Thomas William Francis Gann.

The Maya Indians of southern Yucatan and northern British Honduras online

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of Guatemala." Rude specimens, with the face of the god only
decorating the outside of the vessel, were found by Sapper and
Charnay in use among the Lacandon Indians a few years ago. The
dress and ornaments of these clay figurines, which vary from 1 to 2
feet in height, are those found almost universally throughout the
Maya area. The large circular ear ornaments, with a tassel or
twisted pendant hanging from the center, the curious projecting
curved ornament above the nose, the small button-like labrets at
each corner of the mouth, are present in all, and are highly charac-
teristic. On all the feet elaborate sandals are worn, fastened by
thongs attached between the first and second and third and fourth
toes, with a band passing around the ankle ending in a broad depend-
ent flap. Around the legs are plain bands and strings of beads;
around the wrists, strings of beads, in some cases fastened by an
ornamental loop. The breastplates are of quilted cotton, some very
elaborate, and decorated with beads, studs, and tassels, while below
the breastplate covering the genitals is the maxili, or small apron,
commonly worn by both Maya and Aztec. The objects held in
the hands consist of birds, fans, globes, incense burners, and other
less easily distinguishable artieles. The whole of the space within
the earthwork appears to have been sprinkled with these fragments
of pottery vases and idols, but it was only around the base of the large
mound that entire heads were found. The fragments seem to have
been, originally placed on the earth, and in course of time to have
been covered by a thin, layer of humus from decaying vegetation,


as many of them still lie on the surface, and nowhere are they buried
more than a few inches, except at the base of the mound, where
earth from its side, washed down by rains, would naturally have
covered them with a slightly deeper layer. On making excavations
at various points within the enclosed space, the floor was found to
consist first of the earth which contained the broken incense burners,
with some blocks of limestone, and beneath this of a layer about 4
feet thick composed of marl dust, very small fragments of pottery,
and rubble, welded together into an almost cement-like mass.

Mound No. 23

Mound No. 23 was situated near the northern end of Chetumal
Bay, on the east coast of Yucatan. The mound was 12 feet in height,
roughly circular in shape, and 12 yards in diameter at the base.
The top was flattened, and near its center a circular space 10 feet
in diameter was inclosed by a low, rougldy built stone wall. On
digging within this space there were brought to light, immediately
beneath the surface, the following objects:

(a) Part of a large hourglass-shaped incense burner in rough
pottery, decorated with a human figure in high relief, 20 inches high.
Unfortunately the left arm and leg and part of the chest are missing
from this figure, which, judging by the headdress, curved nose, and
tusk-like teeth, is probably intended to represent the God Cuculcan.
The left foot is sandaled, and on the left wrist is a loop-fastened string
of beads, while over the front of the chest hangs a breastplate of
quilted cotton, decorated with flaps and fastened over the shoulders. 1
Round the neck is a flat gorget, decorated with round bosses, and
in the ears are large circular ear plugs with tassels dependent from
their centers. Over the upper part of the nose is a curious curved,
snake-like ornament. The lofty headdress, with broad flaps extend-
ing over each ear almost to the shoulders, lias in front the head and
upper jaw of some mythological animal, the latter projecting well
over the face of the god, as if in the act of swallowing him. Point-
ing downward from the plumed ornament on the right side of the figure
(the corresponding one on the left has been broken away) is a cro-
talus head, which so often accompanies representations of this god.
The figure still exhibits traces of blue and white paint on that part of
the face protected by the broad flap of the headdress, and originally
doubtless the whole was painted in various colors, which first
exposure to rain and afterward burial in moist earth, have almost
completely obliterated, (b) An earthenware figure, 26 inches in

1 It would appear that these thick woven or plaited cotton breastplates were fortified with salt.
Landa, op. cit., p. 48: " Y sus rodelas y iacos fuertes de sal y algodon."

