Thomas William Francis Gann.

The Maya Indians of southern Yucatan and northern British Honduras online

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material somewhat resembling pumice stone. The second consists
of a number of small disks of shell, about three-fourths of an inch in
diameter. Collections of these have been found together on several
occasions; they might have been used as beads. or ornaments but for
the fact that they are neither perforated nor decorated with incised
figures as shell beads usually are.


Of the 15 gods of the codices classified by Schellhas five may be
recognized in this area with a fair degree of certainty. God A, the
god of death, in the form of a human skull, decorates the outside of
not a few small pottery vessels, and is depicted upon the painted
stucco wall at Santa Rita. God B, the long-nosed god, is usually
identified with Cuculcan. Representations of this god are found
throughout the whole area in great abundance, painted upon pottery
and stucco, incised on bone and stone, and modeled in clay. This
god is associated with the cities of Chichen Itza and Mayapan, and is
supposed to have entered Yucatan from the west; indeed it is possible
that he may originally have been the leader of one of the Maya
immigrations from that direction. He appears to have been by far
the most popular and generally worshiped deity in this area, and it
is his imago which is found on nearly half of all the incense burners
discovered. God D, probably Itzamna, appears in the codices as an
old man with a Roman nose, shrunken cheeks, toothless jaws, and a
peculiar scroll-like ornament beneath the eye, to the lower border of
which are attached two or three small circles. In some representa-
tions a single tooth projects from the upper jaw, and in a few the

1 Por lo qual se usava tener en cada pueblo una casa grande y encalada, abierta por todas partes, en la
qual se juntavan los mogos para sus passatiempos. Jugavan a la pelota y a un juego con Unas habas como
a los dados, y a otros muchos. — Landa, op. cit., p. 178.

Two curious stones, which may have been used in some game, were discovered in a small burial mound
in the Orange Walk district of British Honduras some years ago. They were made of nicely polished
crystalline limestone, about one foot in diameter, and shaped very much like curling stones without handles.
The upper part of each was traversed by two round holes, about one inch-in diameter, which passed com-
pletely through the stone, near its summit, and crossed each other at right angles.


face is bearded. This god is not infrequently found associated with
the serpent. A typical representation of him is seen upon the Santa
Rita temple wall; 1 here he is depicted standing upon intertwined
serpents, holding in his right hand a feather-plumed serpent. This
god is represented upon some incense burners, and is found not infre-
quently associated with Cuculcan.

God K, the god with an elaborate foliated nose, often closely asso-
ciated with God B, his face in some cases forming the headdress orna-
ment of the latter god, is ' unmistakably depicted upon the Santa
Rita temple wall. 2 God P, the Frog god, is found on some small
pottery vases, and on a few incense burners. Nothing found in
the mounds proves definitely the practice of human sacrifice in this
area, but that it existed is almost certain, as Villagutierre refers to it
as prevalent among the Itza of Peten at the time of their conquest, 3
at the end of the seventeenth century, and Landa mentions it as
occurring among the Maya at the time of the coming of the Spaniards. 4
Near the headwaters of the Rio Hondo a mound was opened, which
contained, in a stone-walled chamber, a number of human skulls
unaccompanied by other bones. It is possible that these may have
been the remains of sacrificial victims, as it was customary to remove
the head of the victim after death, which became the perquisite of
the priests.

Human sacrifice among the Maya was probably a somewhat rare
event, taking place only on extraordinary special occasions, as in
times of public calamity — for example, during the prevalence of
famine, war, or pestilence — when it was felt that a special pro-
pitiatory offering to the god was called for. This practice was con-
fined to one, or at most to a very small number of victims, never
reaching the proportions which it did among the Aztec, by whom it
was probably introduced into Yucatan. The main offering of the
Maya to their gods seems to have consisted of an incense composed
of copal gum and aromatic susbtances. Landa mentions this as
largely employed at the time of the conquest; Villagutierre en-
countered it among the Itza at the end of the seventeenth century;
and Tozzer found it in use among the Lacandon Indians at the
present day. The incense itself has been found all over this area,
as well as great numbers of incense burners.

