National Geographic : 1913 Mar
MYSTERIOUS TEMPLES OF THE JUNGLE The Prehistoric Ruins of Guatemala By W. F. SANDS FORMERLY AMERICAN MINISTER TO GUATEMALA WITH the opening of the Quiri gua ruins in Guatemala a most important addition is being made to the material now available for study of the races which once occupied the low, hot coast land between Copan, in Honduras, through the Guatemala littoral, Peten, and Quintana Roo to Yucatan. Master races they were as were once the Brahmans in Indo-China. They con quered in easy battle the fever-ridden natives, and lived thenceforth upon the country and its population. They taught them nothing of their higher civilization, but ground them back to the earth, until inbreeding, idleness, and fever took their toll, and in their turn they were overthrown and perished, leaving nothing but the elaborate monu ments and massive buildings which, cov ered with the mould of centuries of quick springing and quick decaying tropical forest, form the "Indian mounds" so plentiful in this region. A RACE OF PRIESTLY CONQUERORS The theory of an alien sacerdotal aris tocracy, claiming divine descent because of superior development, and ruling an untutored conquered race, while it offers no suggestion as to origin, may at least explain why no memory of their rule remains among the inhabitants of these regions today. Knowledge of every kind was kept from the subject races, and with the downfall the slave fled from the an cient holy places, and the symbols of ar rogance, cruelty, and power were shunned for centuries as an abomination. It is not necessary to hold with Bras seur de Bourbourg that all these coun tries (the "Hinterland" of Atlantis) were submerged when the island-continent was destroyed, although his theory is im mensely attractive, and that after remain ing under the sea for an unknown period they rose once more and were peopled from the highlands. It is simpler to imagine, as long as we have nothing definite to go on and one man's tale is as good as another's, that some such catastrophe took place as is so charmingly suggested in Sir Hugh Clifford's "Tragedy of Angkor," and that the degenerate rulers of the coast were shown suddenly to their subjects by some attack of the hardier mountain tribes to be no longer irresistible, no longer divine, but only very feeble men, and so were wiped out as utterly and effectually as would have been the first weak settlement on our own shores without succor from the mother country. AN ENVOY WHO FAILED TO FIND HIS GOAL Perhaps none of the ruins of America is more accessible now to Americans than those of Quirigua; and yet, though frequently visited, they are among the least known. John Stevens, in his gossipy "Travels in Central America, etc.," in 1839, has left an excellent account of both Quirigua and its neighbor, Copan, during his wan derings in search of a Federal govern ment sufficiently stable to receive his cre dentials as American Minister. Failing in the object of his official mis sion, he returned north through the Guatemalan highlands, visiting also the ruined cities of Quiche, and so up the ridge of the Cordillera, through Chiapas to Palenque and down to Chichen, Itza, and Uxmal, in Yucatan-a wonderfully beautiful journey and not in any way difficult for a saddle-hardened rider. Stevens left a valuable record; but his real treasure (aside from the personal reminiscence of the astonishing Carrera, who from a particularly brutal swineherd became a demi-god and one of the ablest rulers Guatemala has known) is the series of admirable drawings by Cather wood, who accompanied him, of all the monuments in both Quirigua and Copan, which remain unexcelled even by pho tography.