The Prehistoric World: or, Vanished Races
E. A. Allen
Part 10 out of 13
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>
Illustration of 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.
Illustration of 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.
Illustration of Ruined Temple of the Three Tablets.-----
We 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."
Illustration of 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
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.
Illustration of 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
Illustration of 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
Illustration of 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
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."
Illustration of Altar in Temple of the Sun.--(Bureau of
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.
Illustration of 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.
Illustration of 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
Illustration of 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
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.
Illustration of 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>
Illustration of 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.
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.
Illustration of 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>
Illustration of 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.
Illustration of 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.
Illustration of 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.
Illustration of Ground Plan.------------
Illustration of 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
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.
Illustration of Figure over the Doorway.---------
Illustration of 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
Illustration of 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.
Illustration of 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.
Illustration of 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.
Illustration of Facade, 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
Illustration of Facade, 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.
Illustration of Serpent Facade, 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.
Illustration of 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
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.
Illustration of 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>
Illustration of 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
Illustration of 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
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.
Illustration of 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.
Illustration of 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.
Illustration of 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.
Illustration of 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.
Illustration of 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
Illustration of 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.
Illustration of 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
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
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>
Illustration of 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>
Illustration of 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.
Illustration of Arizona Ruin.------------
(1) Bancroft: "Native Races," Vol. V, p. 78.
(2) Stephens's "Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas,
and Yucatan," Vol. I, p. 113, et seq.
(3) Bancroft's "Native Races," Vol. IV, p. 95.
(4) "Report of Bureau of Ethnology," Vol. I. Mr. Holden's
(5) Fourteen years later, these ruins were visited and described
by an Austrian traveler, Dr. Scherzer. His account, though much
more complete than Mr. Stephens's, has not yet appeared in
English. Mr. Bancroft, in "Native Races," Vol. IV, p. 118, et
seq., gives a resume of all information known as to
(6) "Central America," Vol II, p. 122. We are not sure about
this inclosure. But Mr. Catherwood mentions a wall, and we are
told the ruins are, in all respects, similar to those of Copan.
(7) For full information consult Bancroft's "Native Races,"
Vol. IV, pp. 115 to 139.
(8) "Central America," Vol. II, pp. 152-3.
(9) Brasseur De Bourbourg styles Fuentes's description of Copan
"La description menteuse de Fuentes." Bancroft: "Native Races,"
Vol. IV, p. 80, note.
(10) Charney, in North American Review, 1881.
(11) "Native Races," Vol. IV, p. 300, et seq.
(12) Morgan's "Contribution to N.A. Ethnology," Vol. IV, p. 268.
(13) Bancroft's "Native Races," Vol. IV, p. 319.
(14) Armin: "Das Heute Mexico."
(15) "Native Races," Vol. IV.
(16) Bancroft's "Native Races," p. 326.
(17) Short's "North Americans of Antiquity," p. 389.
(18) Holden, in "First Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology."
(19) Brasseur De Bourbourg.
(20) "Myths of the New World."
(21) Holden, in "First Annual Report Bureau of Ethnology."
(22) This tablet is named after its discoverer. The building in
which it is situated was but a short distance from the others;
yet, owing to the density of the forest, neither Waldeck nor
Stephens discovered it. A cast of it is now in the National
Museum at Washington.
(23) Rau, in "Smithsonian Contribution to Knowledge," Vol. XXII,
(24) "Myths of the New World," p. 95.
(25) Bancroft's "Native Races," Vol. V, p. 506.
(26) See, also, "American Encyclopedia," Art. "Cross."
(27) "Conquest of Mexico," p. 160.
(28) "Smithsonian Contribution to Knowledge," Vol. XXII.
(29) Bancroft's "Native Races," Vol. III, p. 470.
(30) "Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology," Vol. I.
(31) Mr. Holden uses, as an important link in his arguments, a
figure engraved on a chalchiute (a sacred stone). He concludes
it to be a representative of Huitzilopochtli, the god of war, or
rather the Maya representative of the Mexican god of that name.
