Sidor som bilder
PDF
ePub

ornamented, and are more faded and worn, or covered with moss; some were completely buried, and of others it was difficult to make out more than the form. All differed in fashion, and doubtless had some distinct and peculiar reference to the idols before which they stood. This stands on four globes, cut out of the same stone; the sculpture is in bas-relief, and it is the only specimen of that kind found at Copan, all the rest being in bold alto-relievo. It is six feet square, and four feet high, and the top is divided into thirty-six tablets of hieroglyphics, which, beyond doubt, record some event in the history of the mysterious people who once inhabited the city.

On the west side are the two principal personages, chiefs or warriors, with their faces opposite each other, and apparently engaged in argument, or negotiation. The other fourteen are divided into two equal parties, and seem to be following their leaders. Each of the two principal figures are seated, cross-legged, in the Oriental fashion, on a hiero. glyphic, which probably designates his name and office, or character; and on three of which, the serpent forms a part. Between the two principal personages is a remarkable cartouche, containing two hieroglyphics well preserved, which remind us strongly of the Egyptian method of giving the names of the kings, or heroes, in whose honor monuments were erected. The head-dresses are remarkable for their curious and complicated form ; the figures have all breastplates, and one of the two principal characters holds in his hand an instrument, which may, perhaps, be considered a sceptre ; each of the others holds an object, which can be only a subject of speculation and conjecture. It may be a weapon of war, and if so, it is the only thing of the kind found represented at Copan. In other countries, battle scenes, warriors, and weapons of war, are among the most prominent subjects of sculpture; and from the entire absence of them here, there is reason to believe that the people were not warlike, but peaceable, and easily subdued.

Mr. Stephens, to whose “ Incidents of travel in Central America,” we again refer with great satisfaction, in speaking of the ruins of Quirigua, observes: “ They ascended to the top of a pyramidal structure, about twenty-five feet, and descending by steps on the other side, at a short distance beyond came to a colossal head, two yards in diameter, almost buried by an enormous tree, and covered with moss. Near it was a large altar; proceeding three or four hundred yards to the north, they reached a collection of monuments of the same general character with those at Copan, but twice or three times as high.

“ The first is about twenty feet high, five feet six inches on two sides, and two feet eight, on the other two. The front, represents the figure of a man, well preserved—the back, that of a woman, much defaced ; the sides are covered with hieroglyphics, but in bas-relief, and of exactly the same style as those at Copan.

“Another is twenty-three feet out of the ground, with figures of men on the front and back, and hieroglyphics, in bas-relief, on the sides, and surrounded by a base, projecting fifteen or sixteen feet from it.

“At a short distance is an obelisk, or carved stone, twenty-six feet out of the ground, and probably six or eight feet under it. It is leaning twelve feet two inches out of the perpendicular, and seems ready to fall. The side toward the ground represents the figure of a man, very perfect, and finely sculptured—the other two contain hieroglyphics, in bas-relief. In size and sculpture, this is the finest of the whole.

"A statue, ten feet high, is lying on the ground, covered with moss and herbage; and another, about the same size of this, with its face upward. Others, of a similar kind, are found in the same vicinity.

“ The general character of these ruins, is the same as at Copan; the monuments are much larger, but they are sculptured in relief, less rich in design, and more faded and worn, probably being of a much older date.

“Of one thing there is no doubt: a large city once stood there. Its name is lost-its history unknown. For centuries it has lain as if covered with the lava of Vesuvius; every traveller from Yzabal to Guatimala has passed within three hours of it, and yet there it lay-like the rockbuilt city of Edom-unvisited, unsought, and unknown.”

Mr. Stephens, in the work above referred to, after describing the ruins of Santa Cruz del Quichi, another city of Central America, evidently of modern date, observes : “ We consider this place important, from the fact that its history is known, and its date is fixed. It was in its greatest splendor when Alvarado conquered it-it proves the character of the buildings which the Indians of that day constructed, and its ruins confirm the glowing accounts given by Cortez and his companions, of the splendor displayed in the edifices of Mexico. The point to which we directed our attention, was to discover some resemblance to the ruins of Copan and Quirigua ; but we did not find statues, or carved figures, or hieroglyphics, nor could we learn that any had ever been found there. If there had been such evidences, we should have considered these re. mains the works of the same race of people ; but in the absence of such evidences, we believed that Copan and Quirigua, were cities of another race, and of a much older date.”

