Thomas William Francis Gann.

The Maya Indians of southern Yucatan and northern British Honduras online

. (page 13 of 15)
Online LibraryThomas William Francis GannThe Maya Indians of southern Yucatan and northern British Honduras → online text (page 13 of 15)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

chocolate-colored pottery, also finely polished. There was a space
of about 4 feet between the two vessels, in which were found frag-
ments of human bones.

Mound No. 27

Mound No. 27 was situated within 100 yards of the next preceding,
compared with which it was slightly smaller. It was built of blocks
of limestone, limestone dust, and earth. No remains were found in
the mound till the ground level was reached. Resting on this,
about the center of the mound, lay a small vase
(fig. 72), 8 inches in height, of rough red pottery.
Close to this were a few fragments of human
bones and some teeth. This mound contained
nothing else of interest.

Mound No. 28

Mound No. 28 was situated close to Nos. 26 and
27, and was built of similar material. It was 6 feet
high by 120 feet in circumference. On the ground
fig. 72.~Red pottery level about the center of the mo mid lay a circular,
vase found in Mound flat-bottomed bowl 8 inches hi diameter, painted a
dark chocolate color and polished . A hole had been
bored in its bottom and the bowl itself was broken into three pieces.
With it was an irregularly shaped piece of flint about 5 inches in
length, into which nearly 20 circular holes had been bored. It would
appear that this piece of flint had been used to test the merits of vari-
ous boring implements, as some of the holes were shallow depressions,
while others were half an inch deep. Most of them were mere circu-
lar depressions of varying diameters, with a smooth flat bottom, and
had evidently been made with a solid cylindrical borer , others, how-
ever, had a solid core projecting from their bottom, and appeared to
have been bored with a hollow cylinder; while a third variety had a
small indentation at the summit of this central core. No further exca-
vation was done in this group of mounds, as they all appeared to be
sepulchral, belonging to persons of the poorer class, hence it was
considered very improbable that objects of interest would be found
in them.





gann] maya indians of yucatan and british honduras 125

Mound No. 29

Mound No. 29, situated close to the seashore, near Corozal, was of
unusual construction, being built throughout of marl dust. It was
a low, flat mound, 2 feet in height by 25 feet in diameter. . Nothing
of human origin was found in it with the exception of a few rough
potsherds. On reaching the ground level two circular well-like holes,
2 feet in diameter, were discovered, about 15 feet apart. At the top
both openings were covered with large blocks of limestone, on removing
which it was found that each hole was filled with marl dust, enclosing
in both cases a single male human skeleton. The knees had been forci-
bly flexed on the thighs, and the thighs on the pelvis, while the back
had been bent till the head, which rested on the folded arms, almost
touched the symphysis pubis. Evidently the body had been doubled
up at the time of burial, so as to fit tightly into the cavity, and had
been further compressed by ramming down large stones on top of
the marl dust with which it was surrounded. 1 The bones hi one
of the graves were in an excellent state of preservation, as may be
seen from plate 21, b; they are those of a young adult male, prob-
ably somewhat more than 5 feet in height, of poor muscular develop-
ment. The teeth are excellent; the skull is decidedly brachicephalic,
the measurements being: Length, 15.4 cm.; breadth, 17.5 cm.;
circumference, 52 cm.; cephalic index, 113. Beneath this skele-
ton were found an unfinished flint arrowhead, four fragments of
small obsidian knives, and the broken fragments of a small, round,
unpolished chocolate-colored bowl.

The bones hi the other cist, though placed apparently under pre-
cisely the same conditions as the one first opened, were found to be
so friable that they crumbled into fragments when an effort was
made to remove them Beneath them were found only fragments of
obsidian knives.

Mound No. 30

Mound No. 30, situated close to Corozal, was completely dug down,
and was found to contain multiple burials. The mound was 8 feet hi
height, roughly circular, and 40 feet in diameter. It was capped by a
layer of reddish-brown earth, 6 niches to 1 foot in thickness, beneath
which were alternate layers of soft cement, each about 1 foot thick, and
of small limestone rubble about 2 feet thick. Scattered over the sur-
face of the mound, just beneath the earth capping, were found a nuni-
ber of fragments of clay figurines. The best preserved of these were
three human faces, an arm with the hand holding a small bird, a bird's
head, an alligator's head, and a plaited cotton breastplate. At
depths varying from 2 to 3 feet, six interments were found; of these

