The Prehistoric World: or, Vanished Races
E. A. Allen
Part 9 out of 13
This constitutes what is known as the "Hot Country."<3>
The greater part of Mexico consists of an elevated table-land,
which rises in a succession of plateaus. As we leave the coast
region and climb the plateau, we experience changes of climate.
If it were level, it would have mainly a tropical climate, but
owing to the elevation we have just mentioned, it has mainly a
temperate climate. The whole plateau region is cut up with
mountains. The Sierra Madre, on the west, is the main chain, but
numerous cross-ranges occur. The result is, a greater part of
Mexico abounds in fertile, easily defended valleys--just such
localities as are much sought after by a people in barbaric
culture, constantly exposed to the assaults of invading foes.<4>
We may as well pass at once to the valley of Anahuac, the most
noted in all the region, and learn of the antiquities of this
central section. It is in this valley that the capital of the
Mexican Republic is situated. All travelers who have had
occasion to describe its scenery have been enthusiastic in its
praise. The valley is mountain-girt and lake-dotted, and in area
not far different from the State of Rhode Island. On one of the
principal lakes was located the Pueblo of Tenochtitlan, the
head-quarters of the Aztecs, commonly known as the City of
Mexico. When Cortez first stood upon the encircling mountains,
and gazed down upon the valley, he saw at his feet one of the
most prosperous and powerful pueblos of the New World.
This is not the place to recount the story of its fall.
Our present inquiry is concerned solely with the remains of its
prehistoric age. The enthusiastic Spaniards would have us
believe in a city of Oriental magnificence. We have no
illustrations of this pueblo. It was almost completely destroyed
by Cortez before its final surrender in August, 1521. It was
then rebuilt as the capital city of New Spain. Of course, all
traces of its original buildings soon disappeared. What we can
learn of its appearance is derived from the accounts of the
early writers, which we will examine in their proper place.
After having surveyed the entire field of ruins, we will be much
better qualified to judge of the vague statements of its former
grandeur. A few relics have, indeed, been found buried beneath
the surface of the old city. They illustrate the culture of the
people, as will be noticed further on.
Directly across the lake from the Pueblo of Mexico was that of
Tezcuco, the head-quarters of the second powerful tribe of the
Aztec Confederacy. Traces only are recoverable of its former
buildings. At the southern end of the modern town were found the
foundations of three great pyramids. They were arranged in a
line from north to south. Mr. Mayer says of these ruins:
"They are about four hundred feet in extent on each side of
their base, and are built partly of adobe and partly of large,
burned bricks and fragments of pottery."<5> He tells us further
that the sides of the pyramids "were covered with fragments of
idols, clay vessels, and obsidian knives." From other
discoveries, it would seem these pyramids were coated with
cement. The suggestion is made that on one of these pyramids
stood the great temple of Tezcuco, which, an early writer tells
us, was ascended by one hundred and seventeen steps.
Illustration of Bas-Relief, Tezcuco.--------
In another part of the town a sculptured block of stone was
found, of which this cut is given. "It appears to be the remains
of a trough or basin, and the sculpture is neatly executed in
relief. I imagine that it was designed to represent a conflict
between a serpent and a bird, and you can not fail to remark the
cross distinctly carved near the lower right-hand corner of the
vessel." Bullock, who traveled in Mexico in 1824, has left a
brief description of the ruins of what he calls a palace.
"It must have been a noble building. ... It extended for three
hundred feet, forming one side of the great square, and was
placed on sloping terraces raised one above the other by small
steps. Some of these terraces are still entire and covered with
cement. ... From what is known of the extensive foundations of
this palace, it must have covered some acres of ground."<6>
This last statement is doubtless exaggerated. From what we know
of Indian architecture, these ruins were doubtless long, low,
and narrow, and placed on one or more sides of a square, perhaps
inclosing a court.
About three miles from the town of Tezcuco is a very singular
group of ruins. This is the Hill of Tezcocingo. This is very
regular in outline, and rises to the height of about six hundred
feet. A great amount of work has evidently been bestowed on this
hill, and some very far-fetched conclusions have been drawn from
it. Probably as notable a piece of work as any was the aqueduct
which supplied the hill with water, and this is really one of
the most wonderful pieces of aboriginal work with which we
The termination of the aqueduct is represented in our next cut.
This is about half-way up the hill, right on the edge of a
precipitous descent of some two hundred feet. "It will be
observed in the drawing that the rock is smoothed to a perfect
level for several yards, around which seats and grooves are
carved from the adjacent masses. In the center there is a
circular sink, about a yard and a half in diameter and a yard in
depth, and a square pipe, with a small aperture, led the water
from an aqueduct which appears to terminate in this basin.
None of the stones have been joined with cement, but the whole
was chiseled, from the mountain rock."<7> This has been called
"Montezuma's Bath," simply from the custom of naming every
wonderful ruin for which no other name was known after that
personage; but this was not a bath, but a reservoir of water.
Illustration of Montezuma's Bath.--------
From this circular reservoir the side of the mountain is cut
down so as to form a level grade, just as if a railroad had been
made. This grade winds around the surface of the hill for about
half a mile, when it stretches out across a valley
three-quarters of a mile wide, an elevated embankment from sixty
to two hundred feet in height. Reaching the second mountain, the
graded way commences again, and is extended about half-way
around the mountain, where it extends on another embankment
across the plains to a range of mountains, from which the water
Illustration of Aqueduct, Tezcocingo.---------
This cut represents the embankment crossing the valley.
Along the top of this way was laid the canals to transport the
water, made of an exceedingly hard cement of mortar and
fragments of pounded brick. It is estimated that nearly, if not
quite, as much labor was expended on this aqueduct as on the
Croton aqueduct that supplies New York City.<8> This last
statement is probably too strong, but, considering that this
work was accomplished by a people destitute of iron tools, it is
seen to be a most extraordinary work. From what we have already
learned, this hill was evidently a very important place. On all
sides we meet with evidences that the whole of the hill was
covered with artificial works of one kind or another. On the
side of the hill opposite this reservoir was another recess
bordered by seats cut in living rock, and leading to a
perpendicular cliff, on which a calendar is said to have been
carved, but was destroyed by the natives in later days.<9>
Traces of a spiral road leading up the summit have been
observed. In 1824 Bullock (who, however, is not regarded as a
very accurate observer) "found the whole mountain had been
covered with palaces, temples, baths, hanging-gardens, and so
forth." Latrobe, somewhat later, found "fragments of pottery and
broken pieces of obsidian knives and arrows; pieces of stucco,
shattered terraces, and old walls were thickly dispersed over
its whole surface."<10> Mr. Mayer, after speaking of the
abundance of broken pottery and Indian arrows, says: "The
eminence seems to have been converted from its base to its
summit into a pile of terraced gardens."
By one class of writers this hill is regarded as the "suburban
residence of the luxurious monarchs of Tezcuco, ... a pleasure
garden upon which were expended the revenues of the state and
the ingenuity of its artists."<11> Mr. Bancroft has gathered
together the details of this charming story,<12> and tells us
that the kings of Mexico had a similar pleasure resort on the
Hill of Chapultepec, a few miles west of the city.<13> It is
sufficient at present to state that an explanation much simpler
and more in accord with our latest scientific information can be
given. It is more likely that this hill was the seat of a
village Indian community. Its location was naturally strong.
The water, brought with so much labor from a distance, furnished
a supply for the purpose of irrigation, as well as bodily needs.
The terraced sides show that every foot of ground was utilized,
and the ruins of the palaces that Mr. Bullock mentions were the
fast-disappearing ruins of their communal buildings. Owing to
the cruel raids of the Aztec tribes, this place may have been
deserted before the coming of the Spaniards, and thus no mention
was made of it.
Illustration of Teotihuacan.-------------------
Still further to the north, about thirty miles from Mexico, is
found another extensive field of ruins, which is called
Teotihuacan, meaning "City of the Gods." The principal ruins now
standing are the two immense pyramids (which are represented in
this cut), which the natives call the "House of the Moon" and
the "House of the Sun." We will describe the surroundings first.
It is unquestioned but that here was a very extensive settlement
in early times. When the Nahua tribes entered Mexico they
probably found it inhabited. One very recent writer thinks that
"nowhere else in America can you find a more imposing mass of
ruins."<14> He estimates that it was "a city upwards of twenty
miles in circumference."
Other writers have also noticed its great extent. According to
Thompson, "the ruins cover an area very nearly as large as that
of the present City of Mexico, and the streets are as distinctly
marked by the ruins of houses."<15> And in another place Mr.
Charney tells us "the city was of vast extent; and, without
indulging in any stereotyped reflections on the vanity of human
greatness, I will say that a more complete effacement is nowhere
else to be seen. The whole ground, over a space five or six
miles in diameter, is covered with heaps of ruins, which at
first view, make no impression, so complete is their
Of this mass of ruins we are told but little, beyond the general
assertion that it consists of the ruins of buildings, temples,
etc. But very recently M. Charney has uncovered the foundation
of one of these houses. He calls it a palace. It was, in all
probability, a communal building. It had two wings inclosing a
court, and was located on a terraced pyramid. He found, on
digging into the terrace in front of the ruins, a great number
of sloping walls, covered with cement, containing small
compartments, etc. M. Charney can not account for
In view of the discoveries further north, we would respectfully
suggest that this was, in reality, the lower story of the
building, whose flat roof formed the terrace in front
of the second story, whose foundation M. Charney so happily
discovered. But such suggestions as this are very unsafe to
make, and must be supported by further discoveries before they
are of any real value.
He found a large number of good-sized rooms, and speaks
especially of one hall fifty feet square, in the center of which
was six pillars, sloping from the base upwards. They, doubtless,
served to support the roof. We regret that we have not been able
to see M. Charney's ground plan of this ruin. Of the pyramids
themselves we have quite full information. The larger one, that
of the sun, is seven hundred and sixty feet square and two
hundred and sixteen feet high. It will be seen that these
dimensions throw the great mound at Cahokia into the shade.
Though the base may not be quite as great, the height of the
pyramid is over twice that of the mound. Three terraces are
plainly visible. The surface was covered with cement, large
slabs of which remain in their place. The moon pyramid is
It is in all respects like that of the sun, but of smaller
dimensions, being one hundred and fifty feet high. In early
times these pyramids are said to have supported statues, but, if
so, they have long since been thrown down. Their surface and the
ground around is thickly strewn with fragments of pottery,
obsidian knives, and other small relics. Running south from the
House of the Moon, and passing a little to one side of the House
of the Sun, are the remains of a wide, paved road. Its width is
stated to be one hundred and thirty feet, and its length about
two hundred and fifty rods.<17>
This road suddenly expands in front of the Moon, so as to
suggest the idea of a Greek cross. Pieces of cement (with which
this road was covered) are still visible in places. It is lined
with mounds on either side, and they stand so close together as
to resemble continuous embankments in some places.
