NIU Libraries Digitization Projects
Lincoln/Net Prairie Fire Illinois During the Civil War Illinois During the Gilded Age Mark Twain's Mississippi Back to Digitization Projects Contact Us
BACK

Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe.. History of the Indian Tribes of the United States: Their Present Condition and Prospects, and a Sketch of Their Ancient Status. Volume 6. . Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo and Co, 1857. [format: book; image], [genre: government document; report]. Permission: Northern Illinois University
Persistent link to this document: http://lincoln.lib.niu.edu/file.php?file=schoolcraft6.html


Next section

Chapter I. — Outlines of Mexican Antiquities.

PROPOSING to make some remarks on the aboriginal antiquities of the United States, it occurred to the author that it would tend to facilitate the object, and clear it of some obscurities, if the inquiry were preceded by a concise view of the characteristic monuments of Mexico, a country distinguished by a similar class of archaeological remains, and which thus furnishes a standard of comparison for a peculiar group of relics, and evidences of art and labor, which have, with perhaps too much precipitancy, been called enigmatical. These indicia are, clearly, of the same type of art, under different states of development. Less violence would appear to be done to Indian history by such a reference of the lower to the higher forms of art, in the same stocks, than by attributing them, as is commonly done, to ancient races of another species, of whom nothing is known, but who are supposed to have preceded the aborigines in the occupation of America. Meantime, such a reference leaves untouched, as a topical subject of inquiry, of subordinate importance, the particular question of intrusive European remains, in the ruins of Indian towns, guacas, or ossuaries.

If the Toltec race of North American Indians have achieved these triumphs of art, in architecture, and in the manipulation of fabrics, it would be no cause for astonishment that the Mississippi valley tribes, occupying a coterminous country, should erect mounds and teocalli, or surround their villages with a rude species of castrametation.

Having mentioned my desires on this subject to Brantz Mayer, Esq., a gentleman of close observation, who has resided in Mexico in an official capacity, and made the topic

-- 577 --

itself his study, he furnished me with the subjoined paper, in which the question is treated in a synoptical and condensed, yet clear, comprehensive, and precise, manner. The illustrations are also from his pencil, and exhibit these monuments of art in that peculiar style, which so strikingly marks this class of American remains.

MEMORANDA UPON MEXICAN ANTIQUITIES. BY BRANTZ MAYER.

In the following memoranda upon Mexican antiquities, I propose to present a general view of all that have been discovered and noticed within the limits of the Mexican Republic, and a special notice of such as have been preserved within the district that was immediately under Aztec control; consequently, the term "Mexican" must be considered generic, in the classification of these remains.

The question of ancient civilization within that region is one of degree. If we accept as true the account of the conquerors, and especially of Bernal Diaz del Castillo, to whom eminent critics are disposed to ascribe high authority, we are obliged to regard the better classes of the Aztecs as refined, the middle classes as laborious and thrifty, the lower as submissive; while all are entitled to a respectable rank among nations in the sixteenth century, except so far as they were degraded by the cruelties of their superstitious worship and warfare.

It is not necessary, in these observations, to describe particularly the condition of Aztec society, at the period of Spanish invasion and occupation. That task has been so satisfactorily accomplished, in the history of the Conquest, by Mr. Prescott, and made so familiar to English students by the translations of Bernal Diaz del Castillo and of the Cartas de Cortéz, that nothing can be added by a new writer to these original sources. 734 Yet, as geography is illustrated by maps, so is literary description made clearer by illustrations; and, accordingly, I have collected such specimens in the annexed plates, as will convey accurate notions of the forms and arts that were familiar to the aborigines.

When I visited the city of Mexico in 1841 and 1842, I employed most of my leisure in gathering information as to the ancient remains still extant in the Republic. I found few students or collectors in Mexican archeology, and not a single work, except that of Gama, which treated the subject in a scientific or systematic way. 735 The National Museum, in the old University building, was open to strangers, and contained an ill arranged mass of materials, taken from different parts of the country, consisting chiefly of utensils and images. The ex-conde Del Peñasco, since dead, possessed, in a

