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Originally appearing in Volume V05, Page 680 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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ARCHAEOLOGY OF CENTRAL AMERICA Discoveries and investigations carried on during the 19th century have thrown much light on the splendid past of Central America. The still extant ruins of great buildings, unlike any-thing which is known in the old world, testify to the high culture attained in pre-Columbian days by several native peoples differing greatly from one another in speech and racial affinities. As a science the archaeology of Central America has scarcely yet emerged from its infancy. Entire branches are still wholly uninvestigated. Amongst the numerous problems which await solution must still be reckoned the decipherment of the inscriptions, which hitherto has not progressed beyond the discovery of calendar systems and the relative datings involved in such systems. For a complete survey of this ancient civilization, so far as it has been investigated, it is necessary to include with Central America, properly so called, a considerable portion of the Mexican territories south and east of the isthmus of Tehuantepec. The peoples inhabiting Yucatan, Campeche, Guatemala, Chiapas and Oaxaca present at the first view striking ethnical differences. On a linguistic basis, however, they may be united into several large groups. Thus, Yucatan and the greater part of Guatamala are inhabited by the Mayas, with whom may be included the still savage Lacantun or Lacandones. Related to these linguistically are the Tzendals in Chiapas and the Quiches and Cackchiquels in Guatemala, as well as the less important tribes of the Mam, Pokoman, Pokonchi, Tzotzil, Tzutuhil and Ixil. Between these there are patches of country in which dialects of the Mexican are spoken. In Oaxaca there is an extraordinary mixture of languages, some of which, like that of the Huave of Tehuantepec, are of quite unknown affinities; the bulk of the population, however, is composed of Mixtecs and Zapotecs with which the Mixe and Zoque on the east are connected. Mexican dialects also occur in isolated parts of Oaxaca. Mayan Culture.—The civilization of the Mayas may well have been reared upon one more ancient, but the life of that culture of which the ruins are now visible certainly lasted no more than 500 years. The date of its extinction is unknown, but in certain places, notably Mayapan and Chichenitza, the highest development seems to be synchronous with the appearance of foreign, viz. Mexican or Nahua elements (see below). This quite distinctive local character suggests that the cities in question played a certain preponderating role, a hypothesis with which the scanty documentary evidence is in agreement. On the other hand the Mayan culture evinces an evident tendency to assimilate heterogeneous elements, obliterating racial distinctions and imposing its own dominant character over a wide area. Oaxaca, the country of the Mixtecs and Zapotecs, became, as was natural from its geographical position midway between Yucatan and Mexico, the meeting-ground where two archaeological traditions which are sharply contrasted in their original homes united. Central American architecture is characterized by a fine feeling for construction, and the execution is at once bold and aesthetically effective. Amongst the various ruins, some of which represent the remains of entire cities, while others are no more than groups of buildings or single buildings, certain types persistently recur. The commonest of such types are pyramids and galleries. The pyramids are occasionally built of brick, but most usually of hewn stone with a covering of finely-carved slabs. Staircases lead up to the top from one or more sides. Some pyramids are built in steps. Usually the platform on the top of a pyramid is occupied by buildings, the typical distribution of which is into two parts, viz. vestibule and sanctuary. In connexion with the pyramid there are various subsidiary structures, such as altars, pillars, and sacrificial stones, to meet the requirements of ritual and worship, besides habitations for officials and " tennis-courts " for the famous ball-game like that played by the Mexicans. The tennis-courts always run north and south, and all the buildings, almost without exception, have a definite orientation to particular points of the compass. Frequently the pyramids Architecture. constitute one of the four sides of a quadrangular enclosure, within which are contained other pyramids, altars or other buildings of various dimensions. The