Popular Science Monthly/Volume 31/May 1887/Mexican Antiquities

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MEXICAN ANTIQUITIES.
By RANDOLPH I. GEARE.

IN the southeast range of the National Museum at Washington is a collection of casts of Mexican statues, historical stones, and other figures of American antiquities, an examination of which alone is well worthy of a visit to the Museum. This collection was installed for exhibition by its owner, Señor Eufémio Abadiano, and was brought to Washington from New Orleans, where it had been on view at the Exposition in 1885. These casts are reproductions of precious specimens PSM V31 D089 Teoyoamiqui goddess of death.jpgTeoyoamiqui, or Goddess of Death. in the possession of the National Museum of Mexico, and of monuments of immense value from various parts of that republic. Our attention was first called to the "Aztec Calendar Stone," which, according to Gama, is a calendar for that part of the year between the spring and autumnal equinox, showing the movements of the sun and the times at which should be celebrated the principal feasts of the nation. In the center are four rectangles which form a figure constituting the sign of Nahüi Ollin, and represents the four movements of the sun. The figures in the circle outside of these rectangles represent the twenty days into which the month was divided. The divisions of the day are shown by eight large angles. The stone served as a sun-dial, by means of which the times for ceremonies and sacrifices were ascertained daily. The original monument is believed to weigh twenty-one tons. Close by is the cast of the statue Teoyoamiqui, or Goddess of Death, about eight feet and a half in height. The original was found buried in the city of Mexico ninety-six years ago. Humboldt believes that this and other idols were placed under-ground by Cortes and his men in order to escape the observation of the Aztecs, to whom these idols would doubtless prove a serious obstacle to their embracing Christianity; but it seems more reasonable to suppose that these idols were buried by the Aztecs themselves, in order to prevent their capture by the soldiers. The goddess Teoyoamiqui was charged with the gathering in of the souls of persons killed in battle, it being supposed that their souls went to the mansion of the sun in heaven, where they were eventually transformed into hummingbirds.[1] Near this is a cast of the statue of the goddess Mictlanteuhtli, who presided over Mictlanteuhtli, by which name the Mexicans denoted the place to which the souls of those who died natural deaths were transmitted.

Perhaps the most interesting cast in this collection is that of the Sacrificial Stone, which was found ninety-five years ago in the city of Mexico. The complex figures and hieroglyphics on this stone utterly astound the visitor to the Museum, and are only to be descried, to say nothing of being understood, after the most careful examination. This stone is about two feet eleven inches high and more than twenty-seven feet in circumference. On its face is sculptured the image of the sun, and around the stone are fifteen groups of two persons each, one of each couple being represented as victorious over the other. The number of victims indicates the number of conquered tribes. In two couples the victim is a woman, which probably denotes that those two tribes were governed by women. A groove running to the margin from the center marks the course for the flow of the victim's blood. The conqueror is Tizoc, sixth king of Mexico, who reigned from 1481 to 1486, and the monument is commemorative of his victories. A cast of the famous statue of Chac-Mool (tiger), about two feet six inches high, is in the collection. The statue is believed to be twelve thousand years old, and was, it is said, erected to the memory of Chac-Mool by his wife. In the valley of Mexico and in Tlascala statues of similar form have been found, and it is therefore assumed by some that the same divinity was worshiped both in Mexico and Yucatan. The statue was discovered by Dr. A. Le Plongeon in the ruins of Chichen-Itza, Yucatan, and removed by the Mexican Government to the National Museum of Mexico. Of exceeding interest is the reproduction of the Commemorative Stone in remembrance of laying the foundation of the great temple of the Aztecs, the building of which was commenced by Tizoc, who was desirous of erecting a sacred edifice which should be the wonder of all the nations on earth. It was not finished by him, its completion being reserved for Ahuitzotl, his successor, in the year 1487. This temple has now given place to a magnificent cathedral. A cast of a cylinder known as "The Mexican Cycle" is very interesting. Among the Aztecs every fifth day was a day of rest, called Tianquiztli, and five of these periods constituted a month of twenty days, eighteen of which made up a year of three hundred and sixty days, to which were added five more to make up the proper length of the year. The cycle or century was composed of fifty-two