-- 578 --

spacious apartment of his dwelling, a large assemblage of ancient remains; but all these things, in both establishments, were shown rather as curiosities than as objects of historical interest or ethnological value. In literature, most of the memoranda, plans, details, drawings, and descriptions, were scattered in MSS. and magazines; and the modern city had obliterated every vestige of the past on the site of the ancient capital. Whatever information, therefore, was still to be had, could only be obtained from these unclassified sources, and without such intelligent guidance as would enable a stranger who had other occupations, to receive an accurate or connected idea of Mexican art. Accordingly, whenever it was convenient, I spent much of my time in the Museum, and in Count Peñasco's collection, where I made accurate drawings of almost every striking or important object; and, subsequently, I visited every spot of interest in the valley of Mexico, examined the remains at Chapultepec, Tezcoco, Tezcocingo, Teotihuacan, and crossed the mountains to the southern valleys of Puebla and Cuernavaca, where I saw the remarkable remains at Cholula and Xochicalco. 736

My examinations and studies of Mexican antiquities have resulted in the following classification of the remains, within the present limits of the Republic in 1857:

FIRST CLASS.
Remains of a National, or Municipal Character.

1. Monumental or pyramidal remains, temples, palaces, &c., &c., of stone, with or without sculpture, carving, or ornament, as at Uxmal, Palenque, &c., &c.
2. Earthworks, mounds, or pyramidal erections of adobé, or sun-dried bricks, as at Teotihuacan and Cholula.
3. Fortifications, as at Mitla and Quemada, &c.
4. Roads, as at
Xochicalco, Quemada, and Mapilca.
5. Aqueducts, as at Tezcocingo, &c., &c.
6. Groves, as at Chapultepec, Tezcoco, &c.
7. Terraced hills, as at Tezcocingo.

SECOND CLASS.
Remains of a Literary, or Record Character.

The Mexican picture-writing preserved at various places, and especially: —
1. In the Museum at Mexico.
2. In the Codex Vaticanus, number 3776.

-- 579 --

3. In the Codex Vaticanus, number 3738.
4. In the Codex Borgianus, of Veletri.
5. In the Codex Bologna.
6. In the Codex Pess, Hungary, of Mr. Fejarvari.
7. In the Codex Oxford, of Archbishop Laud.
8. In the Codex Vienna.
9. In the Codex Oxford, Bodleian.
10. In the Codex Oxford, Selden.
11. In the Codex Berlin, Humboldt.
12. In the Codex Dresden.
13. In the Codex Boturini.
14. In the Codex Paris, Tell:
15. In the Codex Tellurianus Remensis.
16. In the Codex Oxford, Mendoza collection.
Most of which are engraved in Lord Kingsborough's 1st, 2d, and 3d volumes of Mexican Antiquities, copied from the originals, designed and painted on paper made of the agave Americana.
17. Paper, made of the leaves of the American aloe, or agave Americana.

THIRD CLASS.
Sculptured Stone.

1. The gigantic idol of
Teoyaomiqui, in Mexico, and the numerous large carved stones and figures in Yucatan, &c., &c., delineated in Norman's, Stephens's and Catherwood's works, &c., &c.
2. The stone called the Sacrificial Stone, at Mexico.
3.
Images of all sizes, of serpents, insects, beasts, &c., &c., in stone, the figure either statuesque, or in high relief.
4. Carved sacrificial yokes of stone.

FOURTH CLASS.
Objects Carved from Obsidian.

1.
Obsidian masks.
2.
Obsidian rings.
3. Obsidian sacrificial knives.
4. Obsidian lance and arrow-heads.
5. Obsidian miquahuitl, or club-swords.
6. Various other small objects of the same material.

-- 580 --

FIFTH CLASS. Musical Instruments.

1. Teponaztli — drums carved of wood.
2. Flageolets.
3.
Rattles and whistles.

SIXTH CLASS. Pottery.

1.
Funeral vases.
2. Vases.
3.
Domestic utensils of all useful kinds.
4. Pipes.
5. Stamps for imprinting marks or figures.
6.
Images of various small sizes, and consisting of
entire figures.
7.
Spindles.
8.
Children's toys.

SEVENTH CLASS.
Miscellaneous, of Stone.

1. Axes.
2. Club or mace-heads.
3. Arrow-heads.
4. Dressing-tools for skins.
5. Pounding-stones.
6. Corn-grinding and mashing-stones.
7. Smoothing-stones, to be heated for smoothing.
8. Graining-stones, grooved for moulding in lines, &c., &c.

