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The Collected Essays of George Kubler

edited by

Thomas F. Reese

YALE U N IV ER SITY PRESS New Haven and London

Copyright O 1985 by Yale University. All rights reserved. This book may not be reproduced, in whole or in part, in any form (beyond that copying perm itted by Sections 107 and 108 of the U.S. Copyright Law and except by reviewers for the public press), without written permission from the pub- lisher.

Designed by Nancy Ovedovitz and set in Garamond N o. 3 type by The Composing Room of Mich., Inc. Printed in the United States o f America by Murray Printing Company, Westford, Massachusetts.











Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data

Kubler, George, 1912— Studies in ancient American and European art. (Yale publications in the history of art ; 30) Bibliography: p. Includes index.


A rt— America.

2. Indians— Art.

3. Art, European.

I. Reese, Thomas Ford. II. Title. III. Series.

N6501.K83 1984 700 84-13216 ISBN 0-300-02662-5 (alk. paper)

The paper in this book meets the guidelines for permanence and durability of the Com mittee on Production Guidelines for Book Longevity of the Council on Library Resources.


Author’s Preface




Santos, An Exhibition of the " •

Editor’s Preface


Religious Folk Art of New México


Editor’s Introduction


Post-Panofskian Studies of Form and Meaning in the Sixties: Renaissance and Disjunction in Latin American Art

An analytical table of contents appears at the beginning of each of the four parts. The sources


On the Colonial Extinction of the Motifs of Precolumbian Art 66

of the árdeles are noted there.


Indianism, Mestizaje, and Indigenismo as Classical, Medieval,




and M odern Traditions in Latin






Non-Iberian European Contri­

Prologue: Colonial Transformations in Ancient Italy

butions to Latin American Colonial





Some Etruscan Versions of Corinthian Ceramics


The Focillon Legacy: The Interactions ofForm and

Studies in Latin American Urbanism: Some Different Vieiving Distances and Focal Points

Technique in tbe Colonial Arts of the United States, Latin America, and West Africa

1.12 The Unity of Cities in the Americas


1.2 The Rebuilding of San Miguel at


1.13 The Colonial Plan of Cholula


Santa Fe in 1710


1.14 Open Grid Town Plans in Europe

1.3 Ucareo and the Escorial


and America, 1500—1520 102

1.4 The Machine for Living in Eighteenth-Century West Africa


Culture Contad, Anthropology, and A rt History in

Fine and Plain Arts: Sociological, Economic, and Art Historical Perspectives on Latin American Art from Precolumbian Times to the Nineteenth Century

the Forties: Case Studies in the United States,


The Arts, Fine and Plain


México, Paraguay, and Perú


following page 118

1.5 Two Modes of Franciscan Architecture: New México and







1.6 [Selections from] The Quechua in the Colonial World

1.7 [Selections from] The Tovar Calendar: An Illustrated Mexican


The Focillon Legacy: The Interactions ofForm and Technique in Late Medieval Spanish Architecture II. 1 A Late Gothic Computation of Rib

Manuscript ca. 1585


Vault Thrusts




The Morphology ofTypes: Uñique Forms in Seventeenth- and Eigbteenth-Century Spanish Architecture II.2 Camarines in the Golden Age


Disjunction and European Transfer Points in the Sixteentb Century: Formermüdung, Extended Classes and Trace-Elements at the Escorial

II. 3

Francesco Paciotto, Architect



Palladio and the Escorial



Galeazzo Alessi and the Escorial


Beyond Connoisseurship: Ttvo Paintings at Yale.

Studies in Attribution, Identification, Seriation, Dating, and Replica Masses

11.6 of H ernando Cortes

The Portrait


at Yale


11.7 The Portrait of Fray Juan de San Bernardo Attributed to Valdes Leal


Beyond Iconography: Studies of the Status of the Artist and of the Dynamic Interrelationships between Text and Image in Seventeenth-Century Painting

11.8 Vicente Carducho’s Allegories of Painting


11.9 Three Remarks on the Meninas


Iconographical Programs, Text and Image, and Philip II: Studies in Italian Numismatics, Spanish Painting, and Portuguese Architecture