1 See Nineteenth Rep. Bur. Amer. Ethn., pi. xxx, fig. 8.

2 Ibid., pi. xxix, no. 3.

3 A la primera vista encontraron con la Messa de los Saeriflcios, que era vna Piedra muy grande, de mas
de dos varas y media de largo, y vara y media de ancho, con doze assientos, que la rodeavan, para los doze
Sacerdotes, que executavan el Sacrificio.— Villagutierre, op. cit., p. 392; ibid., p. 457; ibid., 482.

* Que sin las fiestas en las quales, para la solemnidad de ellas, se sacrificavan animalcs, tambien por alguna
tribulacion o necessidad, les mandava el sacredote o chilanes sacrificar personas, y para esto contribuian
todos, para que se comprasse esclavos, o algunos de devocion davan sus hijitos los quales eran muy rcgahdos
hasta el dia y fiesta de sus personas, y muy guardados que no se huyessen o ensu/.iassen de algun carnal
peccado, y mientras a ellos llevavan de pueblo en pueblo con vailes, ayunavan los sacerdotes y chilanes y
otros oiliciales — Landa, op. cit., p. 164.


In addition to incense, the blood of fish, birds, and animals was
smeared over the images of the gods, as an offering, together with
human blood obtained by cutting the ears, tongue, genitals, and other
parts of the body. The hearts of various animals, together with live
and dead animals (some cooked and some raw) and all kinds of foods
and drinks in use among the people, 1 were also employed as offerings
to the gods. In the hands of figurines upon the incense burners are
found, modeled in clay, fruit, flowers, eggs, cakes, birds, small animals,
and other objects, all evidently intended for the same purpose.


Three distinct periods of Mayan civilization seem to be represented
in this area. The center of the earliest of these was along the Rio
Grande, in southern British Honduras, within 20 miles of the Guate-
mala frontier, where the Leyden Plate was discovered, upon which
is inscribed the earliest but one known Maya date — namely, Cycle
8, Katun 14, Tun 3, Uinal 1, Kin 12. If the massive stone-faced
pyramids and terraces of these ruins are contemporaneous with the
Leyden Plate, as seems possible, they must be reckoned among
the earliest monuments of the first, or southern Maya, civilization.
The Benque Vicjo temple, in the extreme western part of British
Honduras, comes next in point of time. This was almost certainly
contemporaneous with its near neighbor, Naranjo, where the earliest
Initial Series found is, and the latest, giving
the city an age of at least 9 katuns, or 180 years. It will be seen that
the difference between the Leyden tablet date and the earliest re-
corded date at Naranjo is rather more than 16 katuns, or 320 years.

The latest of all the sites is undoubtedly Santa Rita, which shows
strong Mexican influence; this belongs to the second era of Maya
civilization, which reached its highest development in Yucatan and
the northern cities. Excluding the Tuluum Stela, the date upon
which,, is almost certainly not contemporaneous, 2 the
only Initial Series deciphered with certainty in Yucatan up to the
present time is that at Chichen Itza,, nearly 3 katuns, or
60 years, later than the latest at Naranjo; but probably the Santa
Rita site is much later in date than this, and if we may judge by the
objects found in the mounds in the vicinity, some of which show
strong Spanish influence, it was occupied up to and beyond the

i Mas de todas las cosas que aver podiaa que son aves del cielo, animales de la tierra, o pescados de la
agua, siempre les embadurnavan los rostros al demonio con la sangre dellos. Y otras cosas que tenian
ofrecian; a algunos animales les sacavan el corazon y lo ofrecian, a otros enteros, unos vivos, otros muertos,
unos crudos, otros guisados, y hazian tambien grandes ofrendas de pan y vino, y de todas las maneras de
comidas, y bevidas que usavan. — Landa, op. cit., pp. 162-164.

2 Recent examination of the Tuluum Stela has brought to light upon it, in two places, the glyph rep-
resenting the lahuntum, and the date 7 Ahau; now 7 Ahau occurs as a lahuntun ending in
(approximately 695 A. D. of our era) which is almost certainly the contemporaneous date of the Stela.





Mound No. 1

Mound No. 1 (No. 24 on the plan of Santa Rita (fig. 14), situated
midway between Nos. 6 and 22) was conical in shape, nearly circular
at the base, 18 feet high, and 90 feet in circumference. It was built
throughout of large irregular blocks of limestone, the interstices being

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Fig. 14.— Plan of Santa Rita rnounds.

filled with limestone dust and earth, forming together a sort of friable
mortar, which rendered the whole structure nearly as compact as a
solid block of masonry.

