Popular Science Monthly/Volume 38/March 1891/International Congress of Americanists

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THE International Congress of Americanists was formed at Nancy, in France, in 1875, for the historical, archaeological, ethnographical, and linguistic study of the two Americas. Its subsequent meetings have been held successively at Luxemburg, Copenhagen, Madrid, Turin, Brussels, and Berlin. The last, the eighth meeting, was held in Paris, beginning October 14th. M. de Quatrefages presided, and delivered the opening address, which was published in the Monthly for January. French Americanists were well represented among the participants by Lucien Adam, the Comte de Charency, Remi Simeon, Léon de Rosny, Alphonse Pinart, Desiré Charnay, and Dr. Jourdanet; German, by Schoene, Drs. Hellmann, Joest, Seler, Ehrenreich, Grempler, Herr Künne, and Virchow. M. Fabri, now occupying a cabinet position at home, was missed from the Spanish delegation. Members were present from Holland, Denmark, Italy, Switzerland; Dr. Brinton and Mr. H. A. M. Phillips from the United States; Don Ignacio Altamirano, an Aztec, and Dr. Penafid, from Mexico; Senor Manuel de Peralta, from Costa Rica; and others, not named in Das Ausland's account, from other South American states.

The first question discussed was the one, now of several years' standing, of the origin of the name of America. M. Paul Marcou and M. Lambert de Saint-Bris, it will be remembered, had advanced the hypothesis that, instead of being derived from Amerigo Vespucci, who was also called Alberigo, the name is of native origin, and came really from roots which were also represented in the Ameriqui Mountains of Venezuela, Lake Maracaybo, and the region of Amaracapan in Central America. As against this supposition, M. Jimenez showed that the name of the Ameriqui Mountains did not appear on the oldest maps. Other respondents showed that the name of Ameriqui was not known to the official authorities of Venezuela, and that it is written in a different shape (Amerisque) in documents of very modern date. Testimony was adduced as to Vespucci being called Amerigo as early as 1492 and 1495, in the face of which M. Marcou had been compelled to modify his assertions on that point. Dr. Hamy produced the copy of a map made in Malorca, in 1439, on which was marked in an ancient handwriting the receipt of the cost price in gold from Amerigo Vespucci. The Congress with great unanimity approved an observation by Dr. Hellmann that this question should henceforth be regarded as removed from the programme of its discussions. Dr. Hellmann mentioned a document, printed at Lyons in 1546, in which the compiler purposed to describe briefly America, which is also called L'Ameque, "a group of islands of which little is known." M. Gabriel Marcel, of the Bibliothèque Rationale, called attention to a wooden globe in that institution, called "the green globe" which is supposed to have been made in 1513, and is one of the oldest documents on which the name of America appears. On it the land is shown pierced by a strait passing through the heights of Panama, by which it is divided into two large islands.

M. Gaffarel, of the University of Dijon, gave an account of Portuguese voyages of discovery in the Columbian epoch. The fitting out and leading of these expeditions seem to have been monopolized by the Corte Real family; and claims are made that in 1464, or twenty-eight years before Columbus, Johovaz Corte Real discovered the land of Kabuljane—Canada, or Newfoundland. The first voyage authenticated by documents is that of Gaspard Corte Real, in the year 1500, in which he discovered the Terra Verdex—Newfoundland, or Labrador. The next year he undertook a new voyage, with three ships, only one of which came back. The report of these voyages is contained in letters of the Venetian ambassador Pasqualigo, and the merchant Alberto Cantino, to the Duke of Ferrara. It is inferred from them that the expedition reached some region in the far north—perhaps Baffin's Bay, or some neighboring water. Venetian beads have been found used as ornaments by the natives of the coast. In 1502 Miguel Corte Real undertook a new voyage, in search of his brother. He also disappeared. The interest of the Portuguese was afterward turned toward Brazil, discovered by Cabral, which was visited by Amerigo Vespucci in 1503.

The sessions of the second day, under the presidency of Señor Altamirano—who was introduced by M. de Quatrefages as a representative of the pre-Columbian races—was devoted to the archæology of America. Dr. Seler presented the last number of the publications of the Berlin Museum für Volkerkunde, containing an interesting chapter of the Aztec original text of P. Sahagun, with pictures and descriptions of thirty-six Mexican divinities, translations, and commentary. He also described the wall-paintings of the palace of Mitla, in red and white, containing many remarkable mythological figures and symbols, which he had copied on the spot, and photographed the pictures.

Desiré Charnay read a long paper on resemblances between the Central American structures and those of eastern Asia, China, and Cambodia, as indicating a derivation of the American race from Asia.