EIGHTH CLASS. Weapons, &c., &c.

1. Bows.
2. Arrows.
3. Lances.
4. Darts.
5. Miquahuitl, or obsidian club-sword.
6. Shields.
7.
War-dresses.

-- 581 --

NINTH CLASS. Scientific.

1. The stone called the Calendar Stone, at Mexico; other similar stones, and astronomical paintings.

The Aztec government and influence did not extend, probably, over the whole region subsequently known as New Spain, a large part of which is still comprised in the Mexican Republic; but there are MONUMENTAL REMAINS of the character alluded to in the FIRST CLASS, civil, religious, and defensive, in almost every quarter of the country. These are in the form of pyramids, stone edifices, fortifications, roads, and public improvements generally, exhibiting a considerable knowledge of architecture, ornament, and the mechanic arts.

The principal of these remains, under the First Class, are to be found in the following States, as at present geographically bounded:

1. ZACATECAS. — In the State of Zacatecas there are remarkable remains of aboriginal architecture, on a hill called the Cerro de los Edificios, two leagues northerly from the village of Villaneuva, twelve leagues southwest from Zacatecas, about one league north from La Quemada, at an elevation of 7406 feet above the sea, and about 22 1/2° of north latitude. These remains consist of pyramids, fortifications, walls, paved roads, and large quantities of stone edifices. They are elaborately described in the Travels in Mexico, by Captain Lyon, and are noticed, illustrated by a fine plate, in the Viaje Pintoresco y Arqueologico of Nebel.

2. TAMAULIPAS. — In the State of Tamaulipas there are many relics of a curious and interesting character. They consist of mounds, pyramids, ruined edifices, tombs, images, fragments of obsidian, pottery, utensils, hewn blocks, carved in bold relief; and, in some places they are found in such quantities and connections as indicate the ancient sites of large cities. The principal information we have relative to the antiquities of Tamaulipas, is in the "Rambles by Land and Water, or Notes of Travel in Cuba and Mexico," written by Mr. B. M. Norman, of New Orleans, in 1845. As this gentleman's antiquarian researches were only episodes of his journey through the comparative wilderness of that tropical region, his work, valuable as it is, serves rather as an index than a full description of what must engage the attention of future investigators.

3. VERA CRUZ. — In the State of Vera Cruz there are remains of civic architecture, pottery, images, carving, vessels, &c., &c., &c., at Panuco, Chacuaco, San Nicolas; at Papantla there is a well preserved stone pyramid, which is represented in
Plate XL., Fig. A; at Mapilca there are pyramids, carved stones, the ruins of an extensive town, and a road formed of blocks of stone; at Tusapan there is a pyramid, a stone fountain of very remarkable shape, a canal for navigation, and considerable civic remains,

-- 582 --

indicating the site of an ancient town; on the Island of Sacrificios, near the City of Vera Cruz, pottery, images,
vases, tombs, skeletons, and fragments of obsidian, have been found; at Misantla there are pyramids, tombs, and civic architecture in stone; and near the National Bridge (puente nacional) there is a pyramid of stone.

4. YUCATAN. — In the State of Yucatan, Messrs. Stephens and Catherwood found the wonderful monumental remains described and drawn by them, between 18° and 21 1/2° of north latitude, at Maxcanu, Uxmal, Sacbey, Xampon, Sanacte, Chunhuhu, Labpahk, Iturbidé, Mayapan, San Francisco, Ticul, Nochacab, Xoch, Kabah, Sabatsche, Labna, Kenick, Izamal, Saccacal, Tecax, Akil, Mani, Macoba, Becanchen, Peto, and Chichen, in the interior of the State, and at Tuloom, Tancar, and on the island of Cozumel, on its eastern coast.

5. CHIAPAS. — In the State of Chiapas, the same travellers found architectural remains between 16° and 18° of north latitude, at Ocozingo and Palenque, and they state that in their long, "irregular route through these regions, they discovered the remains of fifty-four ancient cities, most of them a short distance apart, though (from the great change that has taken place in the country, and the breaking up of the old roads,) having no direct communication with each other. With but few exceptions, all were lost, buried, and unknown, and some of them, perhaps, never looked upon by the eye of a white man." The drawings of these ruins, by Mr. Catherwood, have made the public familiar with their style and character, and induce us to believe that Yucatan and Chiapas must have been the seats of quite an advanced civilization and large population.

