Thomas William Francis Gann.

The Maya Indians of southern Yucatan and northern British Honduras online

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described mound, close to the north bank of the Rio Hondo, within
the territory of Quintana Roo. It was discovered by an Indian,
who had cut a piece of virgin bush with the object of making a
milpa. The mound was 35 feet in height by 250 feet in circumfer-
ence at the base; in shape it resembled a truncated cone, the flat-
tened summit of which measured 30 feet in one direction by 6 feet
in the other. The mound was composed throughout of rough
blocks of limestone, the interstices of which were filled in with lime-
stone dust and an unusually large quantity of light-brown earth.
Excavation was commenced at the top of the mound; for the first
6 feet nothing except a few potsherds was found. Scattered through
the next 2 feet of the mound the following objects were brought
to light; these were mingled indiscriminately with the limestone
blocks of which the mound was built, quite unprotected by cyst
or chamber: (a) A basin-shaped vessel 20 cm. in diameter, 10 cm.
in height (pi. 17), covered by a round conical lid with a semicircular
handle. Both basin and cover are painted black and polished, inside



Ibull. 64


Fig. 53. — Conventionalized
representation of bird on
vessel shown in plate 17.

and out. Upon the outer surface of the vase and the upper surface of
the lid are incised in low relief a series of pictographs, identical upon
both. From the nature of the design and the fact that the vase con-
tained a number of fragments of human bones, it seems probable that
it was intended for a cinerary urn. The design is of considerable inter-
est and worthy of detailed consideration. The most prominent object
upon both the lid and the vase itself is a naked human figure in a re-
cumbent position, with the arms flexed over the
chest and abdomen and the knees and thighs
semiflexed. The ornaments worn consist of an
elaborate feather-decorated headdress, a lab ret,
or nose ornament (it is somewhat difficult to
determine which), and large bead anklets and
wristlets. Below the head, on the body of the
vase, is the conventionalized representation of a
bird (fig. 53) with extended drooping wings, and
a rectangular object occupying the position of the beak. On the lid,
probably from lack of room, this bird is represented only by the
rectangular object, beneath which is seen the conventionalized ser-
pent's head, represented only by the upper jaw, from which project
the head and hand of a human being, whom it is in the act of swal-
lowing. This monster, with a human head projecting from its mouth,
is frequently represented in mounds in this area, usually in the form
of a clay figurine.

The next figure is probably intended to represent Quetzalcoatl, the
Cuculcan of the Maya, and God B of the Codices. It is the shrunken
bearded face of an old man, with a single tooth in the lower jaw, very
prominent nose, and a bird's head (probably that of the owl) in the
headdress. These are all well-recognized characteristics of this god.
At the back part of the headdress of the god, and connected with it, is
a human face. Immediately above the
head of Cuculcan is depicted a fish,
with a flower-like object in front of its
mouth (fig. 54), which is probably con-
nected with this god, who is frequently
associated with objects connoting
water, vegetation, and fertility, as fish,
flowers, water plants, leaves, and shells.

The next figure probably represents Schellhas's God K of the
Codices. This god possesses an elaborate foliated nose, and is usually
closely associated with God B, as he is in the present instance; indeed
Brinton and Fewkes regard him as being merely a special manifesta-
tion of the latter god, while Spinden is of the opinion that his face is
derived from that of the serpent so constantly associated with God
B. 1 The lower jaw of the god seems to consist of a dry bone. Imme-


54. — Decoration on vessel shown in
plate 17.

i See Spinden, Maya Art, p. 64.






diately behind God K is repeated the design of the serpent swallowing
a human head, above which is a striated bar, whose sole purpose
seemingly is to decorate a vacant space. Above this again is a bar
with feathers or leaves projecting from it, which may possibly be
connected with the headdress of God B, and at the top is repeated the
figure of the fish, with the circular object in front of its mouth. Next

Fig. 55.— Perforated beads found in Mound No. 16.

