a time when the forest did not entwine these ruins. Once unknown priests ministered at these altars. But cacique, or king, and priest have alike passed away. The nation, if such it was, has vanished, and their descendants are probably to be found in the savage tribes of Yucatan to-day. "In the romance of the world's history," says Mr. Stephens, "nothing ever impressed me more forcibly than the spectacle of this once great and lovely city, overturned, desolate, and lost, discovered by accident, overgrown with trees for miles around, without even a name to distinguish it. Apart from every thing else, it was a mournful witness to the world's mutation.


"'Nations melt
From power's high pinnacle, when they have felt
The sunshine for awhile, and downward go.'"


The ruins at Palenque have been so well known, that but little attention has been given to other ruins in the States of Tobasco and Chiapas; and yet, according to M. Charney, imposing ruins of great extent exist in the western part of Tobasco. At a place about thirty-five miles from San Juan, in a north-westerly direction, he found veritable mountains of ruins "overgrown with a luxuriant vegetation." [41] In the absence of cuts, we can not do more than give a general idea of these ruins.

He asserts that the whole State of Tobasco, and part of Chiapas, is covered with ruins. One landed proprietor informed him that, on his estate, he had counted over three hundred pyramids, all of them covered with ruins. In this connection he refers to the assertions of some of the early Spanish voyagers, that, when skirting the shores of Tobasco, they "saw on the shore, and far in the interior, a multitude of structures, whose white and polished walls glittered in the sun." On one large pyramid, one hundred and fifteen feet high, he found the remains of a building two hundred and thirty-five feet long.

This building is named the palace. In this building we met with the type that we have learned is the prevailing one further south--that is, three parallel walls, forming two rows of rooms. In general, the rooms are not well arranged for comfort, according to our opinion; but they were, doubtless, well adapted to the communal mode of life prevalent among the Indians. M. Charney seems to have been strongly impressed with the number and importance of the ruins in this State; but, strangely enough, others have not mentioned them. [42] He says: "I am daily receiving information about the ruins scattered all over the State of Tobasco, hidden in the forests. ... The imagination fails to realize the vast amount of labor it would involve to explore even a tithe of these ancient sites. These mountains of ruins extend over twelve miles. We still see the hollows in the ground whence the soil was taken for the construction of these pyramids. But they did not consist merely of clay; bricks, too, entered into their construction, and there were strengthening walls to make them firmer. These structures are more wonderful than the pyramids and the other works at Teotihuacan, and they far surpass the pyramids of Egypt.

In the neighboring State of Chiapas, we find the location of several groups of ruins. At Ocosingo, we have the evident traces of a large settlement. Mr. Stephens mentions four or five pyramids crowned with buildings. Immediately beyond these pyramids he came upon an open plateau, which he considered to have been the site of the city proper. It was protected on all sides by the same high terraces, overlooking for a great distance the whole country around, and rendering it impossible for an enemy to approach from any quarter without being discovered. "Across this table was a high and narrow causeway, which seemed partly natural and partly artificial, and at some distance on which was a mound, with the foundation of a building that had probably been a tower. Beyond this the causeway extended till it joined a range of mountains. ... There was no place we had seen which gave us such an idea of the vastness of the works erected by the aboriginal inhabitants." [43]

The ruins at Palenque are considered by some to belong to the ancient period of Maya architecture; those we are now to examine are regarded as of more modern date. This is at least true with respect to the time of their abandonment. Though the efforts of explorers in Yucatan have been attended with rich results, still few places have been fully described. The country is fairly dotted with sites of aboriginal settlements. In all probability there are many that are yet unknown. Hidden in tropical jungles, they are fast falling into meaningless mounds of debris. The early Spanish explorers, skirting the coasts of Yucatan, gazed in astonishment at the views they occasionally obtained of pyramids crowned with temples and imposing buildings. But this gleam of historic light was but momentary in duration. It served but to throw a sunset glow over the doomed tribes and civilization of the Mayas. By the aid of that dim, uncertain light, we are asked to recognize a form of government and society which, under the clearer light of modern researches is seen to bear an equally strong resemblance to institutions more in keeping with the genius of the New World.

The few travelers who visit the country are generally content to revisit and describe places already known. This is not strange, considering the difficulties that have to be overcome. The country swarms with savage Indians, who are jealous of the intrusions of strangers. We have, however, this consolation: those ruins already brought to light show such a uniformity of detail, that it is not probable that any new developments are to be expected. The ruins that are already known are sufficient to illustrate all the points of their architecture; and we can draw from them, doubtless, all that can be drawn from ruins, throwing light on the civil organization of the Mayas of Yucatan.

Image: Plan of Uxmal.

We can not do better than to describe some of the more important ruins, and then notice wherein others differ. Examining the map, we see that Uxmal [44] is one of the first ruins that would meet us on arriving, in the country. It is more fully described than any other, though perhaps not of greater importance than those of some other localities. As at Palenque, while the principal ruins are said to be situated in a small area, the whole section abounds in mounds and heaps of debris, and it may well be said that buildings as imposing as those already described are concealed in the forest not far removed from the present ruins. A plat of ground seventeen hundred feet long by twelve hundred feet wide would include the principal structures now known.