6. PUEBLA. — In the State of Puebla, the only important ancient remain is the Pyramid of Cholula, in the neighborhood of the modern city of Puebla. Humboldt gives the dimensions of this gigantic pyramid, which is built of adobes, or sun-dried brick, as follows: base, 1060 feet; elevation, 162 feet; but, during our war with Mexico, Lieutenant Beauregard, of the Engineer Corps, measured its altitude with a sextant, and found it to be 203 feet. Humboldt, it is understood, used a barometer.

7. MEXICO. — In the State of Mexico, there are no architectural remains either at the capital, or in its immediate neighborhood. The modern city has entirely destroyed and displaced all traces of the ancient. But there are collections, as I have already said, of minor antiquarian objects in the museum, and in private hands; while there are monumental and architectural relics, at some distance from the capital, at Tezcoco, Tezcocingo, Teotihuacan, and Xochicalco. (See
Plate XI., Fig. B.)

8. OAJACA. — In the State of Oajaca, there are mounds or tumuli at Tachila; mounds and pyramids at Monte Alban, and at Coyúla, San Juan de los Cués, Guengola, Quiotepec, and near Tehuantepec; while at Mitla, there are the remarkable edifices which I have described in the recent publications of the Smithsonian Institution, Vol. IX., accompanied by Mr. J. G. Sawkins's drawings.

-- 583 --

Throughout these ruins there are specimens of sculpture, ornament, and, in some instances, apparently, of hieroglyphic records; many of the latter being copied in the illustrations of the works of Stephens and Catherwood. In Mexico, Yucatan, Chiapas, and Oajaca, there are numerous figures sculptured in stone, of various dimensions; and general resemblances of design, conception, and execution may be traced among them, with the exception of those said to be found in Oajaca, in the neighborhood of Mitla.

The style is more florid as the traveller proceeds southward and examines the remains in Yucatan and Chiapas; nor is it at all improbable, that the centre of civilization was comprised within those States, together with Mexico and Oajaca.

In illustration of the first series of this classification of monumental remains, I insert a sketch of the two
pyramids at Teotihuacan, in the State of Mexico, which are earthworks, or adobé structures, and known as the tonatiuh-ytzagual, or house of the sun, and the meztli-ytzagual, or house of the moon. They rise boldly from the plain, squaring exactly with the points of the compass, and, though covered with vegetation, are clearly distinguishable in their outlines. The "house of the sun" is 121 feet high, with a base of 682 feet; but the dimensions of the other pyramid are somewhat smaller. 737

By reference to Plate XI.,
Figs. A
and B, the reader will obtain an idea of the stone pyramids, whose remains are still preserved.
Fig. A is the drawing of the pyramid of Papantla, in the State of Vera Cruz, near the village of Papantla, on the eastern slopes of the Cordillera, in the midst of a tropical region, of great luxuriance. Its base measures 120 feet on every side, and its summit (about 66 feet) is reached by a stair, which ends at the top of the sixth story. The plain on which it is situated, is covered with the ruins of an ancient city, which was more than a mile and a half in circuit.

Many of the Mexican pyramids were flat-sided, like those of Teotihuacan; but the one at Papantla was built in stages or storys, like that at
Xochicalco, in the State of Mexico, the first and only remaining story of which is delineated in
Plate XI., Fig. B. The story of this pyramid that has been spared from the depredations of neighboring property-holders, who have used its stones as a quarry for building purposes, is rectangular,

-- 584 --

and faces north, south, east, and west, in exact correspondence with the cardinal points. It measures sixty-four feet on its northern front above the plinth, and fifty-eight on its western. The distance between the plinth and frieze is about ten feet; the breadth of the frieze, three and one-half; and the height of the cornice, one foot, five inches. When it was perfect, it is said to have been five stories in elevation. The northern front is still most uninjured, and there the bold carving, between three and four inches in relief, is distinctly visible, in all its grotesqueness, as exhibited in the plate. The massive stones, some of which are seven feet eleven inches long, by two feet nine inches wide, are all laid on each other without cement, and kept together by the weight of the whole edifice.