Excavation near the center of the mound, at a depth of 2 feet below
the surface, brought to light a large circular disk of roughly hewn
limestone, 3 feet in diameter by 8 inches thick. On lifting this it was




[bull. 64

found to cover the mouth of a bell-like cist, nearly 3 feet in diameter
and about 5 feet in depth. On opening the cist, which was slightly
narrower at the bottom than at the top, it was found to be nearly
half filled with very fine brown dust, at the bottom of which lay a
roughly made circular urn 18 inches in diameter, covered by a
mushroom-shaped lid.

The urn was filled to the top with small crudely executed pottery
figurines of men and animals. There were 49 of these in all, con-
sisting of 4 warriors, with shield and spear, 3 seated human figures,
4 standing figures (eating and fanning themselves), 4 lizards, 4 alli-
gators, 4 snakes, 4 birds, 4 dragon-
like creatures, 4 tigers, and 14 quashes
or picotes. The warriors (pi. 8) are
represented in a crouching position,
with the right knee and left foot
upon the ground; each holds in the
right hand a small spear and on the
left forearm a, circular shield. 1 Two
of them exhibit tusk-like objects pro-
jecting from their mouths. The fig-
ures are4 \ inches high; they are painted
in red and white throughout. The
headdress consists of a boat-shaped
cap worn with the bow and stern pro-
jecting over the ears. The seated
figures (pi. 9; fig. 15) are each 6 inches
in height; these are painted through-
out in red, white, and green. Each
is seated upon a low four-legged stool,
and grasps in one hand by its greatly
enlarged spatulate glans the project-
ing penis, on which he is seemingly per-
forming some sort of surgical operation with a long knife held in the
other hand.

The headdress consists of a mitre-like erection in front, with a
long queue hanging down to the waist behind. Button-like labrets
are worn on each side of the mouth in two of the figures, and all wear
large circular ear plugs. The standing figures (fig. 16) are each 5h
inches high, and had been painted throughout in red and white,
though not much of the original color now remains. The headdress
consists of a broad flat cap decorated in front with a row of circular
beads, and on each side with a large tassel, which hangs down over
the ear plugs. Each figure wears a small narrow maxtli and button-like
labrets at each angle of the mouth. In one of the figures the right

1 Tenian lancuelas cortas de un est'ado con los hierros de fuerte pedernal . . . Tenian para su defensa
rodelas que hazian de cafias hendidas, y muy te,xidas redoudas y guarnecidas de cueros de venados. — Landa,
op. cit., pp. 170-172.

Fig. 15.— Figurine from Mound No. 1.







hand is extended, while the left holds a circular fan. In the other the
forearms are flexed at right angles, with hands held open in front of
the waist, as if about to receive something. The lizard effigies, though
crudely made, are most lifelike representations about 6 inches in
length. The alligators resemble very closely those taken from another
mound at Santa Rita. 1

The tigers and dragon-like creatures are exactly similar to those
figured in Nos. 6 and 4 of the same plate. The bird and snake effigies
are very crude and ill made; the former, about lh inches in length,
represent birds in the act of flying, with wings extended. The snakes,
each represented with a double curve in the body, are about 5J inches

Fig. 16. — Figurines from Mound No. 1.

in length and one-half inch in diameter; they are made of rough
clay, painted red. The effigies of the quashes, though rough and
crudely made, are rather vigorous and lifelike in execution. Each is
about 3 inches long. This small arboreal animal, which, abounds in
the district, is represented in a variety of comical positions; so well
indeed has the artist studied his model that one can not help think-
ing that he must have kept some of the little animals as pets, as
many of the Maya Indians do at the present day. The figures when
first found were so brittle that it was impossible to remove them
from the pot without breakage, as they had been seemingly only
sun dried. After exposure to the sun and air, however, for a few
days they gradually hardened.

1 Figured in Nineteenth Rep. Bur. Amer. Ethn., pi. xxxrv, No. 5.



[bull. 64

The only unpainted object found in the urn was a natural-size
model of the human penis, in a state of semierection (fig. 17). This
differed from all the other objects in that it had been fired, instead of
merely sun dried, and is on that account much harder. Upon the
upper surface of the glans penis are three longitudinal incisions,
extending almost from base to apex, evidently made with a sharp-
pointed implement while the clay was still soft.