Speculations are abundant as to the object of this graded way.
Tradition calls it the "Path of the Dead." Small mounds are very
numerous over the surface. They may have been for burial
purposes, but sculptured stones are found in them, and specimens
of hard cement. This group of ruins is regarded as of very
We can easily see that the growth of the soil formed by the
decay and detrition of the stone slabs of the pyramids, temples,
and other buildings would be slow, especially as the rainfall is
light. But in some localities it is more than three feet thick.
In places three separate floors are observed, one over the
other, pointing to as many successive occupations of the same
sections by men.
About sixty-five miles to the north of Mexico was located
Tollan, or Tulla. According to tradition, this was the capital
city of the Toltecs, a mysterious people who long preceded the
Aztecs. We are told that "extensive ruins remained at the time
of the conquest, but very few relics have survived to the
present time."<18> M. Charney, whose labors we have referred to
at Teotihuacan, succeeded also in making important discoveries
here. He tells us that on the site of this ancient capital there
is a hill, "about one mile long by half a mile broad, covered
with mounds, plateaus, and ruins of all kinds."
He gives us the dimensions of two pyramids, as follows.
The first is one hundred and ninety-six feet on each front, and
forty-six feet high. The second is one hundred and thirty-one
feet square, and thirty-one feet high. Both of these pyramids
stood on raised foundations, which M. Charney calls esplanades.
As no other pyramids are mentioned, we are to suppose these are
the two principal ones. Perhaps they are also pyramids of the
sun and moon. Our chief interest is concerned with the remains
of the habitations he discovered here. He says: "I set the men
to work at one of the many mounds upon the ridge, and soon found
that I had hit upon a group of habitations." A general idea of
this group of buildings is given in this passage: "The dwellings
were united together in groups, and erected on isolated mounds,
one in the middle, the others around about, the whole forming
a sort of honey-comb, with its cells placed at
We can not help being struck with the general resemblance of the
descriptions here given and that of the ruins in the vicinity of
the River Gila. The general tendency is seen to gather together
in clusters, with, probably, the most important house in the
center. As to the materials used in this building, we are told
"they used clay and mud for the inside of the walls, cement to
coat them, dressed stone and brick for casings, bricks and stone
for stairways, bricks for pilasters, and wood for roofing the
edifice. The houses bad flat roofs, consisting of timbers coated
with cement. Of such timbers we find vast quantities."<19>
Of the arrangements of the rooms, he tells us, "The apartments
that have been brought to light comprise a number of chambers,
big and little, placed at different heights. We shall have no
clear idea of the relation of these different chambers to one
another, or of the mode of access to them through the
labyrinthine passages and the numerous stairways, until the
whole edifice has been unearthed."
This was not the only building he discovered. On digging into a
mound supposed to be the support of a temple, he discovered it
was the ruined foundation of a still grander house. He says, "It
is much larger than the other one, stands on a pyramid, and has
two wings inclosing a courtyard. The walls are thicker than
those of the first habitation, and more strongly built.
The apartments, too, are larger, though arranged in a similar
fashion." Elsewhere he tells us that this building contained at
least forty-three apartments, large and small. We presume very
few will now question but what the buildings he here describes
are ruined communal buildings, much like the structures
But perhaps the most interesting result of his labors was the
proof that these ruins were certainly inhabited after the
conquest--for how long a time we can not tell. This is shown by
fragments of bones and other articles found in the refuse heaps.
The bones were of such animals as the horse, swine, sheep, oxen,
etc.--animals introduced into this country by the Spaniards.
The fragments of pottery include specimens plainly not of Indian
manufacture, such as fragments of porcelain, and that variety of
glazed ware known as delf, and lastly, the neck of a glass
bottle. It may be said that these fragments might have been left
by a band of Spaniards who occupied the ruins in the early days
of the conquest, perhaps long after the Indian owners had left.
This is of course possible, but it is just as reasonable to
suppose the fragments were left by descendants of the
Northward from Tulla is a small province, marked on the map
Querataro. From the accounts at our disposal, which are very
brief, we gather that this whole section is a tableland split up
by ravines of great depths and precipitous sides; consequently
one abounding in easily defended positions. It was found that
all the projecting points, naturally strong, were rendered still
stronger by the presence of ditches, walls, and embankments.
Three groups of ruins are mentioned especially, and their
location is marked on the map. At Pueblito there was, at an
early day, plainly to be seen, the foundation of a large,
rectangular building. The walls were built of stone laid
At Canoas, in the northern part of the State, there is a steep
and strongly fortified bill, but particulars in regard to it are
very meager. "There are, in all, forty-five defensive works on
the hill, including a wall about forty feet in height, and a
rectangular platform with an area of five thousand square
feet."<20> Ranas, the most northern one of the three sites
mentioned, is regarded as the center of population in early
times. "A small lake and a perennial spring are supposed to have
been the attractions of this locality in the eyes of the people.
On all the hills about are still seen vestiges of
If we look at the map we will notice that we have gone but a
little ways north of the valley of Anahuac. Yet, with the
exception of the Gulf-coast, there are but few striking
aboriginal ruins in Northern Mexico. At the time of the conquest
the whole northern section was the home of tribes not generally
considered to be as far advanced as those who lived in the
section we have already described, and in regions further south.
Yet it is certainly hard to draw the line between the culture
of the two people. We are told that, these Northern tribes
though styled "dogs," and "barbarians," by the Southern tribes,
were yet "tillers of the soil, and lived under systematic forms
of government, although not apparently much given to the arts of
agriculture and sculpture."
This point is of considerable interest to us, theoretically; for
it is a question from whence came the various Nahua tribes.
We would naturally think, if they came from the North, we ought
to find evidence of their former presence in the various
Northern States of Mexico. We must remember, however, that a
migrating people are not apt to leave monuments until they reach
the end of their migration. Neither has the territory been as
carefully explored as it should be. What accounts we can obtain
of the remains in this section are certainly very meager.
But one place in Sonora do ruins occur, and they have never been
examined by competent personages.<21> In Chihuahua occur ruins,
evidently the works of the same people as built the separate
houses to the west of the Rio Grande, in New Mexico.
These ruins have received the same name as those on the Rio
Gila--that is, "Casas Grandes," meaning "Great House." This cut
represents a view of these ruins. The river valley is here about
two miles wide, and is said to be very fertile. Mr. Bartlett
thinks there is no richer valley to be found from Texas to
California. This valley was once the seat of a considerable
population. Mounds are here found in considerable numbers.
Over two thousand are estimated as occurring in a section of
country sixty miles long by thirty in width.<22> We wish we knew
more about the mounds. They are said to contain pottery, stone
axes, and other implements. It is possible, then, that these
mounds are ruins of separate houses. At any rate, such are the
only kind of ruins noticed in the upper part of this same valley
by Mr. Bandelier.
Illustration of Casas Grandes.----------------
The ruins in question are undoubtedly those of a rich and
prosperous pueblo. They are so placed as to command a very
extensive view. The river valley is cut through a plain, and has
precipitous sides about twenty-five feet in height. The ruins in
question are found partly in the bottoms and partly on the upper
and more sterile plateau. The walls were made of adobe, and in
consequence of their long exposure to the elements are very far
gone in ruins; so much so that Mr. Bartlett was unable to make
out the plan. But enough was seen to show that this was a pueblo
much like the structure already described. They properly belong
to the Arizona group of ruins.
We are told they face the cardinal points, and consist of fallen
and erect walls. The portions still standing are from fifty to
sixty feet high, or rather were that height in 1851. It is
doubtful whether any thing more than a mound of adobe mud now
marks the spot. The walls were highest in the center of the
mass. At the distance of a few miles was a hill said to be
fortified. But the descriptions of it are conflicting.
Some represent it as crowned with a stone-built fortress two or
three stories high. Others more reasonable, represent it as the
site of a watch-tower, or sentry station, and that at regular
intervals on the slope of the hill are lines of stone, with
heaps of loose stones at their extremities.<23> Probably the
same fate overtook the tribes of this valley as did the
sedentary tribes of the North. They would not willingly abandon
a place so well suited to their needs. The presence of an
invading foe, cruel and vindictive, alone accounts for this
group of ruins.
In Sinaloa we have no very definite account of ruins.
However, Mr. Bandelier says, the existence of ancient villages
in that section is certain, and that from "Sinaloa there are
ample evidences of a continuous flow Southward."<24> There are
no ruins worth mentioning in any of the other States, excepting
Zacatecas, where we find a ruin of great interest. This is at
Quemada, in the southern part of the State. The name is taken
from that of a farm in the near neighborhood. The ruins are
situated on the top of a hill, which is not only naturally
strong, but the approaches to it are fortified. The hill ascends
from the plain in a gentle slope for several hundred yards, it
then rises quite precipitously for about a hundred and fifty
feet. The total height of the hill above the plain is probably
not far from eight hundred feet.<25>
At all points where the approach to the top of the hill is not
steep enough to form a protection of itself, the brow is guarded
by walls of stone. This is especially true of the northern end
of the hill. One peculiar feature of this place is the traces of
ancient roads, which can still be clearly distinguished crossing
each other at various angles on the slope we have mentioned.
They can be followed for miles, and are described as being
slightly raised and paved with rough stones. In places on the
slope, their sides are protected by embankments.
Considerable speculations have been indulged in as to the
purposes for which these roads were used. It has been suggested
that they were the streets of an ancient city which must once
have existed on the plains; and that the fortified hill, with
the ruins on its summit, was the citadel, the residence of their
rulers, and the location of their temples. But we think a more
reasonable view is that all of the city that ever stood in that
neighborhood was on the hill summit, and that these streets were
for religious purposes, reminding us in this respect of the
graded ways and traces of paved streets sometimes met with in
the Mississippi Valley. In proof of this view, it is said that
many of them, after being followed for a long distance, are
found to terminate in a heap of stones, which are evidently the
ruins of a regular pyramid. In opposition to both of these
views, it has been suggested that the surrounding plain was low
and marshy, and that the object of these causeways was to secure
a dry passage, which explanation is certainly very reasonable.
Illustration of Quemada.----------
Of the top of the hill, it may be sufficient to state that it is
of irregular shape, half a mile in length from north to south,
and of varying width, but on an average one thousand feet wide.