Dr. Seler followed him with remarks on ancient Mexican goldsmith's, lapidary's, and feather work, all of which reached a high condition in that country. We know as yet but little of their methods. The gold was melted up by the Spaniards; most of the feather work—great quantities of which were sent to Europe in the early days of the conquest—has perished by moth-eating, neglect, and dirt. Handicrafts were probably still more extensively carried on in the earlier days of the conquest; but the old chroniclers seldom took pains to give any details on this subject. Exact descriptions can be found only in the Aztec text of P. Sahagun's history. The speaker had copied a large part of two originals in Madrid during the last spring. The ancient Mexican goldsmiths applied gold chiefly—silver only in inlaying—to a kind of linen-lawn fabric. They made cast and hammered ornaments. For casting, a model of the article was carved out of a mixture of fine sun-dried earth and powdered charcoal and covered with a thin wash; or the form was made of clay and coarsely broken coal. Luster was given to the cast object by heating it in an alum bath, and then in a bath of clay mixed with salt. There was a double technic, too, with feather work. In one kind, whole feathers were used. They were stiffened with bamboo and woven together with threads. In this way were many devices fashioned, which the Mexican war chiefs wore strapped to their backs in the dance and in battle. In the other style the feathers were cut up and glued to paper. The feather mosaics, constituting a kind of painting in feathers, were made thus: A ground was formed of the more common, cheaper feathers, and upon it were overlaid brilliant feathers from the tierra caliente.

Señor de la Rada y Delgado exhibited a number of ancient Peruvian pieces preserved in the Madrid Museum, that were obtained in the expedition of Ruiz y Paron. He pointed out as particularly characteristic the identity in the form of the utensils of stone and of bronze, and showed a fine bronze axe, which was almost an exact reproduction of the stone hatchet with its stringfastened wooden handle. The handle of this axe is remarkable for its beautiful ornamentation of silver inlayings in the bronze.

The afternoon session of this day was opened by Dr. Brinton with an address in English. M. Eugène Beauvois brought forward for the seventh, time his theory, based on the legend of Quetzalcoatl, of a pre-Columbian settlement of America by the Irish. The Marqnis de Nadaillac presented the evidence in favor of the population of America in the diluvial period. The Abbé Petitot, long a missionary in British North America, controverted him, affirming that the land was then in the bed of the sea. The Canadian Indians, he said, had a tradition of the world having been overwhelmed by snow. The abbé also told of the creation-myths of the Chiglit Eskimos of the mouth of Mackenzie River, who trace their origin to a giant beaver, living on an island in the western sea. He had two sons. One went eastward to America. From him are derived the Chiglits who wear sticks in their lips. The other went west, to Asia. From him are descended the western Eskimos, called blowers, and, as the Chiglits believe, the Europeans. The island of the tradition was believed to be Bobrovia, or Castor Island, in Bering Sea. The abbé showed a number of utensils of the Mackenzie River tribes and the western Eskimos, which went to confirm, by their resemblance, the tradition of a common origin. M. Raymond Pilet gave some illustrations of the music of the Guatemalan Indians. Not much can be said of their vocal music. For instruments they have a drum and a flute or flageolet, and the marimba, which was introduced by the negroes, and can not be called native. Their melodies, as played by the speaker on the piano, had a pleasant sound.

Dr. Deniker gave an account of the results of the French scientific mission to Cape Horn of himself and Dr. Hyades, during which they had spent several years in Tierra del Fuego. They had examined members of three tribes as to their physical peculiarities and differences. Photographs had been brought home of living persons, and prepared specimens of the dead; their dwellings had been photographed, and collections made of their utensils, and the way of using them had been represented as well as possible. These results would all be published in a few months. Dr. Deniker spoke of the voyages, hitherto little known, of Frenchmen to Tierra del Fuego, accounts of which are preserved in the Bibliothèque Nationale. They are those of M. de Beauchesne, about the end of the seventeenth century; of the engineers De Sabat and Du Plessis, who made hydrographic surveys in the Strait of Magellan and along the west coast of South America about the same time; and of the filibuster Jouan dela Gui]baudière, who was shipwrecked in the Strait of Magellan in 1795 and compelled to spend eleven months with the savages. He compiled a vocabulary of more than three hundred words, which is of interest, because it is the earliest collection of Fuegian words we possess. Señor de la Rada y Delgado spoke of the two Maya manuscripts in the Madrid Museum, the Codex Troano and the Codex Cortes, a paper on the former of which, by Dr. Cyrus Thomas, was noticed in the Monthly for May, 1883. M. Raynaud, Librarian of the Société Américaine, of France, continuing the subject, would distinguish two periods of civilization, one original, generally Mexican, and a later higher, narrower, Yucatecan civilization. Señor Villanova y Piera, Professor of Geology at Madrid, spoke concerning a skeleton which had been found by Señor Carles in the lower deposits of the La Plata region. One of its prominent markings was the evidence of a great wearing away of the teeth by the use of a corn diet.

