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Thomas William Francis Gann.

The Maya Indians of southern Yucatan and northern British Honduras online

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85



on the ground level. All the buildings are in ruins, all. are raised
more or less on stone platforms above the ground level, and all
show traces of having been covered with stucco, both internally and
externally. In some cases this stucco is very beautifully decorated
in colored devices, as in the mound already described at Santa Rita; 1
in others the stucco is molded in various designs and ornaments,
which may or may not be colored, as in the mound at Pueblo Nuevo
on the Rio Nuevo, presently to be described. Most of these mounds
contain nothing except the building winch they cover, but some had




Fig. 30.— Details of Mound No. 9.

been used as burial places, the interments evidently having taken
place after the building had been covered in, as they are found
irregularly distributed through the loose superstructure which forms
the cap of the mound, quite close to the surface. 2

1 Gann, Mounds in Northern Honduras, pp. 666-680.

2 The interments which are found, superficially placed in mounds which cover buildings, were probably
of later date, as Landa distinctly states that the owner was buried within his house. " Enterravanlos
dentro en sus casas o a las espaldas dellas" fXanda, op cit., p. 196). Moreover, more than one of these
superficial interments are found in mounds covering buildings, and, lastly, human remains have been
found beneath the floors of ruined houses, where one would naturally expect to find them.



86 BUREAU OF AMERICAN ETHNOLOGY [boll. 64

Mound No. 10

Vague reports had been in circulation for some years as to the
existence of a mound close to the headwaters of the Rio Hondo,
where the Indians still practiced to some extent their ancient
religion. It was said that the mound contained a stone chamber in
which stood on a stone pedestal a life-sized image, painted in various
colors, and that around the walls of the chamber were niches in which
rested life-sized stone turtles, also painted; furthermore, that the
bush Indians of the neighborhood were in the habit of coming to the
mound for the purpose of burning incense before the idol.

The mound was found situated quite close to the bank of the Rio
Hondo, buried in the bush which covers this part of Yucatan. It was
80 feet in height, 350 feet in circumference, conical in shape, and com-
pletely covered by high bush continuous with that of the surround-
ing forest. After clearing the underbrush from the mound an open-
ing 3 feet square was discovered about 17 feet from the summit
of the mound on its northern aspect, the walls of which were faced
with cut stone. From this opening a low passage led to a small
stone-faced chamber 8 feet high, 6 feet broad, and 10 feet long, the
floor of which was composed of earth and lime well beaten down to
form a hard, smooth surface. Projecting from the walls were eight
small stone brackets, upon which nothing was found. No trace
whatever was seen of a painted image or of turtles. The walls and
ceiling of the room, especially the latter, were considerably blackened
by smoke, possibly caused by burning incense.

Excavation was commenced at once in the floor of the chamber.
At a depth of 8 inches the hard floor gave place to soft brown sand,
which was continuous to a depth of 2 feet, where several small deposits
or pockets of lime were found inclosed within it, each of which con-
tained a number of obsidian knives and small cores. The knives were
deeply indented on each side of the base, as if to facilitate hafting.
The cores, of which 20 were found, were slender and varied from 1 to
3 inches in length. On digging down through an additional 18 inches
of the brown sand a layer of lime was exposed about 18 inches in
thickness, filling the entire lumen of the chamber, in which were found
irregularly scattered 60 cruciform objects, finely chipped in obsidian,
each from 3 to 4 inches in length (fig. 3 1 , a) . These would have served
as either arrowheads or small javelin heads, or possibly were intended
for ceremonial purposes only. With them were a single pottery vase
and two small triangular javelin heads of obsidian. The vase (fig. 3 1,6)
was circular in shape, 6 inches in diameter, with a long piglike face
protruding from one side. It was made of dark-brownish pottery,
painted red and finely polished externally. It was filled with small
mussel-like bivalve shells embedded in lime. A number of the^e



cann] MAYA INDIANS OF YUCATAN AND BRITISH HONDURAS 87

shells were found also closely adjacent to the vase in the lime which
surrounded it. Beneath the layer of lime lay a layer of brown
sand, 3 feet thick, in which absolutely nothing was found. Below
this appeared another layer of lime, mixed with sand, 4 feet thick,
near the bottom of which were found 40 human skulls, neatly disposed
in rows. These, when first uncovered, seemed to be in a moderately
good state of preservation, but when removed from their bed of lime
and sand they crumbled so easily that it was found impossible to
preserve them. The skulls were all placed in the same horizontal
plane, each one nearly in contact with its neighbor. No other bones
were found with them, or in fact in any other part of this
mound, with the exception of two small oblong objects of bone,
about 2 inches in length, each still bearing traces of paint, which
were discovered among the skulls. These skulls would seem to
have been either the result of secondary interments or the re-
mains of sacrificial victims whose bodies were either eaten or
buried elsewhere. In favor of the first theory is the fact that




a b

Fig. 31. — Obsidian object and pottery vase from Mound No. 10.

