1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Central America
Physical Features.—The Cordilleras, or mountain chains of Central America do not form a complete link between the western ranges in the north and south of the continent, for their continuity is interrupted by various depressions, of which the chief is the lacustrine basin of Nicaragua. With these exceptions, they traverse Central America from end to end, their main axis trending from north-west to south-east. They do not, as a rule, rise in sharply serrated ridges or series of volcanic crests, like the Andes, but the central Cordilleras are disposed in a succession of mountain masses, with many lesser chains radiating from them. The principal summits have an altitude of 12,000 and even, in a few cases, of 13,000 ft., and the general character of the ranges is volcanic, many craters being still active. Large tracts of land remained imperfectly surveyed at the beginning of the 20th century, owing to the unhealthiness of the tropical climate, and the dense underwoods which impede exploration. In the northern part of Guatemala, on the Pacific coast of the same country, in British Honduras, along the Segovia river, on the Mosquito Coast, and in the basin of Lake Nicaragua and the San Juan river, there are broad stretches of comparatively flat country. The main line of watershed is everywhere nearer to the Pacific than to the Atlantic, except in southern Costa Rica and Panama, where it is almost equidistant from the two oceans. In consequence, the rivers of the Pacific seaboard are mostly short and swift,—mere mountain torrents, in many instances, until they reach the sands and swamps which border the sea. The rivers of the Atlantic littoral descend more gradually, and by longer channels. The largest of them is the Segovia, in Nicaragua and Honduras, which has a course of 450 m. Lake Nicaragua, the largest inland sheet of water, has an area exceeding 3500 sq. m. There are also several mountain lakes of exceptional interest and beauty, such as Atitlán and Amatitlán, in Guatemala, besides two great land-locked salt-water lakes—the Pearl Lagoon of the Mosquito Coast, and the Carataska Lagoon in Honduras.
Geology.—The neck of land which unites the continents of North and South America is not, geologically, the direct continuation of either, but constitutes a third element which is wedged, as it were, between the other two. The folds in the earth’s crust which form the Andes and the Western ranges of North America, are not continued along the connecting isthmus, where, on the contrary, the strata are folded from west to east, obliquely across the trend of the continent. It should, however, be noticed that the Andes, as they approach the Caribbean sea, bend round towards the east; and it is probable that the folds of the North American Cordillera similarly bend eastward beneath the volcanic rocks of Mexico. The folds of Central America are tangential to the two arcs thus formed.
By far the greater part of Central America and Mexico is covered by Cretaceous and Tertiary deposits, both sedimentary and volcanic; but the foundation on which they rest is exposed at intervals. From the Rio Grande to the southern declivity of the Mexican plateau the existence of ancient crystalline rocks at the surface is yet unproved, but they probably occur in the Sierra Madre del Pacifico. South of the plateau, in the state of Oaxaca, low mountain ridges composed of granites and gneisses, supposed to be of Archaean age, begin to appear. They strike from west to east, and mark the front of the series of east and west folds which stand en échelon across the Central American region. Between the 15th and 17th parallels of latitude, in the state of Chiapas and in the republic of Guatemala, there is a second group of ridges composed of granites and schists with an eastward trend. In this case the evidence of age is clear, for the rocks are covered by a limestone which is proved to be Pre-Carboniferous. Similar rocks, supposed to be of Archaean or at least of early Palaeozoic age, occupy considerable areas in British Honduras, Honduras and northern Nicaragua, and occur also in Costa Rica and perhaps in Panama; and wherever the strike has been observed, it is approximately from west to east. The presence of Palaeozoic rocks has been proved in Guatemala and the adjacent state of Chiapas, where limestones have been found containing many unmistakable Carboniferous fossils, and below these is a considerable thickness of beds supposed to be Silurian. Nowhere else in the Central American region is there any palaeontological evidence of Palaeozoic rocks.
The Mesozoic series begins with sands and red or yellow clays containing plant remains and possibly of Triassic age; but the occurrence of these deposits is limited to a few small isolated outcrops. Jurassic beds have been found in Mexico but not in Central America. The Cretaceous system, consisting of a lower series of clays, sandstones and conglomerates, followed conformably by an upper series of limestones, covers a considerable area in Chiapas, Guatemala and Honduras, and is found also in Costa Rica. The upper series contains hippurites. The greater part of the eastern half of the Mexican plateau is also formed of Cretaceous beds.
The Tertiary system may be conveniently divided into two divisions. The lower, of Eocene and Oligocene age, consists generally of sand and clays which were evidently laid down near a shore line. The upper division also, including the Pliocene and Pleistocene (which have not yet been clearly distinguished from each other), is usually of shallow water origin; but in the northern part of Yucatan it includes beds of chalky limestone, like those of the Antilles, which may have been deposited in a deeper sea.
It is probable that folding took place at more than one geological epoch, and the whole series of beds up to the Oligocene is involved in the folds. The Pliocene, on the other hand, is usually undisturbed, and the final effort must, therefore, have occurred during the Miocene period, which appears to have been a period of great earth movement throughout the Caribbean region. From the southern extremity of the Mexican plateau to the Colombian border, the strike of the folds—of the Mesozoic and early Tertiary deposits, as well as of the older rocks—is in general from east to west; but there is one considerable exception. On both sides of the deep depression which crosses Honduras from Puerto Cortez to the Gulf of Fonseca, the strike is commonly from north to south. The depression is probably a “Graben” or trough formed by faulting.