normal type of gallery is an oblong building, of which the front facing inwards to the enclosure is pierced by doors. These divide it into a series of rooms, behind which again there may be a second series. Occasionally the rooms are distributed round a central apartment, but this is ordinarily done only when a second storey has to be placed above them. The gallery-buildings may rise to as much as three storeys, the height, size and shape of the rooms being determined by the exigencies of vaulting. The principle of the true arch is unknown, so that the vaults are often of the corbelled kind, the slabs of the side-walls being made to overlap in succession until there remains only so narrow a space as may be spanned by a single flat stone. At Mitla, where the material used in the construction of the buildings was timbbr instead of stone, the larger rooms were furnished with stone pillars on which the beams could rest. The same principle recurs in certain ruins at Chichenitza. The tops and sides of the doors are often decorated with carved reliefs and hieroglyphs, and the entrances are sometimes supported by plain or carved columns and pilasters, of which style the serpent columns of Chichenitza afford the most striking example. On its external front one of these galleries may have a cornice and half-pillars. Above this is a plain surface of wall, then a rich frieze which generally exhibits the most elaborate ornamentation in the whole building. The subjects are geometrical designs in mosaic, serpents' heads and human masks. The corners of the wall terminate in three-quarter pillars, above which the angles of the frieze frequently show grotesque heads with noses exaggerated into trunks. The roof Qf the gallery is flat and occasionally gabled. Principal Sites.—Such are the general characteristics of Central American buildings, but it must be understood that almost every site exhibits peculiarities of its own, and the number of the ruined settlements even as at present known is very large. The most considerable are enumerated below. Yucatan.—Of the very numerous ruins which are distributed over Yucatan and the islands of the east coast the majority still await exploration. A few words of special notice may be devoted to one or two sites in the centre of the peninsula which have already become famous. At Uxmal the buildings consist of five considerable groups, viz.—the Casa del Adivino, which is a step-pyramid 240 ft. long by 16o ft. wide and 8o ft. high, crowned by a temple 75 ft. long by 12 ft. wide; the Casa de Monjas, a striking erection of four oblong buildings on an extensive terrace; the Casa de Tortugas, Casa del Gobernador, and Casa de Palomas, the last of which is a group of six galleries surrounding a court. At Izamal there is a very imposing group of ruins, as yet quite insufficiently explored. At Chichenitza, a city of first-rate importance, situated 22 M. west of Valladolid, the ruins consist of eight principal groups, the chief of which are as follows. The Casa de Monjas, a three-storeyed building, attributable to several distinct periods; the Caracol, a round structure with dome in imitation of a snail-shell, showing evident traces of Mexican influence; El Castillo, a large temple standing on a base 200 ft. long and 75 ft. high, approached by staircases on all four sides, and furnished with serpent-pillars of a kind unknown anywhere else except at Uxmal and Tula near Mexico; an unnamed temple-pyramid, which is remarkable for a group of caryatid figures; a tennis-court; and finally the Tiger Temple, which contains marvellous coloured reliefs representing figures of warriors and place-hieroglyphs, all executed in a distinctively Mexican style. Yet another evidence of Mexican influence at Chichenitza is to be noted in five figures of the so-called Chac-mol type, that is to say, horizontal figures in which the arms are extended to the navel which is indicated by a cup-like depression. This Chac-mol type is characteristic of such sites as Tlascala and Cempoallan. Other important sites in Yucatan are Chacmaltun, with fine wall-paintings; Tantah, with remarkable pillared facades; the ruins of Labna, Chunhuhub, and the caves of Loltun; and Xlabpak de Santa Rosa, where there is a three-storeyed temple palace. Two sculptured reliefs are of great interest; they represent a person holding a staff on which is a figure of the god Ah-bolon-tzacab. Guatemala.