American Antiquities–More Proofs of the Book of Mormon


Times and Seasons

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“American Antiquities—More Proofs of the Book of Mormon.” Times and Seasons (Nauvoo, Illinois) 2, no. 16 (15 June 1841): 440–42.


We feel great pleasure in laying before our readers the following interesting account of the Antiquities of Central America, which have been discovered by two eminent travellers who have spent considerable labor, to bring to light the remains of ancient buildings, architecture &c., which prove beyond controversy that, on this vast continent, once flourished a mighty people, skilled in the arts and sciences, and whose splendor would not be eclipsed by any of the nations of Antiquity—a people once high and exalted in the scale of intelligence, but now like their ancient buildings, fallen into ruins.

From the (New York) Weekly Herald.

Since the Introductory address of Mr. Stephens, which was noticed in the Herald last week, Mr. Catherwood has completed his course of two lectures, on the Antiquities which he has visited in the ruined cities of Central America. Mr. Catherwood and Mr. Stephens left New York in the month of October, 1839, to examine these memorials of a people lost, and landed at Balize, in the Bay of Yucatan, or Honduras, the English Settlement, so remarkable for its produce of mahogany. From thence the travellers proceeded through the interior of the country, into the State of Honduras, one of the States of Central America, and to Copan, where a mass of antiquities was found. This city was situated on the banks of the river Copan, and its ruins consist of massive stone walls, enclosing a considerable space, statutes, columns carved to a resemblance of human figures, alters, with base reliefs, and pyramids.

The statutes here were of very rich carved work; some of them were the idols or divinities of the ancient inhabitants; and not a few were decorated with ear-rings, bracelets, and complicated head dresses, the backs and sides being ornamented with festoons and hieroglyphic characters. The lecture, descriptive of these ruins, was illustrated by a plan of the city of Copan, called by the natives Las Ventanas, or The Windows, from the appearance of a part of the wall overlooking the river. Several large drawings, representing the carved objects, were also exhibited.

The second lecture commenced with descriptions and illustrations of the ruins of Santa Cruiz del Quiche, once one of the most important cities of Central America, which the lecturer visited after leaving Copan.—This city, he said, had been of immence extent, but its houses had wholly disappeared, and nothing remains but a ruined Palace and Fortress. The fortress, which guarded the entrance to the Royal Palace, is still in a good state of preservation, and is unapproachable, except by a causeway from one point. The space of ground in front of the Palace has an area of a thousand square feet, and bounded by massive stone walls, on which are painted figures of various animals. In the centre of the place rises a singular edifice, which is designated the Place of Sacrifice. Of this, the lecturer exhibited a drawing, a sketch of which was taken, during its exhibitions for the Herald, by an incomparable artist, and will appear in our columns hereafter.

This building was forty feet square at a base, and thirty feet high, with a flat, level, but now ruined space on the summit, of twelve feet square, where it is believed an idol was once placed, and human sacrifices were offered up by the ancient inhabitants to their divinities. Access to the top is [440] attainable only on one side, by a flight of steep steps, the remaining three sides being very precipitous. The whole structure is still distinguishable. In the distance are seen portions of the massive walls or battlements, of which the drawing gives a representation. From a Spanish Priest, with whom the lecturer met in his travels, he learned that a cave in this vicinity had been discovered, containing skulls of a size much larger than the natural head, with many relations to the conformation of the skull of the Indians who are found in that country, of whom en passant, it was remarked that many had embraced the Catholic faith, but had intermixed therewith some of their own heathenish rites. The lecturer also observed, that in that neighborhood the same language was used, as in Y[u]catan and Central America.

Leaving the City of Santa Cruiz del Quiche, the travellers arrived, after several day’s journey, at Gueque tenango, which, like the former city, was found to be of considerable breadth. Here were found pyramids, which there was some reason to believe contained spacious chambers; but on attempting to dig through the side of one of them, stone and morter alone were met with. In a small adjoining stone cave, or sepulcher, several Terra cotta vasses were discovered similar to those found in Italy, called the Etruscan vases. The sepulchre was not sufficiently spacious to contain a body laid out at length but there were the remains of a skeleton which had evidently been doubled up.

