National Geographic : 1940 Sep
Great Stone Faces of the Mexican Jungle Five Colossal Heads and Numerous Other Monuments of Vanished Americans Are Excavated by the Latest National Geographic-Smithsonian Expedition BY MATTHEW W. STIRLING LEADER OF THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC-SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION EXPEDITIONS f'ith Illustrations from Photographs by Richard II. Stewart T HE night was calm and clear; the moon was full. As we lay stretched on our cots, the warm south breeze brought to our ears the sound of a steady, rhythmic stamping like the distant beating of drums. Rising and falling in volume with the vaga ries of the breeze came the lively strains of stringed music, interspersed with the high pitched wail of falsetto voices. It was the first night of our return to camp at Tres Zapotes in southeastern Mexico and the hua pango was in full swing at the village a mile away. It was good to be back again at the familiar scene. The brilliant moonlight filtering be tween the vertical palm-ribbed walls of our thatched house cut slices through our mos quito nets as though they were loaves of bread. Unseen, from a tree beside the house, a goat sucker, made amorous by the moonlight, sent out at regular intervals his mournful query, "Who are you?" and from a distance came the faint reply, "Who are you?" By Boat and Trail to Tres Zapotes It had been a long day. Early in the morn ing we had awakened in our favorite little hotel in Tlacotalpan (map, page 313). Our baggage had been stowed on Ricardo's big dug out launch and we had wound our tortuous way through a network of narrow channels. In the afternoon we had transferred our equip ment to a train of mules and ridden over the muddy trail to Tres Zapotes (page 318). Here our hearts were warmed by the greet ings from our friends of last year. The huapango, characteristic folk dance of Vera cruz State, had been arranged as a welcome in our honor, and the evening had been spent in renewing old acquaintances and listening to the news. Ram6n had a new baby, a son. Rafaela had been married. Aurelio had built a new house for himself and his bride. Pleading weariness at last, the guests of honor left the dance and returned to the peace and quiet of our camp by the Colossal Head which we had unearthed the year before. The dance, we knew, the night being so favorable, would continue until dawn. Thus we fell asleep with the feeling that both Nature and man had given us an auspicious beginning for our second season of work.* In the morning we arose early to view our surroundings by daylight and were pleased to find the camp in as good condition as we had left it a year ago. Dr. Philip Drucker had been sent in advance to put the camp into shape and to make the necessary arrange ments. We expected Mr. M. A. Carriker and Richard Stewart, the National Geographic photographer, to arrive in a few days. Mr. Carriker was coming to continue the orni thological collecting begun last season by Dr. Alexander Wetmore.f Solving Mysteries with a Shovel We were filled with the enthusiasm that is always present during the early days of a new dig. Would we find anything this year to compare in interest with the stela we had discovered the previous January, a slab which bears a date equivalent to November 4, 291 B. C., and which is 200 years older than any work of man previously dated in America? Would we discover anything as striking as our Colossal Head? Our program provided that we were to con tinue at Tres Zapotes until the end of April, working out the chronology of the stratified deposits of pottery in the kitchen middens, or refuse heaps. In addition, we expected to make a few exploratory trips. The southern part of the State of Veracruz and the neighboring terri * Excavations by the National Geographic Society Smithsonian Institution Expeditions in this rich arche ological region have been conducted with the gracious permission of the Mexican Government's National In stitute of Anthropology and History. Special thanks are extended for the co-operation of Dr. Alfonso Caso, Director of the Institute, and Ing. Ignacio Marquina, Director of its Department of Prehistoric Monuments. t See "Discovering the New World's Oldest Dated Work of Man," by Matthew W. Stirling, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, August, 1939.