1 "Que en muriendo la persona, para sepultar el cuerpo le doblan las piernas y ponen la cara sobre las
rodillas . . . abren en tierra un hoyo redondo."— Cogolludo, op. cit., Bk. xu, Chap, vu, p. 699.


only a few fragments of the skull and long bones remained, not
enough to determine even the position in which the corpse had been
placed at burial. With the bones, hi some cases close to them, in
others at some little distance, the following objects were discovered :
One rubbing stone (for grinding corn), 2 pear-shaped flints, 9 flint
hammerstones, 1 ax head, 1 flint scraper, 1 broken hone of slate, 1
flint spearhead, 2 fossil shells, 2 pieces of brick-like pottery, 1 pot-
tery disk, 3 small beads, and 1 shell.

On reaching the ground level of hard compact earth, it was found
that an oblong trench had been cut through the latter down to the lime-
stone rock beneath, 3 feet in breadth, and varying from 2 to 4 feet in
depth; this trench had been filled in with small rubble. In its inner
wall, at the north side of the quadrangle, three interments had been
made by scooping out small cists in the earth, depositing the remains
therein, and filling in with limestone dust and rubble. With one of
these burials was found a small three-legged pot, of rough, unpolished
pottery; with another, a vessel in the form of a quadruped, 7 inches
in length, the identity of which is difficult to determine; and with the
third a small saucer-shaped vessel of red ware, and a nearly spherical
vessel of dark polished red ware. Within the latter were discovered
a few small animal bones, some fresh-water snail shells (as are found
at the present day hi the neighboring swamps and eaten by the
Indians), and a few bivalve shells. It seems probable that this
vessel contained food, either as an offering to the gods or for the use
of the deceased in his passage to the next world. It is not uncom-
mon to find considerable accumulations of the shells of conchs,
cockles, snails, and other edible shellfish, with the bones and teeth of
deer, tiger, gibnut, snake, and (along the seashore) manatee, in
British Honduras mounds; but the remains of food offerings con-
tained within a vessel are of rare occurrence. 1

A number of these large flat mounds containing multiple burials
have been from time to time completely dug down near Corozal, in
order to obtain stone for repairing the streets. Beneath nearly all
of them were found trenches cut through the earth down to the
subjacent limestone. These trenches varied from 2 to 5 feet in
breadth ; in the case of the smaller mounds they formed a parallelo-
gram, a triangle, or even a single straight line; hi the larger mounds
two parallelograms were j oined by parallel trenches (see fig. 23 ) . They
were invariably filled with small rubble, and a few of them contained

1 Among the modern Maya Indians of this area food is no longer placed with the dead, but every Hanal
pishan, or All Souls' Day, tortillas, posol, meat, and other foods are placed upon the graves, on the odor of
which the soul of the departed is supposed to regale itself. Tozzer mentions the custom of burying food
with the dead as still practiced by the modern Lacandones. (See Tozzer, A comparative Study of the
Mayas and the Lacandones, pp. 47-48.)

See also Cogolludo, op. oit., Bk. xn, Chap, vii, p. 699: "Al rededor le ponen mucha vianda,
una xieara, tin calabaco con atole, salvados de maiz, y unas tortillas grandes de lo mismo, que nan
llevado juntamente con el cuerpo, y assi lo cubren despues con tierra."


interments in their walls. The purpose of these trenches is difficult to ,
surmise, as they could hardly have served as foundations; drainage
was unnecessary; and, while the trenches themselves were never em-
ployed for sepulchral purposes, it is only occasionally that a few
burials are found within cists excavated in the earth along their