The great volcanoes of Mexico and Central America stand upon the Pacific side of the continent, and it is only where the land contracts to a narrow neck that their products spread over to the Caribbean shore. The extent of the volcanic deposits is very great, and over a wide area they entirely conceal the original structural features of the country. The eruptions began towards the close of the Cretaceous period and continue to the present day. The rocks are lavas and ashes, chiefly of andesitic or basaltic composition, but rhyolites and trachytes also occur, and phonolite has been met with in one or two places.
According to R. T. Hill, there is but little geological evidence of any Tertiary or later connexion between the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific, excepting, perhaps, a shallow opening during the Eocene period. It should, however, be stated that all authorities are not agreed upon this point, and K. Sapper found marls and sandstones which he believes to belong to the Upper Tertiary, lying horizontally at a height of about 7500 ft. in the Mexican state of Chiapas. Unfortunately the fossils obtained from these beds were lost.
Climate.—The climate of Central America is subject to the most marked local differences of heat and cold, owing partly to the proximity of two oceans, partly to the variations of altitude which render such territories as the swamps of the coast, or the lowlands of British Honduras and northern Guatemala, totally unlike the alpine regions of Salvador and Costa Rica. The whole area may, however, be roughly divided into a tropical zone (tierra caliente), from sea-level to about 1500 ft.; a temperate zone (tierra templada), from 1500 to 5000 ft.; and a cold zone (tierra fria), above 5000 ft. These figures are, of course, only approximately correct; and it often happens that, at the same elevation, the heat is greater on the Pacific than on the Atlantic versant. The rainy season on the Pacific slope varies in duration from four to six months, between April and December. It lengthens as the altitude increases. On the coast, it corresponds with the prevalence of the south-west monsoon, the tempestuous Cordonazo de San Francisco, or “Flagellation of St Francis,” as it is called in Mexico, and it is often interrupted by an interval of two or three weeks of fine weather, known as the Veranillo de San Juan, or “Little summer of St John.” In the rainy season, the morning has usually a clear sky; about two or three o’clock in the afternoon the clouds begin to gather in great cumulus masses; suddenly the lightning flashes out and the rain crashes down; and by evening the sky is clear and starry. North winds are most usual during the dry season. On the Atlantic coast the trade-winds may bring rain in any month, and, owing to the moist atmosphere, the heat is more oppressive. The rainfall may vary in successive years from less than 50 in. to nearly 200 in., owing to the occurrence of cloud-bursts. Frosts are not rare above 7000 ft., but snow seldom falls.
Fauna.—The fauna of Central America is more closely connected with the fauna of South than with that of North America. As the region is comparatively small, and its limits conventional, there are comparatively few species that it can claim as peculiarly its own. It is almost entirely free from the presence of animals dangerous to man. Of felines it possesses the jaguar (Felis onza), popularly called the tiger; the cuguar (Felis concolor), popularly called the lion; the tigrillo (Felis tigrina), which is sometimes kept tame; and other species. Several species of monkeys (Mycetes and Ateles) are numerous in the warm coast region. The Mexican deer (Cervus mexicanus) has a wide range both in the lowlands and highlands. Besides the tapir there are several varieties of wild pig, such as the marrano de monte (Sus torquatus) and the jabali or javali (Sus labiatus javali). The Edentata are represented by a species of armadillo, the honey-bear (Myrmecophaga tomandua), and the Myrmecophaga didactyla; and among the rodents may be mentioned, besides rats, hares and rabbits, the fruit-eating cotorra and tepes-cuinte (Dasyprocta aguti and Coelogenys paca), and the troublesome Geomys mexicana. The manatee is common in all the larger streams. Much annoyance is caused to the agriculturist by the little marsupial called the tacuacine, or the Didelphys carcinora, its allied species. The bats are so numerous that villages have sometimes had to be left to their undisputed occupancy. In the south-east of Costa Rica the inhabitants are at times compelled to withdraw, with all their live-stock, before the swarms of large migratory vampires which in a single night can bleed the strongest animal to death. Most of the domestic animals—the horse, ox, goat, sheep, pig, dog, rabbit, common fowl, peacock and pigeon—are of European origin, and are popularly grouped together as animales de Castilla. For the bird collector there is a rich harvest. The catalogue of the National Museum at Washington shows that Costa Rica alone possesses more than twice as many species of birds as the whole of Europe. Among birds of prey it is sufficient to mention Corogyps atratus, the commonest of the vultures, which acts as a universal scavenger, the Cathartes aura, the beautiful Polyborus vulgaris, and the king of the vultures (Sarcorhamphus papa). Neither the condor of the southern continent nor the great eagles of the northern are known. The parrot, macaw and toucan are found in all parts; the crow, blackbird, Mexican jay, ricebird, swallow, rainbird, wood-pecker, humming-bird and trogon are also widely distributed. A bird of the last-named genus, the quetzal, quijal or quesal (Trogon resplendens) is of special note, not only from the fact that its yellow tail-feathers. 2 or 3 ft. long, were formerly worn as insignia by the Indian princes, but because it has been adopted as the emblematical figure on the national arms of Guatemala. The gallinaceous order is well represented, and comprises several peculiar species, as the pavo de cacho, and the Peten turkey (Meleagris ocellata), which has a bronze sheen on its plumage; and aquatic birds, it is almost needless to add, are unusually numerous in a region so richly furnished with lagoons, rivers and lakes.
