The Mayas, the Sources of Their History Dr. Le Plongeon in Yucatan, His Account of Discoveries


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Dr. Le Plongeon in Yucatan, His Account of Discoveries

Much of the country is thinly inhabited, and parts of it are heavily wooded.

It is there that the remains of a prior civilization have best escaped the hand of man, more to be dreaded than the ravages of time. The stone edifices of Uxmal are numerous, and are generally placed upon artificial elevations; they are not crowded together, but are scattered about singly and in groups over a large extent of territory. The most conspicuous is an artificial pyramidal mound, upon the top of which is a stone building two stories in height, supposed to have been used as a sacrificial temple.

One side of this mound is perpendicular; the opposite side is approached by a flight of stone steps. The building on the top, and the steps by which the ascent is made are in good preservation. Some of the large buildings are of magnificent proportions, and are much decorated with bas reliefs of human figures and faces in stone, and with other stone ornaments. The writer does not recollect seeing any stucco ornamentation at this place, though such material is used elsewhere. The rooms in the ruins are of various sizes, and many of them could be made habitable with little labor, on removing the rubbish which has found its way into them.

The impression received from an inspection of the ruins of Uxmal was, that they had been used as public buildings, and residences of officers, priests and high dignitaries.

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Both [21] Stephens and Prescott are of the opinion that some of the ruins in this territory were built and occupied by the direct ancestors of the Indians, who now remain as slaves upon the soil where once they ruled as lords. If the Indians of the time of the conquest occupied huts like those of the Indians of to-day, it is not strange that all vestiges of their dwellings should have disappeared. Stephens gives an interesting notice of the first formal conveyance of the property of Uxmal, made by the Spanish government in , which was shown him by the present owner, in which the fact that the Indians, then, worshipped idols in some of the existing edifices on that estate, is mentioned.

Their hands and feet are small, and the outlines of their figures are graceful. They are capable of enduring great fatigue, and the privation of food and drink, and bear exposure to the tropical sun for hours with no covering for the head, without being in the least affected. Their bearing evinces entire subjection and abasement, and they shun and distrust the whites. They do not manifest the cheerfulness of the negro slave, but maintain an expression of indifference, and are destitute of all curiosity or ambition.

These peculiarities are doubtless the results of the treatment they have received for generations. The half-breeds, or Mestizos, prefer to associate with the whites rather than with the Indians; and as a rule all the domestic service throughout the country is performed by that class. Mestizos often hold the position of major-domos, or superintendents of estates, but Indians of pure blood are seldom employed in any position of trust or confidence.

They are punctilious in their observance of the forms and ceremonies of the Catholic religion, and a numerous priesthood is maintained largely by the contributions of this race. The control exercised by the clergy is very powerful, and their assistance is always sought by the whites in cases of controversy. The Indians are indolent and fond of spectacles, and the church offers them an opportunity of celebrating many feast days, of which they do not fail to avail themselves.

It was a building of a quadrangular shape, with apartments opening on an interior court in the centre of the quadrangle.


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The building was in good preservation, and some of the rooms were used as depositories for corn. The visiting party breakfasted in one of the larger apartments. From this hacienda an excursion was made to Maxcanu, to visit an artificial mound, which had a passage into the interior, with an arched stone ceiling and retaining walls. Nothing appeared in these passages to indicate their purpose. The labyrinth was visited by the light of candles and torches, and the precaution of using a line of cords was taken to secure a certainty of egress. Other artificial mounds encountered elsewhere had depressions upon the top, doubtless caused by the falling in of interior passages or apartments.

When the Spanish first invaded Mexico and Yucatan they brought with them a small number of horses, which animals were entirely unknown to the natives, and were made useful not only as cavalry but also in creating a superstitious reverence for the conquerors, since the Indians at first regarded the horse as endowed with divine attributes.

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Cortez in his expedition from the city of Mexico to Honduras in , passed through the State of Chiapas near the ruins called Palenque,—of which ancient city, however, no mention is made in the accounts of that expedition,—and rested at an Indian town situated upon an island in Lake Peten in Guatemala. The Indians felt a reverence for the animal, as in some way connected with the mysterious power of the white men. When their visitors had gone they offered flowers to the horse, and as it is said, prepared for him many savory messes of poultry, [25] such as they would have administered to their own sick.

Under this extraordinary diet the poor animal pined away and died. The affrighted Indians raised his effigy in stone, and placing it upon one of their teocallis, did homage to it as to a deity. They were of the size of life, and represented, cut from solid limestone, the heads and necks of horses with the mane clipped, so that it stood up from the ridge of their necks like the mane of the zebra. The workmanship of the figures was artistic, and the inference made at the time was, that these figures had served as bas reliefs on ruins in that vicinity.

On mentioning the fact of the existence of these figures to Dr. But later inquiries have failed to discover any further trace of these figures. Berendt had never seen any representation of horses upon ruins in Central America, and considered the existence of the sculptures the more noteworthy, from the fact that horses were unknown to the natives till the time of the Spanish discovery.

The writer supposes that these figures were sculptured by Indians after the conquest, and that they were used as decorations upon buildings erected at the same time and by the same hands. There are no remains of structures on these elevations, but it seems probable that the space was once occupied by buildings. At Izamal, which was traditionally the sacred city of the Mayas, a human face in stucco is still attached to the perpendicular side of one of the smaller cerros or mounds.

