Thomas William Francis Gann.

The Maya Indians of southern Yucatan and northern British Honduras online

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of refuse had been deposited it was covered with a layer of earth,
and that the mound must have been in use for a considerable
time to have reached its present height.

Small mounds containing considerable quantities of ashes and
charcoal mixed with earth and stones, together with refuse material,
as flint and obsidian chips, broken implements, potsherds, bones,
shells, clay beads and malacates, and similar indestructible objects, are
not of infrequent occurrence, and probably mark the sites of ancient
kitchen middens. Two such mounds were found on the mainland, south
of the island of Tamalcab, in Chetumal Bay, Yucatan, situated in what
seemingly had been a village site, occupying an area of approximately
20 acres. Great numbers of potsherds, fragments of pottery, images,
beads, malacates, chips and broken implements of stone and obsidian,
broken metates, fragments of conch and cockle shells, stone water-
troughs, and other indestructible rubbish were found scattered in
great profusion over the whole of this site.

Mound No. 36

Mound No. 36 was situated at Sarteneja, in the northern district
of British Honduras, quite close to the seashore. This mound was
2 feet 6 inches in height, about 12 feet in diameter; it was composed
throughout of conch shells mingled with cockle and whelklike shells.
Nothing except the shells was found in this mound, which forms one
of a group of similar mounds, evidently dumping places used by
each house, for the disposal of the shells of shellfish brought in from
the reef by the fishermen after the fish had been extracted and eaten.

Mound No. 37

Mound No. 37, situated close to the next preceding mound
on the seashore, at Sarteneja, is about 2 feet high by 12 to 15 feet in
diameter. It is composed almost entirely of fragments of rather
rough unpainted pottery and seemingly marks the site of a manu-
factory of this class of ware, as great quantities of fragments are also
to be found scattered in all directions around the mound. A small
quantity of earth was mingled with the potsherds, but nothing else
was found in the mound.

Mound No. 38

Mound No. 38, situated about 5 miles from Corozal, in the northern
district of British Honduras, was 6 feet in height by 15 feet in diame-
ter, with a flattened top. It was covered with a layer of humus and
contained nothing but fragments of weathered stone, of sizes varying




from small rubble to blocks weighing 30 to 40 pounds. Similar
mounds are found elsewhere, and are apparently merely heaps of
stones, which have been picked up on the surface of the fields, as, un-
like other momids, they contain no clay, limestone, or marl dust, mor-
tar, or other binding material and
no trace of burials or any object
of human construction.






Mound No. 39

Mound No. 39 was situated on
Wild Cane Cay, a small island off
the southern coast of British Hon-
duras. The island seems to have
been built up with stone and other
material brought from the main-
land and to have been used as
a burial place. Several small
moimds are scattered over the face
of the island; unfortunately most
of them had been dug down for the
sake of the stone they contained
and the objects from the graves
lost or given away. Those which
could be traced consisted chiefly
of copper ornaments, as rings, gor-
gets, and studs. Mound No. 39,
the only one whose contents were
ascertained with any degree of ac-
curacy, was a small circular mound
10 feet high, built of sand and
blocks of reef stone ; near the ground
level, about the center of the
mound, a single human interment
was found, the bones of which were in an advanced state of decay;
mingled with these were: (a) A round red earthenware pot, con-
taining a few small circular beads made from conch shell and five
or six medium-sized, unused obsidian knives, (b) A second some-
what larger pot, of the same shape and material, which contained
the upper part of the femur of a deer, on which is incised the design
shown in figure 82. This is neatly executed in shallow lines;
the upper part evidently represents a tiger, or the skin of that
animal, and is separated by a platted design from the lower, which
may be intended as a representation of the God Itzamna. With

Fig. 82. — Design incised on femur of deer found
in Mound No. 39.