Papantla is built of sandstone, beautifully squared, joined, and covered with hard stucco, which appears to have been painted.
Xochicalco was constructed of basaltic rock; and, when we consider that these immense masses were not only carried up 300 feet of a hill to their present site, but were borne from a considerable distance to the base of the hill, we are forcibly struck by the mechanical skill which enabled the Indians, without the aid of horses, to perform such difficult tasks. The forms of these two pyramids, and the harmonious proportions of all their parts, deserve great attention in estimating the degree of refined architectural taste of the aborigines.

Besides the pyramids comprised in this FIRST CLASS, or Remains of a National Character, there are all the other constructions and edifices which indicate the existence of general and municipal government, religious service, domestic elegance, civic care, defence, and luxury. Distinct types of these are to be found preeminently in the temples and palaces of Uxmal and Palenque, adorned with a singular mingling of cultivated taste and barbaric oddity; in the edifices and fortifications of Quemada, Mitla, and Misantla; in the paved roads at
Xochicalco, Quemada, and Mapilca; in the plantations and groves at Tezcoco and Chapultepec; and in the terraced hill and aqueduct of Tezcocingo. These are the most striking remains of that civilization which seems to have originated in the central portions of our continent, in isolated independence of all the world.

The second series of remains in this classification comprises the literary antiquities of the aboriginies in this region, and is known as "picture-writing." The principal relics of this character are found in the collections mentioned in the second classification, on page 579.

The Mexican picture-writing was used only for recording facts, apart from abstract ideas. The material used as a vehicle was paper, made of the agave Mexicana; and the figures delineated on it, in profile outline, were generally colored yellow, blue, red, green, and black, without any attempt at perspective or shading. None of the designs can be said to rise to the dignity of "historical pictures," in the modern sense of that artistic phrase; while many of them, when they record particular incidents, resemble

-- 585 --

the rude colored sketches of our North American Indians on beech-bark and buffalo-skins, though they are of a more elaborate character.

The picture-writing consisted of an arbitrary system of symbols, denoting years, months, days, seasons, the elements, and events of frequent occurrence; an effort to delineate persons and their acts; and a phonetic system, which, by means of objects, conveyed sounds that, singly or in combination, expressed the facts they were meant to record. But this appears to have been the extent of the art of perpetuating the memory of things among the Aztecs at the time of the conquest; and as the public edifices were full of these documents, which the Spaniards considered the "symbols of a pestilent superstition," nearly all the "picture-writings" were destroyed by order of the first archbishop of Mexico.

The third classification refers to remains connected with religion, or Aztec worship. This religion was a compound of spiritualism and gross idolatry; for the Aztecs believed in a Supreme Deity, whom they called "Teotl," God; or "Ipalnemoani," "He by whom we live;" or "Tloque Nahuaque," "He who has all in himself;" while their evil spirit bore the name of "Tlaleatcololotl," the "Rational Owl." These spiritual beings are surrounded by a number of lesser divinities, who were probably the ministerial agents of Teotl. These were "Huitzilopotchtli," "the god of war," and "
Teoyaomiqui," his spouse, whose duty it was to conduct the souls of warriors who perished in defence of their homes and religion to the "house of the sun," the Aztec heaven. Huitzilopotchtli, or Mextli, the god of war, was the special protector of the Aztecs; and, devoted as they were to war, this deity was always invoked before battle, and recompensed after it by the offering of numerous captives taken in conflict. The inhuman sacrifices offered on such occasions present the Aztec character in its worst aspect, and I have elsewhere endeavored to account for this brutal characteristic of a people apparently so civilized in many other respects, by supposing that the immolation of human victims was "founded on the idea that the best way of getting rid of culprits, dangerous people, and prisoners of war taken in immense numbers, and whom it was impossible to support or retain in subjection without converting a large portion of their small territory into a jail, was to offer them to the gods." 738

In Plate VIII. I have presented, in Figs. 1, 2, 3, and 4, the front, profile, top, and bottom of an Aztec statue, or idol, said to be that of
Teoyaomiqui, the wife of Huitzilopotchtli, whose functions are described above. This figure is interesting and valuable, as the largest in size and most elaborate of the ancient remains. In 1790 it was found buried in the great square of Mexico, whence it was removed to the court of the University; but, as it was feared that it might tempt the Indians to renew their ancient idolatry, it was re-interred till 1821, when it was again exhumed and exhibited to the