It is unfortunate that Prof. Valentine gives to this same figure
a different significance. In the "Proceedings of the American
Antiquarian Society," for April, 1884, in a paper on that
subject, he concludes it to be a representation of a victorious
warrior giving sacrifice to his god. The only persons entitled
to speak on such subjects are those thoroughly acquainted with
(34) Bancroft's "Native Races," Vol. III, p. 324.
(35) While such seem to us to be the results of Mr. Holden's
labors, it must not be understood that he vouches for them.
They must be regarded as personal views which we express with
some mental forebodings. In this matter we must abide by further
(36) Bandelier: "An Archaeological Tour in Mexico," p. 184.
(37) Bancroft's "Native Races," Vol. IV, p. 345.
(38) See Charney, in North American Review, 1881. They
wore formerly in a house.
(39) Bancroft's "Native Races," Vol. IV, p. 332.
(40) Brinton's "Contribution to North American Ethnology," Vol.
V, p. 36. "Introduction to Study of Manuscript Troano," by Prof.
(41) North American Review, February, 1881, p. 187.
(42) Bancroft's "Native Races," p. 287.
(43) "Central America," Vol. II, p. 261. At this time Mr.
Stephens had not seen the ruins at Palenque, and those in
(44) Pronounced "oosh-mal."
(45) Our principal authority on the ruin's of Yucatan is Mr.
Stephens, whose work, "Incidents of Travel in Yucatan," in two
volumes, is all that can be desired. Mr. Bancroft, in "Native
Races," Vol. IV, has gathered together whatever of worth there
is in the writings of various explorers.
(46) Mr. Stephens thinks they were for the support of the
arches, while building. As, however, it is almost certain they
constructed this arch over a solid cove of masonry, which they
afterwards removed (see "Contributions to N.A. Ethnology,"
Vol. IV, p. 262), they could not have been intended for
(47) The pyramid is three hundred and fifty feet square at the
base and nineteen feet high. The terraces are along the south
side. The lowest terrace is three feet high and twenty feet
wide. The second is twelve feet high and forty-five feet wide.
The third is four feet high and five feet wide. The building on
the south side is two hundred and seventy-nine feet long,
twenty-eight feet wide, and eighteen feet high. The north one is
two hundred and sixty-four feet long, twenty-eight feet wide,
and twenty-five feet high. The eastern one, one hundred and
fifty-eight feet long, thirty-five feet wide, and twenty-two
feet high. The western one, one hundred and seventy-three feet
long, thirty-five feet wide, and twenty feet high. (Bancroft's
"Native Races," Vol. IV, p. 174.) The area of the court is two
hundred and fourteen feet by two hundred and fifty-eight feet.
It is about two and a half feet lower than the buildings on the
eastern, western, and southern sides. There are seventy-six
rooms in the four ranges of buildings, and twelve more in the
facings of the terrace of the north building, to be described.
In size the rooms vary from twenty to thirty feet long by from
ten to twelve feet wide.
(48) Bancroft: "Native Races," Vol. IV, p. 179.
(49) The dimensions of this mound are as follows: Length of
base, two hundred and thirty-five feet; width of base, one
hundred and five feet; height, eighty-eight feet. Though
diminishing as it rises, it is not exactly pyramidal, but its
corners are rounded. It is incased with stone, and is apparently
solid from the plain.--Stephens's "Yucatan," Vol. I, p. 316.
(50) See "Proceedings Am. Antiq. Society," April, 1880, p. 57.
(51) North American Review, 1882.
(52) "Contributions to North American Ethnology," Vol. IV,
(53) Stephens's "Yucatan," Vol. II, p. 164.
(54) Short's "North Americans of Antiquity," p. 396; Charney:
North American Review, October, 1880.
(55) "Proceedings Am. Antiq. Society," Oct., 1878, p. 73.
(56) Learned men of the Mayas.
(57) American Antiquarian Society, October 1878.
(58) The tigers can be seen on the engraving of the gymnasium.