Besides the alligator, which swarms in many rivers, the almost endless varieties of Central American reptiles include the harmless boba or chicken-snake, python and black snake; the venomous corali, taboba, culebra de sangre and rattlesnake; iguanas of great size, scorpions, edible lizards and other lizards said to be poisonous. In the rivers and lakes, as in both seas, fish of many kinds abound; turtles and tortoises are exported; and there are valuable pearl and oyster fisheries. Insect life is even richer and more varied. Of the Coleoptera, the Camelicorns, the Longicorns, the Curculionids, and the Chrysomelines are said to be best represented, and of the Lepidoptera the prevalent genera are—Ageronia, Papilio, Heliconia, Sphinx and Bombyx. There are five species of bees, and the European honey-bee, known as aveja de Castilla or “bee of Castile,” has been naturalized. Ants are common, and may sometimes be seen marching in a column 3 or 4 m. long. The mosquito, wood-tick, flea and locust are unfortunately no less plentiful in certain districts, but their distribution varies greatly, the mosquito being almost unknown in parts of Honduras. A curious species of butterfly is the Timetes Chiron, which migrates in countless multitudes from the forests of Honduras to the Mosquito Coast, but is never known to return.
Flora.—The flora of Central America ranges from the alpine to the tropical, with the transition from one climatic zone to another. Although its forest growths are, on the whole, inferior in size to those of corresponding latitudes in the eastern hemisphere, it is unsurpassed for beauty, luxuriance and variety. In the volcanic districts, the soil is extremely fertile, yielding, where cultivated and irrigated, magnificent crops of sugar, cotton, rice, tobacco, coffee, cocoa and maize. Indigo is produced in small quantities; sugar yields two or three crops, and maize as many as four, this cereal supplying a chief staple of food. Plantains, bananas, beans, tomatoes, yams, arrowroot, pine-apples, guavas, citrons and many other tropical fruits are also cultivated, while the extensive primeval forests abound in mahogany, cedars, rosewood, ironwood, rubber, gum copal, vanilla, sarsaparilla, logwood and many other dye-woods, medicinal plants, and valuable timbers. Conspicuous amongst the forest trees are the giant ceiba, or pyramidal bombax, and the splendid Coyal palm (Cocos butyracea, L.), with feathery leaves 15 to 20 ft. long, golden flowers 3 ft. high, and a sap which when fermented produces the intoxicating chicha or vino de Coyol. In Guatemala occurs the remarkable Herrania purpurea, a “Chocolate tree,” whose seeds yield a finer flavoured chocolate than the cocoa itself. The same country is famous for its magnificent orchids, huge arborescent thistles, and a remarkable plant called by the Spaniards Flor de la Calentura, “fever flower,” from the heat which it is said to emit at the moment of fertilization. Salvador produces an abundance of medicinal plants, notably the so-called Peruvian balsam (Myrospermum salvatorense); in Honduras there are immense forests of conifers, resembling those of the Landes in France; in Nicaragua a characteristic tree is the cortes (Tecoma sideroxylori) yielding timber as hard as ebony, and noteworthy for the golden blossom with which it is entirely covered after the leaves have fallen.
Inhabitants—In 1905 the population of Central America numbered about 4,750,000, and this total tends to increase, despite the unhealthy climate of many districts, the terribly high average of infant mortality, and the slow progress of immigration. Some authorities estimate it at 5,500,000. The vast majority of the inhabitants are of mixed Indian and Spanish blood, but the Indian element predominates everywhere except in Costa Rica, where the whites are exceptionally numerous. The Indian races have not shown the same power to adapt themselves to modern civilization as the Mexicans; in some regions there are tribes remaining in a state of complete savagery although before the Spanish conquest their ancestors attained a high level of culture (see below under Archaeology). The density of population throughout Central America is little more than 25 per sq. m.; and it is clear that several large areas now thinly peopled once maintained a far greater number of inhabitants. Such are parts of the Nicaraguan lake district, where the flora consists in great measure of plants that were formerly cultivated by the Indians. The depopulation of these areas was effected partly by tribal wars, partly by the harsh rule of the Spaniards. Apart from the German agricultural settlements in Guatemala and elsewhere, the foreign population is chiefly confined to the seaports and other centres of commerce, Great Britain, Germany and the United States being largely represented among the wealthier classes of residents; while the foreign labourers are mostly Italians or negroes, with a few Chinese on the Pacific coast.