Of Palenque, another city in ruins, Mr. Stephens remarks: “The ruins of Palenque are the first which awakened attention to the existence of ancient and unknown cities in America, and on that account, are more interesting to the public than any other. The Indians, and the people of Palenque, say that they cover a space of sixty miles-ten times larger than New York, and three times as large as London.”

Of a building, supposed to be a palace, Mr. Stephens says: “It stands on an artificial elevation, of an oblong form, forty feet high, three hun. dred and ten feet in front and rear, and two hundred and sixty feet on each side. This elevation was paved with stone, which has been thrown down by the growth of trees, and its form is hardly distinguishable.

“The building stands with its face to the east, and measures two hun. dred and twenty-eight feet, by one hundred and eighty feet deep. Its height is not more than twenty-five feet, and all around, it had a broad

projecting cornice of stone. The front contained fourteen doorways, about nine feet wide each, and the intervening piers are between six and seven feet wide. On the left, in approaching the palace, eight of the piers have fallen down, as has also the corner on the right, and the ter. race underneath is cumbered with ruins. But six piers remain entire, and the rest of the front is open.

“ The building was constructed of stone, with a mortar of lime and sand, and the whole front was covered with stucco, and painted. The piers were ornamented with spirited figures in bas-relief; on the top are three hieroglyphics, sunk in the stucco ; it is inclosed by a richly ornamented border, about ten feet high, and six wide, of which only part remains. The principal personage stands in an upright position, and in profile. The head represents a different species from any now existing in that region of country, and indicates a race of people now lost and unknown. He holds in his hand a staff, or sceptre, and opposite his hands are the marks of these hieroglyphics, which have decayed or been broken off ; at his feet are two naked figures, seated cross-legged, and apparently suppliants. The hieroglyphics doubtless tell its story. The stucco is of admirable consistency, and hard as stone. It was painted, and in differ. ent places about it we discovered the remains of red, blue, yellow, black, and white.

“ The building has two parallel corridors, running lengthwise on all four of its sides. The floors are of a cement as hard as the best seen in the remains of Roman baths and cisterns. The walls are about ten feet high, and on each side of the principal entrance ornamented with medal. lions, of which the borders only remain. This, perhaps, contained the busts of the royal family.

“From the centre door a range of stone steps, thirty feet long, leads to a rectangular courtyard, eighty feet by seventy. On each side of the steps are grim and gigantic figures carved in stone, nine or ten feet high. This courtyard was encumbered with trees, so that we could hardly see across it, and so filled with rubbish, that we were obliged to make exca. vations of several feet before the figures could be drawn.

“ Such is, in fact, only a description of the supposed palace of Palenque, from which the reader will form some idea of the profusion of its orna. ments—of their unique and striking character, and of their mournful effect, shrouded by trees; and perhaps, with him as with us, fancy will paint it as it was before the hand of time had swept over it-perfect in its amplitude and rich decorations, and occupied by the strange people, whose portraits and figures adorn its walls.

“Here,” says Stephens, “were the remains of a cultivated, polished, and peculiar people, who have passed through all the stages incident to the rise and fall of nations-reached their golden age, and perished en. tirely unknown : the links which connected them with the human family were severed and lost, and those were the only memorials of their footsteps upon earth. We lived in the ruined palace of their kings, we went up to their desolate temples and ruined altars, and wherever we moved we saw the evidence of their taste-their skill in the arts—their wealth and power. In the midst of desolation and ruin we looked back to the past-cleared away the gloomy forests, and fancied every building perfect, with its terraces and pyramids, its sculptured and painted ornaments, grand, lofty and imposing, and overlooking an immense inhabited plain. We called back into life the strange people who gazed at us in sadness from the walls-pictured them in fanciful costumes, and adorned with plumes of feathers, ascending the terraces of the palace, and the steps leading to the temples—and imagined a scene of unique and gorgeous beauty and magnificence, realizing the emotions of oriental poets—the very spot which fancy would have solicited for the “happy valley" of Rasselas. In the romance of this world's history, nothing ever impressed me more forcibly than the spectacle of this once great and lovely city, overturned, desolate, and lost-discovered by accident-overgrown with trees, and without even a name. Apart from everything else, it was a moving witness to this world's mutations. Cortez, on his conquering march from Mexico to Honduras, by the lake of Peten, must have passed within twenty or thirty miles of it; and if Palenque at that time had been a living city, its fame must have reached his ears, and he would in all probability have turned aside from his road to subdue or plunder it. 'Tis therefore reasonable to suppose that Palenque was at that time deso. late, ruined, and lost.”