Other sepulchres were opened, but no skulls were discovered by which a correct judgment could be formed of the people or the race by whom these places had been designed and occupied. For what uses these vases had been intended, the lecturer could not conjecture. He exhibited them to his audience, and there were still observable, painted ornaments inside, and outside, as a part of the vase, were manufactured representations of foilage and the grape.

They next passed to Ocosingo with much difficulty, the native Indian tribes being exceedingly reluctant to visit these ruins, and without a guide the journey was almost hopeless. Chance, however, threw a guide in their way; and the journey was made on horseback through a dense forest, in which the lemon tree was very abundant. At Ocosingo, there are five spacious terraces, and a pyramidal structure, 50 feet in front, and 35 feet deep, with door ways ten feet wide.—Over these door ways are stucco ornaments, which reminded the travellers of the winged globe found over Egyptian portals. These doors led to an ante-chamber, and opposite to them was another door, which was blocked up with rubbish, in which was a large quantity of wood, as hard as lignum vitae. This door way excited much interest. The Indians believed that beyond it was a cavern which, if an entrance could be effected, would lead the travelers to Palenque in three hours—a distance otherwise of 150 miles. The travellers vigoursly engaged in the enterprise, and gained access through the doorway, but they found it was merely an entrance to an apartment ten feet square, ornamented with stucco and painted figures. The place, however, was so hot, and close, and offensive, that they could not long remain to examine its structure; but they remained long enough to ascertain that at the bottom was a bituminous substance, like the bitumen used by the Egyptians to embalm the bodies of their dead.

The great object of their research was Palenque, which is situated in the province of Chiapas, and is distant about a hundred miles from the Atlantic coast; it stands on the bank of a small river, and near a range of lofty hills. The ruins which the travellers here visited, consisted of a group of six buildings or edifices, and an aqueduct. The palace stands on a pyramidal base, 300 feet in front, 260 in breadth, and 60 feet high. The building of the palace itself, properly so called, is 228 feet in breadth, facing towards the east, The front is divided into fourteen door ways. with fifteen on the eastern front, each pier being ornamented with one or more figures in stucco, beautifully sculptured and painted. A double corridor, nine feet wide, and twenty feet high, extends all round this building, and altogether, in admeasurement, it is 800 feet. The roofs are a sort of arch, which come nearly to a point, and are constructed of stones which overlap each other, the summit being covered with stones that are large and flat. They are built on the same principles as the Cyclopean structures, which are met with in Greece and Italy.

Passing into the structure, of which a ground plan was exhibited, there is found a court yard, 80 feet wide by 70, with descending steps, 30 feet wide, which are flanked by nine colossal figures in stone, each thirteen feet high and in good preservation. Opposite to them are similar figures; all the piers of this court were ornamented with painted stucco figures (of admirable consistency and nearly as hard as stone,) some consisting of groups, and some of single figures only.

Their bodies are painted of a red color, which appears, in that country, to have been the color universally used in painting bodies. This is the case also with Egyptian figures, the Egyptians always represented their own nation as red, Europeans as white, and Africans as black. Their Divinities were all represented of a red color. Of these sculptured piers there are many still remaining, the figures of which are surrounded by richly ornamented borders; they are about ten feet high, and six feet wide.

The second court is then seen, and like the principal court, is encumbered with trees, large stones, and rubbish. This court yard is eighty feet by thirty, and is ornamented with stone figures and hieroglyphics.—On the western side of the edifice several of the piers are in good preservation, with stucco ornaments. A tower is found in the interior of this structure 30 feet square and about 40 feet high, the two upper stories of which have fallen down; it has a smaller tower, however, inside, which may be ascended by a stone staircace. Near to this is a long narrow chamber, 70 feet in length, on one side of which is a richly sculptured tablet, surrounded with stuccoed verdure. Passing [441] from this, by a flight of descending stairs, the travellers came to three corridors, each 180 feet long.

They extend the whole breadth of the building, and are very gloomy, requiring torch lights in their examination.