—The Guatemalan ruins are distributed over a wide area. The most numerous and extensive are on the Usumacinta river. The most important sites in that district are Piedras Negras, and Yaxchilan or Menche Tinamit, where there are temples covered with sculptured reliefs and hieroglyphic inscriptions, and stelae and slabs carved with human figures placed in niches. In the Peten district, Tikal is famous for its splendid sculptures representing Kukulkan and other divinities. Near the modern city of Guatemala are the vast ruins of Guatemala-Mixco. Chacujal, which Cortes visited on his expedition of 1524–1525 is very possibly to be identified' with the modern Pueblo Viejo on the river Tinaja. Chacula and Quen-Santo between the headwaters of the Rio de Chiapas and the Rio Lacantun are two sites of a strongly marked local character. Series of three pyramids are peculiar to these two settlements, as also are pyramids with human figures on their platforms. Stelae discovered at Quen Santo have a calendar character, which proves that Mayan science had penetrated into what was probably the home of an old Lacantun culture. Santa Lucia Cozumalhuapa, on the Pacific slope of the Cordilleras, is a very peculiar site. The ruins are those of a settlement which had already been deserted before Alvarado's expedition of 1522. The sculptures of gods, goddesses and other figures, executed on enormous blocks of stone, show a distinctively Mexican character, with which, however, various Mayan features are blended. They may perhaps be attributed to some offshoot of the Nahua stock, probably the Pipil Indians, which developed on lines of its own in this remote corner. Near the frontier of- Honduras are the remarkable ruins of Quirigua, which rival Copan in importance and have suffered less from the ravages of the climate. The ruins of temples and palaces contain gigantic stone stelae of very fine workmanship, on which are sculptured human and animal figures representing hieroglyphs of the calendar dates. Honduras.—Copan, one of the most important seats of Mayan civilization, lies close to the borders of Guatemala. The ruins comprise great buildings, temples, pyramids, &c. and contain sculptures of the highest interest. Especially noteworthy are altars in the form of a turtle and stelae covered with hieroglyphs. The hieroglyphs are of the kind usually found in such ruins, the meaning of which is so far clear that it is known that the commencement of an inscription records certain dates in the complicated calendar system of the Mayas. A collation of these dates demonstrates that the most ancient on record are separated from the most recent by an interval of only a few centuries. From this it may be concluded that the Mayan civilization, whether or not it was preceded by anything older, flourished for only a comparatively short period, the beginning of which cannot be placed many centuries before A.D. 1000. According to Squier (Honduras, London, 1870, p. 75) the other principal ruins of Honduras are to be found in plains of the department of Comayagua, near Yarumela, near Lajamini, and in the ruined town of Cururu. They are " large, pyramidal, terraced structures, often faced with stones, conical mounds of earth and walls of stone." Further ruins, such as those of Calamulla, Jamalteca, Maniana, Guasistagua, Chapuluca and Chapulistagua, are found in the department of Comayagua in the side valleys and adjoining tablelands. The most interesting and most extensive are the ruins of Tenampua (Pueblo Viejo), about 20 M. south-east of Comayagua. Here ramparts, defence works, terraced stone mounds and numerous large pyramids are to be found. Squier found further ruins in the west of Honduras, which have also been described in part by Stephens, and were probably first mentioned in 1576 by Diego Garcia de Palacio (Carta dirigida al Pei de Espana, published by Squier, New York, 1860). At Rio Ulloa are remains which testify to the existence of a large population in past days. Possibly they may be identified with a site of the name of Naco mentioned by Las Casas and by Bernal Diaz (Histoire veridique de la conqueete de la Nouvelle Espagne, translated by D. Fourdanet, 2nd ed., Paris, 1877, ch. 178, p. 69o). Chiapas (Mexico).