[bui-l. 64

the bone were two objects of copper, one a finger ring constructed
of thin flat bands two-fifths inch apart, joined by double scrolls;
this is very much worn, either from use or from oxidization, conse-
quent on long exposure in the damp soil. The second copper
object (fig. 83) was probably used as a gorget, or for attachment to
a headdress, as at the back is seen a cruciform grille, evidently
intended to hold it in place. This object is in the form of a human
face, the lower part with its large mouth, thick prominent lips, and
flattened nose, exhibiting marked negroid characteristics, which
the upper part with its bulging prominent forehead contradicts.
The headdress is ornamented with three spikes passing along the
sagittal suture from front to back, while under the chin is a projec-
tion probably intended to represent a short beard. The ring and
ornament are both strongly suggestive of Spanish influence, as the
face with its thick lips, flattened nose, and bulging
forehead is totally unlike any type with which the
Maya were likely to come in contact, unless, indeed,
it were the Carib, who even at this early date had
possibly formed small settlements as far north as the
southern coast of British Honduras. If the objects
were of Spanish origin they were probably obtained
from some Spanish settlement farther north, possibly
Bakhalal, as there was no settlement between that
town and the coast of Guatemala till many years after
the conquest. That the cult of Itzamna was still flour-
ishing is shown by the effigy of the god incised on the
deer bone, and according to Villagutierre, the In-
dians of this neighborhood up to the end of the
seventeenth century were closely allied to the Itzaex, 1 who still
freely practiced their ancient religious rites.

Mound No. 40

Mound No. 40, situated near Pueblo Nuevo, on the Rio Hondo,
consisted of a ridge about 10 feet high by 40 feet in length. On the
summit of the ridge near its center, covered only by a layer of humus,
was found a small rough three-legged vase 3 inches high, contain-
ing a single long, polished, greenstone bead. The upper part of
the ridge was found to consist of blocks of limestone, limestone dust,
and rubble, on removing which to a depth of about 4 feet the ruins
of a building were brought to light (fig. 84). The bones were in so
poor a state of preservation that it was difficult to determine the exact

1 Speaking of the boundaries of the territory of the Itzaex, Villagutierre (op. cit., p. 489), gives the sea
as its eastern limit. All the tribes between the lagoon of Itza and the sea were evidently not subject to
the Itzaex, however, as he mentions (Lib. IX, cap. in, p.. 554) a number of tribes inhabiting this area with
whom they were at war, and states (Lib. vi, Cap. iv p. 352) that the Mopanes and Tipu Indians were not
subject to the Canek of Itza.

Fig. 83.— Copper ob-
ject foundin Mound
No. 39.




position in which, the body had been placed at the time of burial; it
had, however, certainly been fully extended. Close to the head were
found fragments of three round bowls, all precisely similar in both
size and coloring. Each was of the shape shown in figure 71 , b, Sh inches
high by 6J inches in diameter, and was made of rather fine ash-
colored pottery, finely polished. Each of these bowls before burial
had had the bottom knocked out. The mound beneath the building
was composed of blocks of limestone, rubble, and limestone dust,
forming a tough, solid, compact mass. This would seem to hare been
a small private house, not a temple, which (probably on account of the
death of its owner) had been deliberately wrecked, and the owner's
body buried beneath the cement floor of the one chamber remaining
partially intact. Fresh cement seems to have been applied over the

Fig. 84.— Ruins found in Mound No. 40. These consisted of broken-down walls about 2 feet high, joining
each other at right angles. Of the wall A-B, 10 feet remained standing; of the wall B- C, 8 feet. The
shaded space included between the walls was covered with hard smooth cement, which had been
broken away to a rough edge at its outer border and was continuous at its inner border with the stucco
which was still partly adherent to the walls. The walls themselves were built of blocks of limestone
(squared on their outer surfaces but rough within), rubble, and mortar; they were nearly 2 feet thick.
The long diameter of the ridge pcintod almost due east and west. An excavation was made in the
cement floor, and at the depth of 18 inches, at the point marked D, a single interment was brought to

grave before the greater part of the house was pulled down and the
wreckage piled up, to form a capping to the mound upon which the
house stood.

Mound No. 41

Mound No. 41 was situated in the northern district of British Hon-
duras, about 9 miles from Corozal. It consisted of a circular wall or
rampart varying from 4 to 10 feet in height, inclosing a space 30
yards in diameter. The wall was built of earth and blocks of lime-
stone, and in places had become considerably flattened out from the
action of the heavy tropical rains of this region. To the north an
opening or gap existed about 10 yards across. Excavations were
made in the encircling wall of the inclosure, and also in the central
space, but nothing except fragments of pottery was discovered.