History.—Central America was discovered by Columbus in August 1502; and part of the territory which is now Costa Rica was conquered by the Spaniards under Pedro Arias de Avila after 1513. Between 1522 and 1525, the authority of Avila was superseded, and his work of conquest completed by Hernando Cortes, who had already subjugated Mexico. Panama formed part of a distinct Spanish government, “New Granada”; British Honduras was colonized, though not formally annexed, in the 18th century; and over the Mosquito Coast the British government exercised a nominal protectorate after 1665. Otherwise the rest of Central America remained a Spanish dependency bearing the general name of “Guatemala,” until 1821. It ranked as a captaincy-general under the rule of a military governor, and was organized in five departments, corresponding in area with the modern republics of Guatemala, Honduras, Salvador, Nicaragua and Costa Rica. For three centuries it was administered by Spanish officials, who almost invariably devoted their whole energy to enriching themselves and the home authorities. The old Indian civilization was swept away; the native races were enslaved, maltreated and, for a time, demoralized. But their history offers no parallel to that of the West Indian Caribs, who failed to survive, and were replaced by hordes of African slaves. In Central America the Indians not only survived, thus leaving no room for any large negro population, but quickly acquired the language, religion and habits of their masters, with whom they intermarried. By the close of the 18th century, the majority had attained something like uniformity of life and thought. Racial distinctions had been obscured by intermarriage; even the term Ladino, or “Latin,” came to mean an educated man, whether of Spanish or Indian blood. Nowhere, except in Mexico, has a mixed or coloured race more completely absorbed the civilization of its white rulers; but so gradual and silent was the process that it passed almost unnoticed. Its result, the successful revolt of the Spanish colonies—colonies mainly peopled by Indians or half-castes—was no more a conflict of rival races or civilizations than the rebellion of the British colonies in North America.
“New Granada” attained its independence in 1819; and in 1821 “Guatemala” declared itself free. That the subsequent history of the Central American republics has been largely a record of civil war, maladministration and financial dishonesty, is perhaps due in part to racial inferiority. In part, however, it may be explained by the absence of any tradition of good government; perhaps also by the brevity and artificiality of the evolution which converted a debased slave-population into the citizens of modern democratic states. The five divisions of “Guatemala” were temporarily incorporated in the Mexican empire during 1822, but regained their autonomy (as Guatemala, Honduras, Salvador, Nicaragua and Costa Rica) on the declaration of a Mexican republic, and in July 1823 combined to form the Republic of the United States of Central America. The Liberal or Federalist party, which was supreme in Honduras, found itself opposed by the Conservatives, including the clergy and former Spanish officials, who were very influential in Guatemala. A bitter and protracted struggle ensued. In 1837–1839 a Conservative rising, under Rafael Carrera, president of Guatemala, resulted in the overthrow of the Liberals, under General Francisco Morazan of Honduras; and in 1842, after a vain attempt to restore the Federal republic, Morazan was captured and shot. A fresh union of the republics (except Costa Rica) was concluded in 1842, and dissolved in 1845. The year 1850 was signalized by the conclusion, on the 19th of April, of the Clayton-Bulwer treaty (q.v.) between Great Britain and the United States, which was designed to facilitate the construction of an interoceanic canal. The history of this project is given in detail under Panama Canal. One important result of the treaty was the abandonment, in 1860, of the British protectorate over the Mosquito Coast. This event had been preceded by a decade of political disturbances. In 1850 Honduras, Salvador and Nicaragua had combined to restore federal unity; but their allied armies were defeated by the Guatemalans under Carrera. In 1856 the American adventurer, William Walker, endeavoured to usurp the government of Nicaragua; in 1860 he invaded Honduras and was captured and shot. His object was to assist the slave-holders of the United States by adding new slave-states to the Union. A further attempt to restore federal unity failed in 1885, and its promoter, Justo Rufino Barrios, president of Guatemala, lost his life. In 1895 the Greater Republic of Central America was formed by the union of Nicaragua, Salvador and Honduras; and a constitution was framed providing for the admission of Guatemala and Costa Rica; in December 1898 it was dissolved, as unsatisfactory to Salvador. On the 4th of November 1903 Panama, which had since 1863 formed part of Colombia, declared itself an autonomous republic. Its independence was immediately recognized by the United States, and shortly afterwards by the European powers. The United States also forbade the landing of any Colombian force on the territories of Panama, and thus guaranteed the security of the new state.
Bibliography.—For a general description of Central America, and especially of its physical features, the following monographs by K. Sapper are of prime importance:—In den Vulcangebieten Mittelamerikas und Westindiens (Stuttgart, 1905); Mittelamerikanische Reisen und Studien aus den Jahren 1888 bis 1900 (Brunswick, 1902), and Das nordliche Mittelamerika nebst einem Ausflug nach dem Hochland von Anahuac (Brunswick, 1897); these all contain many useful illustrations and maps. See also Central America and the West Indies, by A. H. Keane, edited by Sir C. Markham (London, 1901, 2 vols., with maps and illustrations); Central and South America, by H. W. Bates (London, 1882); The Spanish American Republics, by T. Child (London, 1892); and Expedition nach Zentral und Sudamerika, by P. Preuss (Berlin, 1901). For geology, see “The Geological History of the Isthmus of Panama and Portions of Costa Rica,” by R. T. Hill, in Bull. Mus. Comp. Zool. Harvard, vol. xxviii., No. 5 (1898); and the following by K. Sapper:— “Grundzüge der physikalischen Geographic von Guatemala,” in Petermann’s Mitt. Ergänzungsheft, No. 113 (1894), “Über Gebirgsbau und Boden des nördlichen Mittelamerika,” ibid., No. 127 (1899), and “Über Gebirgsbau und Boden des südlichen Mittelamerika,” ibid., No. 151 (1905). The States of Central America, by E. G. Squier (New York, 1858), is still valuable, as are others of the numerous essays, pamphlets, &c., on Central American affairs left by this author; see the bibliography of his writings published in New York in 1876. The Bulletins of the Bureau of American Republics (Washington, from 1893) give ample information on commerce and industry. See also History of Central America, by H. Bancroft (San Francisco, 1881–1887. 3 vols.).
