Page images

tecs continued the same rites until the year 1317, when they immolated the first human victims, in order to terrify the nation of the Colhuans, whose subjects they then were. The custom not long after wards became a familiar one. At first their principal deity, Mexitli, the god of war, received this honor; by and by it formed a part of the worship of the other divinities. The Totonacs, who lived around what is now Vera Cruz, adopted the sanguinary worship of the Aztecs; but had a tradition that the goddess of the fields should triumph at last over the bloodthirstiness of the other gods, and re-establish unbloody of ferings. War seems to have been the cause which increased the religious ferocity of the Aztecs, and which by increasing their empire spread their dreadful usages. To such a degree it is said had their original character altered, that men even devoured parts of the human victims whom the priests threw down the Teocallis,—a rite performed no doubt in honor of the god whose worship the priests were celebrating at the top of the pyramid, and within sight of the people below.

Such is the account to be found in Humboldt and other authorities,* and received as part of the Mexican history. Now what shall we say of the existence of the same rite among the Mayas. Did it creep in from Mexico, or arise independently; or must we suspect the Mexican tradition, and consider the rite as an antiquated one, revived in circumstances calculated to harden, and render ferocious the national character. The latter hypothesis appears to us most probable, particularly as human sacrifices have existed under almost every system of heathenism, and then ceased at the beginning of civilization. In South America the influence of the leading nation, the Peruvians, was of

[ocr errors][merged small]

just the opposite nature to that of the Mexicans. With the spread of their power, and by means of the sword, human sacrifices, it is said, were abolished, and a mild religion extended.

If the ceremonies performed at this building prove an identity of religious rites with the Mexican, another structure shows that the same games were known to both nations. This consists of two parts, or two distinct edifices, seventy feet distant from one another, and to all appearance exactly alike. The sides facing each other were adorned with sculptures, and "in the center of each façade, at points directly opposite, are the fragments of great stone rings." The use to which these rings and buildings were put, fully revealed itself to Mr. Stephens some time after he left Uxmal, upon seeing a similar ruin at Chicen-itza. The Mexicans, according to Herrera, as quoted by Mr. Stephens, were accustomed to play in similar places with balls of India rubber, which they threw up into the air with such a force and direction as to make them pass through stone rings fixed in the wall. He who did this won the game, and had the right to appropriate the cloaks of all the bystanders as his prize.

The most magnificent of all the buildings at Uxmal, when they were in their glory, must have been those now called the house of the nuns. They stand on the highest of three terraces, and are arranged in a quadrangle around a court. They consist of nearly a hundred chambers, constructed on the same principle with those of the house of the governor. The fronts looking upon the court "are ornamented from one end to the other with the richest and most intricate carving known in the art of the builders of Uxmal, presenting a scene of strange magnificence, surpassing any that is now to be seen among the ruins." Among the decorations of one of

the façades, the most remarkable are two colossal serpents, entwined and "encompassing nearly all the ornaments throughout its whole length," which was one hundred and seventy three feet when the building was entire. One of the serpents has a human head in its open jaws, and the usual addition of feathers as a covering of their bodies is not wanting.

The ruins of Yucatan astonish us as much by their frequency as by their vastness and the sculptured work lavished upon them. With the exception of a voyage to the eastern coast, Mr. Stephens confined his researches within an equilateral triangle of about eighty miles base; and not more than half of this area, as appears from his map, was thoroughly explored. A part of the structures known to have existed when the Spaniards came into the country, have disappeared; their materials being used in building churches or Franciscan convents. In the general ignorance and listlessness of the inhabitants, it is fair to presume that multitudes of ruins still lie hid in the woods within a moderate distance of the villages, while others may be so overgrown with trees and shrubs as not to be distinguishable from hills.


within the space above named, some thirty ruins or more have been brought to light by the investigations of our travelers; most of which are so near one another, that a short morning walk on an open road would have brought the inhabitants together. Some of them are more numerous and others vaster than the ruins at Uxmal. At Kabah, to which place a paved street of pure white stone according to the tradition of the Indians ran from Uxmal, there are remains of fifteen edifices, one of which stands on a terrace eight hundred feet long. At Zayi, a building three stories high was found; or to speak more properly, three structures ri

sing one above another, two of which were built upon the sides of platforms, and the third on the top of the mound. A mile distant from this another building was discovered upon a terrace of fifteen hundred feet in length. In short, no where in the world, perhaps, are clearer indications given by ancient remains of a dense population, and of the power of priests and princes to concentrate the energies of a nation upon great public works. And all these stones, it should be remem. bered, were hewn, and these sculp tures, excepting the few instances where they were done in stucco, were chiseled with instruments of so poor a material as copper* or flint out of the limestone rock.