-- 586 --

public. It is nine feet high, five and a half feet broad, and is cut from a single block of basalt. The plate shows its figure perfectly. "It is a horrid assemblage of hideous emblems. Claws, fangs, tusks, skulls, and serpents writhe and hang in garlands and fantastic forms around the shapeless mass. Four open hands rest upon the bared breasts of a female. In profile, it is not unlike a squatting toad, whose glistening eyes and broad mouth expand above the cincture of skulls and serpents. Seen in this direction, it appears to have more shape and meaning than in front. On the top of the statue there is a cavity; and as the bottom is also sculptured in relief, it is supposed that this frightful idol was suspended aloft by pillars placed under the square projections which are seen near the centre of the body." 739


Plate IX., Figs. 1 and 2, show the stone, also preserved in the court of the University, called the "Sacrificial Stone," — nine feet in diameter and three feet high, — of basalt, found in 1790, in the great square near the site of the ancient teocalli, or pyramid, where Cortez is said to have had one of his severest actions during the Conquest. The neat and regular ornaments shown in the picture are cut in low relief on the top, and in the centre is a deep bowl, whence a canal or gutter leads to the edge of the cylinder. On the side of the stone, the figures delineated in Fig. 2 are repeated fifteen times; in all, 30 figures, representing evidently a victor and prisoner. The conqueror is in the act of tearing the plumage from the crest of the vanquished.

The gladiatorial sacrifice, which, among the Aztecs, was reserved for noble or courageous captives, was probably performed upon this stone in the ancient city of Tenochtitlan. According to Clavigero, "a circular mass of stone, three feet high, resembling a mill-stone, was placed within the area of the great temple, upon a raised terrace, about 8 feet from the wall. The captive was bound to this stone by one foot, and armed with a sword, or miquahuitl, and shield. In this position, and thus accoutred, he was attacked by a Mexican soldier or officer, who was better armed for the deadly encounter. If the prisoner was conquered, he was immediately borne to the altar of common sacrifice; but if he overcame six assailants, he was rewarded with life and liberty, and permitted once more to return to his native land with the spoils taken from him in war." It is likely that this stone should be more properly called the Gladiatorial than the Sacrificial; but the central bowl and gutter have hitherto induced most persons to suppose it dedicated to the immolation of victims.

The Common Sacrifice was performed by a priest and six assistants in the ordinary temples, and upon ordinary victims. The sacrificer and his acolytes extended the sufferer across the curving surface of an arched stone, while an assistant kept him firmly down by the stone yokes, a specimen of which is seen in Fig. 7, of Plate VII. As soon as the victim's skin and flesh were sufficiently stretched and tightened by this process, the topiltzin cut a deep gash in the breast with an obsidian knife (Plate VII., Fig. 1),

-- 587 --

and, thrusting his hand into the wound, tore out the palpitating heart, which he either threw at the feet of the idol, inserted in its mouth with a golden spoon, or reduced to ashes, which were sacredly preserved.

The carving or sculpture on the large stones comprised in this third classification is generally of a medium quality. It is neither very good nor very bad. It cannot be said to belong to the infancy of art, nor is it of the character, either as to design or execution, which would indicate a high stage of tasteful civilization. It is, however, very far removed from barbarism, and infinitely superior in size and finish to the remains of the northern tribes. Specimens of various kinds of carving are shown in
Plate V.; Fig. 3, in the large head called Centeotl, preserved in the court-yard of the University at Mexico; in
Fig. 5, a squatting statue from Mitla, with a graceful headdress and grotesque face, which I sketched from the original in Count Penasco's collection; in Figs. 6 and 7, also in that collection, the latter being the fragment of an ornamented trough, discovered many years ago at Tezcoco, across the lake of that name, about twelve miles from the capital; in
Plate I., Fig. 3; and in Figs. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 8, and 9, of Plate IV., two human figures, a rabbit, a dog, a grasshopper, and two serpents.

The FOURTH CLASS comprises objects carved from obsidian, or volcanic glass, and embraces
masks,
rings, sacrificial knives, lance or arrow-heads, the miguahuitl, or club sword, and various small ornamental objects. If the extremely fragile and brittle character of the dark green, glassy material from which these things were formed, is known and understood by the reader, he will probably have a better idea of the skill of the Aztecs, in shaping such things, than from any description we can give of the articles themselves.