Archaeology of Central America
Discoveries and investigations carried on during the 19th century have thrown much light on the splendid past of Central America. The still extant ruins of great buildings, unlike anything which is known in the old world, testify to the high culture attained in pre-Columbian days by several native peoples differing greatly from one another in speech and racial affinities. As a science the archaeology of Central America has scarcely yet emerged from its infancy. Entire branches are still wholly uninvestigated. Amongst the numerous problems which await solution must still be reckoned the decipherment of the inscriptions, which hitherto has not progressed beyond the discovery of calendar systems and the relative datings involved in such systems.
For a complete survey of this ancient civilization, so far as it has been investigated, it is necessary to include with Central America, properly so called, a considerable portion of the Mexican territories south and east of the isthmus of Tehuantepec. The peoples inhabiting Yucatan, Campeche, Guatemala, Chiapas and Oaxaca present at the first view striking ethnical differences. On a linguistic basis, however, they may be united into several large groups. Thus, Yucatan and the greater part of Guatamala are inhabited by the Mayas, with whom may be included the still savage Lacantun or Lacandones. Related to these linguistically are the Tzendals in Chiapas and the Quiches and Cackchiquels in Guatemala, as well as the less important tribes of the Mam, Pokoman, Pokonchi, Tzotzil, Tzutuhil and Ixil. Between these there are patches of country in which dialects of the Mexican are spoken. In Oaxaca there is an extraordinary mixture of languages, some of which, like that of the Huave of Tehuantepec, are of quite unknown affinities; the bulk of the population, however, is composed of Mixtecs and Zapotecs with which the Mixe and Zoque on the east are connected. Mexican dialects also occur in isolated parts of Oaxaca.
Mayan Culture.—The civilization of the Mayas may well have been reared upon one more ancient, but the life of that culture of which the ruins are now visible certainly lasted no more than 500 years. The date of its extinction is unknown, but in certain places, notably Mayapan and Chichenitza, the highest development seems to be synchronous with the appearance of foreign, viz. Mexican or Nahua elements (see below). This quite distinctive local character suggests that the cities in question played a certain preponderating rôle, a hypothesis with which the scanty documentary evidence is in agreement. On the other hand the Mayan culture evinces an evident tendency to assimilate heterogeneous elements, obliterating racial distinctions and imposing its own dominant character over a wide area. Oaxaca, the country of the Mixtecs and Zapotecs, became, as was natural from its geographical position midway between Yucatan and Mexico, the meeting-ground where two archaeological traditions which are sharply contrasted in their original homes united.
Central American architecture is characterized by a fine feeling for construction, and the execution is at once bold and aesthetically effective. Amongst the various ruins, some of which represent the remains of entire cities, while others are no more than groups of buildings or single buildings, certain types persistently recur. The commonestArchitecture of such types are pyramids and galleries. The pyramids are occasionally built of brick, but most usually of hewn stone with a covering of finely-carved slabs. Staircases lead up to the top from one or more sides. Some pyramids are built in steps. Usually the platform on the top of a pyramid is occupied by buildings, the typical distribution of which is into two parts, viz. vestibule and sanctuary. In connexion with the pyramid there are various subsidiary structures, such as altars, pillars, and sacrificial stones, to meet the requirements of ritual and worship, besides habitations for officials and “tennis-courts” for the famous ball-game like that played by the Mexicans. The tennis-courts always run north and south, and all the buildings, almost without exception, have a definite orientation to particular points of the compass. Frequently the pyramids constitute one of the four sides of a quadrangular enclosure, within which are contained other pyramids, altars or other buildings of various dimensions.
The normal type of gallery is an oblong building, of which the front facing inwards to the enclosure is pierced by doors. These divide it into a series of rooms, behind which again there may be a second series. Occasionally the rooms are distributed round a central apartment, but this is ordinarily done only when a second storey has to be placed above them. The gallery-buildings may rise to as much as three storeys, the height, size and shape of the rooms being determined by the exigencies of vaulting. The principle of the true arch is unknown, so that the vaults are often of the corbelled kind, the slabs of the side-walls being made to overlap in succession until there remains only so narrow a space as may be spanned by a single flat stone. At Mitla, where the material used in the construction of the buildings was timber instead of stone, the larger rooms were furnished with stone pillars on which the beams could rest. The same principle recurs in certain ruins at Chichenitza. The tops and sides of the doors are often decorated with carved reliefs and hieroglyphs, and the entrances are sometimes supported by plain or carved columns and pilasters, of which style the serpent columns of Chichenitza afford the most striking example. On its external front one of these galleries may have a cornice and half-pillars. Above this is a plain surface of wall, then a rich frieze which generally exhibits the most elaborate ornamentation in the whole building. The subjects are geometrical designs in mosaic, serpents’ heads and human masks. The corners of the wall terminate in three-quarter pillars, above which the angles of the frieze frequently show grotesque heads with noses exaggerated into trunks. The roof of the gallery is flat and occasionally gabled.
