« ForrigeFortsæt »
which also were remarkable features in the history of the Israelites. Still, serious grounds of doubt may be entertained with regard to affinity or analogy in this case; and one of the most striking is, that the aboriginal people of America are red and beardless, and all the world knows how different is the appearance as well as organization of the Hebrews.
To us the theory that is the most feasible remains to be that already noticed, viz., that in as far as can be gathered from architectural types, artistic ornaments, religious rites, hieroglyphical language, and characteristics of physiognomy, &c., that the extraordinary people, whose monuments we are considering, were a branch of the Cyclopean family, or shepherd kings as they have been called, the Titans and giants of the ancient poets, and the wandering architects of a later age. They seem to have constituted a branch of the same race of shepherd kings that invaded Egypt. Indeed the Mexicans are said to have had traditions to the effect that their predecessor came with the great ancestor of the American people, from the Ophite or Hivite land in Phoenicia; and we have seen a description of a Phoenician inscription which has been found engraved on a rock in Massachusetts.
According to this opinion, then, the builders of the monuments under review were Cyclopean Canaanites, traces of whose works occur in the history of Greece and Italy; wanderers; devoted to gloomy mysteries; the authors of an exaggerated architecture; and who "built cities, with walls, and towers reaching to heaven."
How or when a portion of this race may have begun to people the continent of America, will probably for ever baffle all human scrutiny and interpretation of the kinds of language and symbols inscribed on their remains. By what calamity the nation disappeared will not less probably continue a secret and a mystery. It may have been swept from the face of the earth by pestilence or by savage war. It may have retrograded from internal and social disease; although this does not appear to be likely. Possibly barbarians from the North, in Gothic fashion, made irruptions upon the " wandering masons," when they had become effeminate, or felt over secure; and thus so vanquished them as to introduce a series of generations deserving the title of the Dark Ages. But whether one or other of these was the destruction of the people, whose relics Mr. Stephens has partially explored, it is needless for us at present to inquire. If our author returns to the subject, as he seems to intend, we may then have some additional facts to guide us. In the meanwhile we have touched upon points that open an immense field for speculation: indicating, also, to what labour and enterprise the antiquities in Central America may, in the course of a few years, conduct the curious and the crudite.
But now, what of the ruins at Copan? They lie-they are
almost completely hidden by trees and vegetation-in a part of the country where the people, we are told, are less accustomed to the sight of strangers than the Arabs about Mount Sinai; and they "are much more suspicious." They can hardly be said to have ever before been visited by strangers, and certainly were never before so fully described by the pen, much less delineated by the pencil. They are situated on the left bank of the Copan River, which empties itself into the Motagua, and so passes into the Bay of Honduras. The extent of the ruins along the river, says our author, as ascertained by monuments still found, is more than two miles. He adds,
"There is one monument on the opposite side of the river, at the distance of a mile, on the top of a mountain two thousand feet high. Whether the city ever crossed the river, and extended to that mountain, it is impossible to say. I believe not. At the rear is an unexplored forest, in which there may be ruins. There are no remains of palaces or private buildings, and the principal part is that which stands on the bank of the river, and may, perhaps with propriety be called the temple. This temple is an oblong enclosure. The front or river wall extends on a right line north and south six hundred and twenty-four feet, and it is from sixty to ninety feet in height. It is made of cut stones, from three to six feet in length, and a foot and a half in breadth. In many places the stones have been thrown down by bushes growing out of the crevices, and in one place there is a small opening, from which the ruins are sometimes called by the Indians Las Ventanas, or the windows. The other three sides consist of ranges of steps and pyramidal structures, rising from thirty to one hundred and forty feet in height on the slope."