Ibid. p. 172: " Hazian xacos de algodon colchados y de sal por rnoler colchada de dos tandas ocolchaduras,
y estos eran fortissimos."


height, which doubtless at one time ornamented the outer surface of
a large incense burner. The left foot and leg are gone; the right foot
is covered with a sandal held on by a curved heelpiece rising above
the back of the ankle, and fastened in a bow in front of < the instep,
while a leather thong passing between the great and second toe is
attached to this, holding the front part of the sandal in place.
Round the leg is a broad band, with a row of semilunar ornaments
projecting downward from it. The maxili has been broken away,
but the quilted cotton chest covering is still in position. This is
held in place by bands passing over the shoulders, and is ornamented
by a row of five circular studs passing down its center, with long
tassels below, which must have hung on each side of the maxili,
and tassels above, attached near the shoulder, which hang down on
each side of it. The throat is covered by a broad band, decorated
along its lower edge with four pairs of small circular studs. Round
the left wrist is a bracelet composed of six flat oval beads, fastened
in front by an ornamental loop. The left arm is. extended, and in
the hand, held palm upward, is grasped an acorn-shaped object
from which project nine spikes. From each side of the mouth
project long curved tusks. The nose is of unusual shape, being
long, straight, and slender; the bridge is covered by a curved snake-
like object. The headdress rises 6 inches above the superciliary
ridges; its lower part consists of the head and upper mandible of
the bill of some bud, probably a hawk or eagle. Above this rises a
hollow cylindrical erection, with the upper border scalloped, sup-
ported on each side by objects which suggest broad stone blades,
halted in club-shaped handles, and ornamented in front with a
plume of feathers. There can be little doubt that this figure is
meant to represent the God Itzamna, as the sunken cheeks, the
single large tooth on each side of the mouth, and the prominent,
though well-formed nose, are all characteristics of this god. (c) An
earthenware figure, closely similar in size and appearance to those
just described. Of the face only the left eye, the left side of the
mouth, and the nose are left; the last named is short, rounded, and
well formed, and is ornamented at its root with a small round stud.
(d) Fragments of a rough bowl of yellowish pottery, which must
have been of considerable size. Unfortunately only four fragments
were found; these exhibit on their outer surfaces parts of a hiero-
glyphic inscription, rougldy incised in the clay while it was soft,
with some sharp-pointed instrument. Of the many glyphic inscrip-
tions which have been found at different times in British Hon-
duras, painted on pottery and stucco and incised on pottery, stone,
and other material, none has proved to be an initial series, which
would fix the period in the Maya long count when the mounds, temples,
burial places, and other monuments scattered throughout this


colony, were constructed. According to recent researches the latest
date recorded by an initial series on the monoliths of Quirigua, in
Guatemala, is within about 70 years of the earliest date recorded by
any of the initial series found up to the present among- the ruins
of Yucatan. 1 As the tide of Maya migration was undoubtedly from
south to north, and as British Honduras stands midway between
Guatemala and Yucatan, it is only reasonable to suppose that the
colonization of the greater part of it by the Maya took place at
some period between the abandonment of the cities of Quirigua and
Coban, and the rise of Chichen Itza, Uxmal, and other Yucatan
cities. This theory is borne out by the fact that the hieroglyphic
inscriptions and pictographs found in the colony are closely allied
to those found both in the northern and southern cities; moreover,
the painted stucco and wooden lintels so common in Yucatan, but
not found in the south, are present here, while the sculptured stelae
found in the south, but of extreme rarity in northern Yucatan, are
(though not very numerous and poorly executed) found in British
Honduras, (e) Large quantities of fragments of rough pottery vases
and bowls; some of these evidently belonged to hourglass-shaped
incense burners, 2 to 3 feet high, decorated with incised lines and
glyphs, raised bands, and studs, but without human figures on their
exterior surfaces. A number of these fragments were taken down to
the camp of some chicle bleeders in the vicinity; unfortunately in
the night the palm-leaf shelters caught fire and the whole camp was
burned to the ground, most of the potsherds being lost or destroyed.
Among these were probably the missing parts of the clay figures
and of the hieroglyphic-covered pot. The whole of the mound was
dug down, but with the exception of traces of a wall built of squared
stones on the ground level, nothing worthy of note was found in it.
It is almost certain that this mound had never been visited from
the time of its erection till its discovery last year by chicle bleeders
looking for sapodilla trees in this very remote corner of Yucatan.
The clay images were lying on the top of the mound, partially
uncovered, and had anyone, even an Indian, visited the place, they
would almost certainly have removed these, as there is always a
ready market for idolos, as the Indians call every relic of their ances-
tors, among curio collectors who visit Belize.