the Maya did not practice human sacrifice to anything like the
same extent that their neighbors, the Aztecs, did, and slaughter
involving forty-odd victims must have been practically unknown
among them. Furthermore, in one or two instances small shallow
stone-lined graves, covered with large slabs of stone, have been found
at and around the bases of large mounds, and it seems quite possible
that these graves may have held the bodies of distinguished dead until
their skulls were in a fit condition to be removed to the mound or
until a sufficient number had accumulated to make it worth while
opening the chamber for their reception. In favor of the second
theory is the fact that, judging by what could be seen of the teeth
and lower jaws, all the skulls were of individuals in the prime of life,
no jaws of very young or of very old individuals being discovered.
Immediately beneath the skulls were unearthed 12 objects of chert
fashioned with great care. Seven of these were spearheads, the other five
of eccentric form. The spearheads varied in length from 37 cm. (pi. 15, c)
to 29 cm. (pi. 15,/) ; they were very well made, some from gray, others



88 BUREAU OF AMERICAN ETHNOLOGY [bull. (54

from brownish-yellow, chert. The eccentric flints comprised : (a) An
animal form, possibly meant to represent a bush rabbit, 30 cm. in
length from the forehead to the tip of the tail (pi. 15, a); (b) an
animal form, evidently meant to represent a turtle or tortoise, 28
cm. in length from the head to the tip of the tail (pi.* 15, g) ; (c) a
halberd-shaped implement (pi. 15, b), exquisitely chipped from light-
ocher-colored chert, 44 cm. in its greatest length by 19 cm. in breadth
across the widest part of the head. This implement is furnished with
two sharp-pointed cutting projections in front, separated by a groove;
at the back is a larger triangular sharp projection. The whole imple-
ment is well balanced, for use in the hand, by a bulging or thickening
of its body between these three projections; (d) an implement chipped
from yellowish chert, 44 cm. in length, serrated on each side, pointed
at one end and rounded at the other (pi. 15*, d) ; (e) a crescentic imple-
ment, chipped from yellowish chert, 26 cm. in its greatest length,
17£ cm. across the widest part of the crescent. From the convexity
of the crescent project three spines, the central one long and serrated,
the lateral ones merely pointed knobs. This object is more crudely
chipped and less symmetrical than any of the others (pi. 15, e).

These eccentrically shaped flint and chert objects seem to be
limited in their distribution to that part of the Maya area comprised
in southern Yucatan, eastern Guatemala, and most of the colony of
British Honduras. The earliest known specimens are probably those
now preserved in the Salisbury Museum, England, which have been
thus described:

Among the numerous stone weapons and implements which have been discovered,
and serve to illustrate the primitive arts of the New World, three remarkable relics
from the Bay of Honduras, in South America, are deserving of special attention.
They were found about the year 1794, with other examples, in a cave between two
and three miles inland. * * * One is a serrated weapon, pointed at both ends,
measuring 16| inches long. [This object is almost exactly similar to plate 15, d, except
that the latter is pointed at one end only, the opposite one being rounded.] Another
is in the form of a crescent, with projecting points. It measures 17 inches in its
greatest length, and it is conjectured may have served as a weapon of parade, like
the state partisan or halbert of later times. The third, which is imperfect, has prob-
ably resembled' the previous one in general form. 1

The second of these implements very closely resembles that shown
in plate 15, e, the Salisbury specimen being somewhat larger, more
symmetrical, and more carefully chipped.

About 3 feet beneath these flint objects, embedded in the sand
which filled this part of the chamber, were discovered 20 cruciform
obsidian arrowheads or javelin heads, similar to that shown in figure
31, a; 40 small obsidian cores; 2 obsidian arrowheads, of the shape
shown in figure 32; 12 well-made obsidian knives, grooved on each

1 From Wilson, Daniel, Prehistoric Man, vol. I, pp. 214-15, Cambridge and London, 1S62; quoted by
Stevens, Edward T., in Flint Chips.