Almost all the ruins of Yucatan are square, and face the cardinal points. One or two, however, are round like the temples of the god of the winds in Mexico, which took that form to denote that "round and round goeth the wind, and ever continueth its circuits." The lintels of the doors and window are generally not of stone, but of the hard and durable wood of the sapote tree; and some of these are more curiously carved than any thing else. Here and there short columns with capi tals and bases were discovered. A few paintings only have escaped the ravages of time. In one of the buildings of Chichen-itza, a num ber of rude figures appear, executed quite in the Mexican style, with head ornaments as lofty as the whole person besides. The flesh of the men is of a reddish brown color, and that of the women of a somewhat lighter tint. A boat with its

*It is certain that iron was not used on this continent. Humboldt possess ed a Peruvian chisel of copper, alloy. ed with one sixteenth of tin; and ob serves that this mixture has great hardness, 1.260. For the extensive diffusion icas, see the citations in Bradford's Amer. of copper instruments through both AmerAntiq. p. 196.

crew appears among the representations, and one man is diving into the water. Nothing, however, either sculptured or painted, has been found in Yucatan, which can compare with the stucco designs at Palenque in beauty, if beauty can be predicated of the grotesque and deformed conceptions of the human person, above which, it would appear, the Indians of this continent could not rise.

A few hieroglyphics are noticed by Mr. Stephens, but his discoveries in this line are by no means equal to those which he made at Copan, upon his journey into Central America. At Uxmal, Waldeck* speaks of seeing the hieroglyphics of the twenty days of the month, upon one of the façades of the house of the nuns. But of such emblems Mr. Stephens says nothing, when speak ing of the same building. Another of Waldeck's assertions is, that the court of the same structure is paved with stones six inches square, each of which is exquisitely cut with the figure of a tortoise. There are, he goes on to say, forty-three thousand six hundred and sixty of these, and though composed of a very hard. stone, they appear much worn. is singular enough, that Mr. Stephens could find nothing of this pavement of turtles, though he spent a whole morning digging all over the court-yard. As Waldeck could have no motive to invent such a story, the probability is that he found tortoises there, which may have fallen from the sculptured building into the court. Believing them to be part of a pavement, he reached the prodigious number which he assigns to them, merely by his arithmetic. A symbol of the simplest kind, and of extreme frequency throughout the ruins, was the print of the human hand in red paint. This was first noticed, when the very thick back wall of the gov

[blocks in formation]


ernor's house at Uxmal was pierced for the purpose of discovering hidden passages, if any there might be. It is found in obscure parts of the buildings, and even within the mason-work, and may have been intended for a charm; for which purpose, according to a communication from Mr. Schoolcraft, the same mark in white or colored clay, is applied to the bodies of the dancers, at the festivities of our American Indians. Mr. Stephens notices the smallness of the hand in these prints, as corresponding with the size of the Maya Indian's hand at the present day.

There is another kind of public works, concerning which Mr. Stephens has obtained some valuable information. We refer to the artificial means employed by the old inhabitants, for preserving a plentiful supply of water. There are scarcely any springs or brooks throughout the district visited by our travelers; and the waters of the rainy season sink, for the most part, into caves in the limestone. Some of the caves are the only resource of the present inhabitants in the dry season. In one of them, visited by Mr. Stephens, at a place called Bolonchen, or the Nine Wells, the water is at a perpendicular depth of four hundred and fifty feet, and is not reached without taking a journey of a quarter of a mile under ground. Another natural reservoir is known by the name of senotes, by which is to be understood large circular pools with sides of rock, of unknown depth, and from fifty to two hundred feet in diameter. these are near the ruins of Chichen Itza, and were probably the cause why a city was built in that place. But the great population which covered at least a part of Yucatan, could not have depended on these natural wells alone. A

Two of

* Chi-chen means well's mouth, and refers to these reservoirs.

sufficiency of water obtained by artificial means, must have been a primary care of a people living in such a territory. Accordingly it is found that the ancient Mayas excavated a great number of places, now called aguadas, which appear like ponds; most of these lie neglected, and filled with mud; but some which have been cleared out of late, to the great advantage of the neighborhood, prove to be paved at the bottom, and to be furnished with pits and with wells, also paved, and intended as a last resort, after the aguada itself should be dried up. On removing the mud from one of these pools, the neighboring planter "found an artificial bottom of large flat stones." These were so laid upon each other, that the stones of each upper layer were put upon the seams of the layer under it, "and the interstices were filled in with clay of red and brown color, of a different character from any in the neighborhood. The stones were many layers deep, and he did not go down to the bottom, lest by some accident, the foundation should be injured." In another aguada, where the Indians had been in the habit of digging pits, in order to collect the water which filtered through the mud, "they struck upon an ancient well, which was found to be of singular form and construction. It had a square platform at the top, and beneath was a round well, faced with smooth stones from twenty to twenty-five feet deep. Below this was another square platform, and under the latter another well of less diameter, and about the same depth. The discovery of this well, induced farther excavations, which, as the whole country was interested in the matter, were prosecuted until upward of forty wells were discovered. These were all cleared out, and the whole aguada repaired, since which it furnishes a supply during the greater part of the dry season, and when this fails, the wells appear, and continue the

supply, until the rains come on again."