Principal Sites.—Such are the general characteristics of Central American buildings, but it must be understood that almost every site exhibits peculiarities of its own, and the number of the ruined settlements even as at present known is very large. The most considerable are enumerated below.
Yucatan.—Of the very numerous ruins which are distributed over Yucatan and the islands of the east coast the majority still await exploration. A few words of special notice may be devoted to one or two sites in the centre of the peninsula which have already become famous. At Uxmal the buildings consist of five considerable groups, viz.—the Casa del Adivino, which is a step-pyramid 240 ft. long by 160 ft. wide and 80 ft. high, crowned by a temple 75 ft. long by 12 ft. wide; the Casa de Monjas, a striking erection of four oblong buildings on an extensive terrace; the Casa de Tortugas, Casa del Gobernador, and Casa de Palomas, the last of which is a group of six galleries surrounding a court. At Izamal there is a very imposing group of ruins, as yet quite insufficiently explored. At Chichenitza, a city of first-rate importance, situated 22 m. west of Valladolid, the ruins consist of eight principal groups, the chief of which are as follows. The Casa de Monjas, a three-storeyed building, attributable to several distinct periods; the Caracol, a round structure with dome in imitation of a snail-shell, showing evident traces of Mexican influence; El Castillo, a large temple standing on a base 200 ft. long and 75 ft. high, approached by staircases on all four sides, and furnished with serpent-pillars of a kind unknown anywhere else except at Uxmal and Tula near Mexico; an unnamed temple-pyramid, which is remarkable for a group of caryatid figures; a tennis-court; and finally the Tiger Temple, which contains marvellous coloured reliefs representing figures of warriors and place-hieroglyphs, all executed in a distinctively Mexican style. Yet another evidence of Mexican influence at Chichenitza is to be noted in five figures of the so-called Chac-mol type, that is to say, horizontal figures in which the arms are extended to the navel which is indicated by a cup-like depression. This Chac-mol type is characteristic of such sites as Tlascala and Cempoallan.
Other important sites in Yucatan are Chacmaltun, with fine wall-paintings; Tantah, with remarkable pillared facades; the ruins of Labna, Chunhuhub, and the caves of Loltun; and Xlabpak de Santa Rosa, where there is a three-storeyed temple palace. Two sculptured reliefs are of great interest; they represent a person holding a staff on which is a figure of the god Ah-bolon-tzacab.
Guatemala.—The Guatemalan ruins are distributed over a wide area. The most numerous and extensive are on the Usumacinta river. The most important sites in that district are Piedras Negras, and Yaxchilan or Menche Tinamit, where there are temples covered with sculptured reliefs and hieroglyphic inscriptions, and stelae and slabs carved with human figures placed in niches. In the Peten district, Tikal is famous for its splendid sculptures representing Kukulkan and other divinities. Near the modern city of Guatemala are the vast ruins of Guatemala-Mixco. Chacujál, which Cortes visited on his expedition of 1524–1525 is very possibly to be identified with the modern Pueblo Viejo on the river Tinaja. Chaculá and Quen-Santo between the headwaters of the Rio de Chiapas and the Rio Lacantun are two sites of a strongly marked local character. Series of three pyramids are peculiar to these two settlements, as also are pyramids with human figures on their platforms. Stelae discovered at Quen Santo have a calendar character, which proves that Mayan science had penetrated into what was probably the home of an old Lacantun culture.
Santa Lucia Cozumalhuapa, on the Pacific slope of the Cordilleras, is a very peculiar site. The ruins are those of a settlement which had already been deserted before Alvarado’s expedition of 1522. The sculptures of gods, goddesses and other figures, executed on enormous blocks of stone, show a distinctively Mexican character, with which, however, various Mayan features are blended. They may perhaps be attributed to some offshoot of the Nahua stock, probably the Pipil Indians, which developed on lines of its own in this remote corner.
Near the frontier of Honduras are the remarkable ruins of Quirigua, which rival Copan in importance and have suffered less from the ravages of the climate. The ruins of temples and palaces contain gigantic stone stelae of very fine workmanship, on which are sculptured human and animal figures representing hieroglyphs of the calendar dates.
Honduras.—Copan, one of the most important seats of Mayan civilization, lies close to the borders of Guatemala. The ruins comprise great buildings, temples, pyramids, &c. and contain sculptures of the highest interest. Especially noteworthy are altars in the form of a turtle and stelae covered with hieroglyphs. The hieroglyphs are of the kind usually found in such ruins, the meaning of which is so far clear that it is known that the commencement of an inscription records certain dates in the complicated calendar system of the Mayas. A collation of these dates demonstrates that the most ancient on record are separated from the most recent by an interval of only a few centuries. From this it may be concluded that the Mayan civilization, whether or not it was preceded by anything older, flourished for only a comparatively short period, the beginning of which cannot be placed many centuries before A.D. 1000.