The most imposing single edifice here is that called the Governor's House. The only reason for giving it this name is its size. Being of large size, and located on a terraced pyramid, it has received a name which may be very inappropriate. We will first notice the pyramid on which the building stands. At Palenque the pyramid rises regularly from the ground. Here the pyramid is terraced. In order to understand clearly the arrangement of these various terraces, we introduce this drawing. The base is a somewhat irregular figure, though nearly a square. Another pyramid cuts into one corner of the terrace. The first terrace is about three feet high, fifteen feet broad, and five hundred and seventy-five feet long. The second terrace is twenty feet high, two hundred and fifty feet wide, and five hundred and forty-five feet in length. The third terrace, on which the building stands, is nineteen feet high, and its summit platform is one hundred by three hundred and sixty feet. The height of this platform above the general surface is a little over forty feet. [45]

Image: Pyramid at Palenque.

The material of which the pyramid is composed, is rough fragments of limestone, thrown together without order; but the terraces were all faced with substantial stone work. At the time of Mr. Stephens's visit the facing of the second terrace was still in a good state of preservation. Charney believes the platform was paved with square blocks. This pyramid was not entirely artificial--they took advantage of a natural hill, as far as it went. No stairway or other means of ascent to the first terrace is mentioned. From its low height, probably none was needed. The second terrace being twenty feet high, some means of ascent was required. This was afforded, as seen in the drawing, by an inclined plane, at the south side one hundred feet broad. From the second terrace a grand staircase, one hundred and thirty feet wide, containing thirty-five steps, led up to the summit of the third terrace.

No buildings or other ornaments are mentioned as having been found on the lower terrace. The wide promenade of the second one supported some structures of its own, but they were in too dilapidated a condition to furnish a clear idea of their original nature, except in one instance--that is of the building at A of the drawing. This building was ninety-four feet long, thirty-four feet wide, and about twenty feet high.

The roof had fallen in, so that we do not know the arrangement of the rooms in the interior. The simplicity of ornaments on the outer wall is commented on. Instead of the complicated ornaments, so apparent on the buildings of Yucatan, the only ornament in this case was a simple and elegant line of round columns, standing close together, and encircling the whole edifice. At regular intervals on the upper cornice appeared a sculptured turtle. From this circumstance, the building was named "The House of Turtles." No steps lead to the terrace below or to the one above. "It stands isolated and alone, seeming to mourn over its own desolate and ruinous condition."

At B, along the south end of the terrace, there was a long, low mound of ruins, and arranged along its base was a row of broken columns about five feet high and nearly five feet in circumference. Some have supposed, from this, that columns extended along the entire promenade of the second terrace. This would indeed give it a very grand appearance; but there is no foundation for such a view. East of the central stairway at C, was a low, square inclosure. This contained a standing pillar, now in a slanting position, as if an effort had been made to throw it over. It was about eight feet above the surface of the ground and five below. The Indians called it a whipping-post. Mr. Stephens thinks it was connected with the ceremonial rites of an ancient worship. He found a similarly shaped stone in connection with other buildings at Uxmal, and at other places in Yucatan.

Image: Two-headed Monument, Uxmal.

Still further east, at D, he found a rude, circular mound of rough stones. On excavating this, he was rewarded by the discovery of a double-headed monument. It was carved out ot a single block of stone. The probabilities are that it was purposely buried when the natives abandoned Uxmal, to prevent the Spaniards from destroying it. Scattered about over this platform were found excavations much like well-made cisterns in shape. As it is something of a mystery where the inhabitants obtained water, it is a reasonable supposition that these were really cisterns. Similar excavations were discovered all over the area of the ruins.

Leaving the second terrace, and passing up the ruined stairway, we find ourselves on the summit platform of the third terrace, and see before us one of the long, low, richly ornamented buildings of Yucatan. This cut presents us an end view, but gives us a good idea of the building as a whole. It does not occupy the entire summit; there is a wide promenade all around it. Its length is three hundred and twenty-two feet; its width, thirty-nine feet, and its height twenty-six feet.

Image: End View.

In order to understand clearly the arrangement of the rooms, we will here give the ground-plan. The two end portions may have been additions to the original structure. There are, at any rate, reasons for supposing the small rooms in the two recesses of later construction. We must notice that we have here the usual three parallel walls and two rows of rooms. All the walls are massive, the rear wall especially so. It is nine feet thick throughout, and so are the transverse walls of the two recesses. Supposing the rear wall might contain rooms, Mr. Stephens made an opening through it. He found it to be solid.

Image: Ground Plan.
Image: Cross-sectiion of Uxmal.

The stones facing the walls and rooms are smooth and square, and the mass of the masonry consists of rough, irregular fragments of stone and mortar. This cross-section makes this meaning plain. We can but notice what an immense amount of useless labor was bestowed on the walls and ceilings of this building. We gather more the idea of galleries excavated in a rocky mass, than of rooms inclosed by walls. The rooms are very plain; no attempt at decoration was observed. In one or two instances the remains of a fine coat of plastering was noticed. "The floors were of cement, in some places hard, but by long exposure broken, and now crumbling under foot." The arches supporting the roof are of the same style as those at Palenque--that is, triangular,--though, in this case, the ends of the projecting stones were beveled off so as to form a smooth surface. At Palenque, we remember, the inequalities were filled with cement. Across the arches were still to be observed beams of wood, the ends buried in the wall at both sides. The supposition is that they served to support the arches while building, and afterwards for the suspension of hammocks. [46]

There are no openings for light and ventilation, consequently some of the rear rooms are both damp and dark. The lintels over each doorway were of wood. This was the common and ordinary material employed for lintels in Yucatan, though in one or two instances stone was used. They used for this purpose beams of zapote, a wood noted for its strength and durability. Some inner lintels still remain in place. The one over the central doorway of the outer wall was elaborately carved, the others were plain.

