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TitleOld America - Ancient Ruins (7)
Publication TypeMagazine Article
Year of Publication1875
AuthorsOttinger, G.M.
MagazineJuvenile Instructor
Issue Number17
Date Published21 August 1875
KeywordsAncient America; Mesoamerica

Series of articles dealing with archaeological, anthropological, geographical, societal, religious, and historical aspects of ancient America and their connections to the Book of Mormon, which is the key to understanding “old American” studies.

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The ruins of Chichen Itza are situated east of Mayapan, about half way between the eastern and western coasts of the peninsula of Yucatan. A public road runs through the space of ground covered by the ruins. This space is something less than a mile in diameter. The ruins found here are in every respect similar to those already described. The most beautiful building, called like one at Uxmal, "House of the Nuns," is 638 feet in circumference and 65 feet high. This unusual height is owing to three ranges of buildings being erected, the one immediately above the other, yet so that each of the upper ranges, being built back and not on the roof of the lower range, rests on an independent foundation, while the roof of the lower range extends like a platform in front of it. The second range is the most elaborately decorated, the ornaments being similar in style to those at Uxmal. The lower range seems to be nothing but a solid mass of masonry. A grand staircase 56 feet wide leads from terrace to terrace to the top of the building. In the interior of the chief apartment of the second range, which has three doorways, are nine oblong niches, and from the floor to the centre of the arched ceiling the walls are covered with paintings, now much effaced, but in many places still retaining the colors bright and vivid. The subjects are progressions of warriors, armed with spears and shields, and helmeted heads adorned with plumes. One of the buildings at this place has a rude ornamental exterior and does not stand on an artificial terrace, although the ground around it has been excavated so as to give it the appearance of an elevated foundation. One of the most picturesque ruins is circular in form, and stands on a double terraced platform. It is twenty feet in diameter, and has four doors which face the cardinal points. Above the cornice it slopes gradually almost to a point. The top is about sixty feet from the ground. A grand staircase of twenty steps, leading up to this building, is forty-five feet wide, and has a balustrade formed of the entwined bodies of huge serpents. At some distance from this building is the ruined structure known as the "Casa Colorado" (Red House); it is 43 feet long, by 23 feet wide, and stands on a platform 62 feet long, by 55 feet The ornamentation of this building is much effaced by decay. A stone tablet extending the whole length of the back wall, inside, is covered with an inscription. Here, as at Uxmal, are the ruins of a building supposed to be connected with the public games of the country. Two walls, each 274 feet long and 30 feet thick, run parallel to each other at a distance of 120 feet. In the centre of each wall, and exactly opposite to each other, at the height of 20 feet from the ground are two stone rings, four feet in diameter, with serpents carved on the outer circle. One hundred feet from the northern and southern extremities of the walls, and facing the open space enclosed by them, are two buildings, one 35 feet, the other 80 feet long. They are on elevations, each contains one room only. Both are much dilapidated, but, on the inner wall of the smallest, traces of rich sculptures yet remain. In front of each building are the remains of two columns, also richly sculptured. At the southern extremity of the walls stands a building consisting of two ranges, the upper one being the best preserved. It is ornamented externally with a frieze in bas-relief, representing a succession of tigers; while the whole inner wall of the structure, laid bare by the falling of the outer wall, is likewise covered with bas-reliefs, consisting of rows of human figures, interspersed with fanciful ornaments, each row being separated from the other by an ornamental border of a pleasing design. The figures are all males, with buskined feet and helmet head-dresses of plumes. The other parts of their dress are so different and indistinct as to admit of no accurate description. Each of the figures in the upper row carries in his hand a bundle of spears, and all are painted. The upper building, the front corridor of which is supported by massive pillars elaborately sculptured, presents scenes of still greater interest. Entering a doorway, the lintel of which is a massive beam of sapote wood, richly sculptured, and the jams of which are also richly ornamented, we find ourselves in a room with walls covered with paintings, and for the first time catch a glimpse of the occupations and pastimes of their mysterious inhabitants. The colors are in some places still visible and bright; in others, much effaced. Some of the figures seem to be dancing a war dance, with spear and shield; others are placed on low seats, apparently of basket work; others on cushions. One figure holds in one hand a large hoop or ring, which he seems intending to trundle with a short stick which he holds in his other hand. In one place is an old