(59) Proceedings American Antiquarian Society, April, 1877,
(60) Proceedings American Antiquarian Society, April, 1877,
(61) M. Le Plongon interprets the curved figures issuing from
the throat of the wise-man. In the original, different parts of
this figure were of different colors. The doctor frankly tells
us, that "imagination does the greater part of the work" in his
(62) "Guided, as I have said, by my interpretations of the mural
paintings, bas-reliefs, and other signs, ... I directed my
steps, perhaps inspired by the instincts of the archaeologist,
to a dense part of the thicket." Proceedings Am. Antiq. Society,
April, 1877, p. 85.
(63) North American Review, October, 1880. And yet there
are indications that this is a statue. See Bandelier's
"Archaeological Tour in Mexico," p. 74.
(64) Stephens's "Yucatan," Vol. II, p. 318.
END OF CHAPTER XIV.****************
The Prehistoric World: or, Vanished Races
by E. A. Allen
Processed by D.R. Thompson
THE CULTURE OF THE CIVILIZED TRIBES.<1>
Different views on this question--Reason for the same--Their
architecture--Different styles of houses--The communal house--
The tecpan--The teocalli--State of society indicated by this
architecture--The gens among the Mexicans--The phratry among the
Mexicans--The tribe--The powers and duties of the council--The
head chiefs of the tribe--The duties of the "Chief-of-men"--The
mistake of the Spaniards--The Confederacy--The idea of property
among the Mexicans--The ownership of land--Their laws--
Enforcement of the laws--Outline of the growth of the Mexicans
in power--Their tribute system--How collected--Their system of
trade--Slight knowledge of metallurgy--Religion--
sacrifices--The system of Numeration--The calendar system--The
calendar stone--Picture writing--Landa alphabet--Historical
A landscape presents varied aspects according to the standpoint
from which it is viewed. Here we have a glimpse of hill and
dale; there a stretch of running water. But two persons,
standing in the same position, owing to their different mental
temperaments, will view things in a different light. Where one,
an artist born, is carried away with the beautiful scenery,
another, with a more practical turn of mind, perceives only its
adaptability for investments. Education and habits of life are
also very potent factors in determining our views on various
questions. Scholars of wide and extended learning differ very
greatly in their views of questions deeply affecting human
interests. We know how true that is of abstruse topics, such as
religion and questions of state polity. It is also true of the
entire field of scientific research. The unknown is a vastly
greater domain than the known, and men, after deep and patient
research, adopt widely different theories to explain the
It need, therefore, occasion no surprise to learn that there is
a great difference of opinion as to the real state of culture
among the so-called civilized tribes of Mexico and Central
America. We have incidentally mentioned this difference in
describing the ruins and their probable purpose. As one of the
objects we have in view, and perhaps the most important one, is
to learn what we can of the real state of society amongst the
prehistoric people we treat of, it becomes necessary to examine
these different views, and, if we can not decide in our own
minds what to accept as true, we will be prepared to receive
additional evidence that scholars are now bringing forward, and
know to how weigh them and compare them with others.
It has only been within the last few years that we have gained
an insight into the peculiar organization of Indian society.
After some centuries of contact between the various tribes of
Indians and whites, their social organization was still unknown.
But we are now beginning to understand this, and the important
discovery has also been made that this same system of government
was very widely spread, indeed. This subject has, however, been
as extensively treated as is necessary in chapter xii, so we
need not stop longer. But if, with all the light of modern
learning, we have only lately gained a clear understanding of
the social organization of Indian tribes, it need occasion no
surprise, nor call for any indignant denial, to affirm that the
Spaniards totally misunderstood the social organization of the
tribes with which they came in contact in Mexico.
We must also take into consideration the political condition of
Europe at this time. Feudalism still exercised an influence on
men's minds. The Spanish writers, in order to convey to
Europeans a knowledge of the country and its inhabitants,
applied European names and phrases to American Indian (advanced
though they were) personages and institutions. But the means
employed totally defeated the object sought. Instead of
imparting a clear idea, a very erroneous one was conveyed.