Nor ought the walls of the ancient cities to pass without notice. At the ruins of Mayapan, once the capital of the whole country, Mr. Stephens was told by the only man who had ever made examinations, that "within a circumference of three miles, ruins were found, and that a strong wall once encompassed the city, the remains of which might still be traced through the woods." On the western coast, Mr. Stephens discovered the wall of an inconsiderable town, so entire that he was able to walk upon the top of it throughout its whole length. It consists of rough stones laid without mortar, is from eight to thirteen feet in thickness, and more than half a mile long, and forms by its course three sides of a rectangle, the sea being the fourth. At the corners there are watch-towers, still in good preservation.

The present Indians of Yucatan have retained little or no knowledge of the history of their fathers. As soon as they were subdued, they fell into peaceful and quiet submission to the Spanish yoke, exchanged their bloody rites for the forms of papacy, and their ferocious priests for others of milder dispositions, and seem as if they could not be the descendants of the race whose energy reared, at the cost of such a vast amount of labor, such remarkable buildings. It is very natural, that without letters, and so far as ap pears, old songs to keep up their recollection of past achievements, with a new religion, which cuts them off from the past national worship, ás completely as if they were a newly created race, and with no stinu. lus whatever in their condition,—we say it is very natural that in these circumstances, all the traditions of the past should fade from their minds, that they should be ignorant of the hieroglyphics upon the ruins, and of those other things in which the

science of their forefathers consisted. It was the policy of their conquerors to obliterate all memorials of the past. The old divisions of time gave way to saints' days, and the old idols they were taught to regard as demons. The little that is yet known of the institutions of the Mayas, excepting their architecture, is preserved by means chiefly of ecclesiastics of an inquisitive turn of mind, who received their information from converts. Some of these converts also became acquainted with the use of letters, and left manuscripts in their native language, treating of the usages of their fathers. The very few intelligent persons who have devoted themselves to this study, have derived their information from Maya and Spanish manuscripts, penned not very long, perhaps, after the conquest, and it does not seem probable that much can be gleaned from Indians living near the Spaniards, who have long abandoned their old superstitions. If, however, there are, as is not unlikely, heathens of this race living in unfrequented parts, we may hope that discoveries in regard to the race, will yet be made by enterprising travelers.

Mr. Stephens was fortunate in meeting in the interior of Yucatan, with an intelligent Spanish gentleman, Don Pio Perez by name, who had filled an important office at the capital, and was then the principal magistrate at the town of Peto; and who had given himself to the study of the Maya language and antiquities. The information which he communicated, and of which a part is given in the appendix, is of the most valuable description. It relates to the method of reckoning time among the Indians, to their historical traditions, and their language.

According to Don Pio's account, the Maya calendar very closely resembles the Mexican, and beyond a question is to be referred to the same source. The Mexicans, long

before the discovery of this continent, seem to have had a year of three hundred and sixty-five days.* This length of time they divided into ritual weeks of thirteen days each, and into eighteen months of twenty days; at the end of which were arranged five supplementary days, included in no month. These twenty days had their distinguishing names and symbols, the latter of which are of frequent occurrence in the hieroglyphics. The number twenty was, no doubt, suggested by the fingers and toes of the human body; the number thirteen, which seems to be known to the calendars of no nations out of America, was used either on account of the time between new and full, and between full and new moon, when that luminary is visible, or on account of its convenience in intercalating and in reckoning. For as three hundred and sixty-five is one more than twenty-eight times thirteen, if a year began with the first day of the thirteen, the next would begin with the second, and so on through thirteen years, when the cycle would go round again. At the end of fifty-two years, or four times thirteen, occurred the intercalation of thir teen days, attended with solemn rites. This was, in effect, the Juli an calendar, only that the intercalation was made not every fourth year, but all at once, at the end of the period, when the deficiency in the number of days had amounted to the elementary number thirteen. It is even said by the most thorough of the Mexican writers on this subject, and seems to receive the sanction of Humboldt, that at the end of every other great period, twelve and not thirteen days were inserted. If this is really so, it implies remarkably close observation, for it

* See the elaborate essay of Humboldt, I, 276, in which we believe the Mexican researches, was first fully explained to the calendar, according to Gama's accurate learned.

« PreviousContinue »