—The principal site is Palenque, the ruins of which were amongst the earliest of all to attract attention. The style of architecture, with the gigantic vaults and singular comb-shaped gables, distinguishes Palenque from Copan and Quirigua, which it surpasses also in the unequalled magnificence of its sculptures. Five out of the remarkably uniform series of buildings may be specially mentioned. They are the Great Palace, a complex structure of galleries and courts commanded by a three-storeyed tower, the Temples of the Cross, which are galleries constructed on terraces and containing the well-known reliefs, the Temple of Inscriptions, the Sun. Temple and the Temple of the Relief. The sculptured figures of Palenque are familiar from many reproductions. The most characteristic groups represent a deity standing between worshippers who hold a staff surmounted by the water-god Ah-bolon-tzacab, the " god of the nine medicines." The inscriptions on the famous Cross and in the Sun Temple contain calendar-da tings which are remarkable as showing a particular combination of numbers and hieroglyphs, which does not occur elsewhere. A whole series of sites is included within the geographical limits of Chiapas, which from the archaeologist's standpoint must be considered as belonging properly to Guatemala. The country has been quite insufficiently explored. Oaxaca (Mexico).—The bulk of the population of the province of Oaxaca is composed of a distinct racial group, best represented by the Zapotecs, who have been for an unknown length of time the intermediaries between the Nahua civilization of Mexico on the west and the Mayan on the east. The influence of the two separate currents may be detected in the bastard calendar system no less than in the still undeciphered inscriptions. The principal ruins are those of Mitla, the burial city of the priests and kings of the ancient Zapotecs, which bear a quite distinct character, though presenting certain analogies with the Mexican. One of the chief structures is a step-pyramid, rising in three steps to a height of 130 ft., another is a pyramid of brick. Besides these there are courts, surrounded by palaces which represented necropolises, the dwellings of the priests, of the chief priest, and of the king (with an audience-hall). The wall paintings of the "palaces" are especially admirable, and it is to be noted that the deities represented in them are those of the Mexican pantheon. Monte Alban is interesting for the definitely Zapotec character of its sculptures. Quiengola near Tehuantepec is a site with extensive ruins including a fine tennis court. British Honduras.—The antiquities of British Honduras have been but little investigated. In the scanty literature relating to them a few accounts of ruined places are to be found. In style these buildings closely resemble those of the neighbouring Yucatan. The ruins in the colony New Boston, mentioned by Froebel (Central America, p. 167), are of this kind. F. de P. Castells (see American Antiquarian, Chicago, 1904, vol. xxvi. pp. 32-37) describes the ruins, in the north of the colony, of " Ixim chech," supposed to be the Indian form of the English name " Indian Church." They are on the road to the Lake of Yaxha (green water), where further ruins are to be found. Thomas Gann gives detailed accounts of numerous mounds also in the northern part of British Honduras (see 19th Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology, Washington, 'goo, part i. pp. 661-692, with plates). The most interesting ruins are those which have been discovered in Santa Rita, at the mouth of the New River, near the town of Corosal. Here wonderful wall paintings in stucco came- to light, which unfortunately Gann could only save ;n part. The remainder were destroyed by Indians. It should be remarked that a number of the mounds in Santa Rita were erected over ruins of buildings which must therefore be of older date than the mounds. Salvador.—Pedro de Alvarado in his expedition of 1524 calls this whole district Cuscatan (Mex. Cozcatlan), that is, " Land of precious stones, of treasures, of abundance." A further descrip,tion of the land is given by Palacio (l.c.) in 1576. Although there are numerous relics of Mayan civilization buried in the earth; few ruins are to be seen on the surface. Karl Sapper has described three large ruins: Cuzcatlan near the capital, Tehuacan near S. Vicente, and Zacualpa on the Lake of Guija in the extreme north-west of the country. The ruins show a distinct affinity in style to those of the Mayan buildings in Guatemala, but they are less fine and artistically perfect. Probably the central and western districts of San Salvador were originally peopled by the same race of Mayas, and these tracts of country were later settled by the Mexican-speaking Pipiles. A characteristic feature of the extensive ruins of Zacualpa is that the pyramids and ramparts have perpendicular steps which are higher than they are broad, and this peculiarity may be attributed to the influence of the Maya tribes, who are related to the Mams of Guatemala. Decipherment of the Mayan Hieroglyphs.