As an illustration of this abuse of language, we might refer to
the case of Montezuma, which name itself is a corruption of the
Mexican word "Motecu-zoma," meaning literally "my wrathy chief."
Mr. Bandelier<2> and Mr. Morgan have quite clearly shown what
his real position was. His title was "chief of men."<3> He was
simply one of the two chief executive officers of the tribe and
general of the forces of the confederacy. His office was
strictly elective, and he could be deposed for misdemeanor.
Instead of giving him his proper title, and explaining its
meaning, the Spaniards bestowed on him the title of king, which
was soon enlarged to that of emperor, European words, it will
be observed, which convey an altogether wrong idea of Mexican
society. Many such illustrations could be given.
The literature that has grown up about this subject is very
voluminous, but the authors not being acquainted with the
organization of Indian society, have not been able to write
understandingly about them. We do not flatter ourselves that we
have now solved all the difficulties of the case. But since
Mr. Morgan has succeeded in throwing such a flood of light on
the constitution of ancient society, and especially of Indian
society, and Mr. Bandelier has given us the results of his
careful investigation of the culture of the Mexicans, we feel
that a foundation has been laid for a correct understanding of
this vexed problem.
We will now examine their architecture, or style of building.
In dealing with prehistoric people, we have several times
referred to the tribal state of government, involving village
life and communism in living. We have seen how this principle
enabled us to understand the condition of Europe during the
Neolithic Age. In still another place we have used this
principle to show the connection of the Pueblo Indians and other
tribes of the United States. Now we think this is the key which
is to explain many of the ruins we have described in the
preceding chapter. But another principle to be borne in mind, is
that of defense. War, we have seen, is really the normal state
of things amongst tribal communities. Therefore, either some
position naturally strong must be selected as a village site, or
the houses themselves must be fortified, after the fashion of
Indians. This will be found to explain many peculiarities in
their method of construction.
Amongst the pueblo structures of to-day, and among the ruins of
the cliff-dwellers, we have seen how compact every thing was.
The estufa, or place of council and worship, was built in close
proximity to the other building, and sometimes it formed part of
it, and we do not learn that there was any thing distinguishing
about the apartments of the chief. Further South a change is
noticed. A specialization of structures, if we may use such an
expression, has taken place, and, among the Mexicans, three
kinds of houses were distinguished. It is extremely probable the
same classification could be made elsewhere. There was, first of
all, the ordinary dwelling houses. Every vestige of aboriginal
buildings in the pueblos of Mexico has long since disappeared,
and our knowledge of these structures can only be gathered from
the somewhat confused accounts of the early writers.
Many, perhaps most, of the houses had a terraced, pyramidal
foundation. Some were constructed on three sides of a court,
like those on the Rio Chaco, in New Mexico. Others probably
surrounded an open court, or quadrangle. The houses were of one
and two stories in height. When two stories, the upper one
receded from the first, probably in the terraced form.
As serving to connect them with the more ornamental structures
in Yucatan, we are told they were sometimes "adorned with
elegant cornices and stucco designs of flowers and animals,
which were often painted with brilliant colors. Prominent among
these figures was the coiling serpent."<4> After pointing out,
by many citations, that the evidence always was that these
houses were occupied by many families, Mr. Morgan concludes,
"They were evidently joint tenement-houses of the aboriginal
American model, each occupied by a number of families ranging
from five and ten to one hundred, and perhaps, in some cases,
two hundred families in a house."<5>
We can discern this kind of dwelling-house in many of the
descriptions we have given of the ruins in the preceding
chapter. M. Charney evidently found them at Tulla and
Teotihuacan. Mr. Bandelier concludes that similar ruins once
crowded the terraces at Cholula, and that to this class belongs
the ruins at Mitla. The Palace, at Palenque, is evidently but
another instance, as well as the House of Nuns, at Uxmal.
In fact, with our present knowledge of the pueblos of Arizona,
and the purposes which they subserved, as well as the uses made
of such houses by the Mexicans, we are no longer justified in
bestowing upon the structures in Yucatan the name of palaces.