The outside of the building is also of interest to us. By a careful examination, we notice a cornice just above the doorway. The wall below the cornice presents a smooth surface of limestone, no traces of plaster or paint appearing; above the cornice the facade is one solid mass of rich, complicated, and elaborately sculptured ornaments. This is not stucco work, as at Palenque, but the ornaments are carved on stone. Mr Stephens tells us, "Every ornament or combination is made up of separate stones, each of which had carved on it part of the subject, and was then set in its place in the wall. Each stone, by itself, is an unmeaning fractional portion, but placed by the side of others, makes, part of a whole which, without it, would be incomplete."

It is not possible to give a verbal description of all of the ornaments; we can notice but few. Over each doorway was represented a person apparently seated on a sort of throne, having a lofty head-dress, with enormous plumes of feathers falling symmetrically on each side. Though the figures varied in each case, in general characteristics they were the same as the one here represented, which was the figure over the central doorway of the building.

Image: Figure over the Doorway.
Image: Ornament over the Doorway.

Among the most commonly reappearing ornaments at Uxmal, and at other places, is one that has received the name of the "Elephant's Trunk," and has given rise to no little discussion. One occurs immediately above the figure. Part of this ornament is represented in this plate. The central part of this figure, which appears as a plain band, is in reality a curved projecting stone, which, when looked at sideways, has the appearance given in this cut. Though requiring a little imagination, the majority of travelers see in this some monster's face. The eyes and teeth are seen in the first engraving. This projecting stone is the nose.

Image: Elephant's Trunk.

We stand in amazement before this sculptured facade. We must reflect that its builders were not possessed of metallic tools. It extends entirely around the building, though the end and rear walls are not as elaborately decorated as the front. A little calculation shows that it contains over ten thousand square feet of carved stone. The roof of the building was flat. It had been covered with cement. But vegetation had somehow acquired a foothold, and the whole is now overgrown with grass and bushes. Such is a brief description of this "casa." Hastening to ruins, it appeals powerfully to the imagination. It is a memorial of vanished times. We wonder what of the strange people that pressed up these stairs and entered these rooms? For many years it has been abandoned to the elements. Year by year portions of the ornamented facade fall. Though the walls are massive and the roof is strong, it is but a question of time when a low mound of ruins will alone mark its site.

Like the palace at Palenque, this structure has given rise to conflicting theories as to its use. While many of the writers on this subject claim that it was the residence of royalty, there are, on the other hand, those who think it is simply a communal house of village Indians, or the official house of the tribe. In whatever light we shall ultimately view it, it is surely an interesting monument of native American culture. The labor necessary to rear the terraced pyramid, even though advantage was taken of a natural eminence, must have been great. The building itself, though not of great dimensions, except in length, must have required the labor of a large number of Indians for a long time. For purposes of defense, the location, from an Indian point of view, was an excellent one, since with them elevation constitutes the principal means of defense. The terraces could be easily ascended from but one point, where an enemy could be easily resisted. In a general way, it may be regarded as a representative of Yucatan buildings, and so we will be able to more rapidly describe the remaining structures.

Image: Plan of Nunnery.

On the general plan we see, to the north of the structure we have just described, a group of ruins marked "C." This is regarded as the most wonderful collection of edifices in Yucatan, and as exhibiting the highest state of ancient architecture and sculpture in North America. They are known as the "Nunnery," which we think is a very absurd name. The pyramid on which they stood is also terraced, though on one side only. We give a drawing showing the position on the summit platform of the four buildings forming this group. Since we have so many ruined structures to describe, we must avoid such details as will prove tiresome. We will give in a note the dimensions of these buildings, and of the pyramid, and pass at once to some points of special interest. [47]

Traces of stairways are mentioned as leading up to the terrace, but none of the steps remained in place. The southern building is seen to have doors in both the court and terrace walls, but in this case the middle wall is unbroken. All the rooms of this building are single. In the plan it appears divided into two buildings; the opening is, however, but a triangular arched doorway, through which access was had to the court.

There is no one to dispute our right of way, and so, climbing up the ruined stairs, and passing through the deserted gateway, we emerge into a courtyard, now silent and deserted and overgrown with bushes and grass. It was once paved and covered with cement, and in the center are the remains of a stone pillar, similar to that in front of the governor's house. When the houses were all occupied this court must have presented an animated scene. But, now that the buildings are tenantless and going to ruin, it must impress all beholders with a sense of the changes wrought by time.

Image: Room in Nunnery.

It will be noticed that the northern building does not stand in quite the same direction as the southern one, which detracts from the symmetry of the whole. It stands on a fourth terrace, twenty feet higher than the others. A grand, but ruined, staircase leads up the center of the terrace. At each end of this staircase built against the terrace, could be distinguished the ruins of a small building. There is one unusual feature about the ruins in the eastern building. In general, only two rooms open into each other. In this building, however, six rooms form one suite, and, furthermore, all the doorways of this suite are decorated with sculpture. As this suite of rooms was evidently a place of interest, we will introduce this illustration, which gives us a good idea of the appearance of the rooms on the inside. We would do well to compare this cut with that of the room in Pueblo Bonito (Chapter XI). The arched roof is not a true arch but simply the triangular arch we have already spoken of.