The approach to the top of the hill was strongly guarded.
Although buildings were observed covering the whole top of the
hill, yet they were in two principal groups. This cut, though
but one of many, will give us very good ideas of all the ruins.
It is seen to be an inclosure. It is on a small scale. It was
one hundred and fifty feet square. We notice terraces on three
sides. These terraces are three feet high by twelve wide, and in
the center of each side are steps by which to descend to the
square.<26> Each terrace is backed by a wall, portions of which
are seen in the engraving. These walls are twenty feet high by
eight or nine in thickness. The openings seen in the wall are
not properly doors, as they extend to the top of the wall.
This court, encompassed by terraces, is a peculiar feature.
It is different from any thing we know of, either north or
south.<27> Courts, surrounded by buildings located on terraces,
are common enough, but all accounts of these ruins say nothing
of buildings. We remember the inclosures that surrounded the
houses clustered in groups on the Rio Gila. We think this comes
near to being a development of the same idea. The low walls of
the former inclosure are here quite pretentious pieces of
masonry. In some cases two or more of these inclosed courts are
joined by openings.
The opening in the wall on the right of the engraving leads into
a perfect inclosed square of two hundred feet. In one case a
range of pillars was noticed parallel with the walls, and
distant twenty-three feet. These are supposed to have supported
the roof of the portico, and houses of a rude description might
have been ranged along under this roof, which has since
completely vanished. Back of this square, but not very well
shown on the drawing, rises a precipitous hill. A pyramid is
placed in the center of the side towards the hill. It is only
nineteen feet high,<28> but is divided into five stages
This pyramid will serve as an example of numerous other pyramids
scattered over the summit of the hill. They are made of stone.
The largest one, whose dimensions are given, is fifty feet
square, and the same in height. In front of the pyramid, and in
the center of the square, are the remains of an altar. In view
of the altar and pyramid, within the inclosed square, we may
suppose this to have been dedicated to their religion. As if to
confirm this belief, is the statement that on the hill to the
back of the pyramid are numerous tiers of seats, either broken
in the rock or built of rough stone. The people seated on them
would be conveniently located as regards both sight and hearing
of what transpired there.
From an Indian's point of view, this hill was very strongly
fortified. It would be almost impossible for an enemy to capture
the settlement on its summit. The surrounding country was
probably fertile, and a large body of Indians could have lodged
within the fortified inclosures. It has some peculiar features,
which have been pointed out. There is now no water on the hill,
but traces of what is supposed to be an aqueduct are observed,
as well as several tanks, and at one place a well. There is not
an appearance of great antiquity about these ruins, and yet
native traditions are silent in regard to them, and but one of
the early writers refers to them, and he had not seen them.<30>
West of the central basin the remains are more numerous than to
the north, but they are not very striking, and it is scarcely
worth our while to stop and examine them. About sixty miles in a
south-easterly direction from Mexico is the modern town of
Cholula. This has grown at the expense of the ancient city of
Cholula, grouped around the famous pyramid of that name.
This was the Mexican "Tower of Babel." The traditions in regard
to it smack so strongly of outside influence that but little
reliance can be placed on them. They are evidently a mixture of
native traditions and Biblical stories. Like Teotihuacan and
Tulla, this is regarded as a relic of Toltec times. This is but
another way of saying that it is older in time than the majority
At the time of Cortez's march to Mexico Cholula was a very
important place. In his dispatches he says: "The great city of
Cholula is situated in a plain, and his twenty thousand
householders in the body of the city, besides as many more in
the suburbs." He further states that he himself counted the
towers of more than four hundred "idol temples."<31>
We must remember that this is a Spanish account, and therefore
exaggerated. Still, after making due allowance for the same, it
would remain an important aboriginal settlement. We have no
reliable data of the population at the time of the conquest.
From documentary evidence Mr. Bandelier has shown that while
Cholula was certainly a populous Indian pueblo, it is a misnomer
to call it a city. It was a group of six distinct clusters,
gathered around a common market. He estimates that its
population may possibly have been thirty thousand.<32>
All explorers have mentioned the fertility of the plain in the
midst of which this monument is found.
But this plain is almost destitute of easily defended positions;
which fact has an important bearing on the purpose for which the
great mound was erected. At a distance it presents all the
appearance of a natural hill. The casual observer would not
believe it was entirely the work of men. "In close proximity,"
says Mr. Bandelier, "the mound presents the appearance of an
oblong conical hill, resting on projecting platforms of unequal
length. Overgrown as it is with verdure and partly by trees, and
with a fine paved road leading to the summit, it looks
strikingly like a natural hill, along whose slopes the washing
of the rains and slides have laid bare bold bluffs, and into
whose bulk clefts and rents have occasionally penetrated."
Illustration of Pyramid of Cholula.------------
This celebrated mound or pyramid has lately been the subject of
a very careful study by Mr. Bandelier. The illustration we
present gives us a very good idea of the present appearance of
the mound. The mass is probably solid throughout, and if there
is a natural hill in its center, it must be a very small one.
The height of the central higher mass is very nearly two hundred
feet.<33> The present appearance of the summit is entirely due
to the Spaniards. At the time of the conquest the summit was
convex; the friars had it leveled in order to plant a cross.
The area of this upper platform is not far from two-thirds of an
acre. It is now paved and surrounded by a wall.
In the illustration we detect the appearance of terraces.
These are level areas, not all of the same height; neither do
they extend entirely around the mound. In fact, the present
appearance indicates three projections, or aprons, surrounding
and supporting a conical hill, and separated from each other by
wide depressions. This central mound, with its three
projections, rests upon a very extensive platform, which was
probably cross-shaped. This platform seems to have been about
twelve feet high, and covered an area of at least sixty acres.
The object for which this great pile was erected is a topic that
has exercised the thoughts of many scholars. Some have supposed
it was a burial mound. Some years ago, while in constructing a
road from Pueblo to Mexico, the first terrace or story was
slightly dug into, and disclosed a chamber, which contained two
skeletons, two idols, and a collection of pottery." Yet, before
deciding it to be a burial mound, it will be necessary to show
the presence of tombs near the center.
We have referred to the results of Mr. Bandelier's explorations.
He made a very thorough study of this great pyramid--more
complete than any that had hitherto been made--and his results
should have corresponding weight. He finds that the materials of
which the adobe brick is composed are exactly the same as that
of the surrounding plain. This does away with one old tradition,
that the bricks were manufactured at a distance, and brought
several leagues to their destination by a long line of men, who
handed them along singly from one to another.
From the manner in which the bricks are laid, and from their
variation in size, he concludes that the structure was not all
erected at one time, but that the mound is the accumulation of
successive periods of labor. From this it follows that it was
built to serve some purpose of public utility, and not as a
token of respect for some individual. Wherever found, these
great works show the same evidence of not being all completed at
once. This was true of the North; we shall also find it true of
the South. Charney noticed the same thing in the house at
Tulla. Nothing is more natural than that an Indian community
would increase their buildings as the tribe increased.
Mr. Bandelier's final conclusion in regard to the purpose of its
erection is one of great interest, but not at all surprising.
"If we imagine the plateaus and aprons around it covered with
houses, possibly of large size, like those of Uxmal and
Palenque,<34> or on a scale intermediate between them and the
communal dwellings of Pecos and many other places in New
Mexico,<35> we have then, on the mound of Cholula, as it
originally was, room for a large aboriginal population.
The structure, accordingly, presents itself as the base of an
artificially elevated, and therefore, according to Indian
military art, a fortified, pueblo."
But this does not remove from it the air of mystery. Long-fallen
indeed are the communal walls. It was not simply a few years ago
that these pueblo-crowned terraces were reared. The date of its
erection is hid in the dim traditions of the past.
The traditions of the Nahua tribes, who came at a far later
date, speak of it as even then standing on the plain.
Scattered over the plain are other ruins of a somewhat different
nature from the general ruins in the valley. These may be the
ruins of works erected by the same class of people as built the
mounds. Especially is this thought to be true of ruins found on
the slopes of neighboring volcanoes.
To the south-west of Cholula are the ruins of Xochicalco, which,
by some, are pronounced to be the finest in Mexico. There are
many points of resemblance between this ruin and Tezcocingo.
The meaning of the word is "Hill of Flowers." The hill is a very
regular, conical one, with a base nearly three miles in
circumference, and rises to a height above the plain of nearly
four hundred feet.<36> The hill is considered to be entirely a
natural formation; but it probably owes some of its regular
appearance to the work of man. Around the base of the hill had
been dug a wide and deep ditch. When Mr. Taylor visited the
place, the side of this moat had fallen in, in many places, and
in some quite filled up--but it was still distinctly
visible.<37> The whole surface of this hill was laid off
Five of these terraces, paved with blocks of stone laid in
mortar, and supported by perpendicular walls of the same
material, extend, in oval form, entirely around the whole
circumference of the hill, one above the other. From the
accumulation of rubbish, these terraces are not easy to detect
in all places. Probably, at one time, there was some easy means
of access from one terrace to the other, but they have
disappeared--so that now the explorer has to scramble up
intervening slopes of the terraces as best he can. It is
probable that defensive works once protected these slopes.
Mr. Mayer says: "At regular intervals, as if to buttress these
terraces, there are remains of bulwarks shaped like the bastions
of a fortification."<38> "Defense seems to have been the one
object aimed at by the builders." The top of the hill is leveled
off. Some writers represent that a wall of stone was run along
the edge of the summit but others think that the whole top of
the hill had been excavated, so as to form a sunken area,
leaving a parapet along the edge. This summit-platform measured
two hundred and eighty-five feet by three hundred and
twenty-eight feet. Within this area were found several mounds
and heaps of stones. The probabilities are that it was once
thickly covered with ruins. In the center of this sunken area
are the remains of the lower story of a pyramid, which the
inhabitants in the vicinity affirm to have been once five
To judge from the ruins still standing, this must have formed
one of the most magnificent works of aboriginal skill with which
we are acquainted. This cut gives a general idea of the ruins
from the west. We presume the broken appearance presented by
this side is in consequence of the removal of stones by planters
in the vicinity for their own use. It seems they have used this
monument as a stone-quarry. This pyramid, or the first story of
it, was nearly square--its dimensions being sixty-four feet
Illustration of Xochicalco.-----------
The next cut is an enlarged drawing of the north-west corner
seen in the first drawing. Notice the grotesque ornamentations
on it. The ornaments are not stucco-work, but are sculptured in
bas-relief. As one figure sometimes covers parts of two stones,
it is plain they must have been sculptured after being put in
position. The height of this front is nearly fifteen feet.