Mounds of this kind are found throughout the area, though not in
great numbers. Some of these are circular or horseshoe shaped, some
crescentic, and others curved or even straight ridges. As a rule
they contain nothing except a few potsherds, which would natu-
rally be picked up with the earth of which most of them are made;
in some, however (especially in the straight ridges), superficial inter-
ments have been found. These mounds were probably used as forti-
fications, the circular, horseshoe-shaped, and crescentic mounds
being particularly well adapted to this purpose.

At Yalloch, just across the Guatemala boundary line from Choro,
a small village in the western district of British Honduras, the
Alcalde made a remarkable discovery a few years ago. While hunt-
ing for a gibnut he traced one to a hole in the ground ; on poking a
stick into this hole, he was astonished on withdrawing it to find that
he had brought out on its end a small painted pottery cylinder.
The hole on being enlarged proved to be the entrance to a chultun,
one of those curious underground chambers cut in the limestone rock
found throughout Yucatan and the northern part of British Hon-
duras, especially in the neighborhood of ruins. This chultun con-
tained numbers of fragments of very finely painted and decorated
pottery vases, together with two complete cylindrical vases, an ovoid
vase, and a pottery cylinder without bottom. Some of these were
within the chultun, some in a pit sunk in its floor, from which at a
later date several pieces of beautifully decorated pottery were taken.
The pit had evidently been used as a burial place, in which the
memorial pottery was deposited with the body. Merwin found
similar painted Maya vases some years later in a chamber covered
by a mound, at Holmul, within a few miles of Yalloch, and at Platon,
on the Mopan River, a sepulchral chultun was cleared out in which
human bones still remained. (Pis. 23-28.)

Near the point where Blue Creek or Rio Azul joins the Rio Hondo,
in the northern district of British Honduras, is situated in the bush
about 100 yards from the latter river a small circular lagoon, of a
deep blue color and considerable depth; from this flows a narrow
stream, also deep blue in color and highly impregnated with copper,
which opens into the main river just below the mouth of the Rio
Azul. The little lake is bounded on its eastern side by an almost
perpendicular cliff of limestone, in which are several small caves
and one large cave. The interior of one of the smallest of these
caverns, situated near the base of the cliff, not more than a few
yards in depth, was roughly hewn out so as to form shelves. Upon
these were found several hundred small binequins of incense, vary-
ing in size from 3 to 4 inches in length by 1 J to 2 inches in
breadth, to 8 to 10 inches in length by 3 to 4 inches in breadth.
The incense was composed of the gum of the white acacia mixed


with various aromatic substances; when burned it gave off a very
pleasant odor. The gum had evidently been poured while in a
liquid state into small bags, made of palm leaves, as in some of
the binequins considerable fragments of the palm leaves were still
adherent to the copal, and in all, casts of the leaves were left on the
soft surface of the gum before it solidified. The binequins which the
present-day Maya Indians manufacture as receptacles for their home-
made lime, though vastly larger, are precisely similar in shape, con-
struction, and appearance to those their ancestors used as recep-
tacles for copal. The entrance to the large cave was near the sum-
mit of the cliff and so difficult to reach that it can never have been
long used as a place of residence, though it would form an exceed-
ingly strong position to hold against an attack from without, as it
is necessary to cross a fallen tree trunk in order to enter, and this
might easily be hauled back into the cave or pushed away from
its mouth, leaving it practically inaccessible. Nothing was found
in the cave except a large quantity of bats' excrement and of
rough red potsherds.


Two human faces molded in stucco and painted were discov-
ered in a small stone-lined chamber situated beneath one of the
end rooms of the Casa del Gobernador in the ruins of Uxmal, north-
ern Yucatan. The room was accidentally disclosed by the caving
in of a small part of its roof. One of its walls was covered, above a
stone cornice, by a frieze of hieroglyphs, and against this wall stood
a small square stone altar, each side of which had been decorated
with a human figure molded in stucco and painted. Unfortunately
these figures had fallen; the two heads here described are the best
preserved parts of them which remain. Describing the sculpture in
stone which adorns the outside of the Casa del Gobernador, Stevens
ventures the opinion that some of the heads were portraits of cele-
brated men of the period.