Image: Façade, Southern Building.

The principal attraction about these buildings is the beautiful facades which overlook the court-yard. They are pronounced by all to be the finest examples of native American art. With one exception, they are neither complicated nor grotesque, but chaste and artistic. As in the Governor's House, the part below the cornice is plain, but the remaining part, both front and rear, is covered with sculpture. On entering the court-yard from the arched gateway of the southern building, we notice that its facade is composed of diamond lattice-work and vertical columns, while over each doorway is something that resembles a house, with a human figure seated in a doorway. This cut represents but a small portion of this facade, but it gives us an idea of the whole.

Image: Façade, Eastern Building.

The facade of the eastern building was in the best state of preservation of any. We give a section of this also. The ornaments over the doorway, shown in the cut, consist of three of those mysterious masks, with the projecting curved stone, already described. "The ornaments over the other doorways are less striking, more simple, and more pleasing. In all of them there is, in the center, a masked face, with the tongue hanging out, surmounted by an elaborate head-dress. Between the horizontal bars is a range of diamond-shaped ornaments, in which the remains of red paint are still distinctly visible, and at each end of these bars is a serpent's head, with the mouth wide open." It is necessary to examine the drawing attentively, to distinguish these features. Some think the masked face represents the sun.

Image: Serpent Façade, Western Building.

The western facade is known as the Serpent Facade. It was very much in ruins at the time of Mr. Stephens's visit. When entire, it must have been of great beauty. Two serpents are trailed along the whole front, and by the interlacing of their bodies divide the surface into square panels. In the open mouth of these serpents is sculptured a human head. The panels are filled with ornaments similar in design to those of the "Governor's House," and among the ornaments of each panel are found one or more human faces, while full-sized figures are not entirely absent. This cut represents but a small portion of the facade. It gives us, however, an idea of the whole. We notice, over the doorway again, the elephant's trunk ornament.

The northern building, standing high above the rest, on its own terrace, was doubtless intended to have the grandest front of all. It was, however, in such a ruined state, and the few remaining fragments so complicated, that no drawings have been given us. Human figures are represented in several places; two are apparently playing on musical instruments. We recall that at Palenque, the roof of some of the temples bears a curious two-storied work, erected apparently for ornamental purposes. The same instinct reappears in this building. At regular intervals along the front they carried the wall above the cornice, forming thirteen turret-like elevations ten feet wide, and seventeen feet high. These turrets were also loaded with ornaments. Another curious feature about this building is, that it was erected over, and completely inclosed, a smaller building of an older date. Wherever the outer walls have fallen, the ornamented cornice of the inner building is visible.

When we reflect on the patient labor that must have been expended on this pyramid and these buildings, we are filled with admiration for their perseverance and ingenuity. They had neither domestic animals or metallic tools. The buildings were massively built and richly ornamented. The sculptured portion covers over twenty-four thousand square feet. [48] The terraced mound supporting the house contained over sixty thousand cubic yards of materials, though this may not be wholly artificial. To our eyes, as these rooms had neither windows nor fire-places, they are not very desirable. But we may be sure that the builders considered them as models of their kind.

Leaving this interesting ruin, we will now visit one of the temples. This is east of the Nunnery, and is marked "D" on the plan. The mound on which this building stands is high enough to overlook the entire field of ruins. This cut represents the eastern side of the mound, up which a flight of stone steps lead to the building on the summit. There are some grounds for supposing a grander staircase, supported on triangular arches, led up the western side.

Image: Temple, Uxmal.

The building on the top is not large--only seventy-two feet long, and twelve feet wide--and consists of but three rooms, none opening into each other. The front of the building, though much ruined, presented an elegant and tasteful appearance. There seems to be no doubt that this temple was the scene of idolatrous worship; perhaps of human sacrifices. In a legal paper which Mr. Stephens saw at Meridia, containing a grant of the lands on which these ruins stand, bearing date 1673, it is expressly stated that the Indians at that time had idols in these ancient buildings, to which, every day, openly and publicly, they burned copal. Nor is there any doubt that this was the continuation of an old custom. In the end room of this temple are engraved two circular figures which, by some, are considered as proofs of the presence of Phallic worship. [49]

The buildings we have described will give us a very good idea of the structures of this ancient city. We have described but a few of them, but we have now only space to make some general observations. We wish to point out some resemblances to the ruins at Palenque. In both, buildings that served as temples were not large, but of small dimensions, and contained but few rooms. They occupy the summits of high pyramids. Such was probably the building on the summit of the pyramid at "F" (see plan). The buildings on the top of this pyramid, like that just described, had but three rooms. A very large pyramid is seen at "E." Our information in regard to it is very meager. A square platform was found on the summit. It is not unreasonable to suppose that this platform was intended to support a temple. But, before it was erected, the presence of the Spaniards put an end to all native building. There are, however, no proofs to be advanced in support of this statement; it is a mere suggestion.