to these is again seen the head of the god Cuculcan, after which the
whole series recommences with the prone naked human figure, (b) A
vessel exactly similar in size, color, and shape to the one last described
(pi. 18, a). The outer surface is decorated by four curious monkey-
like creatures, sculptured in low relief, separated from each other by
ovate spaces inclosed in double parallel lines and filled with cross-
hatching. Above and below is a border of frets, also
executed in low relief. The faces of these monkeys
are represented by a simple oval, no attempt having
been made to depict any of the features. The hands
are furnished with huge clawlike fingers, and the tails,
which are of great length, are curled over the back.
The cover of this vessel (pi. 18, a) is circular, some-
what funnel-shaped, 23 cm. in diameter. Upon its
outer surface is executed, in low relief, a monkey almost
exactly similar to those which appear on tlie outer sur-
face of the vase, except that it is somewhat larger
and is seen in front view, not in profile. The face of the monkey
is carefully molded in high relief to form the handle of the lid,
while between his hands he grasps an ovate object identical with
those on the vase. (c) The lid of a vessel corresponding exactly
to the lid of the vessel first described. The pot to which it
belonged could not be found (pi. 18, &). (d) A pair of cylindrical
vases, each standing upon three short, hollow, oval legs. Both are

Fig. 56. — Jadeite
beads found in
Mound No. 16.



[bull. 64

made of extremely thin, brittle pottery painted a dirty yellow and
polished throughout, with no ornament except a broad red stripe,
which passes obliquely around the whole of the outer surface of each
(e) Two shallow circular plaques, painted reddish-brown, and


polished throughout, with a geometrical device in thin black lines
around the inner surface of the rim of each, (f) A quantity of bones,
probably those of a halib or gibnut, and of a wild turkey. These
were found under a large block of rough limestone, (g) A number of


^9* '



- ■**^- ^1

B \


Fig. 57.— a. Circular shell disks from Mound No. 16. b- Greenstone ear plugs from Mound No. 17.

univalve shells, each about 1 inch in length, perforated at the apex
in two places, as if for suspension in the form of a necklace or orna-
mental border. 1 With these shells was found half of a large cockle-
like bivalve, painted red throughout, and perforated, possibly for use
as a gorget, (h) Thirteen large, round, perforated beads (fig. 55).
Some of these are reddish in color, and show traces of polishing. With
these were the three jadeite beads pictured in figure 56; two of these

1 See Memoirs of the Pcabody Museum, vol. u, No. 1, Researches in the Valley of the TJsumatsintla,
Where on several illustrations rows of similar shells are seen decorating the edges of the garments of the
persons represented.


are cylindrical, with a knob at one end, while the third is nearly
spherical; all are finely polished; they are made of light and dark-
green mottled jadeite. (i) A single small oyster shell, with a great
number of cockle shells, (j) Two circular disks of shell, represented
in figure 57, a, exhibiting the front and back view. The central
part is of a deep reddish color, and is well polished. Each disk is 5 cm.
in diameter and is perforated at the center. They were probably used
as ear ornaments. Excavations were made in this mound to the
ground level, but no additional objects were found in it.

Mound No. 17

Mound No. 17. was situated within a mile of the mound last
described, on high .ground, about 1^ miles from the Rio Hondo,
from which it is separated by a belt of swamp. It was conical in
shape, about 40 feet high, nearly 90 yards in circumference, and was
built throughout of large blocks of limestone, the interstices being
filled with a friable mortar, made seemingly from limestone dust,
earth, and sand mixed together. Near the sum- *.
mit was an irregular opening, about 4 feet across, \ OOT
which led into a small stone-faced chamber, 15 \A tartar
feet long, 5 feet broad, and 6 feet high. The / 1
opening had been made by the falling in of one ^ — J obsidian disc
of the flags which formed the roof of the cham- FlG . 58 .— obsidian disk in-
ber; this was found within the chamber with a serted in t00tn of skeleton

•i £ i'i_ • mi a i r- i found in Mound No. 17.

pile oi debris, lhe floor was composed of large
flat flags, on removing one of which an aperture was made which led
into a second chamber, of exactly the same size as the first, and imme-
diately beneath it. The floor of this was covered to a depth of about
12 inches with a layer of soft brown river sand, in which were found:
(a) Parts of a human skeleton, seemingly belonging to an adult male,
the bones of which were very friable and greatly eroded. In one of
the incisor teeth was inserted a small disk of obsidian, the outer surface
of which was highly polished (fig. 58) . These ornamental tooth fillings
are rather rare, though they have been found from time to time
in Yucatan and as far south as Quirigua. They were usually made
from greenstone, obsidian, or iron pyrites, all highly polished, the
only teeth ornamented being the incisors and canines, usually in the
upper jaw. The plugging seems to have been exclusively for orna-
mental purposes, not with any idea of filling a cavity, the result of
caries in the tooth. 1