In the left-hand corner of this sculpture will be perceived the
bead of a monstrous beast with open jaws and protruding tongue.
This figure is constantly repeated in various parts of the
facade. Some have supposed it to be a crocodile. The rabbit is
another figure that constantly reappears in portions of
Illustration of Enlarged View of Ruins at Xochicalco.----
We can scarcely realize the labor involved in the construction
of this pyramid and the terraced slope. Some idea may be formed
of the immense labor with which this building was constructed
from measurements made of several of the masses of porphyry that
compose it. One stone was nearly eight feet long by three broad.
The one with the rabbit on is five feet by two and a half.
When it is recollected that these materials were not found in
the neighborhood, but were brought from a great distance, and
borne up a hill more than three hundred feet high, we can not
fail to be struck with the industry, toil, and ingenuity of the
builders, especially as the use of beasts of burden was, at the
time, unknown in Mexico. Nor was this edifice, on the summit,
the only portion of the architect's labor. Huge rocks were
brought to form the walls supporting the terraces that
surrounded the hill, a league in circumference, and the whole
of that immense mass was eased in stone. Beyond these terraces,
again, there was still another immense task in the ditch,
of even greater extent, which had to be dug and
Now, what was the object of all this labor? This must have been
the center of a large settlement. It seems that the surrounding
hills--or, at least, some of them--were also terraced.
Mr. Taylor says: "On the neighboring hills we could discern
traces of more terraced roads of the same kind. There must be
many miles of them still remaining." In a Mexican book we are
told "adjoining this hill is another higher one, also covered
with terraces of stone-work in the form of steps. A causeway of
large marble flags led to the top, where there are still some
excavations, and among them a mound of large size." Mr. Latrobe,
from the top of the "Hill of Flowers," saw that it was the
center towards which converged several roads, which could be
traced over the plain. The road he examined was "about eight
feet in breadth, composed of large stones tightly wedged
together." It is extremely probable that in Xochicalco we have
another instance of a strongly fortified hill, on the top of
which was their pueblo, arranged around their teocalli,
In our description of this ruin we must not forget to mention
some curious underground chambers, excavated in the hill itself.
On the northern slope, near the foot, is the entrance to two
galleries, one of which terminated at the distance of eighty
feet. The second gallery is cut in solid limestone, about nine
feet square, and has several branches. The floors are paved with
brick-shaped blocks of stone. The walls are also, in many
places, supported by masonry, and both pavement, walls, and
ceilings are covered with lime-cement, which retains its polish,
and shows traces, in some parts, of having had originally a
coating of red ocher. The principal gallery, after a few turns,
finally terminated, or appeared to, in a large room eighty feet
long, in which two pillars were left to support the roof. In one
corner of this room there was a dome-shaped excavation in the
roof, from the apex of which a round hole about ten inches in
diameter extended vertically upwards.
The natives say there are still other excavations. We have seen
no good explanation of the uses of these excavations. The labor
in constructing them must have been very great. In the province
of Oaxaca we shall find several groups of ruins. In all
probability those known and described are not more numerous than
those unknown. The class of ruins represented by Quemada,
Tezcocingo, and Xochicalco (that is, a hill strongly fortified,
with traces of a settlement on the summit, mounds, foundations
of communal houses, and pyramidal structures) are also to be
found here. At Quiotepec we have very meager accounts of such a
ruin. The hill is over two miles in circumference and a thousand
feet high. A running stream has rendered one side of the hill
very steep and precipitous, but the other sides are terraced.
One of the terrace-walls at the summit is about three hundred
and twenty feet long, sixty feet high, and five and a half feet
thick.<41> On the summit of the hill are found great numbers of
mounds, foundations of small buildings, as well as ruins of
statelier buildings, called by some palaces, but which were
probably regular communal structures; also the pyramid base of a
temple. At different points near the summit of the hill are
three tanks or reservoirs, one of which is sixty feet long,
twenty-four feet wide, and six feet deep, with traces of steps
leading down into it.
Still further south, near the center of the state at Monte
Alban, is a more extensive group of ruins on the same general
plan as the one just described. In this case, from the banks of
a stream, there rises a range of high hills with precipitous
sides. At their summit is an irregular plateau half a mile long
by nearly a quarter of a mile wide. M. Charney states that a
portion of this plateau is artificial. He represents the whole
surface as literally covered with blocks of stone--some
sculptured--the ruined foundations of buildings, terraces, and
so forth. He regards it as one of the most precious remains of
aboriginal work, and this is the view of Mr. Bandelier also.
It is to be regretted that we have not more details of such
interesting ruins. We, however, would learn but little new from
them. One ruin is spoken of as an immense square court, inclosed
by four long mounds, having a slight space between them at the
ends. It is extremely probable that these mounds once
The most celebrated ruin in Oaxaca is Mitla. These are the first
ruins we have met that, by their strange architecture and
peculiar ornamentation, suggest some different race as their
builders. The present surroundings are of the gloomiest
character. The country is barren and desert. The valley in which
the ruins are located is high and narrow, but surrounded by
bleak hills. The soil is dry and sandy, and almost devoid of
vegetation. The cold winds, blowing almost constantly, sweep
before them great clouds of sand. A small stream flows through
this dreary waste, which, during the rainy season, is a raging
torrent. "No birds sing, or flowers bloom," around these old
ruins. Appropriately enough, tradition speaks of this as the
"Place of Sadness," or "Dwelling of the Dead." As to the extent
of territory covered by the ruins, we have not been able to
learn further than the general statement that at the time of the
conquest they covered an immense area.<42>
Illustration of Wall at Mitla.-----------------
Mr. Bandelier found, besides two artificial hills, traces of
thirty-nine distinct edifices, and, as he thinks these are all
the buildings that ever stood there, it is manifest that this
was not a city in our sense of the word. Two or three of the
buildings were constructed of adobe, plastered, and painted red.
The others were built of stone. Of these latter the greater part
stands upon the ground, but a few are built upon elevated
terraces, composed of stone and earth heaped together and faced
with stone. In one group of four buildings the terraced
foundation contained a basement--in one case, at least--in the
form of a cross. The purpose of this cellar or basement left in
the artificial foundation is unknown. Some think they were used
for burial purposes but it is more likely they were general
store-rooms. The arrangement of these buildings was the same as
elsewhere. That is, so placed as to inclose a court. This
illustration shows us the method of constructing the walls of
the building. We notice two distinct parts. The inner part is
built of broken stones laid in tolerably regular courses in
clay. There was no mortar used. This inner core is much the same
sort of work as the masonry in the pueblos of Arizona. A facing
was put on over this inner core, which served both for ornament
and for strength. This illustration is a corner of one of these
buildings, and gives us in excellent idea of the peculiar
ornamentation employed at Mitla. Mr. Bancroft gives us a clear
idea of how this facing was put on: "First, a double tier of
very large blocks are placed as a base along the surface of the
supporting mound, projecting two or three feet from the line of
the wall, the stones of the upper tier sloping inward. On this
base is erected a kind of framework of large, hewn blocks with
perfectly plain, unsculptured fronts, which divide the surface
of the wall into oblong panels of different dimensions."<43>
Illustration of Ornamentation at Mitla.------------
It would, then, seem as if the panels were thickly coated with
clay. Into this clay was then driven small, smoothed blocks of
wedge-shaped stones, in such a way as to cover them with
geometrical ornamentations, which, though not absolutely
symmetrical, present a striking and agreeable appearance.
Each section of the wall presents a different pattern, but this
difference is so slight that the general effect is
harmonious.<44> This mosaic ornamentation is found in some of
the inner facings of the walls as well. In general, however, the
walls on the inside were covered with mortar and painted.
Illustration of Hall at Mitla.-------
Some of the blocks of stone forming the basement, the framework
of the panels, and the lintels of the door are of great size,
and the lintels were in some cases sculptured. One of the
largest rooms at Mitla is represented in the preceding cut.
The peculiar feature about it is the range of columns seen in
the drawing. The inner plastering has fallen, exposing the rough
wall. The columns are simple stone pillars, having neither
chapter nor base. It is generally supposed that these pillars
supported the roof. As in the pueblo buildings to the north, as
well as the Toltec house at Tulla, the roof was probably formed
of the trunks of small-sized trees laid close together and
covered with clay and cement.
We have as yet not seen any thing in these ruins sufficiently
striking to justify the somewhat extravagant assertion made
about them. The ornamentation is indeed peculiar and tasteful,
but aside from that, we see no reason to speak of them as
magnificent structures. The buildings are low and narrow; the
rooms are small, dark, and illy ventilated. "Light could only
have been admitted from one side, and the apertures for this
purpose were neither lofty nor broad." Mr. Bandelier fittingly
characterizes the ruins as the "barbaric effort of a barbarous
people." Those scholars who think we have in Mexico the ruins of
a highly civilized, powerful empire, regard these ruins as in
some way set aside for mourning purposes of the royal family.
"According to tradition," says Mayer, "They were ... intended as
the places of sepulture for their princes. At the death of
members of the royal family, their bodies were entombed in the
vaults beneath; and the sovereign and his relatives retired to
mourn over the departed scion in the chambers above these solemn
abodes, screened by dark and silent groves from the public eye."
Another tradition devotes the edifices to a sect of priests,
whose duty it was to live in perfect seclusion, and offer
expiatory sacrifices for the royal dead who reposed in the
With all due respect to traditions, we think a much more
reasonable explanation can be given. One reason why Mitla has
been regarded as such an important place, is because it has been
assumed that there were no other ruins like it, especially in
Mexico. This, according to Mr. Bandelier, is a mistake.
He examined one or two quite similar ruins in the near vicinity,
and at another place he found a group of ruins in every way
worthy of being compared to Mitla, but he was not able to
examine them. So we must either decide there were a number of
these "Sepulchral Palaces," or else adopt some simpler
explanation. But still stronger is the fact, that at the time of
the conquest, Mitla was an inhabited pueblo. We have the account
of a monk who visited it in 1533. He mentions in particular
the ornamentation of the walls, the huge doorways, and the hall
with the pillars. It is extremely probable that if it was
devoted to any such purpose, some mention would have been made
of it. We think Mr. Bandelier is right when he concludes that
these structures are communal buildings, but little different
As for the other ruins in Oaxaca, we will not stop longer to
examine them. At Guingola, in the southern part of the State,
was found a ruined settlement. The principal ruins were located
on the summit of a fortified hill, which, from a brief
description, must have been much like those we have
We will now turn our attention to the Gulf-coast. The whole
coast region abounds in great numbers of ruins. It is in this
section, however, that tribes of people belonging to a different
family than the Nahua tribes, were living at no very distant
time in the past. So it is not doubted but that many of these
ruined structures, perhaps the majority of them, were the works
of their hand. When Cortez landed on the coast, in the
neighborhood of Vera Cruz, he was received by the Totonacas.
