National Geographic : 1931 Jul
UNEARTHING AMERICA'S ANCIENT HISTORY Investigation Suggests That the Maya May Have Designed the First Astronomical Observatory in the New World in Order to Cultivate Corn BY SYLVANUS GRISWOLD MORLEY Carnegie Institution of Washington AUTHOR OF "THE FOREMOST INTELLECTUAL ACHIEVEMENT Of ANCIENT AMERICA," "CHICHEN ITZA, AN ANCIENT AMERICAN MECCA," ETC., IN THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE RCHEOLOGY and history may be compared to father and son, the former being parent of the latter. Archeology brings man's record forward from the remotest past to the dawrnof his tory. History carries on this story through written records-hieroglyphic inscriptions, cuneiform tablets, papyri, codices, chroni cles, books, and documents of every de scription-down to the present day. The former begins when man as a species had become a biologic fact, five hundred thou sand, a million years ago; the latter, in volving written records, is not more than seven thousand years old at the outside, the closing chapter only in the story as a whole. AMERICAN SCIENTIFIC AGENCIES STUDY AMERICAN ARCHEOLOGY It has not been so many years since the older generation of classical archeologists denied that we had any pre-Columbian history in America and only grudgingly conceded us a very meager archeology. A few clay pots and cooking vessels, flint arrow points, bone awls, and stone imple ments summarized the cultural achieve ments of the American Indian. The civili zations of two continents were dismissed with the slighting designation" Stone Age," while, in contrast, the Old World was declared to be the center of all art and learning. Still another and earlier group of arche ologists, certainly with a truer perception of the importance of the aboriginal Ameri can contribution to the story of mankind, sought to derive our native civilizations from some Old World origin. The an cient Egyptians, Phoenicians, Cambodians, and Javanese, the Ten Lost Tribes of Is rael, even the fabled folk of shadowy At lantis, have been hailed at one time or another as the ancestors of the American Indian. Inaccurate, not to say fantastic, as these theories are now known to have been, their proponents at least had the merit of recognizing that brilliant civilizations had flourished on this continent long before the coming of the white man. Happily, both these points of view con cerning our distinguished past, each erring in a different direction, are now obsolete, both having been relegated to the limbo of lost causes by the progress of modern sci entific investigation, and we are now in a position to write at least some of the later chapters of ancient American history. American institutions have taken the leading part in developing the scientific study of American archeology. The Pea body Museum of Harvard University was the pioneer in this field, having begun its investigations more than half a century ago. Now, however, many large scientific institutions send expeditions to all parts of the Americas for gathering informa tion and material from which the facts of our ancient history are gradually being reconstructed. Aside from the governments of Argen tina, Brazil, Chile, Guatemala, Mexico, Peru, and the United States, all of which carry on archeological investigations in their own countries, an even larger num ber of private organizations are operating in the same field. NEW WORLD CIVILIZATIONS WERE BASED UPON CORN These various scientific agencies, through expeditions, explorations, and excavations, have during the past fifty years amassed a considerable body of information, until it is now beginning to be possible, here and there, at least to block in the back ground of the ancient American picture.