—The key to the decipherment, so far as this has progressed at present, was furnished by the Historia de las Cosas de Yucatan, a work written by Diego de Landa, the first bishop of the country. This professed to give, with much other more or less doubtful information, the full account of a calendar system analogous to that of the Mexicans, which was said to have been used by the Mayas (see Mexico). The signs for each of the 20 days and for the 18 weeks of 20 days are figured by Landa. The first step was to compare these with the hieroglyphic characters contained in the few Mayan picture manuscripts (Codex Troano, Cortesianus, Peresianus, Dresden Codex) which have survived the destructive fanaticism of the Spanish missionaries. Forstemann's acute analysis detected that the bars and dots which occur along the margin and in the body of the pictorial scenes represented numerals, dots standing for each integer up to five, while for five a bar was used. Next, it was found that the order in which these numeral-signs are placed is regular, and that there are never more than five in a group. It was established that the first sign in such a group is that for the numeral 1 (Kin), the next that for 20 '( Uinal), the third for 18 X 20 (Tun), the fourth for X 20 X 20 (Katun), and the fifth for 18 X 20 X 20 X 20, that is to say, a cycle. Had the available material for study been confined to the manuscripts, little more progress would have been made beyond establishing subsidiary details in the actual calendar. But when a similar analysis was applied to the numerous monuments discovered and figured by Maudslay and others, some important results of a general bearing were obtained. It was found that many of the hieroglyphs of various forms upon the stones were also of numeral value, and, what was of great importance, that they all referred back to a single starting-point. This starting-point or zero is no doubt the mythological date at which, according to Mayan cosmology, the world was created. It is placed at nine or ten cycles before the time when Copan and Quirigua were erected and the picture manuscripts made. And it is by reference to it in the inscriptions that such students as Seler, Goodman and others have been enabled, as already stated, to obtain a record of the relative chronology of the most famous monuments, to confine the period of their erection within the space of a few centuries, and approximately to fix even their absolute antiquity. Though much yet remains to be done, these are substantial results which have already been won from the study of the hieroglyphs. London, 1889, &c.), a pioneer work containing the admirably presented results of scientific exploration. Maier, in Memoirs of the Peabody Museum, vol. ii. 1, 2 (Cambridge, U.S.A., 1901 and .1903); Holmes, Archaeological Studies among the Ancient Mexicans (Field Columbian Museum, Chicago, 189.5); E. Seler, Die alien Ansiedelungen von Chacula (Berlin, 1901), Wandmalereien von Mitla (Berlin, 1895), Ges. Abhandlungen, vol. i. (Berlin, 1902) and vol. ii. (1904), Fiihrer von Mitla (Berlin, 1906). E. Forstemann has contributed many valuable essays to Globus and the Zeitschrift fur Ethnologie (Berlin) ; especially important are his commentaries to the Dresden Codex (Dresden, 1901), to the Codex Tro-Cortesianus Madrilensis (Danzig, 1902), and to the Codex Peresianus (Danzig, 1903). See also " The Archaic Maya Inscriptions," by F. T. Goodman (in Biologia Centrali-Americana, section Archaeology, viii., 1897), and Report of an Archaeological Tour in Mexico in 1881, by A. F. Bandelier (Boston, 1884). Valuable bibliographies have been made by Bandelier (Notes on the Bibliography of Yucatan and Central America, Worcester, U. S. A., 1881) and by K. Habler (" Die Maya Literatur and der Maya Apparat zu Dresden," in the Zentralblatt fur Bibliothekwesen, xii., 1895). The Mayan picture MSS. have been published in facsimile as follows: the Dresden Codex by Forstemann (Leipzig, 1880, and Dresden, 1892), and the Codex Tro by Brasseur de Bourbourg—Manuscrit Troano, etude sur le systeme graphique et la langue des Mayas (Paris, 1869–1870), the Codex Cortesianus by Leon de Rosny (Paris, 1883) and by F. de Dios de la Rada y Delgado and F. L. de Ayala y del Hierro (Madrid, 1893), the Codex Peresianus by Duruy and Brasseur de Bourbourg (Paris, 1864) and by L. de Rosny (Paris, 1887). The following relate especially to the ruins in Salvador:—La Universidad, by D. Gonzalez, vol. iii. ser. 3, No. 6, p. 283 (San Salvador, 1892–1893) ; Le Salvador pre-Colombien, etudes archeologiques, by F. de Montcasus de Ballore (Paris, 1891), 25 plates; Karl Sapper in Arch. fur Ethnologic, 9, p. 3 if. (1896). (W. L.*)

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