These were a Nahua tribe, but both to the north and south of
them were Maya tribes.<46> We will, however, describe the ruins
in the present State of Vera Cruz under one head.
We notice, on the coast, the Gulf of Tampico, into which pours
the river Panuco. From an antiquarian point of view, this is a
most interesting locality. It was here that a feeble remnant of
De Soto's disastrous expedition found a refuge in 1543. And it
was here that, at a far earlier period, according to the dim,
uncertain light of tradition, the ancestors of some of the
civilized nations of Mexico made their first appearance;
of this, more hereafter. Certain it is that, commencing at this
river, we find ourselves in a land of ruins.
It is to be regretted, however, that our information is not
definite in regard to them. We are told, in general terms, of a
great field of ruins, but in the absence of cuts, can scarcely
give a clear description of them. On the northern bank of the
Panuco, Mr. Norman found at one place the ground "strewn with
hewn blocks of stone and fragments of pottery and obsidian."<47>
They were found over an area of several square miles. Many of
the blocks of stone were ornamented with sculpture. They imply
the presence, in former times, of some kind of buildings.
We can not form an opinion as to the number, style, etc.
Mr. Norman regards them as the ruins of a great city, the
site of which is now covered with a heavy forest.
Amongst these ruins are about twenty mounds, both circular and
square, from six to twenty-five feet in height. Some authorities
think that the Mound Builders went by water from near the mouth
of the Mississippi to this region. To such as place any real
reliance on this theory, these mounds are full of interest.
But some details of construction would seem to indicate a
different people as their builders than those who reared mounds
in the Gulf States of the Mississippi Valley. The main body of
the mound is earth, but they are faced with hewn blocks of
sandstone, eighteen inches square and six inches thick.
Although one of the mounds is quite large, covering two acres,
yet in but one instance was a terraced arrangement noticed. As a
general thing, the facing of stone had fallen to the ground, and
some of the smaller mounds had caved in; showing, perhaps, that
they were used as burial mounds. In other cases the mounds had
entirely disappeared, leaving the stone facing on the surface.
This may account for some of the stones scattered over the
surface. A few miles away there is another group of
Across the river in Vera Cruz, from very slight mention, we
gather that, substantially, the same kind of ruins occur.
At Chacuaco the ruins are said to cover three square
leagues--but we have no further account of them than that.
Small relics of aboriginal art are said to be common, and
mention is made of mounds. The antiquities of Vera Cruz are a
topic about which it is very difficult to form correct ideas.
It will he noticed that it presents a long stretch of country to
the Gulf. The land near the coast is low, and very unhealthy.
About thirty miles from the coast we strike the slope of the
mountains bounding the great interior plateau. This section is
fertile and healthy, and was, evidently, thickly settled in
early times. We must remember that it is always in a mountainous
section of country that a people make their last stand against
an invading foe. It was in these mountain chains where the Maya
tribes made their last stand against the invading Nahua tribes,
and even this line was pierced through by the Tonacas.
It is not strange, then, to find abundant evidence of former
occupation in all this section of country. One thing in its
favor was the number of easily defended positions. The country
is cut up by deep ravines. The early inhabitants used all the
land that was at all available for agricultural purposes.
On steep slopes they ran terraces to prevent the soil from
washing. In the smaller ravines they located great numbers of
water-tanks, from which, in the dry season, they procured water
to irrigate their land. Of this section, we are told, "there is
hardly a foot of ground in the whole State of Vera Cruz in
which, by excavation, either a broken obsidian knife, or a
broken piece of pottery, is not found. The whole country is
intersected with parallel lines of stones, which were intended,
during the heavy showers of the rainy season, to keep the earth
from washing away. The number of these lines of stones shows
clearly that even the poorest land, which nobody in our day
would cultivate, was put under requisition by them."<48>
Illustration of Papantla.----------------
They no less conclusively show that a considerable body of
people had here been pressed by foreign invasion into a small,
contracted space. It is useless to attempt a more particular
description of these ruins. In the absence of cuts, the
description would only prove tiresome. Pyramids, both with and
without buildings on their summits, are comparatively frequent.
As they would be noticed where other ruins would be overlooked,
we have some cuts of the more remarkable ones. The preceding cut
is the pyramid at Papantla.
The base is ninety feet square, and the pyramid has seven
stories, as seen in the engraving. Only the last one contains
apartments; with this exception, the pyramid is solid.
Stairways in front lead up to the top. Mr. Mayer says "there is
no doubt, from the mass of ruins spread over the plain, that the
city was more than a mile and a half in circuit." But we have no
further description of them. Other localities with pyramids and
ruins are known. At Tusapan occurs this ruin, which may be taken
as a type of all the pyramids in this region. This was the only
building remaining standing at Tusapan; but, from the ruins
lying about, this is not supposed to have been the grandest
Illustration of Tusapan.---------------
This will complete what we have to say of the ruins in territory
occupied by the Nahua tribes. Other remains of their handiwork
we will examine when we treat of their customs and manners.
We will now turn our attention to the ruins in the territory of
the Mayas. As the culture of these two people is so similar, we
will devote but one chapter to the two. Comparison is the great
means we have of fixing in the mind points we wish to keep.
We have to admit that the treatment of the Nahua ruins is not
very satisfactory; but it is difficult to obtain accurate
information in regard to them. We think what resemblance can be
traced, is more in the direction of the Pueblo tribes than of
the Mound Builders. The first ruin found in Mexico, Casa
Grandes, in Chihuahua, is evidently but another station of
The fortified hill at Quemada is apparently but a further
development of the clustering houses with the little inclosures
noticed on the Gila. Mounds are, indeed, mentioned in a number
of localities, but they seem to be more nearly related to the
terraced foundation of buildings observed in Arizona than to the
mounds of the Mississippi Valley. Surely as striking a ruin as
any is at Mitla, but Mr. Bandelier does not hesitate to compare
it with some in the Pueblo country. Now, it is very unsafe and
very unsatisfactory to trace resemblances of this kind, and we
do not assign any especial value to them. But it only shows
that, so far as this method is of use, it points to a closer
connection with the Pueblo tribes than with the Mound Builders.
(1) Gregory's "History of Mexico," p. 19.
(2) Bancroft's "Native Races," Vol. II, p. 92.
(3) The Tierra Caliente.
(4) Ober's "Mexican Resources," p. 2.
(5) "Mexico As It Was," p. 221.
(6) "Six Months in Mexico," p. 386.
(7) Mayer: "Mexico As It Was," p. 234.
(8) Thompson's "Mexico," p. 144.
(9) Bancroft: "Native Races," Vol. IV, p. 526.
(10) "Rambles in Mexico," p. 140.
(11) "Gratacap, in American Antiquarian, October, 1883,
(12) "Native Races," Vol. II, pp. 168-173.
(13) As to this hill, Mr. Bandelier remarks: "As a salient and
striking object, and on account of the freshwater springs,
Chapultepec was worshiped, but I find no trace among older
authors of any settlement there--still less of a Summer palace--
at the time of the conquest." "Report of an Archaeological Tour
in Mexico," p. 73.
(14) Charney in North American Review, September, 1880,
(15) "Recollections of Mexico," p. 140.
(16) We have several times remarked that it is not safe to judge
prehistoric population by the amount of ruins. "Indians never
rebuild on ruins or repair them."
(17) Bancroft: "Native Races," Vol. IV., p. 537.
(18) Bancroft: "Native Races," Vol. IV, p. 547.
(19) The ceilings in the pueblos of Arizona were often made of
poles covered with cement. See Chapter XI.
(20) Bancroft's "Native Races," Vol. IV, p. 550.
(21) Bandelier: "Fifth Annual Report Arch. Inst.," p. 86.
(22) Bancroft's "Native Faces," Vol. IV, p. 610.
(23) Bancroft's "Native Races," Vol. IV, p. 613.
(24) "Fifth Annual Report," p. 86.
(25) Bancroft's "Native Races," Vol. IV, p. 581. These
dimensions are different in different accounts, as may be seen
by consulting Mr. Bancroft's work.
(26) Lyons's Journal. From Mayer's "Mexico As It Was,"
(27) There is something of a similarity between these ruins and
those of the coast tribes of Peru.
(28) Another authority states that it is thirty feet square and
thirty feet high. Bancroft: "Native Races," Vol. IV, p. 587,
(29) As seen in the Drawing. Mr. Lyons states there are seven
(30) This was Clavigaro. Mayer's "Mexico As It Was," p. 245.
(31) Thompson's "Recollections of Mexico," p. 29.
(32) "An Archaeological Tour in Mexico," p. 163.
(33) The altitude varies according to the side where the
measurement is taken. The average height is about one hundred
and seventy feet.
(34) To be described hereafter.
(35) See Chapter XI.
(36) Different explorers give different figures.
(37) Taylor's "Anahuac," p. 184.
(38) "Mexico As It Was," p. 180.
(39) Mayer: "Mexico As It Was," p. 184.
(40) This is in strict keeping with what we have seen to be true
of their pueblo sites. This is the conclusion of Mr. Bandelier,
who discusses this subject in his essay on "Art of War Among the
Mexicans." Peabody Museum Reports, Vol. II, p. 146, note 186.
(41) Bancroft: "Native Races," Vol. IV, p. 419.
(42) Bancroft's "Native Races," 393, note.
(43) Bancroft's "Native Races," Vol. IV, p. 395.
(44) Bandelier: "An Archaeological Tour in Mexico," p. 295.
(45) Mayer: "Mexico As It Was," pp. 251-2.
(46) Valentine, in "Proceedings Am. Antiq. Soc.," Oct., 1882.
(47) Bancroft's "Native Races," Vol. IV, p. 595.
(48) "Smithsonian Report," 1873, p. 373.
END OF CHAPTER XIII**********************
The Prehistoric World: or, Vanished Races
by E. A. Allen
Processed by D.R. Thompson
THE MAYA TRIBES.
The geographical location of the Maya tribes--Description of
Copan--Statue at Copan--Altars at Copan--Ruins at Quiriga
Patinamit--Utatlan--Description of Palenque--The Palace at
Palenque--The Temple of the Three Inscriptions--Temple of the
Beau-relief--Temple of the Cross--Temple of the Sun--Maler's
Temple of the Cross--Significance of the Palenque crosses--
Statue at Palenque--Other ruins in Tobasco and Chiapas--Ruins in
Yucatan--Uxmal--The Governor's House--The Nunnery--Room in
Nunnery--The sculptured facades--Temple at Uxmal--Kabah--Zayi--
Labna--Labphak--Chichen-Itza--The Nunnery--The Castillo--The
Gymnasium--M. Le Plongon's researches--The tradition of the
Three Brothers--Chaac-mol--Antiquity of Chichen.