These corridors are not ornamented, but they contain several stone tables or beds about six or seven feet in length which were supposed to have been used as grateful and cool couches, when the inhabitants retired in the heat of the day. The Palace also contained a small private chapel or altar, which had probably only been used by the inmates of the Royal Family. The other rooms, which were numerous, generally displayed the remains of rich ornaments of Stucco, painted, the paintings in some instances being discovered to be five different subjects painted over each other. The travellers slept in the outer corridor, where they were exposed to terrific storms of thunder, lightning, and rain, which almost uniformly came on in the afternoons and nights.

Besides the Palace there were other structures, which are called “stone houses,” and which the travellers supposed to be temples. The first was situated on a pyramidal base of 110 feet on a slope, and the whole were covered with forest trees of a large size.

This “stone house” was described with five doors and six piers, and as measuring 76 feet in front, which is ornamented with hieroglyphics and stucco figures, representing a female holding a child in her arms. This house is situated 300 or 400 feet southwest of the palace, and so densly surrounded by forest trees, that it is not discernable even a few feet distant, and without the aid of a guide the ruins would not be discovered, though lying at the travelers’ feet. In the interior are found massive stone tablets, thirteen feet long, each tablet having 240 squares of hieroglyphics. Of the uses of this building no satisfactory conclusion can be arrived at; while the travellers supposed it to be a temple, and the Indians called it the school, some Spanish priest has described it as a place of justice, and the tables of hieroglyphics as the tables of the law; and not the least interesting feature, in connection with these tablets, is, that the same hieroglyphics are used there as were used at other very distant places.—There are three other stone houses, very much of the same description, but instead of tablets of hieroglyphics, they contain tablets of sculptured figures. In one of these there is an altar, which bears a large stone tablet, representing two singular personages opposite to each other, making offerings to an object, represented on the tablet as supported by two figures with rows of hieroglyphics on each side. The two figures standing one on each side of this tablet, have the peculiar facial angle before described, with noses and eyes strongly marked, representing a race of people totally different from any now seen on this continent. The head dress of one is coarse and complicated, consisting of leaves and plants, interspersed with the beaks and eyes of birds, and also a tortoise. A leopard’s skin is thrown over the shoulders, and the figure is represented with sandals and with ruffles round the wrists and ankles.—The other figure has a head dress composed of a plume of feathers, in the midst of which a bird may be distinguished, and beneath, certain hieroglyphics which, unfortunately cannot at present be read.

A tablet, or small plaister cast, which was a fac simile of one, of the tables of hieroglyphics, seen in these ruins, was exhibited by the lecturer to his audience.

Another of these houses was represented by a drawing of which we shall hereafter give an engraving. It has a double platform, the first of which is 60 feet high. The steps were said to be from 80 to 90 in number, and the upper part of the building to be richly ornamented. Inside the building there are recesses which contain stone tablets of rich and beautiful workmanship. The principal ornament is a cross, but it has no resemblance to the cross of the Christians.

While there the lecturer dug up a statue ten feet high, very much resembling in its general propotions some of the Egyptian statues.

It remained now only to describe the Aqueduct. This structure was by the side of the great palace: it was 200 feet in length, as far as could be explored, 12 feet high, and 6 feet wide; with a large body of water passing through it still. There were several other small buildings, which do not cover a large extent of ground. No other were heard of by these travellers in that neighborhood, but so dense is the forest that it is impossible to penetrate many yards in any direction, for these ruins are literally imbedded in a forest of mahogany, and ceiba, and India rubber tree, with a great variety of other descriptions, no human inhabitant remaining to relieve the solitude. Of Uamal, which is situated in Yucatan,, a country, in breadth about 200 miles by 300 in length which is doubtless covered by the ruins of former magnificence, and the memorials of early civilization, he could say but a few words, as a full description would occupy more time than he could then command. The buildings are numerous—they are in a good state of preservation, but they are of a character distinguished from those at Palenque and Copan, not having either statues or bas reliefs. The fronts were, in some instances, 300 feet in length, and they were richly ornamented with sculptured stone, a specimen of which the lecturer exhibited, to give some idea of the workmanship, at a time when the use of iron was unknown. The lecturer supposed the chisels then in use to have been of copper, but that those people had some mode of hardening copper which is unknown to the present generation.

These travellers visited eight ruined cities, situated at great distances apart, to which they had to travel by roads of the worst possible description.

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