Three kinds of burial seem to have been commonly employed
among the ancient inhabitants of this part of the Maya area. The
poorest class were buried in large flat mounds, some of them a half
an acre in extent and containing as many as 40 to 50 interments.
The body was usually buried with the feet drawn under the pelvis,
the knees flexed on the abdomen, the arms crossed over the chest, and
the face pressed down on the knees ; the position, in fact, in which it
would occupy the smallest possible space. With the remains are usu-
ally found a few objects of the roughest workmanship, as flint hammer-
stones, scrapers, and spearheads, pottery or shell beads, stone
metates and henequen scrapers, small obsidian knives and cores,
and unglazed, rough pottery vessels. In the second class of burials,
each individual has a mound, varying from 2 to 30 feet in height, to
himself. Several mounds of this class have already been described
from the- neighborhood of Corozal. The objects found with inter-
ments of this class are usually more numerous and of better workman-
ship than those found in the multiple burial mounds, though they
do not show much greater variety. The position of the skeleton,
where it has been possible to ascertain this, is usually the same as in
the multiple burial mounds; occasionally, however, it is found in the
prone position, and, in rare instances, buried head down. The third
mode of burial was probably reserved for priests, caciques, and other
important individuals. The interment took place in a stone cist or
chamber, within a large mound, varying from 20 to 50 feet in height.
The skeleton is f ound in the prone position, surrounded by well painted
and decorated vases, together with beautiful greenstone, shell, obsid-
ian, and mother-of-pearl beads, gorgets, studs, ear plugs, and other
ornaments. 1 Some of these mounds contain two or even three cham-
bers or cists, superimposed one upon the other. The skeleton is
then usually found in the top cist, the accompanying objects being
placed in the lower ones. In one instance partial cremation seemed
to have been practiced, as fragments of half-burned human bones
were found in a large pottery urn.

1 This practice of burying with the dead some of their belongings is men! ioned both by Landa and Villa-
gut ierre.

"Enterravanlos dentro en sus casas o a las espaldas dellas, echandoles en la sepultura algunos de sus
idolos, y si era sacerdote algunos de sus libros, y si hechizero de sus piedras de hechizos y peltrechos!" —
Landa, op. eit., p. 196.

" Tenian por costurabre estos Indios, de sepultar los Difuntos en los Campos, a corta distancia del Pueblo,
y poner sobre las Sepultf.ras de los Yarones Banquitos, Puquietes, y o'.ras cosas del vso varonil; y sobre
las de las Mugeres, Piedras de moler, Ollas, Xicaras, y otros trastos a este modo."— Villagutierre, op.
eit.. p. 313.



Mound No. 31

[ BULL. 64

Mound No. 31 was situated close to the Rio Nuevo, about 16 miles
from its mouth, in the northern part of British Honduras. It was a
somewhat flattened mound, 15 feet in height, built of blocks of lime-
stone, limestone dust, and earth. At a depth of 9 feet, the angle of a
ruined building, formed by two walls averaging 2 feet high, intersect-
ing at right angles, and built of squared blocks of limestone, was

Fig. 73.— Pottery vessels found in Mound No. 31.

brought to light. The walls enclosed part of a floor of smooth, hard
cement. Numbers of blocks of squared stone were found throughout
the upper part of the mound, which had evidently at one tune formed
part of the ruined building. Resting on the cement floor, close to the
wall, were found nine pottery vessels, covered with limestone dust.
Five of these were of the type shown in figure 73, a, of dark-red, rather
coarse pottery, 12 inches in diameter at the run. One, pictured in
figure 74, is the usual Maya chocolate pot, similar to the one already
described (see fig. 24, g), except that the spout, instead of bending

inward toward the vessel, passes directly
\C~7 ~7 upward parallel to its perpendicular axis,

an arrangement which must have ren-
dered it far easier to drink from the ves-
sel or pour fluid out of it. The three
other vessels found are illustrated in fig-
ures 73, b, c, and d ; b is of polished choco-
late-brown pottery, 3 inches in diameter
by 5 inches in height; c is of thick red
pottery, 3 inches high, with two small
handles for suspension, one on each side;
d is of coarse polished red ware, unusually thick and clumsy, 12
inches high by 8 inches in diameter. Each of these vessels con-
tained a single small polished greenstone bead. No other objects
wore found associated with them, and there was no trace of human
bones. Excavations were made in this mound to the ground level
without results. The lower part of the mound was built of large
blocks of limestone and rubble, held loosely together with friable


74. — Chocolate pot found in
Mound No. 31.

gann] maya indians of yucatan and british honduras 129

Mound No. 32

Mound No. 32 was situated quite close to No. 31, which it Very
closely resembled in. "both size and construction. At a depth of
9 feet the end of a small building constructed of squared blocks of
limestone was brought to light. The walls were still standing to a
height of 2 to 3 feet, and showed traces of a red stucco covering on
their inner surfaces. The cement floor of the building and the plat-
form upon which it stood could also be traced. Lying upon this
floor were five pottery vessels and an unfinished flint celt. Two
of these vessels were precisely similar to that shown in figure 73, a;
one is a large, circular, shallow plaque, of rather thick reddish-brown
pottery, in the center of which a small hole has been made, evidently
with the object of rendering the plaque useless. The last two vessels
are illustrated in figure 75, a, h. A is an unusually large vessel of very
coarse, thick, red pottery, 18 inches high, which had probably been