In the Central American region of the Western Continent are
found the ruins of what are pronounced by all scholars to be the
highest civilization, and the most ancient in time, of any in
the New World. There it arose, flourished, and tottered to its
fall. Its glory had departed, its cities were a desolation,
before the coming of the Spaniards. The explorer who would visit
them finds himself confronted with very great difficulties.
Their location is in a section of the country away from the
beaten track of travel. Their sites are overspread with the
luxuriant vegetation of tropical lands, through which the
Indian's machete must carve a passage. The states in which they
are situated are notorious for anarchy and misrule, and the
climate is such that it is dangerous for those not acclimated to
venture thither during a large part of the year. So it is not
strange that but few have wandered among these ruins, and
described them to the world at large.
Illustration of Map of Central America.-----------
But the accounts thus presented are interesting in the extreme,
though they have raised many questions that have thus far defied
solution. There is no doubt but what there exist large groups of
ruins not yet described, structures and monuments which might,
perhaps, throw some light on a past that now seems hopelessly
lost. But the ruins thus far described are so numerous, their
similarity is so evident, that we feel we have but little to
hope from such undiscovered ruins. There are, doubtless, richly
ornamented facades, grotesquely sculptured statues, and
hieroglyphic-covered altars, but they would prove as much of an
enigma as those already known. Our only hope is that some
fortunate scholar will yet discover a key by whose aid the
hieroglyphics now known may be read. Then, but not until then,
will the darkness that now enshrouds ancient Maya civilization
As will be seen from a glance at the map, the most important
ruins are in the modern states of Honduras, Guatemala, Chiapas,
and especially Yucatan, the northern portion of this peninsula
being literally studded with them. The river Usumacinta and its
numerous tributaries flowing in a northern direction through
Chiapas is regarded as the original home of the civilization
whose ruins we are now to describe. From whence the tribes came
that first settled in this valley is as yet an unsettled point.
We notice that we have here another instance of the influence
that fertile river valleys exert upon tribes settling therein.
The stories told us of the civilization that flourished in
primitive times in the valleys of the Euphrates and the Nile are
not more wonderful--the ruins perhaps not more impressive--than
are the traditions still extant, or the material remains fallen
in picturesque ruins, of the civilization that once on a time
held sway in the Usumacinta Valley.
One of the most famous groups of ruins in this section of the
country is that of Copan, situated in Honduras, but very near
the Guatemala line. This is commonly spoken of as "the oldest
city in America,"<1> and has some evidence to substantiate this
claim. Whatever be its relative antiquity, it is doubtless very
old, as it was probably in ruins at the time of the conquest.
There are several facts going to prove this assertion.
When Cortez, in 1524, made his march to Honduras, he passed
within a few leagues of this place. He makes no mention of it,
which he would have been very apt to do had it been inhabited.
Fifty years later Garcia De Palacio made a report on these ruins
to the king of Spain. According to this report, it was then in
much the same state as described by modern travelers, and the
same mystery surrounded it, showing that it must have been in
ruin much longer than the short space of time from the conquest
to the date of his report. But few travelers have visited Copan,
and fewer still have left a good description of it.
Mr. Stephens, accompanied by Mr. Catherwood, explored it in
1839, and this constitutes our main source of information.<2>
We feel that here is the place to speak a word of caution.
In common with other writers, we have used the word cities, in
speaking of the ruins of Maya civilization. In view of the
criticisms that have been freely expressed by some of the best
scholars of American ethnology, as to the generally accepted
view of the civilization of the Mexican and Central American
races, it is necessary to be on our guard as to the language
employed. In the case of Copan, for instance, all the remains
known, occur in an irregularly inclosed space of about nine
hundred by sixteen hundred feet, while but a portion of such
inclosed space is covered by the ruins themselves. Now it can,
of course, be said that this space contains simply the remains
of public buildings, so to speak--such as temples, palaces, and
others--while the habitations of the great body of the common
people, poorly built, and located outside of this area, may have
vanished away. But, on the other hand, it may also be that in
this small area we have the ruins of all the buildings that ever
stood at Copan. In which case the word city is a misnomer;
pueblo would be more appropriate. But looking at them in the
simplest light, we shall find there is still a great deal to
excite astonishment. Fragments of the wall originally inclosing
the area in which are located the temple pyramids and statues,
are still to be found. Very few particulars have been given of
this wall. It was made of blocks of stone, and seems to have
been twenty-five feet thick at the base, but the height is not
given. The northern half of this area is occupied by a large
terrace, somewhat irregular in outline, and impressed
Mr. Stephens with the idea that it had not all been erected at
the same time, but additions had been made from time to time.
Instead of describing the ruins in full, we will let the
illustration speak for itself. The dimensions of this terrace
are, six hundred and twenty-four feet by eight hundred and nine
feet. The side fronting on the river was perpendicular.
The other three sides consist of ranges of steps and pyramidal
structures. All these steps and pyramidal sides were once
painted. The general height of the terrace was about seventy
feet above the surface of the ground.
Illustration of Ruins of Copan.---------------
Though Mr. Stephens warns us that this terrace was not as large
as the base of the Pyramid of Ghizeh, still it must have
required an immense amount of work, since careful computations
show that over twenty-six million cubic feet of stone were used
in its construction. This stone was brought from the quarries
two miles away. We must not forget that this work was performed
by a people destitute of metallic tools.
On the terrace were the ruins of four pyramids, one rising to
the height of one hundred and twenty-two feet. The surface of
the terrace was not continuous. In two places there were
court-yards, or sunken areas. The larger is ninety by one
hundred and forty-four feet, and has a narrow passage-way
leading into it from the north. Whatever buildings that once
stood on this terrace, have vanished away. At one place only, on
the terrace, fronting the river, are the remains of small,
circular towers, thought to have been watch towers. The whole
terrace was thickly overgrown by trees of a tropical growth.
Mr Stephens noticed two immense Ceiba trees growing from the
very summit of one of the pyramids. This structure has been
called the Temple, and a great many surmises have been made as
to the scenes once enacted there. If analogous to other
structures in Central America, this terrace was surmounted with
buildings. They may have been temples or palaces, or they may
have been communal houses, not unlike those of New Mexico, to
But of more importance than the ruins of this temple, are the
statues and altars peculiar to this region. Mr. Stephens found
fourteen of them. It seems very singular, indeed, to come upon
these statues in the depth of a Central American forest, and
they give us an idea of the state of advancement of these old
tribes that nothing else does. They raise many queries. Why is
it that so many are found here--so few elsewhere? Are they
statues of noted personages, or idols? We are powerless to
answer these questions. These secrets will only be yielded up
when the hieroglyphics with which they are covered shall
The places where these statues are found is seen to the right of
the main body of ruins. It will be seen that only one is within
the terrace area of the temple. Three others are situated near
it, but the majority are near the southern end of the inclosure.
We are not given the dimensions of all, but the smallest one
given is eleven feet, eight inches high, by three feet, four
inches width and depth; the largest, thirteen feet high, four
feet wide, and three feet deep. No inconsiderable part of the
labor on the statues must have been that of quarrying the large
blocks of stone out of which they were carved, and transporting
them to the place where found. They came from the same quarry as
the other stones used in building; and so were transported a
distance of about two miles. Mr. Stephens found, about midway to
the quarry, a gigantic block, "which was probably on its way
thither, to be carved and set up as an ornament, when the labors
of the workmen were arrested."
Illustration of Copan Statue.----------------
There is such a similarity in all these statues that a
representation of one will suffice. This is the representation
of one of the largest statues. It is seen to be standing on a
sort of pedestal. A face occupies a central position on the
front. Some of the faces have what may be a representation of a
beard. In all but one, the expression is calm and peaceful.
They were once painted red. Traces of color were still visible
at the time of Mr. Stephens's visit. In all but one the hands
are represented as placed back to back on the breast.
The complicated headdress and the ornaments on the robes utterly
defy description. The sides and back of the statues are covered
with hieroglyphics, though now and then a face is introduced.
A side view of another statue shows this feature. All are
convinced that we have in these hieroglyphics an explanation of
each statue, but what it is, is yet unknown. Mr. Stephens says:
"Of the moral effect of the monuments themselves, standing as
they do, in the depths of a tropical forest, silent and solemn,
strange in design, excellent in sculpture, rich in ornament,
different from the works of any other people; their uses and
purposes--their whole history--so entirely unknown, with
hieroglyphics explaining all, but perfectly unintelligible, I
shall not pretend to convey any idea. Often the imagination was
pained in gazing at them. The tone which pervades the ruins is
that of deep solemnity."
In front of most of the statues is what is called an altar,
which would seem to imply that these monuments are really idols.
"The altars, like the idols, are all of a single block of stone.
In general, they are not so richly ornamented, and are more
faded and worn, or covered with moss. Some were completely
buried, and of others it was difficult to make out more than the
form. All differed in position, and doubtless had some distinct
and peculiar reference to the idols before which they stood."
Illustration of Statue, Copan.----------------
These altars are strongly suggestive of sacrificial scenes.
The altar before the idol found in the court-yard on the terrace
of the temple, is one of the most interesting objects found at
Copan. It is six feet square and four feet high. The top is
divided into thirty-six tablets of hieroglyphics which we may
well imagine records some events in the history of this
mysterious people. Each side has carved on it four human
figures. They are generally all represented as facing the same
way. We give an illustration of the east side. Each individual
is sitting cross-legged on a hieroglyphic, and has a ponderous
Illustration of Hieroglyphics, top of Altar.---------
Mr Stephens found the quadrangle at the south-east corner of the
plan to be thickly strewn with fragments of fine sculpture.
Amongst the rest was a "remarkable portrait." (Shown later.)
"It is probably the portrait of some king, chieftain, or sage.
The mouth is injured, and part of the ornament over the wreath
that crowns the head. The expression is noble and severe, and
the whole character shows a close imitation of nature."
Colonel Gallindo, who visited Copan in 1835, discovered a vault
very near where the circular towers are located, on the terrace
fronting the river. This vault was five feet wide, ten feet
long, and four feet high. It was used for burial purposes.