We think the House of the Nuns illustrates the general plan of building employed at both places. That is as follows: They first erected a rectangular pyramid or mounds often terraced. Buildings were then put up parallel to the four sides, thus inclosing a court. At Palenque this court, as we have seen, was built over. Besides the House of Nuns, there are several other instances at Uxmal of courts with buildings on their sides. Looking at the plan, we see one at "G," and a still more ruined one between that and "F." Such a court, with traces of ruined buildings, also exists between the nunnery and the temple, at "D." It is not improbable that groups of low ruins existing to the westward of the structures described would be found, on examination, to reveal the same arrangements.

As for the grand terraced pyramid supporting the Governor's House, it may well be that other buildings would have been added in process of time, as population increased. It is not necessary to suppose they erected all the buildings around a court at once. It seems very reasonable to suppose the northern building of the House of Nuns the oldest. The direction is not quite the same as the others; it stands on a higher terrace; and, furthermore, the present exterior walls are simply built around the older building. It may be, however, that the great terraced mound of the Governor's House was intended to support but one building. As there is the best of reason for supposing that Uxmal was inhabited at the time of the conquest, there is nothing to forbid the conclusion that the erection of pyramids, temples, and buildings was still going on.

Hieroglyphics, which formed such an interesting feature at Palenque, are here almost entirely wanting. A few rows occur around the head of the figure over the principal doorway of the Governor's House. They are of the same general character as those already described, but are "more rich, elaborate, and complicated." As to the probable antiquity of these ruins, we must defer consideration until we become more acquainted with the ruins of Yucatan.

The places we have now described will make us acquainted with the general character of the ruins scattered all over Yucatan. We do not feel as if we would be justified in dwelling at any great length over the remainder, though one or two important places must be mentioned. A word as to the frequency with which the ruins occur. We want to repeat that Yucatan, even to this day, is far from being thoroughly explored. Almost our only source of information is the writings of Mr. Stephens. But he only described a few places. In a trip of thirty-nine miles he took in a westerly direction from Uxmal he saw no less than seven different groups of ruins. Some of these, though in a very dilapidated state, presented points of great interest. When he started he knew of but few of those ruins. Some he heard of quite by accident while on his way, and some he first saw as he journeyed along the road. We must suppose the whole country equally well supplied.

After he had left Uxmal for good, at the village of Nochahab (see map), a little inquiry brought him information of so many ruins that he did not have time to visit them all. As to the question of use to which these buildings were applied, we must either suppose they had an immense number of temples and palaces--one or the other every few miles--or else they were the residences of the people themselves. And, though it may seem very strange that an imperfectly developed people should ornament so profusely and delicately their ordinary places of abode, [50] yet it is difficult to understand why they should rear such an abundance of temples and palaces.

At Kabah (see map) Mr. Stephens found a most interesting field of ruins, rivaling Uxmal in extent, if not surpassing it. One group of buildings, arranged much like the House of Nuns, has some interesting features about it. The highest terrace in this case is nearly square, and the building on its summit is nearly the same shape. We have here two rows of double rooms, separated by a middle wall, very massive, as if two of the typical Maya buildings had been placed back to back. The front of this building was elaborately ornamented. In all the buildings at Uxmal the part above the cornice only was ornamented. Here the entire front was covered with carved stone. To make room for further ornaments the roof bore an additional appendage, like the second story of the Palenque temples. This building must have presented a wonderful appearance when entire.

Another feature at this place has reference to the pyramid. We are familiar with the idea of a terraced mound supporting buildings. In one of these Kabah structures the buildings are arranged in a different and suggestive way. That is, the pyramid was terraced off. There were three ranges of buildings, the roof of one range forming a promenade in front of the other. In another of the Kabah structures was found a wooden lintel, elegantly carved. Mr. Stephens tells us the lines were clear and distinct, and the cutting, under any test, and without any reference to the people by whom it was executed, would be considered as indicating great skill and proficiency in the art of carving on wood. At the expense of a great deal of hard work, he succeeded in getting this lintel out and removed to New York, where it was unfortunately destroyed by fire.

They worked stone to better advantage at Kabah than at Uxmal. For the first time we meet with lintels of stone and a doorway with carved jambs. The lintels were supported in the center by a pillar. The pillars were rude and unpolished, but they were not out of proportion, and, in fact, were adapted to the lowness of the building. We will only mention one more structure. This is a lonely arch, of the same form as all the rest, having a span of fourteen feet. It stands on a ruined mound, disconnected from every other structure, in solitary grandeur. "Darkness rests upon its history, but in that desolation and solitude, among the ruins around, it stood like the proud memorial of a Roman triumph." There was the usual pyramid with a temple. In a plan given of the field of ruins seventeen groups are seen, and, withont a doubt, many more exist in the immediate forest.

Image: Arch, Kabah.

M. Charney has of late years made a discovery which conclusively shows that this was an inhabited place at the time of the conquest. In a room as ruined as the rest he discovered the stueeo'figure of a horse and its rider. They are formed after the Indian manner by an inexperienced hand guided by an over-excited imagination. Both figures are easily recognized. The horse has on its trappings. We can see the stirrups. The man wears his cuirass. We all know what astonishment the appearance of men on horseback produced among the Indians, and so we are not at a loss to divine the cause which led to the construction of this figure. We must remember Mr. Stephens was hurried for time. Portions of this figure were mutilated, and other portions had been covered over by a layer of stucco, which Charney had to remove before the figure could be distinctly made out. [51]

Image: Zayi.