11.10 A Medal by G. P. Poggini Depicting Perú and Predicting Australia


11.11 The Soul ofSt. Philip [Philip II] by Murillo


11.12 The Claustral Fons Vitae in Spain and Portugal



following page 208




The Beginnings: Art History and Archaeology at the Institute of Fine Arts and at Yale in the Thirties and Forties III. 1 The Cycle of Life and Death in Metropolitan Aztec Sculpture 219

III.2 Toward Absolute Time: Guano Archaeology


Architecture as Space: A rt Historical Contributions to Diffusion, Periodization, and Chronology in the Fifties

111.3 The Design of Space in Maya Architecture


111.4 Polygenesis and Diffusion:

Courtyards in Mesoamerican Architecture


Post-Panofskian Studies in Form and Meaning in the Sixties: Iconography without Texts


Precolumbian Mural Painting 256


The Iconography of the Art of



III. 7

Iconographic Aspects of Architec­ tural Profiles at Teotihuacan and in Mesoamerica 275

Intermezzo: An Agenda for Research and Ancient America Revisited

111.8 Early Architecture and Sculpture in Mesoamerica: Commentary on a Paper by T. Proskouriakoff


111.9 The Styles of the Olmec Colossal Heads


Disjunction, Transfer Points, Time Frames, Iconographic Programs, and Interrelationships

between Text and Image in the Seventies: Studies in Maya Art



Vico’s Idea of America 296



Mythological Ancestries in Classic Maya Inscriptions


111.12 The Clauses of Classic Maya




111.13 The Paired Attendants of the Temple Tablets at Palenque


111.14 The Doubled-Portrait Lintels of Tikal


111.15 Mythological Dates at Palenque


and the Ring Numbers in the Dresden Codex



16 Aspects of Classic Maya Rulership on Two Inscribed Vessels




Theoretical Reflections on Continuities and Discontinuities in Precolumbian A rt and History

Ancient America Revisited IV.5 Period, Style, and Meaning in


III. 17 Renascence and Disjunction in the

Ancient American Art

Art of Mesoamerican Antiquity



History— or Anthropology— of





following page 372




Homage to Henri Focillon IV. 1 Henri Focillon, 1881 —1943 IV.2 The Teaching of H enri Focillon



On Artists, Historians, Scientists, Evolution, and Paradigms IV.3 Style and the Representation of Historical Time


Comment on Vanguard Art



The Shape of Time Revisited

IV. 7

A Talk with George Kubler [An

Interview by Robert Joseph Horvitz]

IV.8 Towards a Reductive Theory of Visual Style


The Shape of Time Reconsidered

A Bibliography of Works by George Kubler (to 1982) Index










Ancient America, which contains seventeen anieles, opens with two sections representing Kubler’s teaching and scholarship on Precolumbian art be­ fore the publication of The A rt and Architecture of Ancient America in 1962. Like a submerged reef, these studies emerge only occasionally above the surface, but are known to experienced observers who know how they inform and guide his work in other fields. t h e b e g i n n i n g s joins an article on Aztec México with another on Preconquest Perú, echoing similar alignments in Kubler’s studies on sixteenth-century México and the colonial Quechua. The first reflects his studies with Spin- den between 1936 and 1938; the second his col- laboration with Yale colleagues Bennett and Hutchinson after 1940. a r c h i t e c t u r e a s s p a c e contains two articles that represent, together with the first article of the subsequent section, a re- jected 1950—51 draft of Ancient America in which Nuclear America was treated as a unit with main divisions by architecture, sculpture, and painting that were divided in turn into topical discussions. Both apply art historical concepts about architec­ ture as space to the analysis of Precolumbian art. The last four sections of part III represent Kubler’s continuing contributions to Precolum­ bian scholarship following the completion of A n­ cient America in 1959. Most deal with iconographi- cal issues that were given momentum by (1) Proskouriakoffs breakthroughs regarding the his­ torical nature of Maya art, (2) Panofsky’s Renais- sance and Renascences in Western Art, which ap- peared in 1960, and (3) personal questions about the limits of iconography raised in The Shape of Time, m e a n i n g contains three articles that propose new methods for reconstructing meaning at Panofsky’s

p o

s t

- p


n o

f s k

i a


s t



i e s

i n

f o r m

a n


second level, where texts are absent. The first treats form and meaning simultaneously; and the second and third reconstruct meaning through the

use of “configurational analysis” to minimize the dangers frequently engendered by the disjunctive nature of the bonds between form and meaning.