Of the ruined city of Uxmal and its ornaments, Mr. Stephens remarks : “ Probably all their ornaments have a symbolical meaning-each stone is part of an allegory or fable, hidden from us-inscrutable under the light of the feeble torch we may burn before it, but which, even if revealed, will show that the history of the world yet remains to be written.”

In addition to the evidence recently furnished by the discovery and exhibitions of ruins in Central America, (scarcely begun to be developed,) other evidence of an inferior character, tending to the same result, has long existed at the north, and in every part of our country. Ancient fortifications, requiring more industry and greater efforts to erect them, than the race of Indians now existing ever exhibited, and of which no traditionary accounts remain. Inscriptions on rocks and in caves, said to be of Egyptian or Phænician origin-specimens of pottery and other relics, together with mounds, tumuli, and barrows, as they are some. times called, have led many to suppose that this was the primitive continent—that the ark of Noah rested somewhere within its limits; and that civilization was originally from thence diffused to other parts of the globe.

The evidence, however, in support of these several positions falls short of demonstration, and most of it, without doubt, is wholly imaginary. Dr. Beck, in his Gazeteer of Illinois, speaking of Mount Joliet, a large mound on the west bank of the River des Plaines, near the village of Juliet, and about forty miles from Chicago, says: “It is about three or four hundred yards in length, and two or three hundred in breadth. Its form is that of a prism ; it is evidently the work of art, and is probably the largest mound in the United States."

Priest, in his American Antiquities, speaking of the same, observes : “ Its situation is such as to give to its size its fullest effect-being in a level country, with no hill in sight to form a contrast. Its height is sixty feet-nearly four rods perpendicular-its length eighty-four rods--its width fourteen. This mound is built on the horizontal limestone stratum of the secondary formation, and is fronted by the beautiful Lake Joliet, which is about fifteen miles long, presenting the most noble and picturesque spot in all America. This mound consists of 18,250,000 solid feet of earth. How long it took to build it is more than can be made out, as the number of men employed, and the facilities for carrying on the work, are unknown.”

Persons who have visited Mount Joliet, and read the above glowing description in printed volumes, knowing, as they do, that Mount Joliet furnishes no other evidence of having been erected by human hands, than the White Hills of New Hampshire, or the Rock of Gibraltar, are led to doubt sometimes the veracity, and sometimes the judgment, of their authors.

Sir Walter Raleigh, a celebrated courtier in the reign of Queen Eliza. beth, distinguished alike for his learning and bravery, familiarly known in the annals of Virginia, and the annals of the tower of London, very justly remarks: “If we advisedly consider the state and countenance of the world, we shall find that it were very ill done, by following opinion without the guide of reason, to pare the times over deeply ; because in cutting them too near the quick, the reputation of the whole story might, perchance, bleed.” We will then pass over this secondary evidence, without alluding to the White Indians or the Welch, who, we are gravely told, reside at the far west, or even to the lost tribes of the house of Israel ; believing as we do, the existence of such in our country, to be entirely problematical. The extraordinary flood of light poured in of late, upon American antiquities, has put all former evidence in the shade. Central America will soon become classic ground. The savans of Europe will, at a period not far remote, resort thither to decipher, by the light of her flaming volcanoes, those wonderful hyeroglyphics hitherto concealed from every eye. The story of American colonization will then be told. We shall then learn that a living multitude once thronged those forests, now vocal with the tiger's growl. That that multitude was learned, accom. plished, and refined, ere the British Isles had been heard of. That the arts and sciences were taught, and practiced in America, ere civilization dawned upon Europe. We may learn something too of Abraham ; of Isaac, and of Jacob; of Pharaoh, and Joseph ; of the patriarchs, and the prophets. Let, however, the views above referred to check for a while the pride and arrogance of human learning, and, for the present, teach humility to our race.

« FöregåendeFortsätt »