i It is curious that neither Landa nor Villagutierre mentions this ornamental plugging of the front teeth,
as, judging by the number of teeth found, it can not have been of exceptionally rare occurrence.
Landa, who describes their ornaments very closely, mentions the filling of the teeth, but not the plug-
ging, which, had it been in vogue at the time of the conquest in Yucatan, he must have heard about or ob-
served. It seems probable that the custom had already become obsolete before the first appearance of
the Spaniards in Yucatan.



[BULL. 64

FIG. 59. — Bird carrying a fish outlined on shallow
plaque found in Mound No. 17.

(b) A shallow plaque, 28 cm. in diameter, painted throughout
a dark reddish-yellow, and finely polished. Upon the upper surface
was outlined in fine black fines a bird, apparently a sea hawk, carry-
ing iij its claw a good-sized fish, possibly a stone bass (fig.. 59).
The artist probably witnessed this event many times, as the mouth

of the Rio Hondo, where stone
bass abound, is a favorite fish-
ing ground for sea hawks and
frigate birds.

(c) A number of painted and
glazed potsherds of all sizes.

Beneath this second chamber
a third was discovered, roofed in
with rough flags, of the same
dimensions as the other two.
The floor of this chamber was
cemented over; nothing except
limes tone blocks and mortar was
found between it and the bot-
tom of the mound. Upon the floor lay a solitary plaque, of a deep
reddish-yellow color, the upper surface divided by black lines into
four equal spaces, in each of which was crudely outlined in black a
fish, probably meant to represent a stone bass. On digging into the
summit of the mound outside the area occupied by the chambers,
the following objects were brought to light: (a) A cylindrical vase of
light, thin, well-made pottery, 16| cm. high by 13 cm. in diameter,
painted light yellow throughout and finely polished (fig. 60). Upon
one side of the vase, within an oblong space outlined in black, are
a number of curious mythological animals, above which is a row of
six glyphs, seemingly explanatory of the picture be-
neath (pi. 19, a). Both animals and glyphs are very
carefully executed in red, black, and brown, on a
yellow background. The lowest figure on the right
somewhat resembles that on a vase in the American
Museum of Natural History, 1 upon which the Long-
nosed god is associated with bulblike objects, flowers,
and a bird (probably a pelican). On this vase the
Long-nosed god is seen with a bulblike object, possibly
a root, from which project interlacing stalks, at the
ends of which are water-lily buds. Above these is a bird, possibly
a sea hawk. The whole connotes water, or fertility, (b) A second
vase, similar in shape, but somewhat larger (fig. 61), is painted
yellow and polished throughout. Upon this is depicted a cruciform
object, with outgrowths from the upper and lateral limbs of the


Fig. 60.— Cylindri-
cal pottery vase
found in Mound
No. 17.

! See Spinden, Maya Art, fig. 79.








Fig. 61. — Larger
pottery vase
found in Mound
No. 17.

cross, probably a highly conventionalized tree, (c) A shallow circular
plaque, 36 cm. in diameter, painted light yellow, and polished
throughout. Upon its upper surface is painted, in red and black,
a coiled plumed serpent (fig. 62), doubtless intended to represent
Cuculcan, the "Feathered Serpent." (d) Two circular objects of
polished greenstone, somewhat resembling broad-brimmed hats from
which the crowns have been removed (see fig. 57, b).
Each has on the upper surface of the brim a small f^z. ~p \

ovate piece of mother-of-pearl, firmly cemented to the
stone. These objects were probably used as ear
plugs; with them were five small perforated spherical
beads of polished greenstone.

At the base of the northern aspect of this mound
was a small square enclosure, surrounded by a stone
wall 2 to 3 feet in height. On digging into this, near
its center, an alligator made of rough pottery, 15
inches long, was discovered. In the center of its back
is a small circular opening, covered by a conical stop-
per, leading into the hollow interior, in which was found a small
perforated polished jadeite bead, in the form- of a grotesque human
face. Close to the alligator lay a basin-shaped vessel, 28 cm. in
diameter, painted yellow, and polished throughout. In the center
of this, outlined in thin black lines, is the object seen in plate 19, b,

probably meant to represent the
two-headed dragon so common in
Maya art.