i n


e r



z z o



fourth section, includes two ar­

ticles that reassert the importance of art historical perspectives and offer new ¡deas about problems first raised in Ancient America, d i s j u n c t i o n ,







TWEEN t e x t a n d i m a g e , the penultimate fifth section of part III, consists of seven articles of the 1970s that extend many of Panofsky’s concepts about renascence and disjunction. They parallel Kubler’s work on European subjeets and study the problems of iconographic programs, text and im­ age, disjunction at transfer points, and the nature of Maya thought about time. They were natural extensions of Kubler’s investigations of the 1960s, when he defined the major iconographical config- urations of Teotihuacan in The Iconography of the Art of Teotihuacan, 1965—67, and of Classic Maya art in Studies in Classic Maya Iconography, 1967— 69. In the new studies, he turned to the study of the condnuities and disjunctions that occurred where these two civilizations met. Indeed, he at- tempted to lócate the exact historical moments at which the Mexican dynasties transferred their au- thority and cults to the Maya area. H e had long been interested in the junctures where cultures met, but, with the important exception of the Chichén—Tula transfer point, he had not studied them previously in Mesoamerican art, probably because of the rudimentary State of knowledge about Maya history before 1960. t h e o r e t i c a l



Ancient America







i n u

final section, consists o f

an article that represents Kubler’s most extensive

i t

i e




sixth and

discussion of the question of renascence and dis­ junction in Precolumbian art, the central issue in most of his work after 1960.

III. 1

The Cycle of Life and Death in Metropolitan Aztec Sculpture

Among the great achievements of plástic art the world over, Aztec sculpture is to be accounted as one of the climactic events, as one of the points

along the ligne des hauteurs of which our late, be-


This sculpture, however, is known most imper- fectly to the students of plástic form. It has suf- fered long oblivion for a variety of causes. After its initial misfortune of being discovered during the Counter-Reformation, it passed from the cabinets de curiosité of the eighteenth century into the eth- nological collections of the century of Darwin and Ruskin, always just beneath the attendon of the historians and critics of art.1In an age when artistic preferences were for verisimilitude and heroic morality, Aztec sculpture satisfied none of the touchstones of taste. Today its position in the history of art is tenta- tive and problematic, for it incorporates an inde­ pendent aesthetic, devoid of any historical filiation whatsoever with the vast linked perspectives of Asiatic and European art.2 Yet it is precisely here that the inestimable valué of ancient American art may be assessed— in that an American humanity, clinically isolated, so to speak, from all extraconti- nental influences of an historical nature, achieved an expression in the language of visible form which is an Índex to all humanity, in our “widest possible intelligibility, in our most stable, our most universal aspect, beyond the local and specif­

ic limitations.”3 M etropolitan Aztec sculpture may be cate- gorically differentiated from all other ancient American art by its striking conquest of certain aspects of emotional expression. The modern stu-

teacher H enri Focillon spoke so eloquently.

dent can disregard the barriers of time and culture in the examination of a specimen such as the head of a dead man, in the National Museum of México (fig. III-l). The emotional contagion from these forms, expressive of the pathos of organic dissolu- tion, is inescapable. Regardless of time and cul­ ture, the work has an authority derived from ma- ture sculptural tradition, from rich sensibility, and from empiric observation. At the other extreme, the serpent heads of Aztec workmanship display a raw vitality unprecedented in American art, se- cured by reorganization and emphasis of signifi- cant particulars (fig. III-2). These valúes of Aztec sculpture are lacking in the generalized, idealizing art of the Mayas of Southern Yucatán and Guatemala. In Maya art, the repertory of human expression contains types analogous to those of Buddhist art, limited by the contempladve, intro- verted figures of the stelae on the one hand, and on the other by the apotropaic countenances of monsters. Between these extremes lie the many variants of local style and of iconographic types, but in general, human expression lacks diversity and subtlety of inflection. A rough equivalent for the expressive power of Aztec sculpture is to be found only in the plástic art of the Mochica potters of the north coast of Perú. There, however, the concern with expressive content and with the val­ úes of affecdve states of being is perhaps a by- product of the art of detailed, accurate portraiture. In general, Mochica pottery tends rather toward caricature at a low level of generalization. To analyze the sculpture of the Aztecs requires some preliminary definition of the term Aztec it- self. It signifies both a culture and a political entity