The foregoing figure represents a
mask of obsidian, from the original in Peñasco's

-- 588 --

collection. If we say that it is as smooth as if cast of glass, in a mould, and then polished with the highest art, we convey exactly the idea with which we are impressed on examining the mask itself.

Cleverly done, as are the
masks, I have always considered the
rings, made of obsidian, as still more remarkable.

The one represented in the cut, from Peñasco's collection, is six-tenths of an inch high, one-tenth of an inch thick, and nine-tenths and one-twentieth of an inch in diameter. The graceful curves of the exterior and interior surfaces, and the high polish, are perfectly preserved. How did they contrive to work a brittle volcanic substance to such slender dimensions?

The arrow-heads, lance heads, and the pieces used in their miquahuitls, were not so neatly cut or trimmed, and greatly resembled the similar weapons found among the remains of our Indian tribes. Plate VII., Fig. 1, represents a sacrificial knife of obsidian.

The FIFTH CLASS comprises musical instruments, specimens of which are seen in Plate VII. Fig. 2, a flageolet; Figs. 4 and 5, rattles; and Fig. 8, the drum, or Teponaztli. In the hollow, central part, two thin pieces of wood were inserted, as seen in the plate, and beaten to produce sound. The whistles are drawn in Plate III., Figs. 7 and 8.

The SIXTH CLASS is of pottery. This is remarkable for shapes, and the fineness, in many instances, of its texture. It comprises all sorts of domestic utensils: for example, such as are represented in
Plate VI., Figs. 3, 4, 7, 9, 10, from Mexico; Figs. 5, 6, 8, 11, 12, from the island of Sacrificios, and now in the National Museum at Mexico; in Plate III., Figs. 4, 5, 6, 9, and 10; in
Plate 6, Figs. 1 and 2, representing the two sides of a vase from Tula, of exquisitely grained and tempered, material, and ornamented with figures in intaglio, resembling those found on the monuments in Yucatan. A specimen of ancient pipes is presented in Figs. 1 and 2, of Plate V.; of Aztec printing,

-- 589 --

or impressing-stamps, in Figs. 6 and 7 of Plate IV.; of small images, altars, and figures, in
Plate II. (8 figures); in
Plate III., Figs. 1, 2, and 3 ; in
Plate V., Fig. 4; and of spindles, in
Plate VII., Fig. 3.

One of the finest earthenware remains I saw in Mexico is the
FUNERAL VASE, which is preserved in the Museum at Mexico, and presented accurately, from my original drawing, in Plate X. Fig. 1 is the cover, and Fig. 2 the vase itself.

There are two of these rare and beautiful objects in the national collection, found, I understood, about twenty years ago, during excavations in the northern suburb of the capital at St. Juan Tlaltelolco, in the neighborhood of the site of one of the Aztec teocallis.

The one represented in
Plate X. is one foot ten inches high, and one foot three and a half inches in diameter. Its upper portion was filled with human skulls, and the lower with bones of the rest of the frame, while the top was covered with the circular lid shown in the plate. The body of the vase is painted blue. The Indian head, winged and crowned with a circlet of twisted bands and feathers, the graceful handles, and the semi-circle of sunflowers and ears of corn which curves beneath the central ornament, are raised in high relief, and brightly tinted with blue, red, lake, yellow, and brown. The colors were quite fresh when I made the drawing in 1842; and, altogether, this relic impressed me as the most remarkable and beautiful specimen of terra-cottas I saw in Mexico. In many respects, it struck me as belonging to a higher grade of art than anything in the Museum, except, perhaps, the obsidian carvings, and one or two of the vases whose forms I have preserved in these plates.

The SEVENTH CLASS comprises miscellaneous articles of stone; as club or mace-heads, arrow-heads, dressing-tools for skins, pounding-stones, corn-grinding and mashing-stones, smoothing-stones, to be heated when used for that purpose, graining-stones grooved for moulding in lines, hatchets, &c. The forms of these articles resemble those of the similar implements used by our own North American Indians in former days; many specimens of which have been engraved in the plates of preceding volumes. In Plate I., Figs. 1 and 2, I have delineated an axe and pounder, to demonstrate this resemblance.