Over fifty vessels of red pottery, containing human bones, were
found in it.<3>
Illustration of Bas-relief, East Site of Altar.------------
In this hasty sketch we do not feel that we have done justice to
Copan. It is, however, all the space we can devote to this
interesting ruin. We call special attention to the hieroglyphics
on the altar and the statues. We will find other hieroglyphics
at Palenque, and in Yucatan, evidently derived from these.<4>
They have been made the subject of very interesting study, and
we will refer to them again at another page. We also notice
especially the fact that we have no ruined buildings at Copan.
In this respect it stands almost alone among the Central
American ruins. The distinguishing features, however, are the
carved obelisks. They are evidently not the work of rude,
people. Mr. Stephens, who was every way qualified to judge,
declares that some of them "are in every way equal to the finest
Egyptian workmanship, and that with the best instruments of
modern times, it would be impossible to cut stone
Illustration of Portrait, Copan.-------------
A dark mystery hangs over these ruins. Their builders are
unknown. Whether we have here some temple sacred to the gods of
the Maya pantheon or some palace made resplendent for royal
owners, who can tell? Whether these are the ruins of the more
substantial public buildings of a great city, of which all other
buildings have vanished--or whether this is the remains of a
prosperous pueblo, whose communal houses crowded the terraces,
with sacrificial altars on the lofty pyramids--who knows? At
long intervals a passing traveler visits them, ponders over
their fast disappearing ruins, and goes his way. The veil drops,
the tropical forest more securely environs them--and thus the
years come and go over the ruins of Copan.
Nearly north from Copan (see map), about half-way to the coast,
on the bank of the river Montagua, is found a small hamlet, by
the name of Quiriga. Mr. Stephens, when traveling in the country
in 1840, after many careful inquiries, heard of ruins near that
place. Though not able to explore them himself, his companion,
Mr. Catherwood, did. The result of this gentleman's exertion
makes us acquainted with another group of ruins, in many
respects similar to those of Copan, though apparently much
farther gone in decay. His visit was a very hurried one; and he
was not able to clear the moss away from the statues so as to
draw them as it should be done.<5>
We must notice that, though called a city, all the monuments and
fragments thus far brought to light are scattered over a space
of some three thousand square feet. No plan has been given.
We gather, however, from Stephens's work, that a pyramidal wall
inclosed the ruins, as at Copan.<6> No dimensions of this wall
are given. Within the inclosure (if such it was) was a terrace.
Here, again, dimensions are not given; but we are told it was
about twenty-five feet to the top, and that the steps were, in
some places, still perfect. It was constructed of neatly cut
sandstone blocks. No monuments or altars were observed on the
terrace, but in close proximity to it were fragments of
sculpture. At another place near the wall, Mr. Catherwood
mentions eight standing statues, one fallen one, and saw
fragments of at least thirteen others. They are represented as
being very similar to those of Copan, but two or three times as
high. The hieroglyphics are pronounced identical with those
There are no traditions extant of these ruins. No thorough
exploration has been made. A city may have stood there; but, if
so, its name is lost, its history unknown. "For centuries it has
lain as completely buried as if covered with the lava of
Vesuvius. Every traveler from Yzabel to Guatemala has passed
within three hours of it. We ourselves have done the same;
and yet there it lay, like the rock-built city of Edom,
unvisited, unsought, and utterly unknown."
A large extent of territory in Guatemala and Yucatan is as yet
an unknown country, or at least has never been thoroughly
explored. Strange stories have flitted here and there of wonders
yet to be seen. The country swarms with savages, living in much
the same state as they were when the Spaniards invaded the
country. They have never been conquered, and, in the rugged
fastnesses of their land, bid defiance to all attempts to
civilize them. From all we can learn, there are numerous groups
of ruins scattered here and there--but of their nature we are,
as yet, mostly in the dark.
We have, indeed, historical notices of a few places; but, as the
color of an object is the same as that of the medium through
which it is viewed, we can not help thinking that the glamour of
romance, which the early Spanish writers threw around all their
transactions in the New World, has woefully distorted these
sketches. This same effect is to be noticed in all the
descriptions of the ruins. Where one party sees the ruins of
imperial cities, another can detect but the ruins of imposing
pueblos, with their temples and pyramids. It can be truthfully
stated, that this is a land of ruins. Every few leagues, as far
as it has been explored, are the remains of structures that
The meager reports given us raise our curiosity, but fail to
satisfy it. Almost all explorers relate stories of the existence
of an aboriginal city. The location of this city shifts from
place to place; always, however, in a section of country where
no white men are allowed to intrude. The Cure of Santa Cruz, in
whom Mr. Stephens expressed confidence, declared that he had,
years before, climbed to the summit of a lofty sierra, and then
"he looked over an immense plain, extending to Yucatan and the
Gulf of Mexico, and saw, at a great distance, a large city,
spread over a great space, with turrets white and glittering in
the sun." We are afraid a search for this mythical city would be
attended with much the same results as rewards the child's
pursuit of a golden treasure at the end of the rainbow.
As a sample of known ruins, we might cite two in the immediate
neighborhood of Quirigua. At the distance of a few leagues, both
above and below this latter place, are the remains of former
settlements. The accounts are very brief. Of the ruins below, we
are informed that they consist of the remains of a quadrilateral
pyramid, with traced sides, up which steps lead to the summit
platform, where debris of hewn stone are enveloped in
dense vegetation." Of the ruins located above Quirigua, we are
simply told "of a large area covered with aboriginal relics--in
the form of ruined stone structures, vases and idols of burned
clay, and monoliths, buried for the most part in the earth."
These descriptions will serve as samples of many others, and,
though they are interesting in their way, we are afraid they
would grow tiresome by repetition. We will, therefore, only make
mention of one or two important points; premising, however,
that, beyond a doubt, similar ruins are scattered up and down
the river valleys of the entire country.<7>
Two cities of ancient Guatemala especially mentioned by Spanish
writers are Utatlan and Patinamit. Here, if we may believe their
recitals, were the capitals of two powerful monarchies.
The pictures they draw for us are those of cities of Oriental
magnificence. The system of government they describe is that of
absolute monarchy, founded on feudalism. We will briefly glance
at the remains of these "imperial cities." Their location is
seen on the map. The approach to Patinamit is very difficult,
indeed. Situated on a high table-land, it commands an almost
boundless view. On every side are immense ravines, and the only
way of entering it was by a narrow passage cut in the side of
the ravine, twenty or thirty feet deep, and not wide enough for
two horsemen to ride abreast.
Mr. Stephens mentions coming to a wall of stone, but broken and
confused. The ground beyond was covered with mounds of ruins,
and in one place he saw the foundations of two buildings, one of
them being one hundred and fifty by fifty feet. He does not give
us the area covered by the ruins, but there is nothing in his
description to make us think it very large in extent. He also
quotes for us Fuentes's description of this same place, written,
however, one hundred and forty years earlier. In this he speaks
of the remains of a magnificent building, perfectly square, each
side measuring one hundred paces, constructed of hewn stones,
extremely well put together. In front of the building is a large
square, on one side of which stand the ruins of a sumptuous
palace; and near to it are the foundations of several houses.<8>
He also asserts that traces of streets could still be seen, and
that they were straight and spacious, crossing each other at
right angles. Fuentes certainly had remarkable eyes. He wrote a
description of Copan which not only differs from all accounts of
modern travelers, but also from the still earlier description by
Garcia De Palacio.<9>
Patinamit means "The City," and is represented as the capital
city of the Cakchiquel "monarchy." The site of the city was
certainly admirably chosen for defense, and we have no doubt but
what here was the head-quarters of a powerful tribe of Indians;
but, until scholars have settled some very disputed points about
the civilization of the Central American nations, we must be
cautious in the use of the words monarchy and palaces as applied
to these old people or these ruins.
Thirty-five or forty miles north-eastward from Patinamit we come
to the ruins of the most renowned city in Guatemala at the time
of the conquest. This was Utatlan, the Quiche capital, a city
which the Spaniards compared to Mexico in magnificence, and
which, at the time of its destruction, was at its zenith of
prosperity. The location was very similar to that of Patinamit.
It also stood on an elevated plateau, with immense ravines on
every side. It was approached only at one point, and guarding
this one point of approach was a line of fortifications.
They consisted of the remains of stone buildings, probably
towers. The stones were well cut and laid together.
These fortifications were united by a ditch.
Within this line of towers stood a structure, generally regarded
as a fort, directly guarding the line of approach. Steps led up
a pyramidal structure having three terraces, one over the other.
The top was protected by a wall of stone, and from the center
rose a tower. Beyond this fort was the ruins of the city.
Mr. Stephens describes a large ruin which is called The Palace.
It is said, in round numbers, to have been eleven hundred by
twenty-two hundred feet. As this area is more than fifty-five
acres in extent, we can see it was not a palace in our sense of
the word. The stones of which it was composed have been largely
removed to build the modern town of Santa Cruz. But the floor
could still be traced, and some remains of partition walls.
The floor was still covered with hard cement.
Adjoining the palace was a large plaza or court-yard, also
cemented, in the center of which was the ruins of a fountain.
Another structure still remaining was a small pyramid, at the
top of which was probably a temple, or, at least, a place of
sacrifice. No hieroglyphics or statues have been found here.
A few terra-cotta figures have been found, and one small gold
image. It would seem from this description that the ruins simply
consist of a few large structures. For aught we know, they may
have been communal houses.
Mr. Stephens, however, condenses Fuentes's account, which is
truly wonderful. According to him, the center of the city was
occupied by the royal palaces, around which were grouped the
houses of the nobles. The extremities were inhabited by the
plebeians. He tells us there were many sumptuous buildings, the
most superb of which was a seminary, where between five and six
thousand children were educated at royal expense. The palace was
formed of hewn stones of various colors. There were six
principal divisions. In one was lodged the king's body-guard, in
the second the princes and the relatives of the king, and
It is not necessary to remind the reader that it is very
doubtful whether such a state of things ever existed. It is
related, for instance, that the king marched from Utatlan with
seventy-two thousand warriors to repel the attack of Alvarade.
This would indicate a total population of between two and three
hundred thousand souls. It seems to us that a city of that size
would not so completely disappear in a little over three
centuries that a careful explorer could find only the ruins of a
few large buildings.
We do not feel that we have done near justice to the ruins of
Guatemala. As we have before remarked, there are, doubtless,
many ruins not yet brought to light. They are rapidly
disappearing, and we do not know that we will ever possess a
description of them, or understand their real import. The light
of history, indeed, fell on the two groups of ruins last
described. But the Spanish writers were totally unacquainted
with Indian society, and may, therefore, have widely erred in
applying to their government terms suited only to European ideas
of the sixteenth century. And it is not doubted but that their
estimate of the population of the towns, and of the enemies with
which they had to contend, were often greatly overdrawn.