Ancient America

that were roughly coterminous. Adherence to the political structure was through membership in a

loose tribal confederacy held together by military forcé. Upon occasion, however, as with the people

of the

ticipated in the culture without belonging to the

political organism. The boundaries of the Aztec culture-state extended from northern México

deep into Central America, with isolated enclaves

as far south as Nicaragua and

agrarian living was the basic structure of the soci- ety; originally heterogenous and local, the political control carne to be centered at the time of the Conquest by Spain in the hands of Montezuma (Motecuzoma), who converted rule by council into the forms of absolute dynastic government.6 Tenochtitlán, the island city in the great inter-

volcanic Valley of México, became the admin- istrative metrópolis during the fifteenth century. Its maintenance was secured by tribute levied from the subject provinces. The principal traits of Aztec culture appear to have been widely diffused throughout Middle America rather earlier than the military conquest and political consolidation of the area by the ar- mies of Tenochtitlán. The Náhuatl, or Aztec lan­ guage, served as an administrative lingua franca. Human sacrifice was assigned a cardinal position in the religious life of the culture, and ceremonial warfare for the purpose of securing sacrificial vic- tims became a dominant theme in Aztec behavior. An intricate ritual calendar wras observed for the worship of a populous, syncretic assembly of su- pernaturals.7Pictographic annals recorded the his­ tories of the component tribes.8 The singular fact, nevertheless, is that Aztec sculpture cannot be said to have assumed the form under which we know it until the middle of the fifteenth century. Before then, its constituent ico­ nographic and ceremonial elements can be identi- fied as the property of scattered ethnic groups; then, precipitately, the process of integration oc- curred.9 O f monumental, metropolitan Aztec sculpture, the preparatory, experimental stages have not been identified. There is no evidence that any of the Aztec pieces mentioned or illustrated here was produced, say in the fourteenth century. Tenochtitlán was founded only c. 1325,10 and for

“republic” of Tlaxcala,4 an ethnic group par-

Panama.5 Communal

another century its society lacked the resources, the leisure, and the stability to produce monu­ mental sculpture. It cannot be said to have become a metrópolis until the second quarter of the fif­ teenth century, after the subjugation of its rivals, Atzcapotzalco and Texcoco, in the Valley of Méx­ ico. In fact, the only specimens of metropolitan Aztec sculpture bearing any suggestions as to the date of their manufacture belong to this late peri­ od in Aztec history, certainly not before the reign of Montezuma the Eider (1440—69). What the position of these datable pieces in the history of Mexican form may be, now evades defi- nition. This much is certain: that Aztec work of the fifteenth century rests upon a more ancient sculp- tural tradition, perhaps derived largely from Southern México and dependent upon craftsmen nourished by older civilizations, such as Olmec, Totonac, and Mixtee. With them came technique and formal command, but the expressive power was supplied from within Aztec culture itself. The situation is perhaps analogous to that of the origins of Gothic sculpture in the lie de France: new sculptural valúes were associated with the emer- gence of a new political entity, but the main d’oeuvre was drawn from the older late Roman- esque traditions of Burgundy, Languedoc, Pro- vence, and Lombardy. The conditions under which these works were produced in Tenochtitlán may be partially recon- structed, in spite of a confusing and fragmentary documentation. N o individual artistic person- alities can be identified. Sculpture was the projec- tion of communal solidarity. The monumental specimens were the work of many individuáis. Metal tools were still a novelty, and metal itself was principally dedicated to ornamental purposes. The technology remained that of a people in the lithic horizon of material equipment. The heavy labor of quarrying and transportation was proba­ bly achieved by tribute-laborers. The actual carv- ing was done by a member or members of a craft organization or community, such as those of Atzcapotzalco (goldworking) or Culhuacan (pot­ tery manufactures). The labor itself was accounted as a form of tribute, and the finished work was assigned to agiven cult and its priesthood. M ostof the specimens discussed here were recovered