The mistake was excusable among the Spaniards. They were totally
ignorant of the mode of life indicated by these joint
tenement-houses. When they found one of these large structures,
capable of accommodating several hundred occupants, with its
inner court, terraced foundation, and ornamented by stucco work,
or sculpture, it was extremely natural that they should call it
a palace, and cast about for some titled owner.
A second class of houses includes public buildings. The
Mexicans, when at the height of their power, required buildings
for public use, and this was doubtless true of the people who
inhabited Uxmal and Palenque. The most important house was the
tecpan, the official house of the tribe, the council house
proper. This was the official residence of the "chief of men"
and his assistants, such as runners. This was the place of
meeting of the council of chiefs. It was here that the
hospitality of the Pueblo was exercised. Official visitors from
other tribes and traders from a distance were provided with
accommodations here. When Cortez and his followers entered
Mexico they were provided for at the tecpan. We would not expect
to find these public buildings, except in rich and prosperous
pueblos. It has been suggested that the Governor's House at
Uxmal was the official house of that settlement. The large
halls, suitable for council purposes, favor this idea.<6>
A third class of buildings was the teocalli, or "House of
God"--in other words, the temple. These were quite common.
Each of the gens that composed the Mexican tribe had its own
particular medicine lodge or temple. This was doubtless true of
each and every tribe of sedentary Indians in the territory we
are describing. "The larger temples were usually built upon
pyramidal parallelograms, square or oblong, and consisted of a
series of superimposed terraces with perpendicular or sloping
sides."<7> It is not necessary to dwell longer on this style of
buildings. We have only to recall the temples of the Sun, of the
Cross, and of the Beau-relief at Palenque; the House of the
Dwarf at Uxmal, and the Citadel at Chichen-Itza, to gather a
clear idea of their construction.
The architecture of a people is a very good exponent of their
culture. Yet all have seen what different views are held as to
the culture of the tribes we are considering. We have, perhaps,
said all that is required on this part of the subject, yet even
repetition is pardonable if it enables us to more clearly
understand our subject. The ornamentation on the ruins of
Yucatan is so peculiar that in our opinion it has unduly
influenced the judgment of explorers in this matter. They lose
sight of the fact that the apartments of the houses are small,
dark, and illy ventilated.
That they should hive gone to the trouble of so profusely
decorating their usual places of abode is, indeed, somewhat
singular.<8> But Mitla was certainly an inhabited pueblo at the
time of the Spanish conquest, and there is no good reason for
concluding it was ever any thing more than a group of communal
buildings. Yet, from the description given of it, we can not see
that the buildings are greatly inferior in decoration to the
structures in Yucatan. And yet again, from the imperfect
accounts we have of the aboriginal structures in the pueblo of
Mexico, we infer they were constructed on the general plan of
communal buildings. As for the decorations, we have seen they
had sometimes elaborate cornices, and were covered with stucco
designs of animals and flowers. In this case some of them were,
to be sure, public buildings for tribal purposes, but the
majority of them were certainly communal residences. With these
facts before us, we can not do otherwise than conclude that
these so-called ruins of great cities we have described are
simply the ruins of pueblos, consisting of communal houses,
temples, and, in the case of large and powerful tribes, official
houses. To this conclusion we believe American scholars are
tending more and more.
This requires us to dismiss the idea that the majority of the
people lived in houses of a poorer construction, which have
since disappeared, leaving the ruins of the houses of the
nobles. There was no such class division of the people as this
would signify. These ruins were houses occupied by the people in
common. With this understanding, a questioning of the ruins can
not fail to give us some useful hints. We are struck with their
ingenuity as builders. They made use of the best material at
hand. In Arizona the dry climate permits of the use of adobe
bricks, which were employed, though stone was also used.
Further south the pouring tropical rains would soon bring down
in ruins adobe structures and so stone alone is used.