The EIGHTH CLASS embraces the
weapons, war-dresses, shields, &c., of the ancient Mexicans, as they are known to us, either by a few specimens preserved in the Museum, or in Aztec manuscripts, or picture-writings, representing the deeds of their warriors.

In order to give the student an adequate idea of these, I have grouped their headdress, coat, shield, bow, arrow, lance, dart, and miquahuitl in the following cut. Of all these weapons, the miquahuitl was the most original. It was a club, into the edges of which six fragments of sharpened obsidian were inserted, so that, when a blow descended, it not only mashed, but tore the victim's flesh.

-- 590 --

The NINTH CLASS comprises the only monumental scientific remain with which I am acquainted in Mexico — the stone called the "
Calendar Stone," now walled into the side of the Cathedral, in the great square of the capital, beneath the surface of which it was found in the year 1790. It is carved from a mass of porphyritic basalt, and is eleven feet eight inches in diameter, while the depth of its circular edge is about seven and a half inches from the fractured mass of rock out of which it was originally cut. It is supposed, from the fact that it was found beneath the pavement of the present plaza, that it formed part of the fixtures of the great teocalli of Tenochtitlan or Mexico, or that it was placed in some of the adjoining edifices surrounding the great temple.

-- 591 --

This stone has been so frequently engraved, and accounts of the Aztec notation of time so often published, that it has been considered useless to present a plate of this ancient monument in our article. The best essays on it are those of Gama, in his "Description de las dos piedras," &c., &c., and in the late Mr. Gallatin's elaborate essay, in the first volume of the Transactions of the American Ethnological Society. "It appears," says Mr. Gallatin, "that the Aztecs had delineated on this stone all the dates of the principal position of the sun, and had ascertained, with considerable precision, the respective days of the two passages of the sun by the zenith of Mexico, of the two equinoxes, and of the summer and winter solstices. They had, therefore, six different means of ascertaining and verifying the length of the solar year, by counting the number of days which elapsed till the sun returned to each of these six points, the two solstices, the two equinoxes, and the two passages by the zenith."

This classification and survey of ancient remains, and the accompanying plates, cannot, in my judgment, but fortify the conqueror's account of Mexican civilization in the sixteenth century. In that age, European civilization was not what it is now. If we visit Egypt, India, Iddom, Nineveh, Asia Minor, Athens, and Rome, the relative grades of these antique states may be discerned in the monumental remains still extant on their soil; and, if we apply the same tests of opinion to the relics at Uxmal, Palenque, Mitla, and Mexico, we must admit that the population of the new world, like that of the old, was very far removed from the uncivilized character that has been ascribed to it. Savages have no cities, palaces, paved roads, extensive fortifications, aqueducts, pleasure grounds, groves, pyramids, and astronomical systems that will bear the test of scientific scrutiny. Their wandering life denies all idea of that permanence which massive and elaborate architecture proves. Their sculpture may be rough in execution; but love of graceful forms precedes sculpture itself and types the mind that conceives and the skill that executes it. Many of their implements, it is true, may be rude; but the results of their labors with such instruments are only the more remarkable, in consequence of the inadequate means by which they were produced. They who made paper and recorded events; who noted time with astronomical accuracy and constructed the Calendar stone; who raised the pyramids of
Xochicalco and
Papantla; who built Mitla, Palenque, Uxmal, and the massive Cholula; who carved an
obsidian mask or
ring with delicate finish, from the most fragile of materials; who fashioned the beautiful vases, represented in these plates, and made the funeral urn I have delineated, were, in no respect, barbarians. Many years — perhaps centuries — must elapse before the savage quits his wigwam to construct a temple or palace and organize society in cities; and, when he does so, it is not difficult to believe the accounts that Bernal Diaz del Castillo and Cortez have recorded of the social and political system of the Aztecs.

-- 592 --

Next section


Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe.. History of the Indian Tribes of the United States: Their Present Condition and Prospects, and a Sketch of Their Ancient Status. Volume 6. . Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo and Co, 1857. [format: book; image], [genre: government document; report]. Permission: Northern Illinois University
Persistent link to this document: http://lincoln.lib.niu.edu/file.php?file=schoolcraft6.html
Powered by PhiloLogic