The Cycle of Life and Death in Aztec Sculpture


from the great cult center, with its scores of tem­ ples, which stood upon the site of what is now the Cathedral plaza of México City (the Zócalo) and upon the areas just northeast of the plaza.11 The correct iconographic identification of these pieces remains problematic. The great Franciscan ethnographer of Aztec culture, Fray Bernardino de Sahagún12drew information from Indians who, when describing the attributes, costumes, and ap- purtenances of the supernaturals, referred not to stone figures such as ours, but to cult-figures made of less permanent materials, to the god-imper- sonators who played so important a role in Aztec ritual life, and to the pictorial representations in the códices. In general, moreover, Aztec religión would seem to have centered less about the stone cult-figure than we would expect from the great number of surviving examples. The living ritual, the procession, and the ceremonial itself were more immediate than the inert, inaccessible fig­ ures hidden within the shrines. In addition, the stone cult-figure usually achieved individuality through masks, costume, and attributes; divested of these, the statue lacked religious individuality. What, then, is the expressive content of this sculpture? We shall find its dominant themes in the representations of animate forms. It will be seen that a striking difference separates the pieces chosen here for illustration. On the one hand, we have works representing the human figure (figs. III-l and III-3 to III-8); on the other are those showing plant or animal, but mainly animal forms (figs. 111-2 and III-9 to III-12). It will further be seen that radically different modes of expression were tapped for these two classes of representa­ tion. W here human beings are concerned, vitality and animation are at a mínimum; where animals are portrayed, their vital principie is given an exag- gerated, maximal expression. Human beings are shown in the flaccid postures of relaxation and distention (fig. III-3). The mus- cles of the body are loose and unstretched. The facial expressions are those of surrender and resig­ naron, of the undoing of all tensión. Thus in the numerous standing figures of men and women; their postures, proportions, and gestures report the most static, passive, and unalive aspects of the human form (fig. II1-4). The gestures are soft and

empty; the posture suggests that of the sleep- walker or ghost, suspended between distinct states of animation, and really belonging to neither (fig. III-5). In certain other examples, the human form is associated with the symbols of death, such as the fleshless skull, the skeletal joints, and the vacant eye-sockets (fig. II1-6). Elsewhere, we find the plástic representation of an important rite in Aztec culture. A human being is shown, manifestly alive, but wearing the flayed skin of another human

being as a costume (fig. III-7). Such figures pertain to the cult of Xipe Totee, whose rites were associ­ ated with the renewal of the earth’s fertility.13 In the standing figure of the Museum of the Ameri­ can Indian in New York City (fig. III-8), the mini­ mal vitality of the wearer is countered by the emp­ ty, dead flaccidity of the garment of human skin. A state of tensión exists between the garment and its wearer, between surface and substance, between appearance and reality. All such representations figure a state of being which is neither life ñor


then, Aztec sculpture usually alludes to the human figure either directly with the signs and symbols of death or with a repertory of expressions suggest- ing the extinction of life and the proximity of death. Rarely can one identify an explicitly vitalist concept of the human form. Upon the evidence of the sculpture alone, without further examination, there emerges the idea of Aztec humanity as a quiescent, passive race, obsessed with the sym- bolism of death. It is singular, for instance, that among anthropomorphic figures, no apotropaic specimens occur, no frightening guardian figures such as we know from Asiatic art, and no Medusas or Gorgons. In the portrait of Aztec man by his own sculptors, there is lacking the daemonic con­ cept of humanity. The image of man is rarely dis-

turbed by monstrous metamorphoses. To return for a moment to the iconographic problem: the question may arise whether it is in fact the portrait of man with which we are dealing. May it not rather be the portrait of deity, the like- ness of an assembly of supernaturals? The experi- ence of other cultures and styles teaches that the image of deity is the portrait of perfected man. Elsewhere in the history of sculpture, the images of anthropomorphic supernaturals incorpórate