PSM V31 D091 Sacrificial stone or cuauhxicalli of tizoc.jpg
Sacrificial Stone, or Cuauhxicalli or Tizoc.

years. This cylinder is composed of a bundle of reeds tied with cords, representing a cycle, or xuihmolpilli in the Mexican idiom, the signification of the word being a "union of years." The Aztecs believed that at the close of the cycle the world would come to an end, and the last night of the cycle was a time of great anxiety for them. They destroyed their goods, threw away their valuables, and offered human sacrifices. As soon as the moment of suspense was passed, and it was seen that the world had not been destroyed, but would last another century, sadness and penitence gave way to the greatest hilarity, the beginning of the feast being signalized by the priests, who, with the aid of two dry sticks, ignited a fire which was carried far and wide in token of the continuance of the world's existence.

Placed near by is a cast of an immense head, which is supposed to have occupied a position in the great Aztec temple. Some archæologists PSM V31 D092 Colossal head of tenango.jpgColossal Head of Tenango. believe that it represents the lost Atlantis, with her head-dress of water dotted with shells. In the Mexican town of Tenango was found a stone about five feet ten inches high, upon which are sculptured the four fatal epochs in Nature which the Aztecs assert had taken place. These epochs are Atonatiuh, or water-sun (corresponding to our deluge); Ehecatonatiuh, or wind-sun; Tletonatiuh, or fire-sun; and Tlaltonatiuh, or earth-sun. A cast of this stone is among the series. We also notice a cast of the "Cross of Palenque." The use of this symbol by the Mexicans of remote date is by some advanced as an argument to prove that, at that time, Christianity was established, or at least taught, in their country. Others, however, regard the symbol merely as an astronomical sign, indicative of the four seasons, four winds, etc. On this cross is represented a priest offering up a child to the sacred bird, which is perched on the top. At the bottom of the cross is a large face with open mouth and an ornament hanging from its nose. The "Palenque Divinity" is represented by the figure of a god on whose head is a diadem of plumes. On the forehead is typified "Eve's Serpent," in the form of a star, whose presence in the heavens is significant of harvest-time. This is the god that creates and is opposed to the destructive genius. The serpent referred to was Sérapis among the Egyptians, Wischnou with the Indians, Vitzlipultzi in Mexico, Fohi in China, Esculapie with the Greeks, and Thor among the Scandinavians. There is also a cast of a bas-relief supposed to have come from Palenque. On it is depicted a man being punished in some way, his hands tied behind him, and extreme pain being evident both in his face and from his attitude. A cast of what is believed to be a statue of Chalchiuhtlicue, Goddess of Water, was also shown us. The statue came from a mountain near Tlalmenalco. This divinity was sister to the gods of water, Tlaloques. A yoke from Orizaba is in the collection. This is made of stone and is of a green color. At the top of the yoke is a head, like that of a snake, and the entire yoke is polished. These were used on the occasion of human sacrifices, and were placed over the heads of the victims whose hearts were to be taken out. Next in order is the cast of a statue of a woman who, by her costume, appears to have belonged to the Aztec nobility. Around her waist is a rattlesnake, and this fact leads to the supposition that the statue is that of the "snake-woman"—the goddess Cihuacoatl, from whom the Aztecs believe the entire human race has descended. There are also in the collection casts of two feathered serpents and other mythological animals; of a

PSM V31 D093 Feathered serpent.jpg
Feathered Serpent.

humpback, who is supposed to have been a son of King Tizoc, to whom reference has been made; of the water-goddess, etc. Conspicuous, too, are two funeral urns, beautifully carved inside, and with skulls upon the convex surface. A great vase or tub is in this series. From various water-animals sculptured on the base it is supposed to be commemorative of the deluge, but little is known of its meaning. A large grasshopper (Chapolin) stands near the "tub," and is supposed to be commemorative of the end of the wanderings of the Aztec tribe which terminated at Chapultepec (hill of the grasshopper).

Neither time nor space will allow a detailed description of some of the smaller casts in the collection. It is, however, safe to say that every piece has connected with it an interesting history.

  1. Charero, in his "Anales del Museo National de Méjico," vol. ii, p. 293, holds that it represents the earth-god, Coatlicue.