With these figurines a number of perforated beads of jade and
some of a dark-red stone, all nicely polished, were found; also the
tooth of a large alligator, perforated at the base, evidently for sus-
pension with the beads.

About 6 feet to the north of the center of the mound, at a depth
of 3 feet below the surface, was discovered a small stone cist
or chamber, 18 inches square, built of roughly cut blocks of
limestone. Within this were found most of the bones of a male of
medium height and fair muscular development. These bones were

exceedingly friable, but showed no
effects of lire; with the exception
of the tibiae, they were in no way
abnormal. The upper articular sur-
face of the right tibia had disap-
peared. The shaft was rounded in
section, the prominent angles at the
front and sides being obliterated. It
was slightly bowed, with the con-
vexity anteriorly, and was consider-
ably enlarged, especially in its upper
two-thirds, which were composed
chiefly of very friable cancellous tis-
sue, rendering the bone much lighter
than its appearance indicated. The surface of the upper part of
the bone was marked by the presence of a number of small
pits or depressions. Of the left tibia only a few fragments were
found, but so far as could be judged from these a change some-
what similar to that observed in the right tibia had taken
place in it. The bones and other objects found in this mound
would suggest at first sight the possibility of the individual buried
beneath it having suffered during life from some form of venereal
disease, closely allied to, if not identical with, syphilis. On reading
Landa's account 1 of two forms of ceremonial self -mutilation car-
ried out by the Yucatecan Maya at the time of the conquest there

1 Otras, se harpavan To superfluo del miembro vergoneoso, dexandolo como las orejas, de lo qual se engaiio
el historiador general de las Indias, diziendo que se circumcidian. Otras vezes hazian un suzio y penoso
sacrificio afiudandose los que lo hazian en el templo, donde puestos en rengla, se hazian sendos agujeros en
los miembros viriles al soslayo por el lado, y heehos passavan toda la mas eantidad de hilo que podian
quedando assi todos asldos, y ensartados; tambien untavan con la sangre de todas estas partes al demonio
y el que mas hazia, por mas valiente era tenido. — Landa, op. cit., p. 162.

Fig. 17— Unpainted object from MoundNo. 1.


can be little doubt, however, that the iiguriries shown in plate 9 and
figure 15 are meant to represent individuals inflicting on themselves
one or other of these, but, owing to the crudeness of the workman-
ship, it is difficult to determine which. In one the foreskin was pierced
and expanded in much the same way that the ears were treated
when sacrificing to the idols. In the other, a number of men,
sitting in a row in the temple, each pierced his glans penis from side
to side, and passing a long piece of cord through all the apertures,
strung themselves together in this way.

Mound No. 2

Mound No. 2 (No. 25 on the plan, fig. 14) was situated a
short distance to the south of Mound No. 19. It was circular at
the base, conical in shape, 6 feet high at its highest point, and 40
yards in circumference. On the summit of the mound, partially
buried in the earth, was found a conch shell, much worn by the
weather, with the tip cut smoothly off, and still capable of being
used as a trumpet. The surface layer of the mound was composed of
earth, in which were embedded a few limestone blocks. Within
this layer, which was 18 inches thick, near the center of the mound
and a few inches beneath the surface, was found a turtle, hewn from
a block of limestone, measuring 13 inches in length and 10 inches in
breadth. The next layer was composed of ashes, charcoal, and
pieces of half-charred wood. This layer, which varied from 3 to
8 inches in thickness, extended evenly over the whole surface of the
mound, and within it were found 16 beads of jade, two small round
three-legged vases, and the fragments of two pottery images. The
beads were all perforated and finely polished; two of them repre-
sented human faces, and one the head of some animal, probably an
alligator. One is unusually large, measuring 3f inches in length
by | inch in breadth.

The clay images are so fragmentary as not to be worth figuring,
but in construction, ornamentation, and size they appear to be
almost identical with those found in the mounds at Santa Rita,
already described. 1 One of the vases is 3| inches and the other 2|
inches in height; both are ovate. All the objects taken from this
layer show traces of having been exposed to the action of fire. The
beads are all more or less cracked and blackened, and the pottery
images and vases are discolored. The next layer was composed of
mortar, embedded in which were numerous pieces of limestone; it
varied in depth from 18 inches to 2 feet. The upper part of this layer,
to a depth of 2 to 3 inches, was yellow and very hard, and seemingly
had been fired; the lower part was lighter in color and very friable.
Within this layer, toward the center of the mound, was found the

i Gann, Mounds in Northern Honduras.