butinterm ediary between them. In general,


Ancient America

those expressions of the social attitudes that are expected from the human celebrants of the cult in question. The gods of the Greeks show the harmo- ny of spirit and body that was the ideal of life. The figures of the saints on the portáis of the churches of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries reflect the faith and works expected of Christian communi- cants. In the seventeenth century, the ecstatic pos­ tures and enraptured expressions of the saints served as models for the exercises prescribed by devotional literature. In each age, then, the por- trait of man, perfected according to the ethical objectives of his society, is to be found in the im­ ages of the gods, the saints, and the supernaturals. The moment, however, that one turns from the search for the figure of mankind to the world of animal form, a vitalism of striking intensity is revealed in virtually every Aztec image of an ani­ mal or plant. The nonhuman aspects of vitality seem to become the sculptor’s subject matter. All those aspects of animal energy which cannot be duplicated or simulated by human beings are the themes of representation. Typical is the artist’s preoccupation with snakes and serpents. Their sinuosity and their deadly

striking power are manifestations of a vitality alien to humanity. The theme of the coiled serpent, pre­ pared to strike, is among the most common in Aztec sculpture (fig. III-9). An elaboration of it is found in the numberless representations of feath­ ered serpents (figs. III-2, 111-10). The symbolic meaning of the concept is poorly understood. As a vital expression, however, the feathered serpent synthesizes two modes of movement; the flight of

birds and the legless undulation of snakes.

of these is human, but they both excite wonder and, often, fear. The variations upon this double theme of feathered sinuosity are numberless, and the great stone reptiles that adorned the walls sur- rounding the temple precinct in Tenochtitlan are among the most splendid examples of Aztec sculp- tures (fig. III-2). The claws and the dentition of the great felines were likewise seized upon by the sculptor as forms incorporating the daemonic, inhuman powers of nature. In the large sacrificial vessel commonly assigned to the cult of Tezcatlipoca (fig. III-l 1), the dynamism of the entire body of the tiger is

N either

maximal: each stylization contains caricatural ex- aggeration drawn to the brink of abstraction. The result is neither caricature ñor abstraction, but re- duction to the single impression of daemonic ani­ mal vitality. An extraordinary figure of a puma in the Na­ tional Museum of México (fig. III-12) likewise ex- presses the savage, mindless vitality of the great felines. The formidable teeth are bared; the eyes, once inset with polished stones, are heavy- rimmed, watchful voids. The coat of the animal is matted and coarse. If human beings are displayed

at moments of surrender or lessening of vitality,

the animals are exhibited in postures suggesting the utmost defense of life and the instinctive re- flexes of defense against attack upon life. Among

less ferocious animals, the toad is shown just be­

fore his leap, at a mom ent when his energies are

collected and focused. A gigantic porphyry grass- hopper also exhibits his preparation for sudden and surprising movement (fig. III-13). Plant forms were frequently represented by the

Aztec sculptor. A basalt figure of the nopal cactus emphasizes the fleshy rigidity of the mature form.

A porphyry calabash shows the ripe, perfected

fruit (fig. III-14). Thus, whether plant or animal be

represented, the most mature and vital phase of its existence is selected for study by the craftsman. The process of organizing forms is the same in all instances. The sculptor isolates from reality those traits that suggest the expression he desires to achieve; these traits then are developed to a point beyond caricature, yet short of abstraction, at which expressive power reaches a máximum. With humans, then, expression is static and moribund. With animals, it is dynamic and vital. To what relationships in the structure of Aztec thought does such a peculiar assignment of ex­ pressive valúes correspond? We may infer from the evidence of the sculpture alone that man was regarded as a phenomenon distinct both from the supernaturals and from the animals. The meta- physical powers of the supernaturals were ex- pressed by means of relatively abstract symbols and attributes. Such were the smoking mirror of Tezcatlipoca, symbolizing omniscience, the conch shell of Quetzalcoatl, perhaps signifying his rela- tionship to birth and genesis, the rattle staff of

The Cycle of Life and Death in Aztec Sculpture


Xipe Totee, or the costume and facial paint of many other deities. These various powers lay be­ yond the reach of man and nature. The animals, in turn, were distinguished by the manifestations of feral vitality peculiar to each genus. The nature of mankind, finally, found expression in the attitudes of resignation, surrender, and sacrifice. The recorded literature of the Aztecs yields many confirmations of this structure of the cos­ mos. The relationships among mankind, the su- pernaturals, and the remainder of the animate world were conceived as those of mutual interde- pendence, originating in the creation of the phys- ical universe by the supernaturals. In the Aztec narratives of genesis, the gods created the world from their own blood. Thereafter the super­ naturals themselves were dependent upon the cre­ ated world for their further sustenance, which was composed of sacrificial offerings of the human heart and of human blood. H enee the perpetual repayment of the archetypal blood gift through human sacrifice became mankind’s obligation. In return for their sustenance, however, the super­ naturals bestowed annual renewal of life upon the animate world. The hymn to Yacatecutli expresses the relationship:

Yo proporciono el sustento, pero ahora el alimento que tomo es el agua del corazón, que habéis venido trayendo para mí a través de las arenosas montañas.14

In another poem, the raingod, Tlaloc, speaks:

Ah, yo he sido creado, mi deidad es venerada con sacri­ ficios de sangre y con ellos es festejada. Yo produciendo la lluvia me he revelado com o dios.15

Thus the supernatural donors of life needed mankind’s collaboration to maintain the vital rhythm of the universe. Since man’s donation of his own blood, however, was the act of his free will, the maintenance of the universe was con- tingent upon man’s proper discharge of the blood debt. Henee the ritual of human sacrifice may be assessed as the rite that maintained the equi- librium of the universe. The ceremony of blood-

offering assumed many different forms. All mem- bers of the society regularly donated blood drawn from the ears, the tongue, and other body parts. At frequent ceremonies men were sacrificed by removal of the heart (fig. III-15), by flaying, by gladiatorial sacrifice, and by other means. The re- cruitment for sacrifice was achieved mainly through ceremonial warfare against other tribes, conducted for the express purpose of securing prisoners for sacrifice. As the volume of human sacrifice increased, so was the fertility of earth and animals augmented. The humanistic, Mediterranean valuation of human life as an entity for fulfillment and self- realization was totally alien to Aztec culture. Sa- hagun recorded the standards whereby the god- impersonator was selected for sacrifice as Tezcatlipoca. The passage reveáis the Aztec con- cept of beauty.16 The more perfect, the more promising the specimen of the race, the more fit- ting was he regarded as a subject for offering to the gods. Thus the concepts of death and human per- fection were intimately associated. Sacrificial death was the appropriate culmination to the flawless individual existence. The fulfillment of the individual lay, not in self-realization ñor in the exercise of congenital gifts and acquired training, but in the ritual surrender of life itself. These eyelieal exchanges of vitality yield an in- terpretation for the peculiar distribution of ex- pressive valúes observed in the sculpture. Man was the consumer of plants and animals, but he was also the producer of divine sustenance (human blood). The supernaturals consumed human blood and produced the vitality of plants and animals. The raw, mindless animation of the physical world was transmuted by humanity into a substance suitable for the nourishment of the gods. Mankind was distinguished from the re­ mainder of creation by a godlike responsibility, expressed in forms of the highest, even repulsive austerity, since man himself was the eucharist.


1 Robert Goldwater, Primitivism in Aiodern Painting (New York, 1938), chapters I and II.

2 A. V. Kidder, “Looking Backward,” Proceedings of the American PhilosophicalSociety, LXXXIII (1940), 527—37.


Ancient America

3 H enri Focillon, The Life 1942), p. 8.

4 Diego Muñoz Camargo, Historia de Tlaxcala (México,

of Forms in Art (New Haven,


5 George C. Vaillant, The Aztecs of México (New

1942), p. 220.


6 José de Acosta, Historia naturaly moraldélas Indias (Méx­ ico, 1940), pp. 569-70.

7 Hermann Beyer, El llamado ‘calendario Azteca’ (México,


8 See Anales del Museo Nacional de Arqueología y Etnología, época 1, III (1886), for reproductions.

9 Hans Dietschy, “Mensch und G ott bei den mexikanisch- en Indianern,” Anthropos, X X X V -X X X V I (1940-41),


10 Vaillant, The Aztecs, pp. 90—91.

11 Ignacio Alcocer, Apuntes sobre la antigua México-Ten- ochtitlán (Tacubaya, 1935).

12 Fr. Bernardino de Sahagún, Historia general de las cosas de Nueva España, 5 vols. (México, 1938).

13 Marshall H. Saville, “The Aztecan God Xipe Totee,” Iri­ dian Notes and Monographs, V, no. 2 (1929), 151-74.

14 After the Aztec recorded by B. de Sahagún, Historiad* ta¡ cosas de Nueva España, ed. F. del Paso y Troncoso (Madrid, 1905—07), f. 281. Translation in Angel MaríaGaribay, La poesía lírica Azteca (México, 1937), p. 17.