Mound No. 18

Mound No. 18, situated less than
half a mile from the next preced-
ing, was 10 feet high, 70 feet in
circumference, roughly conical in
shape, and firmly built through-
out of blocks of limestone the
interstices between which were
filled with earth and limestone
dust. At the bottom of the
mound, near its center, resting
on the ground, was a cist, about 2 feet in diameter, roughly con-
structed of large flags of limestone. Within this were found two
vessels: (a) A basin-shaped specimen of thin pottery, painted red-
dish-yellow and polished throughout; on its inner surf ace is depicted,
in fine black lines, an object closely resembling a four-leafed sham-
rock, (b) A vase of the shape shown in figure 63, 13 cm. high
and 13 cm. in diameter. This is made of rather thick pottery; it is

Fig. 62.-

-Coiled plumed serpent painted on plaque
found in Mound No. 17.



[BULL. 64

Fig. 63.

-Pottery vase found in
Mound No. 18.

painted light yellow and polished throughout. On the outer surface
of the rim, outlined in thin black lines, is the glyph represented
in figure 64, which is repeated all the way round the circum-
ference. No additional objects were found
in this cyst, nor were there any traces of
bones in it, or in the rest of the mound,
which was afterward examined.

Mound No. 19

Mound No. 19, situated close to the preced-
ing, was 6 feet in height, with flattened top,
built solidly throughout of limestone blocks
and a friable mortarlike substance. At the
ground level, near the center of the mound,
were discovered two cists, placed side by
side, separated by a partition wall built of blocks of cut stone.
Each cist was 6 feet long, 3 feet broad, nearly 4 feet deep, solidly
constructed of stones mortared together. Neither the cists nor the
body of the mound contained anything of interest except a few
fragments of bone in the last stages of disintegration.

Mound No. 20

Mound No. 20 was situated at Pueblo Nuevo, about 6 miles from
the mouth of the Rio Nuevo, in the northern district of British
Honduras. The mound was about 100 feet in length and varied
from 8 to 12 feet in height and from 15 to 25 feet in breadth. It
was built throughout of earth, limestone dust, and blocks of lime-
stone, a great many of which had been squared. Immediately
beneath the surface, running east and west along the long diameter
of the mound and nearly centrally placed in it, was the upper sur-
face of a wall, which had evidently at one time formed part of a building
of considerable size. This wall was built of finely squared blocks of
limestone mortared to-
gether, and was some-
what more than 18
inches thick. It ex-
tended for 40 feet,
turning at right angles
at both the eastern and
western extremities
and was broken by a
single opening, 3^ feet broad at the center. The part of the wall left
standing varied from 2 to 3£ feet in height and was covered on its
inner surface. by a layer of smooth, yellow, very hard cement; the
outer surface, which still retained traces of painted stucco moldings,

Fig. 64.— Glyph outlined on outer surface of rim of vase shown in
fig. 63.


Fig. 65. — Torso, head, and headdress from Mound No. 20.

ended below in a floor of hard cement 12 inches thick. The greater
part of these moldings had been broken away, but portions were
still adherent to the wall and great quantities of fragments,
painted red and blue, were found immediately beneath the wall
from which they had been
broken. The most im-
portant of these were: (a)
Two human torsos, one
(the more elaborate) of
which is seen in figure
65, c. (b) Three human
heads, one of which is rep-
resented in figure 65, h,
in situ. Both heads and
torsos are life size, and
both are painted red and
blue throughout. 1 (c)
Two headdresses, one of
which is seen in situ in
figure 65, a; the other is
almost precisely similar
in coloring and design,
(d) Fragments of elabo-
rately molded pillars, which had originally separated the figures on
the wall. A portion of one of these is shown in figure 66. This
design was repeated three times upon the front of the pillar, the back
of which was flattened for attachment to the wall. Great quantities
of fragments of painted stucco, of all shapes and sizes, were dug
out of the mound, but the human figures, with the pillars which sepa-
rated them, were the only objects the original
positions of which on the wall it was possible
to determine with certainty. Resting upon the
layer of hard cement in which the wall terminated
below, between 5 and 6 feet from the eastern end
and close to the wall itself, was found an adult
human skeleton, the bones of which were hud-
dled together within a very small compass, in a
manner suggesting secondary burial. In remov-
ing these bones nearly all of them crumbled
to pieces. Throughout the whole mound were
found numerous potsherds, some of very fine pottery, colored and
polished; others thick, rough, and undecorated. Fragments of flint
and obsidian, broken flint spearheads and scrapers, and broken
obsidian knives were also found.