Fig. 75.— Pottery vessels found in Mound No. 32.

used to contain corn or some such dry material, as the pottery was
too friable and soft for a cooking pot, or even to hold water. B is a
small three-legged vase, 4 inches high, of coarse, unpainted pottery.
Each of these five vessels, with the exception of the plaque, contained
a single polished greenstone bead. The celt was roughly blocked out
of yellowish flint. No objects except those above described were found
with these vessels, nor were there any traces of human burial. Exca-
vations were made in the mound to the ground level, and it was found
to be composed below the platform upon which the building stood of
a solid mass of rubble and limestone held together by loose, friable
mortar. There are numerous groups of mounds of all sizes in the
neighborhood, and judging by these, and by the potsherds and flint
and obsidian chips which one finds strewn over the surface of the
soil in great profusion, it must have been a densely populated region
70806°— 18— Bull. 64 9



[hcll. 64

Fig. 76.— Head cut from limestone found in
Mound No. 32.

at one timo. The two life-size human heads shown infigures 76 and 77
were found close to these two mounds in digging a posthole. Fig-
ure 76 represents a grotesque head cut from a solid block of crystal-
line limestone. Figure 77 is a mask,
rather crudely cut from greenstone and
unpolished. Both were buried in the
marl and were unaccompanied by other

Mound No. 33

Mound No. 33 was situated near
Bacalar, in the Province of Quintana
Roo, Mexico. It was 6 feet in height
by 20 feet in diameter, and was built
of blocks of limestone, limestone dust,
and earth. Near the summit of this
mound, close to the surface, was found
the small soapstone lamp illustrated
in figure 78, 4f inches in length, by If
inches in depth. The lamp is deco-
rated in front with a floral design,
and at the back by wing or feather-like ornaments, possibly meant
to represent the tail and half -folded wings of a bird. It is finely
polished throughout but had probably never been used, as in hol-
lowing out the interior the maker had carried one of his strokes too
close to the surface, making a small hole, which would have allowed
the oil to escape. There is a
freedom and lack of convention-
ality, both hi the pleasing and
natural floral design and in the
flowing lines of the back part of
this little lamp, which are to-
tally unlike the cramped and
highly conventional style to be
observed in similar small objects
of ancient Maya manufacture.
So widely does it differ from
Maya standards that there
can be but little doubt that it
was introduced in post-Colum-
bian days, probably very soon
after the conquest, especially as in the same mound was found one
of the small painted clay figurines so common in mounds in this
neighborhood, which with the censers probably belonged to the

Fig. 77. — Greenstone mask found in Mound No. 32.



latest period of Maya culture. Another explanation which suggests
itself is that the lamp was buried in the mound at a much later
date (possibly during the troublous times of the Indian rebellions,
between 1840 and 1850) by someone who wished to hide it tem-
porarily, and that it had no connection with the original purpose
of the mound. No other objects were found in this mound, with
the exception of a number of potsherds, till the ground level was
reached, where, near the center of the mound, the painted clay figur-
ine shown in plate 22 was uncovered. This represents a deer with a
human head, whose headdress is the upper jaw of some mythological
animal. . The back of the figure, which is hollow, contains a small open-
ing near the tail, covered with a conical plug of clay. Within were

Fig. 78.— Soapstone lamp found in Mound No. 33.

two small beads, one of polished red shell, the other of polished green-
stone. The whole figurine had been coated with lime wash, over
which were painted black lines, dots, and circles. 1 The human face,
earrings, gorget, and part of the headdress are painted blue, while
the mouth of both the human face and the face in the headdress are
painted red. Near the figurine lay a vessel (fig. 79) of rough yellow
pottery, unpainted and undecorated, with two small ear-like projec-
tions just below the rim. No bones and no trace of human burial
were found in the mound.

1 This white lime wash, applied evenly to the entire surface, over which other colors were afterward
painted, seems to have been used on all the more elaborate incensarios and on nearly all the clay figurines
It is still employed by the modern Lacandones in the manufacture of their bmseros. (See Tozzer, A
comparative Study of the Mayas and the Lacandones, p. 109.)