Mound No. 24

Mound No. 24 was situated near the coast, at the northern extrem-
ity of Chetumal Bay, in Yucatan. This mound was 10 feet high
by about 10 yards in diameter. Upon the summit, which was
flattened, were found a great number of rough potsherds, partially
buried in a layer of humus from 6 to 12 inches deep. These were evi-

• Morley, An Introduction to the Study of the Maya Hieroglyphs, p. 15.







dently fragments of incense burners, as arms, legs, and parts of head-
dresses, faces, maxtlis, and breastplates were plentiful among them.
Near the center of the summit, partially projecting from the earth,
was discovered the almost complete incense burner shown in plate 20
and figure 67. The vessel which served as a receptacle for the
incense is 152 inches high by 9 inches in diameter at the mouth. The
human figure which decorates the side of the vessel is 22 inches in
height from the top of the headdress to the sole of the sandals. The
figurine was not complete when first discovered, as the hands, arms,
feet, maxtli, and feather ornaments from the sides and headdress were
missing; nearly all of these, however, were unearthed, mixed with
other pieces of pottery, not far from the incense burner. The head-
dress consists of a flat, broad cap with slightly projecting rim and
large quadrangular flaps, which extend
downward and outward over the large
ear plugs. The back of the cap ex-
tends upward 3 inches; the crown is
decorated with feather ornaments,
while on each side appears an object
resembling half an ear of maize, from
the top of which depends a tassel.
The nose is sharp, thin, and promi-
nent; starting on each side of it and
passing down almost to the angles of
the jaw, where it ends in a little up-
ward curl, is what might be intended
as either a mustache or some form of
nose ornament. From each angle of
the mouth projects a circular labret;
this evidently passes behind the upper
lip, which it causes to bulge consider-
ably. The ear plugs are large, round,
and funnel-shaped (pi. 20); these, as
well as the shoulders, show traces of
blue paint, with which the entire figure-
was evidently at one time covered. Around the neck is a flat collar
decorated with five circular studs, to the sides and front of which is
attached a hollow cylindrical bar, which supports the quilted cotton
breastplate. The latter is decorated with six tassels, three above
and three below, and below it is seen the plain apron (maxtli), which
descends almost to the sandals. The shoulders are covered with caps
or epaulets reaching just below the armpits ; on the forearms are brace-
lets, fastened with loops on the inner side, and on the feet sandals,
held in place by vertical heelpieces and thongs, and decorated with
large flaps, which almost cover the dorsum of each foot. Attached

Fig. 67.— Another view of incense burner
shown in plate 20.



[BULL. 64

to the incense burner, and forming a background for the figure, are pro-
jecting feather ornaments extending from the headdress to the elbow.
The mound was dug away to the ground level. It was found to
be built of blocks of limestone and earth, but nothing of moment was
found in it with the exception of numerous potsherds of all kinds.

Mound No. 25

Mound No. 25 was situated in the country of the Icaiche Indians,
Quintana Roo, Yucatan. The mo mid was discovered by the Indians
when cutting down virgin bush to make a milpa, or corn plantation.

It was a moderate-sized mound,
about 10 feet high, and upon its
summit, uncovered, lay the ob-
jects illustrated in figures 68, 69,
and 70. Figure 68 exhibits a
roughly formed clay figurine,
nearly 1 foot in height, decorat-
ing a small hourglass-shaped in-
cense burner. Both figure and
vase are very crudely modeled in
rough pottery; most of the prom-
inent characteristics of the care-
fully modeled and elaborately
decorated incense burner repre-
sented in plate 20 and figure 67
are still retained. The large
round ear plugs, with long flaps
from the headdress overlapping

Fig. 68.— Incense burner decorated with crude clay them, the horizontally striated
figurine from Mound No. 25. , . , . -, -.. .

breastplate, and even a rudiment-
ary maxtli, together with the extended position of the arms, as if in the
which may be recognized. There is exhibited, however, a lamentable
d ecadence from the art which fabricated the more elaborate vase. In
figure 69 may be seen what probably represents a further stage of de-
generation — namely, the substitution of the head for the entire figure
on the outside of the incense burner. The last stage of all in the
decadence of this branch of Maya art is to be seen in the small
crude bowls found by Sapper in the great Christa of the settlement of
Izan, and by Charnay in the ruins of Menche Tinamit. 1 These bowls,

1 Accounts of the finding of these incense burners and of copal are common in both ancient and modern
times. "Halle en una de las dos Capillas cacao ofrccido, y serial de copal (que es su incienso) de poco
tiempo alii quemado, y que lo era de algunasupersticion, 6idolatria recien cometida.' — Cogolludo, His-
toria de Yucathan, Bk. IV, Cap. vn, p. 193.