In short, the remains themselves are remarkable, but every
ruined pyramid is not necessarily the remains of a great very
great city, nor every large building in ruins necessarily
Going northward out of Guatemala, we pass into the modern state
of Chiapas. This is described a country of great natural beauty
and fertility. And here it is that we meet with a group of ruins
which have been an object of great interest to the scientific
world. They have been carefully studied and described, and many
theories have been enunciated as to their builders, their
history, and civilization. The place is supposed to have been
deserted and in ruins when Cortez landed in the country. At any
rate, he marched within a few leagues of it, but, as in the case
of Copan, he is silent in regard to it.
They take their name from the modern town of Palenque, near
which they are located. This town was founded in 1564. It was
once a place of considerable importance, but its trade has died
away, and now it would not be known were it not for the ruins of
a former people located near it. Though distant from the village
only some eight miles, nearly two centuries went by before their
existence was known. Had they been visited and described at the
time of the founding of the village, no doubt much that is now
mysterious in regard to them would have been cleared away.
But for two centuries they were allowed to sleep undisturbed in
the depths of the forest, and in that time the elements played
sad havoc with the buildings, inscriptions, and ornaments.
What are left are not sufficient to impart full information.
Imagination is too apt to supply the details, and these ruins,
grand in proportion, wonderful in location, enwrapt by dense
forests, visited by the storms of tropical lands, are made to do
service in setting forth a picture of society and times which we
are afraid has but little real foundation to rest upon.
The ruins of Palenque are the first which awakened attention to
the existence of ancient ruins in America, and, therefore, it
may not come amiss to state more particularly the circumstances
of their first discovery. The existence of an aboriginal city in
this locality was entirely unknown; there were no traditions
even that it had ever existed. Of course the natives of the
modern town of Palenque must have known of their existence, but
no account of them was published. They are said to have been
discovered in 1750 by a party of traveling Spaniards.
This statement Mr. Stephens doubts. The first account was
published in 1784. The Spanish authorities finally ordered an
exploration. This was made under the auspices of Captain Del
Rio, who arrived on the ground in 1787. His report was locked up
in the government archives, and was not made public until 1822.
The reception of this report illustrates how little interest is
taken in American antiquities. It was scarcely noticed by the
Scientific World. As Mr. Stephens remarks, "If a like
discovery had been made in Italy, Greece, Egypt, or Asia, within
the reach of European travel, it would have created an interest
not inferior to the discovery of Herculaneum, or Pompeii, or the
ruins of Paestum." But, from some cause, so little notice was
taken of this report that in 1831 the explorations of Colonel
Galindo, whose works we have referred to at Copan, was spoken of
as a new discovery. In the meantime another government
expedition under the direction of Captain Dupaix explored these
ruins in 1807. Owing to the wars in Europe and the revolution in
Mexico, his report was not published until 1835. Mr. Stephens
visited the ruins in 1840. His account, profusely illustrated,
was the means of making known to a large class of readers the
wonderful nature of the ruins, not only at Palenque, but in
Yucatan as well.
In this outline we have given an account of the early
explorations at Palenque. Private individuals have visited them,
and governments have organized exploring expeditions, and by
both pencil and pen made us familiar with them. As to the
remains actually in existence, these accounts agree fairly well,
but we have some perplexing differences as to the area covered
by the ruins. Where the early explorers could trace the ruins of
a large city modern travelers can find but a few ruined
structures, which, however, excite our liveliest interest.
One of the earliest accounts speaks of the ruins of over two
hundred buildings. Another speaks of them as covering an area of
many square miles. Mr. Stephens thinks a few acres
From the researches of M. Charney, it would seem that the ruins
are really scattered over quite an area. His exploration made in
1881, seems to confirm the older writers. With abundant means at
his command, he was enabled to explore the forest, and he found
many ruins which escaped the other observers. According to him,
the ruins are scattered over an area extending about one mile
and a quarter from north to south, and about one and
three-fourths from east to west. Throughout this space, the
ruined structures were in all respects similar to those
previously described, consisting altogether of what he calls
palaces and temples.<10>
There seems to be no especial order in the arrangement of the
buildings. They are separated by quite an interval, excepting to
the south of the palace, where there are groups of buildings
near together. The fact that such careful explorers as Stephens
and Waldeck failed to notice these additional ruins, gives us a
faint idea of the density of the forest.
Illustration of Plan of Palenque.-------------------
The plan represents the distribution and relative size of the
ruins of which we have definite descriptions. Those having no
numbers are some of the groups that were passed by as of no
account. We must understand that so dense is the forest that not
one of these structures is visible from its neighbors. Where the
trees are cut down, as they have been several times, only a few
years are necessary for it to regain its former density, and
each explorer must begin anew.
The largest structure, marked one on the plan, is known as the
palace. This is only a conjectural name. We have no reason,
except its size, to suppose it the residence of a royal owner.
Its base is a pyramid which, Mr. Stephens tells us, is of oblong
form, forty feet high, three hundred and ten feet in front and
rear, and two hundred and sixty feet on each side. The pyramid
was formerly faced with stone, which has been thrown down by the
growth of trees, so that its form is hardly distinguishable.
The sides may once have been covered with cement, and perhaps
painted. Dupaix, who examined these ruins in 1808, so represents
them. Mr. Stephens expressly states that the eastern front was
the principal entrance. Mr. Waldeck, however, detected traces of
stairways on the northern side. M. Charney has settled the
point, that the principal entrance was on the northern side.
The principal bulk of this pyramid seems to have been earth;
the facing only being composed of stone. Mr. Bancroft thinks he
has discovered evidence that there were four or more thick
foundation-walls built from the surface of the ground to support
the buildings on top of the pyramid; that the space between
these walls was subsequently filled with earth, and that sloping
embankments, faced with stones, were built upon the outside.<11>
The summit platform of this pyramid supports the building, or
collection of buildings, known as the palace. Though generally
spoken of as one building, we think we have here the ruins of a
number of buildings.
Probably the original inhabitants built a continuous structure
close to the edge of the platform, leaving the interior for an
open court. Subsequently, as population increased, rather than
resort to the labor necessary to raise a new pyramidal
structure, they erected other buildings on this court. From the
plan, as given by Mr. Stephens, there seems to have been no less
than five such put up, besides the tower. Thus covering the
platform with a somewhat confused mass of buildings, and,
instead of the large open court, there were left only three
narrow courts, and one somewhat larger--seventy by eighty
feet.<12> The building erected near the edge of the platform,
inclosing the court, was some two hundred and twenty-eight feet
on its east and west sides, by one hundred and eighty feet on
its north and south sides, and about thirty feet high.
Illustration of General View of Palace.-----------
Our general view, taken from Mr. Stephens's works, represents
the ruined eastern front of this building, surmounting the
pyramid. Trees are seen growing all over the ruins. The outer
wall is pierced by numerous doorways which, being somewhat wider
than the space that separates them, gives to the whole the
appearance of a portico with wide piers: no remains of the doors
themselves have been discovered. Drilled holes in the projecting
cornice, immediately above the doorway, gave Mr. Stephens the
impression that an immense cotton curtain, perhaps painted in a
style corresponding with the ornaments, had been extended the
whole front, which was raised or lowered, according to the
weather. The lintels of the doors were of wood. They had long
since vanished, and the stones over the doorway fallen down.
Of the piers separating the doorways, only fifteen were found
standing, but the crumbling remains of the others were readily
traced on the ruins.
Illustration of Bas-relief, Palenque.-----------
Each of the standing piers, and presumably all the others, was
ornamented with a bas-relief in stucco. This cut gives us a good
example of this style of ornamentation. We notice portions of a
richly ornamented border. This stucco work consists of human
figures in various attitudes, having a variety of dress,
ornaments, and insignia. The stucco is said to be nearly as hard
as the stone itself. Traces of paint, with which the figures
were once ornamented, were still to be seen. The conjectures in
regard to these figures, have been innumerable. Vividly painted,
and placed in a conspicuous place on the wall, we may be very
sure they were full of significance to the builders.
Three hieroglyphics are placed over the head of each group, but
so far, they are as little understood as the figures themselves.
We can imagine the effect, when the building was still perfect
and entire, and all the piers were thus ornamented.
Illustration of Cross-section Palace, Palenque.----
Passing to the top of the pyramid, we find the construction of
the building whose outer wall we have been describing, to be
substantially as follows: Three parallel walls, from two to
three feet in thickness, composed of hewn stones, were erected
about nine feet apart. At the height of ten feet, the walls
commenced approaching each other; not, however, in an arch, for
this was unknown, but in a triangular manner, the stones in each
course projecting a little farther out. This cut represents a
cross-section of the buildings, and shows also the slight
cornice. All inequalities in the surface, as here represented,
were then filled with cement, thus furnishing a smooth surface,
which was then painted. The two outer walls were plentifully
supplied with doorways; the central wall had but few. We are
only given the description of one, which may not apply to all.
This one, opposite the entrance on the east side, has a
trefoil-shaped arch over the door, thus giving it this shape.
Besides the few doorways, the central wall had numerous
depressions, or niches, some of which served for ventilation,
others for the support of beams, and perhaps others as
receptacles for torches or idols. This principle of construction
is substantially the same for all the buildings in the interior
of the court, and indeed for all the buildings at Palenque.
Illustration of Trefoil Arch.-----------------
Passing through the doorway just described, we come into the
second corridor, and continuing through that, we come to what
was once a large court; but, as we stated, it was subsequently
built over so as to leave only a few courts. The largest one,
eighty by seventy feet, is immediately before us, with a range
of steps leading down into it. On each side of the stairway is
sculptured, on stucco, a row of grim and gigantic figures.
The engraving opposite represents the same. "They are adorned
with rich headdresses and necklaces, but their attitude is that
of pain and trouble. The design and anatomical proportions of
the figures are faulty, but there is a force of expression about
them which shows the skill and conceptive force of the artist."
From this small court stairways lead to the other buildings
situated around it.
Illustration of Entrance to Principal Court.--------------
Stucco ornaments were plentiful. In one room, rather more richly
ornamented than the others, was found a stone tablet, which is
the only important piece of stone sculpture about the palace.
We are told it is of hard stone, four feet long by three feet
wide, and the sculpture is in bas-relief. It is set in the wall,
and around it are the remains of a rich stucco border. Its
significance is unknown. We must notice the small medallion,
containing a face, suspended by a necklace of pearls from the
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