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13-05-2015, 14:27

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 façades—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.

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.


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 façades, grotesquely sculptured statues, and hieroglyphic-covered altars, but they would prove as much of an enigma as those already known. Our only hope is that some fortunate scholar will yet discover a key by whose aid the hieroglyphics now known may be read. Then, but not until then, will the darkness that now enshrouds ancient Maya civilization be dissipated.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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."


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The meager reports given us raise our curiosity, but fail to satisfy it. Almost all explorers relate stories of the existence of an aboriginal city. The location of this city shifts from place to place; always, however, in a section of country where no white men are allowed to intrude. The Curé 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 débris of hewn stone are enveloped in dense vegetation." Of the ruins located above Quirigua, we are simply told "of a large area covered with aboriginal relics—in the form of ruined stone structures, vases and idols of burned clay, and monoliths, buried for the most part in the earth."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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.


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.

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.

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.

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.


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


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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

It was evidently added to the temple solely for the sake of appearance. One writer19 believes the roof structures were erected by some people that succeeded the original builders of the temple. The plan of the temple gives us a clear idea of the arrangement of the inner rooms. Our principal interest centers in the altar, which we notice placed in the center of the back room. We give an illustration of a similar altar-form in the temple, at number 5 of the plan. In form it is that of an inclosed chamber, having a roof of its own. The altar in the Temple of the Cross was very similar to this. Mr. Stephens's description is as follows: "The top of the doorway was gorgeous with stuccoed ornaments, and on the piers at each side were stone tablets in bas-relief. Within, the chamber is thirteen feet wide and seven feet deep."


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


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


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

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


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

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

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

Wilson finds in the tablets of the cross a strong argument for the existence of a great Phœnician empire in Central America. This tablet represents, he thinks, the sacrifice of a child to Astarte,27 also called Ashtoreth, the great female deity of the ancient Semitic nations on both sides of the Euphrates, but chiefly of Phœnicia. The original meaning of this word was "Queen of Heaven." Modern scholars do not think these early speculations of the slightest worth. Dr. Charles Rau28 concludes that as reasonable a conjecture as any is the supposition that it represents a sacrifice to the god of rain, made, perhaps, at a time of drought, apparently influenced to that conclusion by the fact that the natives of Cozumel regarded a cross in such a light,29 and further that a cross represents the moisture-bearing winds.

E. S. Holden30 has made a critical study of the hieroglyphics of Copan and Palenque. Though far from complete, most interesting results have been obtained. We can not do more than set forth the results of his investigations.31 He concludes, from a careful study of the tablets of the cross and of the sun, that in both the left-hand priests are representatives of the god of war,32 the right-hand priests being in both representatives of the god of rain and water.33 In Mexico these deities frequently occupied the same temple.34 He does not state his conclusions in regard to the central figures in the tablets. Mr. Brinton thinks the central figure in the tablet of the cross is a rebus for the nature god Quetzalcohuatl. The cross was one of the symbols of Quetzalcohuatl, as such signifying the four winds of which he was lord. Another of his symbols was a bird. We notice the two symbols present in the tablet. Mr. Holden also finds that the glyph standing for this god occurs several times in the tables of hieroglyphics belonging to this figure.

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

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

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

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

In the village of Palenque, built in the wall of a church,38 are two stone tablets which once stood on each side of the doorway of the altar containing the tablet of the cross.39 Mr. Stephens was under the impression that they were originally placed on the altar of the tablet of the sun, and they are so represented in the cut "images/Ch14_image/Altar.jpg">(Altar in the Temple of the Sun.) earlier. This plate represents the left-hand figure. The only explanation which we have met is contained in that oft-quoted article by Mr. Holden. He regards it as the representation of the Maya god of war. We are warned that the weak part of Mr. Holden's method is his assumption that the mythology of the Mayas was the same as that of the Aztecs, when the evidence is not strong enough to assert such a fact.40

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

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

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

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

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

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