1 The photographs of the torso and headdress were taken in England and those of the head in British
Honduras. Consequently they do not fit together as well as do the originals.

70806°— IS— Bull. 64 8

Fig. 66.— Fragment of pil-
lar found in Mound No.


Mound No. 21

Mound No. 21 was situated near Corozal, in the northern district
of British Honduras. This mound had very steep sides; it was 50
feet in height by 200 feet in circumference, and was built of blocks
of limestone, the interstices of which were filled with friable mortar.
Toward the west the mound joined a smaller mound, 20 feet in
height. A rumor was current among the Indians in the neighbor-
hood that some years before a number of fragments of clay idols
had been found lying on the surface of the earth near the mound.
Excavations were consequently made all around the mound, for a
distance of 10 to 15 yards from its base, through the alluvial soil,
down to the limestone rock, a distance of 6 inches to 2 feet. These
excavations brought to light enormous quantities of fragments of
crude, coarse pottery vessels, for the greater part the remains of
large hourglass-shaped incense burners, which had been decorated on
their outer surfaces with either a human head or an entire human
figure. Among these fragments were animal heads in terra cotta,
the snake and the dragon being of most frequent occurrence, but
the deer, alligator, and tiger also being represented. Heads of the
owl, the wild turkey, and the humming bird likewise were found.
Fragments of about a dozen human faces were brought to light,
with the usual nose ornaments, large round earrings, and labrets.
Quilted cotton, stud decorated breastplates, sandaled feet, and
bracelet-decorated hands and arms were also plentiful. The right
arm seems in most cases to have been extended, holding in the
upward turned palm some object as a gift or offering. These objects
vary considerably; three are undoubtedly wild turkeys, with their
long necks coiled around their bodies ; two are palm-leaf fans attached
to handles; one appears to be a shallow saucer containing three small
cakes; while two are pyramidal, spike-covered objects, possibly
meant to represent the fruit of the pitaya cactus. With these frag-
ments of pottery were found four entire oval pottery vases, each
about 4 inches high, standing on three short legs, each containing a
few clay and polished greenstone beads. Close to these was a pair
of vases, shaped like a right and left foot and leg, of the size approxi-
mately of those of a child 7 or 8 years of age, greatly expanded above
the ankle. These vases showed traces of white and blue paint, which
had, however, almost completely worn off; around them were a
considerable number of fragments of the bones of deer and peccary,
very much decayed. Close to the base of the mound was found an
oval block of limestone, which formed the nucleus of a small hill,
2 to 3 feet high and 5 to 6 feet in diameter, composed almost entirely
of pottery fragments, with a capping of humus. It is not improbable
that this was the spot on which the ceremonial destruction of those


incense burners took place, the fragments being scattered in all direc-
tions around the entire circumference of the large mound.

Mound No. 22

Mound No. 22, situated at Saltillo, near the mouth of the Rio
Nuevo, northern district of British Honduras, was partially explored
in 1908-9 on behalf of the Institute of Archaeology of Liverpool
University. The mound was about 30 feet high; it was built of
limestone blocks, limestone dust, and rubble. It stands at one
corner of a quadrangular space measuring 80 by 35 yards, and ele-
vated from 4 to 5 feet above the surrounding ground level. This
space is encompassed by four mounds, joined by a bank or rampart
averaging 10 feet high. Around the base of the mound a great number
of fragments of pottery incense burners were found, with the images of
the gods, which decorated them externally. Eight complete heads
and two broken ones were recovered, together with arms, legs, bodies
with quilted cotton breastplates andmaxtlis, elaborate headdresses, and
various objects held in the hands of the figures. These vessels are
almost exactly similar to those found along the valley of the Usu-
masintla and Rio de la Pasion, described by Seler in "his "Antiquities

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Online LibraryThomas William Francis GannThe Maya Indians of southern Yucatan and northern British Honduras → online text (page 11 of 15)