In the Arizona pueblo we have a great fortress-built house,
three and four stories high, and no mode of access to the lower
story. This is in strict accord with Indian principles of
defense, which consists in elevated positions. Sometimes this
elevated position was a natural hill, as at Quemada, Tezcocingo,
and Xochicalco. Where no hill was at hand they formed a terraced
pyramidal foundation, as at Copan, Palenque, and Uxmal. In the
highest forms of this architecture this elevation is faced with
stone, or even composed throughout of stone, as in the case of
the House of Nuns at Chichen-Itza. In the construction of houses
progress seems to have taken place in two directions. The rooms
increased in size. In some of the oldest pueblo structures in
Arizona the rooms were more like a cluster of cells than any
They grow larger towards the South. In the house at Teotihuacan
M. Charney found a room twenty-seven feet wide by forty-one feet
long. Two of the rooms in the Governor's House at Uxmal are
sixty feet long. But the buildings themselves diminish in size.
In Mexico the majority of the houses were but one story high,
and but very few more than two stories. In Yucatan but few
instances are recorded of houses two stories high. We must
remember that throughout the entire territory we are considering
the tribes had no domestic animals, their agriculture was in a
rude state, and they were practically destitute of metals.<10>
They could have been no farther advanced on the road to
civilization than were the various tribes of Europe during the
Bronze Age. Remembering this, we can not fail to be impressed
with the ingenuity, patient toil, and artistic taste they
displayed in the construction and decoration of their edifices.
It may seem somewhat singular that we should treat of their
architecture before we do of their system of government, but we
were already acquainted with the ruins of the former. When we
turn to the latter we find ourselves involved in very great
difficulties. The description given of Mexican society by the
majority of writers on these topics represent it as that of a
powerful monarchy. The historian Prescott, in his charming
work<11> draws a picture that would not suffer by comparison
with the despotic magnificence of Oriental lands. At a later
date Mr. Bancroft, supporting himself by an appeal to a
formidable list of authorities, regilds the scene.<12>
But protests against such views are not wanting. Robertson, in
his history, though bowing to the weight of authority can not
forbear expressing his conviction that there had been some
exaggeration in the splendid description of their government and
manners.<13> Wilson, more skeptical, and bolder, utterly
repudiates the old accounts, and refuses to believe the Aztecs
were any thing more than savages.<14>
With such divergent and conflicting views, we at once perceive
the necessity of carefully scanning all the accounts given, and
make them conform, if possible, to what is known of Indian
institutions and manners. The Mexicans are but one of several
tribes that are the subjects of our research; but their
institutions are better known than the others, and, in a general
way, whatever is true of them will be true of the rest. We have
seen the efforts of the Spanish explorers to explain whatever
they found new or strange in America by Spanish words, and the
results of such procedure. We are at full liberty to reject
their conclusions and start anew.
What the Spaniards found around the lakes of Mexico was a union
or confederacy of three tribes. Very late investigations by Mr.
Bandelier have established the presence of the usual
subdivisions of the tribes. So we have here a complete
organization according to the terms of ancient society: that is,
the gens, phratry, tribe, and confederacy of tribes. It is
necessary that we spend some time with each of these
subdivisions before we can understand the condition of society
among the Mexicans, and, in all probability, the society among
all of the civilized nations of Central America.
We will begin with the gens, or the lowest division of the
tribe. We must understand its organization before we can
understand that of a tribe, and we must master the tribal
organization before attempting to learn the workings of the
confederacy. To neglect this order, and commence at the top of
the series, is to make the same mistake that the older writers
did in their studies into this culture. A gens has certain.
rights, duties, and privileges which belong to the whole gens,
and we will consider some of the more important in their proper
place. We must understand by a gens a collection of persons who
are considered to be all related to each other. An Indian could
not, of his own will, transfer himself from one gens to another.
He remained a member of the gens into which he was born.
He might, by a formal act of adoption, become a member of
another gens; or he might, in certain contingencies, lose his
connection with a gens and become an outcast. There is no such
thing as privileged classes in a gens. All its members stand on
an equal footing. The council of the gens is the supreme ruling
power in the gens. Among some of the northern tribes, all the
members in the gens, both male and female, had a voice in this
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