woman crouching down, apparently unloading a sack which is placed before her; and in another is a boat or canoe, with horses and people in it, and one man overboard. The head-dresses worn by these figures are different from others mentioned, and the men have their ears pierced and small, round plates attached to them. The colors used are green, red, blue and reddish brown, the last invariably used to represent the human flesh, the tint in the female figures being a shade lighter than that used for the male. Mr. Norman (Rambles in Yucatan) and Mr. Stephens (Incidents of Travel in Yucatan) give very interesting descriptions of the ruins of Chichen, well worth reading, but our limits will not permit description too elaborate or lengthy.

The ruins known as Kabah are likewise in Yucatan, and are of the same character as those already described, and owing to the choice of site must have been one of the most imposing and important of the ancient cities. The principal building is a stone-faced mound, 180 feet square at the base, with a range of ruined apartments at the bottom. Four hundred yards from this mound is a terraced foundation 20 feet high and 200 by 142 feet in extent, on which stands the crumbling wall of an immense edifice. On the left is another range of ruined buildings, and in the centre a stone enclosure 27 feet square and 7 feet high, with sculptures and inscriptions around the base. Some of the ornamentation around the building has been described in the strongest terms of admiration. Mr. Stephens says, "The cornice running over the doorways, tried by the severest rules of art recognized among us, would embellish the architecture of any known era." At Uxmal the walls were smooth below the cornice, here they are covered with decorations from top to bottom. Mr. Stephens describes three buildings of importance; one 147 feet long, by 106 feet wide, of three distinct stories, each successive story being smaller than that below it. Another building on the terrace of an elevated foundation, 170 by 110 feet, was 164 feet long and comparatively narrow; it had pillars in its doorways, used as supports. The other building standing on a terrace is also long and narrow, and has a plain front. One remarkable monument found at Kabah resembles a triumphal arch. It stands by itself on a ruined mound, apart from the other structures. It has a span of fourteen feet, and is described as "rising on the field of ruins in solitary grandeur." The ruins of Kabah are extensive, and only a portion of them have been examined. It is so overgrown with foliage as to make exploration very difficult. The buildings and mounds are much decayed, and seem to be very old. Mr. Stephens gave the first account of Kabah, and it is believed that ruined edifices of which nothing is known are hidden away among the trees in places which no white man has approached. Some of the ruins in the woods beyond that part explored are visible from the great mound described; and a resolute attempt to penetrate the forest brought the explorers in view of a great edifice standing on a terrace estimated to be 800 feet long by 100 feet wide. The decorations seemed to have been abundant and very rich, but the structure was in a sad state of decay.

At Izamal, Labna, Zayi, Xcoch, Ake and some other places are ruins of sufficient importance for special notice, but they present the same characteristics: broad and noble terraces, lofty pyramidal structures, supporting buildings of vast extent, and loaded with a profusion of ornaments, differing a little only in the style of ornamentation.

Among the remains at Xcoch Mr. Stephens describes a great mound; and at Ake a remarkable ruin. On the summit of a great mound, very level, and 225 feet by 50 in extent, stand thirty-six shafts or columns in three parallel rows. The columns are about fifteen feet high and four feet square. The ruins of Ake cover a great space, and are ruder and more massive than most others.

On the Island of Cozumel and the adjacent coast of Yucatan extensive ruins have been found. Owing to the scarcity of water on this peninsula the ancient inhabitants, provided for their wants by constructing aguadas, or artificial ponds. many of them are doubtless as old as the oldest ruined cities, and much skill, intelligence and labor were required to construct them. They were paved with several courses of stone, laid in cement, and in their bottoms wells or cavities were constructed. Over forty of such wells were found in the bottom of one of these ponds at Galal, which has been repaired and restored to use. Everywhere in Yucatan the architecture is regulated by the same idea, the difference indicating nothing more than different periods in the history of the same people.