BUREAU OF AMERICAN ETHNOLOGY



SULLETIN 64 PLATE 15




STONE OBJECTS FROM MOUND NO. 10



Cann] MAYA INDIANS OP YUCATAN AND BRITISH HONDURAS



89




Fig. 32. — Obsidian arrowhead
from Mound No. 10.



side of the base, and two crescentic objects chipped from chert,
somewhat resembling that seen in plate 15, e, but smaller, without
projecting spines at the convexity of the crescent, and altogether
more crudely and carelessly made.

After the sand and lime had been removed from this chamber to
a depth of nearly 30 feet it was found that the walls became continuous
with the solid foundation of masonry upon
which the mound stood. This was very dim-
cult to penetrate, and so far as was ascertained
contained nothing further of interest. The
roof of the chamber was next attacked from
the summit of the mound. To a depth of
nearly 2 feet nothing was found but fine, brown
alluvial soil, full of the roots of plants and
trees. Beneath this the real structure of the
mound began, for not so much as a solitary
potsherd or chip of flint was found in the earth
on the summit of the mound, indicating clearly that this layer had
accumulated since its construction. Beneath the earth layer, to
the roof of the chamber, the mound was composed of blocks of lime-
stone of varying size, loose friable mortar, and powdered limestone.
In the first 8 feet nothing except a few potsherds was found. At
this depth two shallow circular saucers, each 7h cm. in diameter,
were unearthed. These were made of coarse
red unpainted pottery, and close to them lay a
finely chipped flint object (fig. 33, a, b). This
was rounded at both ends, narrower at the
handle than at the base, and markedly con-
vex on its under surface (fig. 33, a, b). The
front part of the under surface was quite
smooth and polished, evidently from attrition,
while that part of it marked A A bore dis-
tinct traces of blue paint. There can be little
doubt that this implement was a paint grinder,
as a specimen almost exactly similar was found
in a mound nearCorozal, bearing traces of green
paint on the under surface. Fourteen nicely
polished reddish stone beads, spherical in shape, together with four
smaller beads of a light-green color, and a leaf-shaped spearhead of
flint, were found adjacent to the paint grinder. Immediately beneath
these was found an object made of what seems to be reddish-brown
agate; this is 10 cm. in length, oval in section, 1 cm. in its greatest
breadth, tapering off to a blunt point at each end, and finely polished
all over. With it were nearly 300 small triangular obsidian objects of
the shape shown in figure 34. These vary in length from 1J to 2 J cm.




Fig



33.— Flint

Mound No. 10.



90 BUREAU OF AMERICAN ETHNOLOGY [bull. 64

They are thick at the upper angle, the side subtending this forming a
sharp cutting edge. In some of the implements this edge is notched,
as if from use. These implements were probably used as scrapers, or
small chisels or gouges, for which purposes they would be suitable,
either hafted or unhafted. It is possible that they may have been
used as teeth for the sword known to the Aztec as mextatl, which
was also in use among the Maya at the time of the conquest. This
weapon was constructed by setting a number of sharp obsidian
splinters in deep lateral grooves, cut in a long piece of hard wood,
which were filled with liquid resin in order to prevent the splinters
from shifting from their positions.

In the Stann Creek district of British Honduras, on the banks of
the Sittec River, at a distance of approximately 15 miles from its
mouth, there exists an extensive clearing in the bush known as
" Kendal Estate." The soil here is remarkably fertile and well suited
for the cultivation of every kind of tropical vegetable product. As
lias been pointed out before, wherever throughout northern Central
America one finds patches of exceptionally rich soil, there, on clearing
the bush, will be found in greater or less numbers the
mounds erected by the former inhabitants, together
with the indestructible refuse usually. associated with
former village sites, as fragments of pottery, flint and
obsidian chips, broken and rejected implements and
t Jobsidian weapons, shells of various edible shellfish, clay beads,
object from Mound ne t, sinkers, malacates, broken rubbing stones, etc.
The converse of this holds true to some extent, as one
of the guides relied on by the modern degenerate Maya Indian in his
annual selection of land for a milpa, or corn plantation, is the num-
ber of mounds which he finds upon it. Indeed this remarkable index
as to the degree of fertility of the soil appears to be almost the only
useful heritage transmitted to him by his courageous and compara-
tively highly civilized ancestors.