Within a radius of ten miles from Kabah are located no less than six so-called cities. The general appearance of all is the same--low ranges of buildings on terraced mounds, and ornamented facades. One of these places, by the name of Zayi, is of interest to us, because it gives us a hint as to how these people constructed their buildings. Amongst other buildings they found one large terraced mound, with buildings arranged on it in a very significant manner. There were three ranges of buildings, one over the other--the roof of one range on a level with the foundation of the range above. A grand stair-way led up the mound. This feature is illustrated in the plate opposite. We can imagine what a grand appearance must have been presented by this great terraced mound, when its buildings were all perfect.

Image: Plan of Zayi. (Bureau of Ethnology.)

The plan of this mound and buildings is shown in the last cut. Ten rooms on the north side of the second range presented a curious feature. They were all filled up with a solid mass of stone and mortar, and this filling up must have gone on as fast as the walls rose, and the arched ceiling must have closed over a solid mass. A very reasonable explanation is given of this state of things by Mr. Morgan. [52] He considers that such was the rudeness of mechanical knowledge among these people that the only way they could construct their peculiar arched roof was to build it over an internal core of masonry. Once put together over such a core, and carried up several feet, the down weight of the arch would articulate and hold the mass together. Then the core of masonry would be cleaned out, and the room was ready for use. If this be true, it follows that these rooms were the last erected. They were not yet cleared out when the operations of the Spaniards put an end to all native building. We must notice the structures at Zayi are in as ruined a condition as the others--thus strengthening the conviction that their abandonment was at about the time of the conquest of the peninsula.

We have not space to follow Mr. Stephens in all his journey. Every few miles he came across one of these peculiar structures. A common design is apparent in all; but all are alike enveloped in mystery. At Labna he found an extensive field of ruins, equal in importance to any in Yucatan. The next illustration represents an arched gateway, which reminds us of that in the "House of Nuns." Passing through this he found himself in a ruined court-yard, fronting which were the remains of buildings; but this was only one of many groups of ruins, and Labna was but one of many places visited. At Labphak Mr. Stephens found "the tottering remains of the grandest structure that now rears its ruined head in the forests of Yucatan." This was a terraced mound, faced by buildings on three sides, leaving an immense stair-way occupying the fourth side.

Image: Gateway at Labna.

Small interior stair-ways are mentioned in this building, but no particular description is given of them. At two places sculptured tablets were found. These tablets are worthy of notice. They were the only ones Mr. Stephens found, except at Palenque. It will be seen, on the map, that this ruin is nearer Palenque than any of the places in Yucatan yet described. Stucco ornaments, so apparent at the latter place, were now becoming numerous again. At Uxmal stone for building could be had in the greatest abundance--it was not as plenty here. The builders, apparently, adapted their ornamentation to the material at hand; and, while at Palenque they employed stucco in ornament, at Uxmal they carved stone. [53]

We must now leave this interesting section of Yucatan, though only a few places have been mentioned. The reader is well aware of the difference of opinion with which these ruins are viewed. Some of them are unquestionably temples. If we regard the others as palaces and the public buildings of great cities, we are at once puzzled to account for their great numbers. If we look on the majority of them as communal residences of the inhabitants, we are amazed at the mass of decorations with which they are adorned. But our admiration stops there--we are accustomed to speak of them as stately edifices. This is owing to their exterior ornaments, and their position on terraced mounds. The houses are often of great length, but not striking in other regards. The rooms, in the majority of cases, are small, low, dark, and ill ventilated. A great amount of useless labor was bestowed upon the walls, which were unnecessarily massive.

Near the center of the northern part of the peninsula is seen a place marked Chichen, to which is generally added the word Itza, making the entire name of the place Chichen-Itza. In this case the ancient Maya name has come down to us with the ruins--Chichen meaning the "mouth of wells," having reference to two springs which supplied the place with water. Itza is the name of a branch of the Maya people. This place is of interest to us in several ways. It was, unquestionably, a renowned city in aboriginal times. Here the Spaniards met with a very severe repulse. As a ruin it attracted the attention of early writers, and it has been the subject of antiquarian research in recent times. The description of the buildings will not detain us long. They are, evidently, the work of the same people as those whose structures we have already described.

One of the most important buildings is known as the Nunnery, reminding us at once of the collection of buildings of that name at Uxmal. In this case, however, the pyramid is represented by a solid mass of masonry one hundred and twelve by one hundred and sixty feet, rising with perpendicular sides to the height of thirty-two feet. This is seen to be a departure from the method of constructing pyramids hitherto described. The proprietor of the estate on whose grounds these ruins are located used this mound as a stone-quarry. An excavation of thirty feet revealed no secret chambers.

The probabilities are that it is solid throughout. A grand staircase, fifty-six feet wide, leads up to the top of this mound. Mr. Stephens tells us that three ranges of buildings occupied the summit, and his drawings represent the same. The roof of the one forms a promenade in front of the one above. So each range of buildings rests on a foundation solid from the ground. Mr. Bancroft describes this mound as having but two ranges of buildings on the summit. Of these buildings the second range was, seemingly, the most important. Several of its rooms contained niches in the back wall, extending from floor to ceiling. From traces still visible, they were once covered with painted ornaments. One of the rooms was fifty-seven feet long and nine wide.