"Y los que ivan tenian de costumbre de entrar tambien en templos derelictos, quando passavan por
ellos a orar y quemar copal." — Landa, op. cit., p. 158.




each decorated with a roughly modeled human face, are manufac-
tured by the modem Indians and used by them in burning copal
gum in the ruins of the temples erected by their ancestors. Figure 70
shows a life-sized hollow head, in rough pottery, with a thin hollow
neck, probably used to carry around in processions on the top of a long
pole. There can be no doubt that these bowls and hourglass-shaped
vessels, each decorated externally with a human figure or face, usually
that of a god, were used as incense burners, since a number of them, as
already stated, were found in a
mound at Santa Rita with half
burnt out incense still contained
in them. Moreover, their use for
this purpose persists to the present
day among the Lacandones * and
even among the Santa Cruz
Indians. These incense burners
occur most frequently in the cen-
tral part of the Maya area and are
not common in northern Yucatan
or southern Guatemala. Three
distinct types are found : The first
include the large, well-modeled
specimens found in and around
burial mounds, decorated with
the complete figure of the god
(usually Cuculcan or Itzamna),
having every detail in clothing
and ornament carefully executed
in high relief. These are all prob-
ably pre-Columbian, and such as
have been found seem to have been used only as ceremonial mor-
tuary incense burners, to be broken into fragments (which were
scattered through or over the burial mound) immediately after use.

"While searching the upper steps of the pyramid my men found two interesting incense vessels with
a head on the rim."— Malee, Researches in the Central Portion of the I'sumatsintla Valley, Part 2,
p. 13G.

"In nearly all the houses (speaking of Yaxchilan) I found earthen pots, partly filled with some half-
burned resinous substance. . . . They were in great numbers round the idol in the house I lived in.
Some looked much newer than others, and many are in such positions that it was clear that they had been
placed there since the partial destruction of the houses."— Maudslay, Explorations in Guatemala,
pp. 185-204.

Charnay, Voyage au Yucatan et au pays des Lacandons, pp. 33-48.

"Se trouvent une multitude de vases d'une terre grossiero, et d'une forme nouvelle; ce sont des bols
de dix a quinze centimetres de diametre sur cinq a six de hauteur, dont les bords sont ornes de masque
humains representant des figures camardes et d'autres a grands nez busqugs, ventables caricatures ou
l'art fait completement ddfaut. . . . (es vases servaient do brule-parfums, et la plupart sont encore a
moitie pleins de copal."— Charnay, ibid., p. 88.

1 "These incense-burners are used by the Lacandones in their religious ceremonies. Each family or
group of connected families living together possesses several of the incense-burners or braseros."— Tozzer,
Comparative Study of the Mayas and Lacandones, p. 84.

Fig. 69. — Crude clay figurine found in Mound
No. 25.



[bull. 64

The specimen shown in plate 20 and figure 67 is a typical example of
this class.

Incense burners of the second type are smaller, cruder, and probably
later in date than those of the first type. Some of these are deco-
rated with the entire figure, but more of them with the face only of
the god.

Villagutierre tells us that the Indians of this region as late as the
end of the seventeenth century still practiced to some extent the
rites of their ancient religion; 1 and in the voyages which he describes

up the Rio Hondo, and to
Tipu, the Spaniards must
frequently have come in con-
tact with the ancestors of
the present Santa Cruz and
Icaiche Indians, from whose
territory the specimens
shown in figures 68 and 69,
typical examples of this
class, were taken. During
the early years of the Spanish
occupancy it is probable that
the Indians, even in this re-
mote and little visited region,
living in a constant state of
semiwarfare and rebellion,
robbed, enslaved, driven
from their villages, with
little time to cultivate their
milpas, gradually lost their
ancient traditions and arts,
and, long neglecting, ultimately almost entirely forgot, the elaborate
ritual connected with their former religion. Such a decadence may
be observed in comparing the incense burners illustrated in plate 20
and figure 68. The very marked facial characteristics of the former
have given place to the crudely modeled, vacuous face of the latter,
resembling the work of a child; while the elaborate dress and orna-
ment, each minutest part of which probably had a special significance
and symbolism, though retaining to some extent the form of their
main constituents — the headdress, breastplate, maxtli, and sandals —
have almost completely lost the wealth of detail which gave them

