National Geographic : 1947 Oct
lJ iix it l(Jll i v[l llU'llglt l~ ( a lt'l , - -l ltl [) lUl1 I!lilllll A Quirigui Stela Wears a Bird-nest Beard Ten centuries have not changed the stolidity of the Buddha like face on the largest stela. Tall monuments, monstrous shaped "zoomorphs," and ruined buildings mark this Maya site, near the railway line between Puerto Barrios and Guate mala City. As we flew north, the blue moun tains of central Guatemala diminished and leveled into the flat green carpet of Peten. Smith pointed out clumps of higher trees that pushed above the forest level. "Sapotes and mahog anies are the tallest trees in the forest. Sometimes sapotes reach a height of 125 feet and a thickness of a vard. "Most of the world's supply of first-grade chicle comes from Peten and southern Mexico," Buster con tinued. "And about a third of it comes from right here," pointing straight down. During the war many chirleros took to rubber cutting and labor was scarce. A sheet of water, Lake Peten Itza, appeared on the horizon. As we ap proached we could see Flores, the town on an island in the lake, with houses so crowded they seemed about to spill off into the water. Beyond this ancient capital of the Itzas, the ruins of Tikal thrust their bony fingers into the air. Verdure covered mounds swell up from the jungle floor, and above them white limestone towers rise to a total of more than 200 feet above the ground. In all, about 25 ruined cities and towns have been named and partly explored in Peten. How many more there are no one knows.* Years before, I had flown low over the jungle, looking for ruins. From the air it was easy to make out the outlines of ancient streets and plazas, appearing as fainter lines against the dense green of the vegetation. The Birth of Chewing Gum Landing at Carmelita, north of Lake Petn Itza, we struck off into the jungle, following a spongy wet trail between the liana-hung boles of giant trees. Close to a clear little stream we watched a tapper at work on the trunk of a tall sapote (Achras zapota). The chiclero reminded me of rubber cutters I had seen in the forests of * See, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHII( MAGAZINE: "Foremost Intellectual Achieve ment of Ancient America," February, 1922; "Unearthing America's Ancient History," July, 1931; "Yucatan, Home of the Gifted Maya," November, 1936; "Chichen ItzA, an Ancient American Mecca." January, 1925; and "Excavations at Quirigua, Guatemala," March. 1913, all by S. G . Morley; and "Pre serving Ancient America's Finest Sculp tures," by J. Alden Mason, November, 1935.