In the rear wall of this room were nine of these niches. "All of the walls of this room, from the floor to the peak of the arch, had been covered with painted designs, now wantonly defaced, but the remains of which present colors, in some places, still bright and vivid; and among these remains detached portions of human figures continually reappear, well drawn, the heads adorned with plumes of feathers and the hands bearing shields and spears." To this pile of masonry, at one end, a wing had been attached. This building was similar in design to other buildings in Yucatan. Theoretically we would expect this wing to be much later in time than the buildings on the mound. That it is so, is proven by the fact that in two rooms the internal core of masonry, as described at Zayi, had not been wholly removed.

We have noticed in all these structures, the builders first threw up a mound or pyramid to support the building. In one of the Chichen edifices the earth had been excavated from all around it, so as to still present the appearance of a mound. Perhaps the most prominent object at this place is a stately pyramid, with an imposing building, represented in the plate opposite. The mound itself is nearly two hundred feet square, and rises to the height of seventy-five feet. On the west and north sides are ruined staircases.

Image: Castillo, Chichen-Itza.

On the ground, at the foot of the stairway on the north side, "forming a bold, striking, and well conceive commencement to this lofty range, are two colossal serpents' heads, ten feet in length, with mouths wide open, and tongues protruding. No doubt they were emblematic of some religious belief, and, in the mind of an imaginative people passing between them, to ascend the steps, must have excited feelings of solemn awe." The temple on the summit of this pyramid has some peculiar features about it. It is nearly square--forty-three by forty-nine feet--only one door in each side. In the room within, instead of partition walls supporting arches, were two immense beams, resting on square pillars, and supporting two arches--the only instance in the ruins of Yucatan of such use of beams.

Image: Gymnasium at Chichen-Itza.

We now wish to speak of one class of ruins which are present at Uxmal, but which we did not describe. They are two parallel walls. On the plan of Uxmal they are noticed between the Governor's House and the House of Nuns. This illustration represents this feature. These walls are each two hundred and seventy-four feet long, thirty feet thick, and twenty-six feet high. The distance separating them is one hundred and twenty feet. About one hundred feet from the north end, is seen a building fronting the open space between the walls. A building stood in a like position at the south end. In the cut a stone ring is seen projecting from each side. On the rim and border of these rings were sculptured two serpents, represented below. The general supposition is that this structure was used in the celebration of public games. Mr. Stephens refers us to the writings of Herrera, an early historian, for a description of a game of ball played at Mexico, where the surroundings must have been much the same as is here represented.

Image: Ring.

Most of the structures in Yucatan have been left in undisturbed quiet since the visit of Mr. Stephens. Five years after his visit, the Indians rose in revolt, and a large portion of country through which he traveled in perfect safety has, since then, been shunned by cautious travelers. As he says, "For a brief space the stillness that reigned around them was broken, and they were again left to solitude and silence." At Uxmal, and some places near the coast, more recent travelers have investigated the ruins, wondered over them, and passed on, without materially adding to our knowledge respecting them. In 1873 a French scientists Dr. A. Le Plongon, accompanied by his wife, visited Yucatan for the purpose of exploring the ruins. They spent a year in Meridia, thoroughly studying the customs of the country, and preparing for work.

Their first field of work was this ancient city, Chichen-Itza. As a result, he lays before us a picture of life and times not only vastly remote from us, but surpassing in wonder any thing hitherto presented. In the field of American antiquities we need scarcely be surprised at whatever conclusions are presented to us. We believe, however, we are not too harsh in saying that scholars, as a rule, consider Le Plongon as too much carried away by enthusiasm to judge coolly of his discoveries. [54] The most important part of his discoveries seem to have been in the buildings in connection with the Gymnasium last described.

At the time of the Spanish conquest, a very common tradition among the natives was that, in ancient times, three brothers governed the country. This legend of three rulers in olden times, was not peculiar to the Mayas, but was found among all the Indian nations of Central America. [55] In our opinion this last statement at once shows we have here to deal with a question belonging to mythology and not to history. But M. Le Plongon considers the buildings at Chichen, especially those of the Gymnasium, illustrative of the lives of the three brothers, and of the queen of one of them. In brief, he tells us the names of these three brothers were, Chaac-mol, Huuncay, and Aac. The first of these, Chaac-mol, means Tiger King. It was he who raised Chichen-Itza to the height of its glory. M. Le Plongon would have us believe that the merchants of Asia and Africa traded in its marts, and that the wise men of the world came hither to consult with the H-men, [56] whose convent, together with their astronomical laboratory, is still to be seen. Aac was the younger brother of the three. He conspired against the life of Chaac-mol, and finally killed him. The queen of Chaac-mol then erected the buildings around the Gymnasium as his memorial.

Image: Building at end of Gymnasium.

At the south end of the eastern wall Mr. Stephens noticed two ruined buildings, an upper and a lower one, of which our next cut is a representation. He was struck with the remains of painting, which entirely covered the walls. He tells us the walls were everywhere covered with designs in painting, representing, in bright and vivid colors, human figures, battles, houses, trees, and scenes of domestic life. We give, in a plate, detached portions of these figures. We must understand that, in the original, these were beautifully colored. The colors used were "green, yellow, red, blue, and reddish brown, the last being invariably the color given to human flesh."

Image: Painted Stucco-work.