We shall now throw together fragments of our author's eloquent description of the relics in the neighbourhood of Copan, in order to convey an idea of their extraordinary and gigantic character. Idols, altars, figures, death's heads, &c., with most elaborate ornaments, appear in profusion. Here is an impressive outline, with a variety of minuter points, given with uncommon graphic power, befitting the imposing scene,
"The stream was wide, and in some places deep, rapid, and with a broken and stony bottom. Fording it, we rode along the bank by a footpath encumbered with undergrowth, which Jose opened by cutting away the branches, until we came to the foot of the wall, where we again dismounted and tied our mules. The wall was of cut stone, well laid, and in a good state of preservation. We ascended by large stone steps, in some places perfect, and in others thrown down by trees which had grown up between the crevices, and reached a terrace, the form of which it was impossible to make out, from the density of the forest in which it was enveloped. Our guide cleared a way with his machete, and we passed, as it lay half buried in the earth, a large fragment of stone elaborately sculptured, and came to the angle of a structure with steps on the sides, in
form and appearance, so far as the trees would enable us to make it out, like the sides of a pyramid. Diverging from the base, and working our way through the thick woods, we came upon a square stone column, about fourteen feet high and three feet on each side, sculptured in very bold relief, and on all four of the sides, from the base to the top. The front was the figure of a man curiously and richly dressed, and the face, evidently a portrait, solemn, stern, and well fitted to excite terror. The back was of a different design, unlike anything we had ever seen before, and the sides were covered with hieroglyphics. This our guide called an ‘Idol ;' and before it, at a distance of three feet, was a large block of stone, also sculptured with figures and emblematical devices, which he called an altar. The sight of this unexpected monument put at rest at once and for ever, in our minds, all uncertainty in regard to the character of American antiquities, and gave us the assurance that the objects we were in search of were interesting, not only as the remains of an unknown people, but as works of art, proving, like newly-discovered historical records, that the people who once occupied the Continent of America were not savages. With an interest perhaps stronger than we had ever felt in wandering among the ruins of Egypt, we followed our guide, who, sometimes missing his way, with a constant and vigorous use of his machete, conducted us through the thick forest, among half-buried fragments, to fourteen monuments of the same character and appearance, some with more elegant designs, and some in workmanship equal to the finest monuments of the Egyptians; one displaced from its pedestal by enormous roots; another locked in the close embrace of branches of trees, and almost lifted out of the earth; another hurled to the ground, and bound down by huge vines and creepers; and one standing, with its altar before it, in a grove of trees which grew around it, seemingly to shade and shroud it as a sacred thing; in the solemn stillness of the woods, it seemed a divinity mourning over a fallen people. The only sounds that disturbed the quiet of this buried city were the noise of monkeys moving among the tops of the trees, and the cracking of dry branches broken by their weight. They moved over our heads in long and swift processions, forty or fifty at a time, some with little ones wound in their long arms, walking out to the end of boughs, and holding on with their hind feet or a curl of the tail, sprang to a branch of the next tree, and, with a noise like a current of wind, passed on into the depths of the forest. It was the first time we had seen these mockeries of humanity, and, with the strange monuments around us, they seemed like wandering spirits of the departed race guarding the ruins of their former habitations. We returned to the base of the pyramidal structure, and ascended by regular stone steps, in some places forced apart by bushes and saplings, and in others thrown down by the growth of large trees, while some remained entire. In parts they were ornamented with sculptured figures and rows of death's heads. Climbing over the ruined top, we reached a terrace overgrown with trees, and, crossing it, descended by stone steps into an area so covered with trees that at first we could not make out its form, but which, on clearing the way with the machete, we ascertained to be a square, and with steps on all the sides almost as perfect as those of the Roman amphitheatre. The steps were ornamented
with sculpture, and on the south sides, about half way up, forced out of its place by roots, was a colossal head, evidently a portrait. We ascended these steps, and reached a broad terrace a hundred feet high, overlooking the river, and supported by the wall which we had seen from the opposite bank. The whole terrace was covered with trees, and even at this height from the ground were two gigantic Ceibas, or wild cotton-trees of India, above twenty feet in circumference, extending their half-naked roots fifty or a hundred feet around, binding down the ruins, and shading them with their wide-spreading branches."
Take some sketches of individual relics to be found in this valley of wonder and romance.