Fig. 79.— Rough
vessel found i
No. 33.

]> illcvy

Mound No. 34

Mound No. 34, situated near Progreso, in the northern district of
British Honduras, was 5 feet in height, roughly circular, and about 20
feet in diameter at the base. The mound was built throughout of
rough blocks of limestone, rubble, and earth. At the ground level,
about the center of the mound, were fomid large flat unworked flags,
which seemed to have formed the roof of a small cist that had caved
in. Beneath these were found a few fragments
of bone, which crumbled away as they were being
removed, with a small spherical vase, of rough
unpainted pottery, lh inches in diameter (pi.
21, a). This was decorated on the outside with
a human head wearing a peaked headdress, some-
what resembling the cap of liberty,andlarge circu-
lar ear plugs in the ears. Below the head pro-
jected a pair of arms with the hands clasped in
front, supporting between them a small pottery
ball. Within this little vase, which was filled
with earth and limestone dust, were found: (a)
A small earthenware bead (fig. 80, a), (b) A
small, very delicate obsidian knife, the tip of which is broken
off, but which otherwise shows hardly any signs of use (fig. 80, b). (c)
The terminal phalanx of a small and delicate finger, in a very fair
state of preservation (fig. 80, c). The burial of a terminal phalanx of
one of the fingers of the mother, with a favorite child, is not an un-
known custom among semicivilized peoples, and it is possible that
this little mound contains such an interment. The bones of the child
being fragile and deficient in calcareous
matter, may well have almost disap-
peared, while the finger bone of the
mother, being of more compact bony tis-
sue, and protected to some extent by the
vase in which it lay, has been preserved.
The crudeness of the modeling of the little .
vase and of the face and arms thereon
would suggest that it may have been a
plaything of the child during life, and
even perhaps may have been modeled by its own hands. The
obsidian knife may have been used by the mother to separate the bone
at the last finger joint. The little figure which decorates the outside
of this vase closely resembles those curious figures in a diving position,
with arms pointed downward and feet upward, which are not uncom-
mon in this area. Figure 81 shows one represented on the outside
of a small vase; several are to be found, molded in stucco, on the

Fig. 80.— Objects found in Mound No. 34.


ruined buildings of Tuluum, on the eastern coast of Yucatan, just
below the island of Cozumel, and they are occasionally, though rarely,
found decora ting pottery incense burners, instead of the commoner
representations of the Gods ltzamna and Cuculcan. Neither Landa,
Vfllagutierre, nor Cogolludo mention the custom as practiced by
Maya mothers or relatives on the deaths of their children. Had it
been prevalent at the time of the conquest it seems hardly possible
that such a practice could have escaped their notice; on the other
hand, if the solitary phalanx had not been buried with the dead as a
memorial, its presence under these circumstances is very difficult to

In nearly all extensive groups of mounds one or more middens,
or refuse mounds, are to be found. The four mounds next described,
though varying much from one
another, are .all distinctly of this

Mound No. 35

Mound No. 35 was situated
near the Cayo, on the Mopan
River; it forms one of a group
of about 30 mounds scattered
over a considerable area. It
was 12 feet in height and
seemingly had been about 30
feet in diameter, but situated
as it was, immediately on
the river bank, nearly half
of it had been washed away
by the floods of successive
rainy seasons, leaving a clean
section almost through the
center of the mound, very favorable for observing its construction.
The lowest layer, 1 to 2 inches in thickness, resting on the ground
level, was composed of ashes mixed with fragments of charcoal;
above this was a layer of earth and stones about 1 foot in thick-
ness, and above this a further layer of ashes; and so on to the
top of the mound — strata of ashes averaging 2 inches thick alter-
nating with strata of earth averaging about 1 foot. No objects
with the exception of a few potsherds were found in the earth
layers, but the layers of ashes were rich in flint and obsidian
chips, fragments of conch and snail shells, clay beads and mala-
cates, potsherds in great variety and abundance, with the bones
of the deer, gibnut, and peccary. It would seem that this mound
had formed a sort of kitchen midden; that when a certain amount

Fig. 81. — Figure in diving position on small vase.


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 13 15

Online LibraryThomas William Francis GannThe Maya Indians of southern Yucatan and northern British Honduras → online text (page 13 of 15)