Page:Queen Moo and the Egyptian Sphinx.djvu/50

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xxviii
INTRODUCTION.

people, inviting decipherment, attract the attention of the traveller. The geological formation of its stony soil, so full of curious deposits of fossil shells of the Jurassic period (Plate I.); its unexplored caves, supposed dwellings of sprites and elves, creatures of the fanciful and superstitious imagination of the natives; its subterraneous streams of cool and limpid water, inhabited by bagres and other fish — are yet to be studied by modern geologists; whilst its flora and fauna, so rich and so diversified, but imperfectly known, await classification at the hand of naturalists.

The peculiar though melodious vernacular of the natives, preserved through the lapse of ages, despite the invasions of barbaric tribes, the persecutions by Christian conquerors, ignorant, avaricious, and bloodthirsty, or fanatical monks who believed they pleased the Almighty by destroying a civilization equal if not superior to theirs, is full of interest for the philologist and the ethnologist. Situated between 18° and 21° 35' of latitude north, and 86° 50' and 90° 35' of longitude west from the Greenwich meridian, Yucatan forms the peninsula that divides the Mexican Gulf from the Caribbean Sea.

Bishop Landa [1] informs us that when, at the beginning of the year 1517, Francisco Hernandez de Cordova, the first of the Spaniards who set foot in the country of the Mayas, landed on a small island which he called Mugeres, the inhabitants, on being asked the name of the country, answered U-luumil ceh (the land of the deer) and U-luumil cutz (the land of the turkey).[2] Until then the Europeans were ignorant of the existence of such a place; for although Juan Diaz Solis and

  1. See Appendix, note i.
  2. Diego de Landa, Relacion de las Cosas de Yucatan, chap, ii., p. 6.