According to Squier (Honduras, London, 1870, p. 75) the other principal ruins of Honduras are to be found in plains of the department of Comayagua, near Yarumela, near Lajamini, and in the ruined town of Cururu. They are “large, pyramidal, terraced structures, often faced with stones, conical mounds of earth and walls of stone.” Further ruins, such as those of Calamulla, Jamalteca, Maniana, Guasistagua, Chapuluca and Chapulistagua, are found in the department of Comayagua in the side valleys and adjoining tablelands. The most interesting and most extensive are the ruins of Tenampua (Pueblo Viejo), about 20 m. south-east of Comayagua. Here ramparts, defence works, terraced stone mounds and numerous large pyramids are to be found. Squier found further ruins in the west of Honduras, which have also been described in part by Stephens, and were probably first mentioned in 1576 by Diego Garcia de Palacio (Carta dirigida al Rei de España, published by Squier, New York, 1860).
At Rio Ulloa are remains which testify to the existence of a large population in past days. Possibly they may be identified
with a site of the name of Naco mentioned by Las Casas and by Bernal Diaz (Histoire véridique de la conquête de la Nouvelle Espagne, translated by D. Fourdanet, 2nd ed., Paris, 1877, ch. 178, p. 690).
Chiapas (Mexico).—The principal site is Palenque, the ruins of which were amongst the earliest of all to attract attention. The style of architecture, with the gigantic vaults and singular comb-shaped gables, distinguishes Palenque from Copan and Quirigua, which it surpasses also in the unequalled magnificence of its sculptures. Five out of the remarkably uniform series of buildings may be specially mentioned. They are the Great Palace, a complex structure of galleries and courts commanded by a three-storeyed tower, the Temples of the Cross, which are galleries constructed on terraces and containing the well-known reliefs, the Temple of Inscriptions, the Sun Temple and the Temple of the Relief. The sculptured figures of Palenque are familiar from many reproductions. The most characteristic groups represent a deity standing between worshippers who hold a staff surmounted by the water-god Ah-bolon-tzacab, the “god of the nine medicines.” The inscriptions on the famous Cross and in the Sun Temple contain calendar-datings which are remarkable as showing a particular combination of numbers and hieroglyphs, which does not occur elsewhere.
A whole series of sites is included within the geographical limits of Chiapas, which from the archaeologist’s standpoint must be considered as belonging properly to Guatemala. The country has been quite insufficiently explored.
Oaxaca (Mexico).—The bulk of the population of the province of Oaxaca is composed of a distinct racial group, best represented by the Zapotecs, who have been for an unknown length of time the intermediaries between the Nahua civilization of Mexico on the west and the Mayan on the east. The influence of the two separate currents may be detected in the bastard calendar system no less than in the still undeciphered inscriptions. The principal ruins are those of Mitla, the burial city of the priests and kings of the ancient Zapotecs, which bear a quite distinct character, though presenting certain analogies with the Mexican. One of the chief structures is a step-pyramid, rising in three steps to a height of 130 ft., another is a pyramid of brick. Besides these there are courts, surrounded by palaces which represented necropolises, the dwellings of the priests, of the chief priest, and of the king (with an audience-hall). The wall paintings of the “palaces” are especially admirable, and it is to be noted that the deities represented in them are those of the Mexican pantheon.
Monte Alban is interesting for the definitely Zapotec character of its sculptures. Quiengola near Tehuantepec is a site with extensive ruins including a fine tennis court.
British Honduras.—The antiquities of British Honduras have been but little investigated. In the scanty literature relating to them a few accounts of ruined places are to be found. In style these buildings closely resemble those of the neighbouring Yucatan. The ruins in the colony New Boston, mentioned by Froebel (Central America, p. 167), are of this kind. F. de P. Castells (see American Antiquarian, Chicago, 1904, vol. xxvi. pp. 32-37) describes the ruins, in the north of the colony, of “Ixim chech,” supposed to be the Indian form of the English name “Indian Church.” They are on the road to the Lake of Yaxha (green water), where further ruins are to be found. Thomas Gann gives detailed accounts of numerous mounds also in the northern part of British Honduras (see 19th Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology, Washington, 1900, part i. pp. 661-692, with plates). The most interesting ruins are those which have been discovered in Santa Rita, at the mouth of the New River, near the town of Corosal. Here wonderful wall paintings in stucco came to light, which unfortunately Gann could only save in part. The remainder were destroyed by Indians. It should be remarked that a number of the mounds in Santa Rita were erected over ruins of buildings which must therefore be of older date than the mounds.
Salvador.—Pedro de Alvarado in his expedition of 1524 calls this whole district Cuscatan (Mex. Cozcatlan), that is, “Land of precious stones, of treasures, of abundance.” A further description of the land is given by Palacio (l.c.) in 1576. Although there are numerous relics of Mayan civilization buried in the earth; few ruins are to be seen on the surface. Karl Sapper has described three large ruins: Cuzcatlan near the capital, Tehuacan near S. Vicente, and Zacualpa on the Lake of Güija in the extreme north-west of the country. The ruins show a distinct affinity in style to those of the Mayan buildings in Guatemala, but they are less fine and artistically perfect. Probably the central and western districts of San Salvador were originally peopled by the same race of Mayas, and these tracts of country were later settled by the Mexican-speaking Pipiles.
A characteristic feature of the extensive ruins of Zacualpa is that the pyramids and ramparts have perpendicular steps which are higher than they are broad, and this peculiarity may be attributed to the influence of the Maya tribes, who are related to the Mams of Guatemala.