Mound No. 11

Mound No. 11, at Kendal, occupies a conspicuous position upon
the summit of a small natural elevation, situated on the left bank
of the river close to its margin. It is 60 feet long, 40 feet broad, and
20 feet high, its long diameter running due east and west. An exca-
vation was made - into the north slope of the mound, which exposed a
three-walled chamber, 8 feet in length by 4 feet 8 inches in width.
There was no wall on the south side. The north wall, owing to the
outer slope of the mound trending over it, was only 1 foot in height;
the east and west walls were each 4 feet high. All three walls were
about 18 inches thick. The chamber was packed with water-worn




BUREAU OF AMERICAN ETHNOLOGY



SULLETIN 64 PLATE 16





... I






MODEL OF JADEITE BIVALVE SHELL, b. LIGHT-GREEN JADEITE MASK.
HEAD, OR CELT. d. TERRA-COTTA CYLINDER



gann] MAYA INDIANS OP YUCATAN AND BRITISH HONDURAS 91

bowlders and earth, among which nothing was found but scattered
patches of charcoal, with a few small red pots, so rotten and friable
from long exposure to the damp that it was found impossible 4o
remove them. Had there over been bones in the chamber, as seems
probable, they must have completely disintegrated Jong before from
contact with the damp clay. The floor was composed of flags of
shale. About the center of the west wall a recess was discovered
2 feet wide by 1^ feet high. This was half filled with earth, in which
the following objects were found:

(1) The model of half a bivalve shell in light-green jadeite, very
well executed and polished both inside and out (pi. 16, a). On its
outer surface, following the contour of the outer edge, are seven
glyphs, the chief component of each of which is a grotesque human
face. 1

(2) A small mask of light-green jadeite, well polished on both
surfaces, measuring approximately 7 cm. in both diameters (pi. 16, b).
Inscribed on the forehead in shallow lines are the glyphs shown
in figure 35, somewhat enlarged from the actual size. Around the
edge of the lower half
of the mask are seven
minute perforations,
while running across the
back of the forehead
from ear to ear is a larger

° Fig. 35. — Inscription on mask, plate 16, 6.

hole, evidently used lor

suspension. No doubt this mask was used as a breast ornament,
similar to those portrayed in the codices and on the monoliths, the
small holes being intended for the suspension of the alligator-head
beads found with the 'mask, which again may have been connected
along their outward-pointing snouts by the cylindrical beads.

(3) An ax head, or celt, of light-green stone, finely polished through-
out (pi. 16, c), 21 cm. in length by 6.5 cm. in breadth at the cutting
edge. One side is engraved with hieroglyphs done in shallow lines,
much less carefully and neatly than those on the shell. The lower
two-thirds of the engraved side have evidently been subjected to con-
siderable attrition, as the surface of the stone, especially along the
lower third of the ax, has been so worn away as to render the lines
almost undecipherable. This inscription, somewhat smaller than the
original, is shown in figure 36. With these engraved objects were
a number of cylindrical beads, pierced in their long diameter, made
of very pretty mottled light and dark green jade, well polished.
They varied from 1.2 to 1.6 cm. in length, and the substance of
the stone from which they were made was distinctly crystalline

1 This shell has already been reproduced in the Sixteenth Annual Report of the Bureau of American
Ethnology, pi. lxix.





92



BUREAU OF .MEEICAN ETHNOLOGY



[bull. 64



on fracture. With them were a number of small alligator heads,
made of similar stone and about the same size as the beads, pierced
at the base of the skull for suspension, six celts of green and chocolate-
colored stone, all finely polished, varying from 9 to 18 cm. in length,
and a circular disk of iron pyrites 8 cm. in diameter by 5 mm. in
thickness. This object was milled round the edges like a com and
perforated in the center. With it was the broken half of a similar
ornament; probably both of these had been used as ear ornaments.
Trenches were dug through this mound in all directions, but nothing
further was found therein.

