Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 31.djvu/535

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THE METAL ART OF ANCIENT MEXICO.

THE METAL ART OF ANCIENT MEXICO.
By HENRY L. REYNOLDS, Jr.

OF the contemporary writers of the conquest of ancient Mexico there are but three who have told us that there were in that city not only objects of gold, silver, and copper, but also some of bronze and tin. They have, moreover, told us that some of these metals were most skillfully wrought, and that the designs fashioned therefrom were so marvelous and beautiful that even the European goldsmiths of those days could not excel them.

However true this may be, it should be remarked that there is neither in the museums of this country, Spain, nor Mexico a single representative relic of this advanced skill in metal-working. All the Mexican specimens of unquestionable pre-Columbian origin that we have are of pure copper, and are simply hammered into shape. There are a few of bronze, but these, as well as some of copper, can not be said to antedate the conquest.

M. Guillaume Dupaix, who was employed by the King of Spain in 1805 to explore Mexico in search of remains of Aztec art, is the first to tell us anything about Mexican metal relics. Though an endeavor is evident throughout his notes to strengthen the belief in the greatness of Aztec civilization, the only metal specimens that he describes are three of what he calls "red copper." His annotator, Lenoir, referring to these metal specimens, properly adds that "this red copper is native, whereas the yellow copper is the result of an alloy which the Mexicans, it appears, did not use."[1]

The twelve Mexican axes collected by Dr. Palmer, Mr. Frederick Ober, Professor Agassiz, and Mr. L. H. Ayme, seven of which are in the Peabody Museum at Cambridge, and the two in the National Museum at Washington, are all of pure copper; and Professor F. W. Putnam, who had the privilege of examining the former, tells us that there is no doubt that they were all shaped by hammering. This is also true of those in the National Museum.

These axes are of but two types, and it is gratifying to see that they correspond to the two forms figured in the ancient paintings. We might, therefore, reasonably deduce from this the fact that those figured axes were of a like composition to these that survive, and also that they were wrought with the hammer. To further sustain this conclusion, Landa gives, in his "Cosas de Yucatan," a cut of a Yucatan axe which also corresponds in shape to those just mentioned. These, he says, "are made of a certain metal, and shaped by hammering the edge with stones." Now, upon the authority of Cogolludo,[2] we know that these hammered axes of Yucatan were made in Mexico, and

  1. "Antiquités Mexicaines," deuxième partie, Planche II.
  2. "Historia de Yucatan," lib. lv, cap. iii.