[bull. 64

alligator effigy shown in'figure 18. This animal is 15J inches in length
from the snout to the tip of the tail. The interior is hollow, and in
the center of the dorsal region is a circular opening 3^ inches in diam-
eter, surrounded by a rim 1^ inches high and covered by a saucer-
like lid. Within the widely opened jaws is seen a human face, hav-
ing at each corner of the mouth a small pottery disk, and in the ears
two large circular ear plugs. 1 Between the eyes of the alligator
are two claw-like horns, 1 inch in length, each terminating in three
curved prongs, which point forward. Within the body were found
two small perforated beads of polished jade. The inside of the jaws is
colored red; the whole of the body, together with the head and limbs,
is colore.d brown; the forehead and cheeks of the face held between
the animal's jaws are colored blue; the nose, mouth, and chin, white.


Fig. IS.— Clay alligator found in Mound No. 2.

This is by far the largest and most carefully modeled of the pottery
figurines found at Santa Rita, the smallest detail having received
careful attention, and the scales, claws, and teeth being separately
and accurately formed. 2 The fourth and deepest layer was 2\ feet

1 These large round ear plugs seem to have been universally worn; they are found in the paintings, on
figurines, and on the incensarios. The plug may be funnel shaped or flat, plain, or decorated with a stud,
rosette, or tassel. Describing the ear ornaments worn by the Itzas, Villagutierre says: "Si bien muchos
deellos rayadas las caras, y abujereadas las orejas. . . . Y que algunos Indios traian puestas, en las orejas
que traia, vnas Rosas de Plata, y otros las traian de Oro; y otros de Oro, y Plata." — Villagutierre, op.
cit., pp. 402-403.

Landa, speaking of the Maya women, says: "Horadavanse las orejas, para ponerse zarzilloa al modo de
sus mandos."— Landa, op. cit., p. 182.

2 Figurines of animals with human heads projecting from their widely opened jaws are common in this
area. The turtle, alligator, tiger, shark, and snake are usually the animals selected. Thomas says of this
figure: "If we may judge from its use there is no doubt that the Mexican cipactli figure is a symbol of the
earth or underworld. The usual form of the day symbol in the Mexican codices is shown in plate Lxrv,
16, and more elaborately in plate Lxrv, 17. " [These correspond almost exactly with some of the figurines
found.) "As proof that It indicates the earth, or underworld, there is shown on plate 73 of the Borglan Codex
an individual, whose neart has been torn from his breast, plunging downward through the open jaws of
the monster into the shade of the earth below. ... It is therefore more than likely that the animal indi-
cated by the Mexican name of the day is mythical, represented according to locality by some known
animal which seems to indicate best the mythical conception. Some figures evidently refer to the all igator,
and others apparently to the iguana; that on plates 4 and 5 of the Dresden Codex is purely mythical."
Thomas, Day Symbols of the Maya Year, p. 212.

Spinden explains these part human, part animal, monsters differently. He regards the human face
as symbolical of the human mind contained within the animal body of the god. — A Study of Maya Art,
pp. 35 and 62.


in thickness, and was built of blocks of limestone, each weighing
from 50 to 200 pounds, roughly fitted together, without clay or
mortar to fill in the crevices. Scattered all through this layer were
great numbers of fragments of pottery censers decorated externally
with human figures; nearly 150 pounds of these were taken from it,
representing probably 20 incense burners. The whole of the pottery
when first found was exceedingly brittle, but hardened in a few hours
on being exposed to the air and sun. At the bottom of this layer, and
resting on the ground, were found a number of pieces of black porous
material with a peculiar odor. The bottom of a large round pot, 10
inches in diameter, was also found full of the same substance, which
is probably a mixture of copal gum with various aromatic substances,
which had been used as incense and partially charred at the bottom

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Online LibraryThomas William Francis GannThe Maya Indians of southern Yucatan and northern British Honduras → online text (page 6 of 15)