The discovery of this chamber is extremely interesting, as it opens
up the possibility that many, if not all, of these vast substructures,
built apparently of solid stone, which throughout Yucatan support
more or less ruined buildings, may in fact be honeycombed with
chambers. Stevens first suggests the possibility of this. Unfortu-
nately since Stevens's day little or nothing has been done throughout
Yucatan in the way of excavation to verify the truth of his surmise.

Of the two heads now described, one probably represents a male,
the other a female; there is, moreover, a marked individuality about
each of them which renders it extremely probable that they are
portraits, possibly of some "Halach Uinic" (real man, or chief) of
Uxmal and his wife, during the palmy days of the triple alliance.

Each face is painted black with white circles round the orbital
margin, red rims to the eyes, and brick-red oval patches at either
angle of the mouth. The center of each upper lip is decorated by
a figure 8 shaped labret, the lower portion of which has been broken
away in the male head. Over the bridge of each nose is a curious
ornament consisting of a small oblong object with rounded corners,
held in place by a loop passing down the median line of the bridge.
Over the center of the forehead in both faces hangs a pendant, that
of the male composed of four small round beads, that of the female
appearing as a rounded comblike excrescence. Traces of the head-
dresses remain as a few feathers above each forehead. Both heads
were probably held within widely distended animal jaws, as a part
of the lower jaw is seen below the chin in the male head, where also


the large circular red ear plug still remains on the right side. The
measurements of the faces are as follows:

Male. — Top of headdress to bottom of lower jaw of animal head
holding the face, llro inches; top of headdress to bottom of chin,
9 to inches; forehead below headdress, to bottom of chin, 8^ inches;
extreme breadth of face (midway between a transverse line passing
through the pupils and one passing immediately beneath the lower
margin of the nasal septum), 7yV inches; extreme breadth at level
of the pupils, 7 inches; length of nose, 2 T % inches; breadth of nose,
ly%- inches.

Female. — Top of headdress to bottom of chin, 10^ inches; fore-
head below headdress to bottom of chin, 8^%^ ; greatest breadth
of face, at same level as the male, 7 1 s o inches; greatest breadth at
the level of eyes, 7^ inches; length of nose, 2^ inches; breadth of
nose, 1-n, inches.

The city of Uxmal belongs to the later, or northern Maya, civili-
zation. Unlike the earlier southern cities, Uxmal is without a single
initial series date by which its age might be approximately deter-
mined. It was founded by Achuitok Tutulxu, probably about' the
year iOOO of the Christian era. In the "Series of Katuns from the
Book of Chilam Balam of Mani" the date given is Katun 2 Ahau,
whereas in that from Tizimin it is recorded as having taken place
180 years later. 1 The cities of Uxmal, Chichen Itza, and Mayapan
formed a triple alliance, which lasted for nearly 200 years, during
probably the most prosperous period of the whole Maya rule in
Yucatan. After the disruption of this alliance, caused by a quarrel
between the rulers of Chichen Itza and Mayapan, Uxmal gradually
declined in prosperity, till at the time of the conquest its temples and
palaces seem to have been completely abandoned. The city was
visited in 1586 by the Franciscan delegate Alonzo Ponce, one of
whose companions gives an interesting account of the ruins. De-
scribing the house of the governor, he says:

Besides these four buildings there is on the south of them, distant from them about
an arquebus shot, another very large building built on a "Mul " or hill made by hand,
with abundance of buttresses on the corners made of massive carved stones. The
ascent of this "mul" is made with difficulty, since the staircase by which the ascent
is made is now almost destroyed. The building which is raised on this "mul" is of
extraordinary sumptuousness and grandeur, and like the others very fine and beau-
tiful. It has on its front, which faces the east, many figures and bodies of men and of
shields, and of forms like the eagle which are found on the arms of the Mexicans, as
well as of certain characters and letters which the Maya Indians used in old time —
all carved with so great dexterity as surely to excite admiration. The other facade,
which faces the west, showed the same carving, although more than half the carved
part had fallen. The ends stood firm and whole with their four corners much carved
in the round, like those of the other building below . . . The Indians do not know