Mound No. 12

Mound No. 12, at Kendal, was situated close to the last-described
mound. Its flattened summit measured 28 feet by 20 feet; the
average height was approximately 1 5 feet. The mound extended east
and west, and on its eastern slope large slate slabs were seen protruding
from the surface. On excavating round these they' were found to be
part of a chamber measuring 7 feet by 3 feet; the south wall had




Fig. 36.— Inscription on ax head, plate 16, c.

caved in and the roof slabs also had been somewhat displaced. The
chamber was filled with earth, on removing which the following
objects were found upon the floor slabs: (1) Three nearly spherical
red pots, averaging 6 inches in diameter; they were so rotten from
the effect of moisture that it was impossible to remove them. (2)
Two small, rather crudely executed human faces cut in mottled
jadeite, and finely polished, with which were three green jadeite
beads. (3) A small quantity of greenish powder. (4) Four small
chisels of polished greenstone, varying from 2 to 4 cm. in length.
(5) One chisel made of very soft gray stone, which had been covered
externally with greenish paint somewhat resembling enamel, and very
closely simulating the genuine greenstone chisels with which it was
placed, except that it was much lighter in weight. Instances of
counterfeit implements and ornaments buried with the dead have
been found more than once throughout this area.

Excavations were made along the flattened top of this mound,
and about 1 6 feet to the westward of the first one a second grave was
discovered. This was in a much better state of preservation than



Gann] MAYA INDIANS OF YUCATAN AND BRITISH HONDURAS 93

the first, as all the walls and the, roof were in situ. It was composed
throughout of large flat irregular slabs of slate, averaging about 2
inches in thickness. It measured 8 feet by 2 feet by 2 feet in height.
The chamber was filled with earth, and the roof was not more than
6 or 8 inches below the surface of the mound. The following objects
were found in this chamber, all resting upon the slate slabs which
formed the floor. At the north end five nearly globular red earthen-
ware pots, of rather coarse manufacture, each containing a stone
celt, were found. These pots had been packed closely together, in
earth, and over them a large slab of slate had been placed as if
to j>rotect them; this, however, it failed to do, as the pots were so
saturated with moisture that it was found possible to remove only
one unbroken. The celts averaged 6 inches in length; all were well
made and polished ; four were of greenstone, one of a bluish-gray stone.
Close to the pots were found a small jadeite face and three green-
stone beads or pendants. Nearer the center of the floor of the cham-
ber were found two small cubical objects of light greenstone 1 cm.
in diameter, very closely resembling dice, with a geometrical device
inscribed in rather deej> lines upon two of their opposed surfaces;
these might have been seals or stanrps, or they might have been
used in playing some game. With them were a small solid cylin-
der, of light greenstone, finely polished for suspension, 12 small
obsidian knives, seemingly quite new, as they showed no signs of
notching from use, and six convolvulus-shaped ornaments of light
greenstone, finely polished, which had probably been used as ear
plugs. Close to the last lay a hollow cylinder of extremely hard
terra cotta 7 cm. in height, inscribed externally with a geometrical
device in low relief (pi. 16, d). This object was undoubtedly a
cylindrical seal or stamp for use on a handle; similar specimens are
not uncommon in the south of British Honduras and in Guatemala,
though in the north of the colony and in Yucatan they are of much
less frequent occurrence. Small patches of charcoal and of green
powder were found in several places scattered over the floor of this
chamber. Nothing further was found in this mound, which was
composed throughout of earth and water-worn bowlders.

Several more mounds were excavated at Kendal, but nothing wao
found in them. They were all composed of earth and large, water-
worn bowlders, the former greatly predominating. Close to many of
the mounds a deep excavation in the surface is to be seen, from which
the material to construct the mound was evidently taken. These
mounds form a decided contrast to those in the north of British
Honduras and in southern Yucatan; they are lower, flatter, more
diffuse and irregular in outline, with the line of demarcation be-
tween the base of the mound and the surrounding soil very poorly
defined. The northern mounds are more clearly defined, with steeper



94



BUREAU OF AMERICAN ETHNOLOGY



[bdll. 64



Fig. 37.— Flint spearheads.



sides, smaller summits, and base lines easily distinguishable. The
reason for this difference is to be sought in the material from which
the mounds were constructed, which in the south is clay, with a
small admixture of river bowlders, both of which are easily washed
down by the torrential tropical rains of the district. Year by year

the mound becomes flatter and less well
defined, till at length most of these
mounds will be hardly distinguishable
from the surrounding earth. In the
north, on the contrary, the mounds are
built of large blocks of limestone, with
only a small admixture of earth and lime-
stone dust. In many cases the blocks
are mortared together, and in nearly all
cases layers of cement are alternated
with layers of stone. The whole forms a
practically solid block of masonry, capa-


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Online LibraryThomas William Francis GannThe Maya Indians of southern Yucatan and northern British Honduras → online text (page 9 of 15)