1 " Y las dos mas grandes, de Comunidad, y la otra, aun mas grande, que todas las otras, era el Adoratorio
de los perversos Idolos de aquellos Lacandones, donde se hallaron muehos de ellos, de formas raras, como
assimismo cantidad de Gallinas muertas, Brasseros, con senales de aver quemado Copal; y aun se hallaron
las cenizas calientes, y otras diversas, ridiculas, y abominables cosas, perteneeientes a la execicuion desus
perversos Ritos, y Sacrifieios." — Villagutierre, op. cit., p. 264.

Fig. 70.— Crude clay figurine found in Mound No. 25.




Incense burners of the third type are decorated with a very crude
representation of the face only of the god, consisting in some cases
merely of slits for the eyes and mouth, with a conical projection for
the nose, on the outer surface of the vessel. Some of the faces are
represented conventionally by two ears, with ear plugs, one on each
side of the vessel, or by knobs of clay on its outer edge, which repre-
sent the hair. Lastly, the incense burner, which may be recognized
by its hourglass shape, may be quite plain and undecorated.

The third type is probably the latest in point of time; 1 this includes
the crude face-decorated bowls still used by the modern Lacandones, 2
among whom the ritual, as is so frequently the case, seems to have
survived almost in its entirety the faith which gave birth to it.
This is the more readily comprehensible when we remember that the
manufacture and use of these ceremonial incense burners was practiced
commonly by all classes of the people, not having been restricted,
like most other details of the Maya ritual, solely to the priests.


Fig. 71. — Small pottery vases found in Mound No. 26.

Mound No. 26

Mound No. 26 was situated in a clearing about 7 miles to the south
of Corozal, in the northern part of British Honduras. There were
about 20 mounds, irregularly grouped, in this clearing, varying from
6 to 12 feet in height and from 50 to 120 feet in circumference. The
mound was 8 feet high by 80 feet in circumference. It was built of
rough blocks of limestone, limestone dust, and earth, 'tightly packed

1 See Tozzer, op. cit., p. 87: "If we consider the type of bowl with the knob-like projection as a transi-
tion form, we are led to the conclusion that the most primitive form of incense burner was the bowl on
which was represented the whole body at first, and then the head of a person or animal."

Ibid., p. 91: "The Lacandones assert that in former times the incense burners were made in other forms,
some possessing arms and legs. These are seldom made or used now."

2 These face-decorated bowls were in use as incense burners among the Mayas of Valladolid, very shortly
after the conquest. See Relacion de la villa de Valladolid, p. 185: " Adoraban unos idolos hechos de barro
a manera de jarillos y de macetas de albahaca, hechos en ellos de la parte de afuera rostros desemejados,
queraaban dentro de estos una resina llamada copal, de gran oler. Esto les ofrecian a estos idolos, y ellos
cortaban en muchas, partes de sus miembros y ofrecian aquella sangre."

See also Relacion de los pueblos de Popola, y Sinsimato y Samiol, pp. 44-45: "Usaban de adorar unos
jarrillos hechos en ellos rostros desemejados, teniandolos por sus ydolos quemavan dentro y ofresian una
resina llamada copal ques como trementina elada, de gran olor, y se cortavan en muchas partes para ofrecer
la sangre a aquel ydolo."


together, forming a tough, resistant mass. The mound was com-
pletely removed to the ground level, but nothing of interest except
chips of flint, fragments of obsidian knives, and potsherds was found
till the ground level was reached. Lying upon this, near the center
of the mound, were found the two small vases represented in figure
71, a, h. Each is about 6 inches in diameter; the one marked a is
of polished red pottery, nearly globular hi shape; b is of dark

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Online LibraryThomas William Francis GannThe Maya Indians of southern Yucatan and northern British Honduras → online text (page 12 of 15)