Decipherment of the Mayan Hieroglyphs.—The key to the decipherment, so far as this has progressed at present, was furnished by the Historia de las Cosas de Yucatan, a work written by Diego de Landa, the first bishop of the country. This professed to give, with much other more or less doubtful information, the full account of a calendar system analogous to that of the Mexicans, which was said to have been used by the Mayas (see Mexico). The signs for each of the 20 days and for the 18 weeks of 20 days are figured by Landa. The first step was to compare these with the hieroglyphic characters contained in the few Mayan picture manuscripts (Codex Troano, Cortesianus, Peresianus, Dresden Codex) which have survived the destructive fanaticism of the Spanish missionaries. Förstemann’s acute analysis detected that the bars and dots which occur along the margin and in the body of the pictorial scenes represented numerals, dots standing for each integer up to five, while for five a bar was used. Next, it was found that the order in which these numeral-signs are placed is regular, and that there are never more than five in a group. It was established that the first sign in such a group is that for the numeral 1 (Kin), the next that for 20 (Uinal), the third for 18×20 (Tun), the fourth for 18×20×20 (Katun), and the fifth for 18×20×20×20, that is to say, a cycle.
Had the available material for study been confined to the manuscripts, little more progress would have been made beyond establishing subsidiary details in the actual calendar. But when a similar analysis was applied to the numerous monuments discovered and figured by Maudslay and others, some important results of a general bearing were obtained. It was found that many of the hieroglyphs of various forms upon the stones were also of numeral value, and, what was of great importance, that they all referred back to a single starting-point. This starting-point or zero is no doubt the mythological date at which, according to Mayan cosmology, the world was created. It is placed at nine or ten cycles before the time when Copan and Quirigua were erected and the picture manuscripts made. And it is by reference to it in the inscriptions that such students as Seler, Goodman and others have been enabled, as already stated, to obtain a record of the relative chronology of the most famous monuments, to confine the period of their erection within the space of a few centuries, and approximately to fix even their absolute antiquity. Though much yet remains to be done, these are substantial results which have already been won from the study of the hieroglyphs.
Bibliography.—The Antiquités mexicaines of Dupaix (Paris, 1834), the Voyage pittoresque et archéologique dans la province d’Yucatan of F. de Waldeck (Paris, 1838), and the Monuments anciens du Mexique of Brasseur de Bourbourg and Waldeck (Paris, 1866) are quite out of date and superseded. Stephen’s Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan (New York, 1841 and 1867), and B.M. Norman’s Rambles in Yucatan (New York, 1843), are still of value, the first-mentioned especially for the drawings by Catherwood. Among the earlier writers may also be mentioned Charnay, Les Anciennes Villes du Nouveau Monde (Paris, 1885) and Cités et ruines américaines (Paris, 1863), the latter written in collaboration with Viollet-le-Duc. Those, however, who are not primarily bibliophiles will be content to study the following:—Maudslay (in Godman and Salvin’s Biologia Centrali-Americana, sect. Archaeology, London, 1889, &c.), a pioneer work containing the admirably presented results of scientific exploration. Maler, in Memoirs of the Peabody Museum, vol. ii. 1, 2 (Cambridge, U.S.A., 1901 and 1903); Holmes, Archaeological Studies among the Ancient Mexicans (Field Columbian Museum, Chicago, 1895); E. Seler, Die alten Ansiedelungen von Chacula (Berlin, 1901), Wandmalereien von Mitla (Berlin, 1895), Ges. Abhandlungen, vol. i. (Berlin, 1902) and vol. ii. (1904), Fuhrer von Mitla (Berlin, 1906). E. Förstemann has contributed many valuable essays to Globus and the Zeitschrift fur Ethnologie (Berlin); especially important are his commentaries to the Dresden Codex (Dresden, 1901), to the Codex Tro-Cortesianus Madrilensis (Danzig, 1902), and to the Codex Peresianus (Danzig, 1903). See also “The Archaic Maya Inscriptions,” by F. T. Goodman (in Biologia Centrali-Americana, section Archaeology, viii., 1897), and Report of an Archaeological Tour in Mexico in 1881, by A. F. Bandelier (Boston, 1884). Valuable bibliographies have been made by Bandelier (Notes on the Bibliography of Yucatan and Central America, Worcester, U.S.A., 1881) and by K. Häbler (“Die Maya Literatur und der Maya Apparat zu Dresden,” in the Zentralblatt fur Bibliothekwesen, xii., 1895). The Mayan picture MSS. have been published in facsimile as follows:—the Dresden Codex by Förstemann (Leipzig, 1880, and Dresden, 1892), and the Codex Tro by Brasseur de Bourbourg—Manuscrit Troano, étude sur le système graphique et la langue des Mayas (Paris, 1869–1870), the Codex Cortesianus by Léon de Rosny (Paris, 1883) and by F. de Dios de la Rada y Delgado and F. L. de Ayala y del Hierro (Madrid, 1893), the Codex Peresianus by Duruy and Brasseur de Bourbourg (Paris, 1864) and by L. de Rosny (Paris, 1887). The following relate especially to the ruins in Salvador:—La Universidad, by D. Gonzalez, vol. ii. ser. 3, No. 6, p. 283 (San Salvador, 1892–1893); Le Salvador pré-Colombien, études archéologiques, by F. de Montcasus de Ballore (Paris, 1891), 25 plates; Karl Sapper in Arch. fur Ethnologie, 9, p. 3 ff. (1896). (W. L.*)