1 Brinton, The Maya Chronicles, p. 87.

142 BUREAU OF AMERICAN" ETHNOLOGY [bull. 64, gann]

surely who built these buildings or when they were built, though some of them did
their best in trying to explain the matter, but in doing so showed foolish fancies and
dreams, and nothing fitted into the facts or was satisfactory. The truth is that to-day
the place is called Uxmal, and an intelligent old Indian declared to the father delegate
that according to what the ancients had said it was known that it was more than nine
hundred years since the buildings were built. 1

From this account there appears to be little doubt that at the time
of the conquest the great buildings of Uxmal were deserted and al-
ready falling into ruins. In the minds of the Indians they were
evidently associated with the practice of their ancient religious rites
at a much later date, for one of the reasons given by the regidor when
he applied for a grant of the land upon which the ruins stand was

It would prevent the Indians in those places from worshipping the devil in the
ancient buildings which are there, having in them idols to which they burn copal,
and performing other detestable sacrifices as they are doing every day notoriously and
publicly. 2

The ruins of Uxmal were probably venerated by the Indians up to
a very recent period, as in one of the chants used by the modern
Maya of southern Yucatan in their "Cha chac" or rain ceremony the
"Noh Nah ti Uxmal," ''Great house of Uxmal," is introduced, which
possibly refers to the Casa del Gobernador, as tins is the largest build-
ing among the ruins.

'Relacion Breve, quoted by Spinden, A Study of Maya Art, pp. 7-S.
5 Stephens, Incidents of Travel in Yucatan, vol. I, p. 323.

x& 1 1 *




The ovoid vase shown in plate 23 is 11 inches high by 6§ inches in diameter at
its widest part. It is of very fine pottery, with decorations in red, black, and reddish
yellow on a background of light yellow. The outer surface is divided by double
black lines into three zones. The uppermost and narrowest zone contains, between a
broad red band above and two narrow black bands below, a row of 10 glyphs surrounding
the edge of the vase. The middle zone, the broadest, contains upon one side (un-
fortunately the decoration upon the other side has been almost obliterated by time
or wear) a human figure, in a crouching position, the right hand extended, the left
resting upon the ground. The face is in profile, and around the left eye is seen the
ornament usually associated with the representation of a god. This may be intended
to represent Schellhas's God D of the Codices, known as the Roman-nosed God,
probably Itzamna, as this peculiar eye ornament is often associated with him. The
headdress is exceedingly elaborate, projecting far in front of and behind the head,
and is decorated with plumes of feathers. The whole figure strongly suggests the
bas-relief on the side of the door of the altar at Palenque, which is undoubtedly a
representation of the god Itzamna. The curious eye ornaments, the construction of
the elaborate headdress, the contour of the face, and the platted objects hanging
down in front of and behind the chest, from the neck, are similar in both. The
lowest zone is decorated with vases having handles at the sides, narrow necks, and
flaring rims from which project flame-like tongues; on the outer surface of each is
depicted an "Ahau" sign. The vases alternate with curious objects which might
represent bales of merchandise; the whole, indeed, closely resembles the tribute
count of some Aztec city.


The cylindrical vase shown in plate 24 is 6 inches in diameter by 11 inches high.
It is divided into three zones, the uppermost of which contains a single row of hiero-
glyphics, in fair preservation, between a broad red band above and two narrow black
bands below. The middle zone, by far the broadest, contains two very spirited repre-
sentations of the Long-nosed God, one on each side of the vase, done in red, black,
white, and dark yellow. The Long-nosed God, called by Schellhas in his ''Repre-
sentation of Deities of the Maya Manuscripts" God B, is usually identified with
Cuculcan, the feathered serpent; the Aztec Quetzalcoatl. This god is usually repre-
sented with a long pendulous nose and one or two projecting tusks, and is almost in
variably associated with the serpent. The head of the god is often held between the
serpent's open jaws, or has added to it a serpentine body; again the god may be en-
circled by intertwining serpents, or may hold the reptile's body in his hand, like a
wand. Though the serpentine attributes of the god are in this instance conspicuous
by their absence, and the tapir attributes are emphasized, there can be little doubt
that the painting is meant to represent God B, as the long pendulous nose and pro-

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Online LibraryThomas William Francis GannThe Maya Indians of southern Yucatan and northern British Honduras → online text (page 14 of 15)