The fourth day of the Congress was devoted to linguistics; and a number of peculiarities of various languages received free discussion. Remarks were made concerning the geographical name of Central America and the application of the term Anahuac, which Dr. Seler insisted means "the land by the water."

M. Alphonse Pinart submitted two papers on the Antiquities and Rock Inscriptions of the Great and Little Antilles, and the inscriptions on the little island of Aruba, near Curagoa. The former were ascribed to a pre-Carib population, which the author called the Haytian race. The Aruba inscriptions are very different from those of the Antilles, being cut in the rock, while the others are done in colors. M. Pinart is publishing a series of articles in the Revue d'Ethnographie on the population of the Isthmus of Panama. He distinguishes in Costa Rica the Guetares, civilized inhabitants of the Savannas, living in regular political communities, from the wandering tribes of the eastern forests, the Talamanca Guatusos. The former he regarded as ethnologically identical with the Changuinas of the lagoons of Chiriqui. The same huacas, rock inscriptions, etc., are found among both. The Mexicans are a second important element on the Isthmus, and can be found, the author believes, as far down as Chagres and the immediate neighborhood of the line of the canal, and on the Isle of Pearls. But the chief element of the population of the Isthmus, after the Guaymi-Changuinas, is the Cuna, who live on both sides of the territory; a strong, brave nation, fairly well advanced in civilization, living in constant warfare with the Choco Indians, who are in turn under the influence of the highland tribes. They appear to be ethnologically related to the people of eastern Costa Rica. The use of the blow-tube is a peculiar characteristic of the tribes on the Caribbean Sea side of the Isthmus. This paper called out discussion and some dissent.

M. Girard de Rialle read a paper on three treaties concluded in 1666 between the Governor of Canada and representatives of four of the "Five Nations," and the use of totems in the Indian signatures. M. Delisle, of the Museum of Natural History, gave an anatomical dissertation on the deformities of the skulls of the Chinook Indians. M. Marcele Daly exhibited two large watercolor drawings taken by his father, many years ago, of plans of the ruined cities of Copan in Honduras, and Utatlan, the ancient capital of the Quichas, accompanying them with remarks on Central American architecture. Among its peculiarities are the presence of walls in the interior of the temple pyramids, and the thorough painting of the whole. The author considered it remarkable, too, that long houses with rows of columns were usually found near the temple pyramids (or adoratorios). Dr. Seler exhibited a number of Aztec manuscripts containing plans of the great Temple of Mexico, on which the long pillar houses were likewise seen near the temple pyramid, and remarked that they were the residences of the priests, as is expressly given out in the Sahagun manuscript. As described by M. Théodore Ber, the ruins of the ancient city of Tiahuanaco are composed of a peculiarly colored granite, which probably came from the " Island of the Sun " in Lake Titicaca, and must have been brought to the site on large rafts. Vessels with a capacity for a hundred persons are still in use on the lake. The author explained that the name of the city means " a dried shore" and discussed the probability of the waters of the lake having once reached to the spot. Among other subjects that were considered in papers and discussion were the attributes, relations, and symbolism of the Aztec war-god Huitzilopochli, by Dr. Seler; Ancient Danish Colonies in Greenland, by Prof. Waldemar Schmidt, who held that the eastern and western settlements were not on different sides of the peninsula, but both on the western side; and Vestiges of a Tiahuanaco Civilization, Aztec Cities, and Aztec Potteries in the Pampas, by Señor Moreno, of Buenos Ayres.

Attention was called by M. de Saint-Bris to the assumed Chinese documents relating to a pre-Columbian discovery of America; but their value was disputed by the Sinologue, Prof. Cordier; and Prof. Gafferal explained, with reference to the alleged pre-Columbian discoveries of the Corte Reals, that the name Antilla in Martin Behaim's globe refers to Aristotle's Antilla, and not to an America known before Columbus. From Das Ausland.


M. J. Roche, addressing the International Telegraphic Conference in Paris, recalled some of the objections that were made to the electric telegraph when it first went into practice, as being of historical interest, and as illustrating the extent to which the fear of the new controls the world. Berryer said that the wires running along the railways would cause accidents to the engineers, and with the posts would offer unpleasant sights to travelers; Pouillet said that the expense would be ruinous and without practical results; and that the invention, though an ingenious one, would not displace the old way of telegraphing.