"Towards the south, at a distance of fifty feet, is a mass of fallen sculpture, with an altar, marked R on the map; and at ninety feet distance is the statue marked Q, standing with its front to the east, twelve feet high and three feet square, on an oblong pedestal, seven feet in front and six feet two inches on the sides. Before it, at a distance of eight feet three inches, is an altar, five feet eight inches long, three feet eight inches broad, and four feet high. The face of this 'idol' is decidedly that of a man. The beard is of a curious fashion, and joined to the mustache and hair. The cars are large, though not resembling nature; the expression is grand, the mouth partly open, and the eyeballs seem starting from the sockets; the intention of the sculptor seems to have been to excite terror. The feet are ornamented with sandals, probably of the skins of some wild animals, in the fashion of that day. The back of this monument contrasts remarkably with the horrible portrait in front. It has nothing grotesque or pertaining to the rude conceits of Indians, but is noticable for its extreme grace and beauty. In our daily walks we often stopped to gaze at it, and the more we gazed the more it grew upon us. Others seemed intended to inspire terror, and, with their altars before them, sometimes suggested the idea of a blind, bigoted, and superstitious people, and sacrifices of human victims. This always left a pleasing impression; and there was a higher interest, for we considered that in its medallion tablets the people who reared it had published a record of themselves, through which we might one day hold conference with a perished race, and unveil the mystery that hung over the city."
"At the distance of one hundred and twenty feet north, is the monument marked O, which, unhappily, is fallen and broken. In sculpture it is the same with the beautiful, half-buried monument before given, and, I repeat it, in workmanship equal to the best remains of Egyptian art. The fallen part was completely bound to the earth by vines and creepers, and before it could be drawn it was necessary to unlace them, and tear the fibres out of the crevices. The paint is very perfect, and has preserved the stone, which makes it more to be regretted that it is broken. altar is buried, with the top barely visible, which, by excavating, we made out to represent the back of a tortoise."
"The city was buried in forest, and entirely hidden from sight. Imagination peopled the quarry with workmen, and laid bare the city to their view. Here, as the sculptor worked, he turned to the theatre of his glory, as the Greek did to the Acropolis of Athens, and dreamed of immortal fame. Little did he imagine that the time would come when his works would perish, his race be extinct, his city a desolation and abode for reptiles, for strangers to gaze at and wonder by what race it had once been inhabited. The stone is of a soft grit. The range extended a long distance, seemingly unconscious that stone enough had been taken from its sides to build a city. How the huge masses were transported over the irregular and broken surface we had crossed, and particularly how one of them was set up on the top of a mountain two thousand feet high, it was impossible to conjecture. In many places were blocks which had been quarried out and rejected for some defect; and at one spot, midway in a ravine leading toward the river, was a gigantic block, much larger than any we saw in the city, which was probably on its way thither, to be carved and set up as an ornament, when the labours of the workmen were arrested. Like the unfinished blocks in the quarries at Assouan and on the Pentelican Mountain, it remains as a memorial of baffled human plans. We remained all day on the top of the range. The close forest in which we had been labouring made us feel more sensibly the beauty of the extended view."
Towards the close of the description and pictorial delineation of the ruins and monuments of Copan, Mr. Stephens thus expresses himself:
"I have purposely abstained from all comment. If the reader can derive from them but a small portion of the interest that we did, he will be repaid for whatever he may find unprofitable in these pages. Of the moral effect of the monuments themselves, standing as they do in the depths of a tropical forest, silent and solemn, strange in design, excellent in sculpture, rich in ornament, different from the works of any other people, their uses and purposes, their whole history so entirely unknown, with hieroglyphics explaining all, but perfectly unintelligible, I shall not pretend to convey any idea. Often the imagination was pained in gazing at them. The tone which pervades the ruins is that of deep solemnity. An imaginative mind might be infected with superstitious feelings. From constantly calling them by that name in our intercourse with the Indians, we regarded these solemn memorials as 'idols'―deified kings and heroes— objects of adoration and ceremonial worship. We did not find on either of the monuments or sculptured fragments any delineations of human, or, in fact, any other kind of sacrifice, but had no doubt that the large sculptured stone invariably found before each 'idol' was employed as a sacrificial altar. The form of sculpture most frequently met with was a death's head, sometimes the principal ornament, and sometimes only accessory; whole rows of them on the outer wall, adding gloom to the mystery of the place, keeping before the eyes of the living death and the grave, present