M. Le Plongon contends that these paintings represent scenes in the lives of the three brothers and the Queen of Chaac-mol, "in the funeral chamber." Says he: "The terrible altercation between Aac and Chaac-mol, which had its termination in the murder of the latter by his brother, is represented by large figures three-fourths life size." [57] And in another place he tells us: "The scenes of his death is impressively portrayed on the walls, which the queen caused to be raised to the memory of her husband, in the two exquisite rooms, the ruins of which are yet to be seen upon the south end of the east wall of the Gymnasium. The rooms were a shrine where the conjugal love of the queen worshiped the memory of her departed lover. She adorned the outer walls with his effigies, his totem-tiger, and his shield and coat-of-arms between tiger and tiger; [58] whilst on the admirably polished stucco, that covers the stones in the interior of the rooms, she had his deeds--his and her own life, in fact--painted in beautiful, life-like designs, superbly drawn, and sweetly colored." [59]

He tells us further, that Aac, after the commission of his crime, fled to Uxmal for protection, where he built the edifice described as the "Governor's House." The seated figures over the central door-way (see Illustration of Figure over Doorway, earlier), he says, represents Aac. In the hieroglyphics around the head he finds the name. Although neither Mr. Stephens nor the other travelers mention any thing of the kind, he says that, under the feet of this figure, "are to be seen the bodies of three figures, two men and one woman, flayed." [60] Though the figures are headless, he has no doubt but that they represent Huuncay, Chaae-Mol, and the queen, his wife. We are further told that the ruined structure on the second terrace, called the "House of Turtles," was Aac's private residence.

Image: Queen consulting the H-men.

This wonderful story of the lives and adventures of the three brothers was revealed to the doctor by a careful study of the detached painting mentioned by Mr. Stephens. One of the paintings which served him so good a turn is shown in the cut above, which he considers represents the queen, when a child, consulting one of the wise men as to her future destiny. [61]

Perhaps as interesting a portion of his discoveries as any, is finding sculptured figures of bearded white men on the pillars of the temple, and painted on the walls of Chaac-mol's chambers. He thinks they have Assyrian features. He also claims to have discovered figures having true Negro features.

As to the antiquity of this city he readily figures up nineteen thousand years; but this did not take him to the beginning. He arrives at this estimate in this way: To the north-east of the pyramid, we have described, are to be seen rows of small columns, which have excited the curiosity of all who have seen them. Mr. Stephens represents them in four rows, inclosing a rectangular area. M. Le Plongon says they surrounded three sides of a terraced pyramid, which once supported the main temple of the city. Mr. Stephens has no suggestions to offer as to their use.

Le Plongon claims they were used to measure time, and quotes from old authors to the effect, that each stone in them stands for twenty years; and, as there is always just eight stones in a column, each column means one hundred and sixty years. He counted one hundred and twenty of these columns--and then, as he says: "Got tired of pushing my way through the nearly impenetrable thicket, where I could see many more among the shrubs." From this number he computes nineteen thousand two hundred years.

What shall we say to this story that M. Le Plongon brings us of ancient Maya civilization? It is unquestioned that he has expended a great amount of patient labor in his work, has braved many dangers, and is thoroughly in earnest. He has also spent years in the field, and ought to be well qualified to judge of the ruins. We believe, however, he is altogether wrong in his conclusions. The keystone of his discoveries--the one on which he relies to prove the accuracy of his methods--fails him. This was the discovery of the statue of Chaac-mol himself, which is here represented. He claims to have found it as the result of successfully rendering certain mural tablets in the funeral chamber, but a careful reading of his own account of the affair leaves us under the impression that the "instincts of the archaeologist" had as much to do with it as any thing else. [62]

Image: Chaac-mol.

Be that as it may, he certainly did find this statue buried in the ground. He is very positive it is Chaac-mol, claiming to have read the name readily in hieroglyphics on the ear-tablets. He says: "It is not an idol, but a true portrait of a man who has lived an earthly life. I have seen him represented in battle, in council, and in court receptions. I am well acquainted with his life, and the manner of his death." This statue was seized by the Mexican Government, and taken to Mexico. Here a curious discovery was made. Another statue similar to this was already in the museum. This latter had been found not far from Mexico. Since then, still a third, smaller than the others, but evidently representing the same personage, has been discovered. In short, it has been shown that this is an idol, worshiped as well by the Aztecs as by the Mayas, and, instead of being buried, as Le Plongon asserts, five thousand years ago, we have not much doubt it was buried to prevent its falling in to the hands of the Spaniards. [63]

Image: Bearded Itza.

As to the antiquity with which Le Plongon would clothe Chichen, if his method be right, he has not more than made a beginning. Mr. Stephens counted three hundred and eighty of these same columns, and tells us there were many more. [64] We know no good reason for supposing Chichen was not inhabited at the time of the conquest. The wooden beams and lintels in the temples have not yet decayed, and the masonry had not been cleaned out of some of the rooms. On this point we wish to make a suggestion, a mere hint. The pillars that supported the arches in the temple mentioned some pages back were covered with sculpture. Amongst some others, but very faintly represented, was the preceding figure of a bearded man. May it not be that it represents a Spaniard? We must recall the stucco figure of the horse and its rider at Kabah. It seems to us a reasonable suggestion that they should carve on the pillars of their temples representations of the Spaniards, for the Spaniards were twenty-five years in gaining a permanent foothold in Yucatan, and during that time the Indians would continue to build and ornament as before.


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