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The face is of gigantic size, and can be seen from a long distance. It may have been a representation of Zamna, the founder of Mayan civilization in Yucatan, to whose worship that city was especially dedicated. From this slight glance at the remains in the Mayan territory we are led to say a few words about their history. In the absence of all authentic accounts, the traditions of the Mayas, and the writings of Spanish chroniclers and ecclesiastics, offer the only material for our object. It was collected by a careful study of Spanish and Mayan manuscripts, and will serve at least to open the way for further investigation to those who do not agree with its inferences and conclusions.


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A brief [27] notice of some of the marked epochs of Mayan history, as he presents them, will not perhaps be out of place in this connection. Modern investigations, in accord with the most ancient traditions, make Tobasco and the mouths of the Tobasco river, and the Uzumacinta, the first cradle of civilization in Central America. At the epoch of the Spanish invasion, these regions, and the interior provinces which bordered on them, were inhabited by a great number of Indian tribes.

There was a time when the major part of the population of that region spoke a common language, and this language was either the Tzendale, spoken to-day by a great number of the Indians in the State of Chiapas, or more likely the Maya, the only language of the peninsula of Yucatan. When the Spaniards first appeared, the native population already occupied the peninsula, and a great part of the interior region of that portion of the continent. Learned Indians have stated, that they heard traditionally from their ancestors, that at first the country was peopled by a race which came from the east, and that their God had delivered them from the pursuit of certain others, in opening to them a way of escape by means of the sea.

According to tradition, Votan, a priestly ruler, came to Yucatan many centuries before the Christian era, and established his first residence at Nachan, now popularly called Palenque. The astonishment of the natives at the coming of Votan was as great as the sensation produced later at the appearance of the Spaniards.

Among the cities which recognized Votan as founder, Mayapan occupied a foremost rank and became the capital of the Yucatan peninsula; a title which it lost and recovered at various times, and kept until very near to the date of the arrival [28] of the Spaniards. The ruins of Mayapan are situated in the centre of the province, about twenty-four miles from those of Uxmal.

Mayapan, Tulha—situated upon a branch of the Tobasco river,—and Palenque, are considered the most ancient cities of Central America. Zamna however was revered by the Mayas as their greatest lawgiver, and as the most active organizer of their powerful kingdom. He was a ruler of the same race as Votan, and his arrival took place a few years after the building of Palenque. The first enclosure of Mayapan surrounded only the official and sacred buildings, but later this city was much extended, so that it became one of the largest of ancient America.

Zamna is said to have reigned many years, and to have introduced arts and sciences which enriched his kingdom. He was buried at Izamal, which became a shrine where multitudes of pilgrims rendered homage to this benefactor of their country.

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Here was established an oracle, famous throughout that whole region, which was also resorted to for the cure of diseases. Mayan chronology fixes the year of the Christian era as the date when the Tutul-Xius, a princely family from Tulha, left Guatemala and appeared in Yucatan. They conciliated the good will of the king of Mayapan and rendered themselves vassals of the crown of Maya. The divinity most worshipped at Tihoo was Baklum-Chaam, the Priapus of the Mayas, and the great temple erected as a sanctuary to this god was but little inferior to the temple of Izamal.

The buildings are finely constructed of hammered stone, laid without cement, and are 30 feet in height.

The Mayas, the Sources of Their History. Dr. Le Plongeon in Yucatan, His Account of Discoveries

On the summit of these edifices are four apartments, divided into cells like those of the monks, which are twenty feet long and ten feet wide. The posts of the doors are of a single stone, and the roof is vaulted. The priests have established a convent of St. Francis in the part which has been discovered. It is proper that what has served for the worship of the demon should be transformed into a temple for the service of God. Later in history a prince named Cukulcan arrived from the west and established himself at Chichen-Itza.

The Mayas, the Sources of Their History Dr. Le Plongeon in Yucatan, His Account of Discoveries The Mayas, the Sources of Their History Dr. Le Plongeon in Yucatan, His Account of Discoveries
The Mayas, the Sources of Their History Dr. Le Plongeon in Yucatan, His Account of Discoveries The Mayas, the Sources of Their History Dr. Le Plongeon in Yucatan, His Account of Discoveries
The Mayas, the Sources of Their History Dr. Le Plongeon in Yucatan, His Account of Discoveries The Mayas, the Sources of Their History Dr. Le Plongeon in Yucatan, His Account of Discoveries
The Mayas, the Sources of Their History Dr. Le Plongeon in Yucatan, His Account of Discoveries The Mayas, the Sources of Their History Dr. Le Plongeon in Yucatan, His Account of Discoveries
The Mayas, the Sources of Their History Dr. Le Plongeon in Yucatan, His Account of Discoveries The Mayas, the Sources of Their History Dr. Le Plongeon in Yucatan, His Account of Discoveries
The Mayas, the Sources of Their History Dr. Le Plongeon in Yucatan, His Account of Discoveries The Mayas, the Sources of Their History Dr. Le Plongeon in Yucatan, His Account of Discoveries
The Mayas, the Sources of Their History Dr. Le Plongeon in Yucatan, His Account of Discoveries The Mayas, the Sources of Their History Dr. Le Plongeon in Yucatan, His Account of Discoveries
The Mayas, the Sources of Their History Dr. Le Plongeon in Yucatan, His Account of Discoveries The Mayas, the Sources of Their History Dr. Le Plongeon in Yucatan, His Account of Discoveries

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