15 Garibay, La poesía lírica Azteca, p. 19, after Sahagún, His­ toria, f. 274.

16 Eduard Seler, Einige Kapitel aus dem Geschichtswerk des Fray Bernardino de Sahagún (Stuttgart, 1927), pp. 91-


[On current views of the meaning of Aztec human sacrifices, see my preface (Art of Aztec México. Treasures of Tenochtitlán, H. B. Nicholson et al. {Washington: National Gallery of Art, 1983], pp. 14—15) and the conference volume now in pressat Dumbarton Oaks, as The Aztec Templo Mayor, as well as the recent volume by Esther Pasztory, Aztec Art (New York, 1983).— g k J


Toward Absolute Time:

Guano Archaeology

The Peruvian records indicare that the guano is­ lands (fig. 111-16) yielded, between 1826 and 1875, several thousand artifacts of Preconquest origin. These are probably only a fraction of the archaeological material actually discovered during the commercial destruction of guano caps. Most of it has been lost; several hundred specimens in the museums of Europe and America still retain some record of their origin; and a small group of pieces, with which this paper is principally concerned, are known to have been discovered under stratified and depth-recorded conditions. Such evidence is not ideal for study today, sev- enty years after the complete destruction of the immense and ancient guano deposits of the Chin­ cha, Macabi, and Guanape island groups. Yet the accounts of a few independent observers and oíd photographs of the guano stratification (fig. III-l7) record information that, when assembled, suggests the rough outlines of an absolute time- scale for Peruvian prehistory. The biological histo­ ry of the Peruvian guano islands, exhaustively studied by Professor G. E. Hutchinson in a mono- graph1 from which this paper is an offshoot, sup- ports the attempt to establish an absolute time- scale for the artifacts.2 Photographs taken in 1860 on N orth and Cen­ tral Chincha Islands, and now owned by the Amer­ ican Museum of Natural History, show the stratifi­ cation of the guano stacks remaining at that time.3 The photographs reveal both wide and fine strati- fications of such remarkable regularity (fig. III-l 7) as to dispose of the contention that the lower layers of the guano were subject to great mechan- ical compressions and deformations.4 The in­

terpretation of the strata has been made by Pro­ fessor Hutchinson: he concludes that the entire deposition, 47.4 m. thick on Central Chincha, can- not have taken more than three or four thousand

years, ñor can it have taken less than six centuries. The short period is out of the question for oceanic and biological reasons, for if deposition began in the thirteenth century, other changes would be

known. W ithout considering

findings, and only on the basis of the fine stratifica- tions evident in the photographs, Professor Hutchinson attributes the beginning of the large deposits, on the main Peruvian guano islands, to the first or second millennium b .c . Between these theoretical limits, the archaeological record sug­ gests a date for the initiation of the deposits that is roughly intermediare. The archaeological record, however, does not depend upon biological or cli- matological evidence. It has been worked out in- dependently of other findings, and its “fit” with Professor Hutchinson’s argument is not depen- dent upon any part of that argument, but only upon the depth relations among well-documented objects. Such objects are few. To be useful, they must be accompanied by some record of the depth at which they were discovered on a specific island; and the object itself, or a serviceable illustration, must be available for study (Appendix A, Class A). All ma­ terials found in unstratified environments (Ap­ pendix A, Class B), or at unrecorded, vague, or improbable depths (Appendix A, Class C), have been discarded from the present treatment. Since it is most desirable, however, that owners of ob­ jects from the guano islands seek to recover more

the archaeological



Ancient America

specific information concerning their holdings, Appendix A lists not only the materials from un- stratified environments (Class B) but also the dis- coveries at unrecorded, vague, or improbable depths (Class C); more exact information is desir- able upon these specimens as well. For the time being, reliably documented guano artifacts of Class A are the following. These short descriptions are supplemented in Appendix A.

Chincha Islands

1. An armorial slab of stone, found in 1847 by

William Bollaert beneath 18 feet of guano (fig. III-18 and item A 1.1, Appendix A). Present whereabouts unknown.

2. W ooden staff ending in

phic head. Found before 1861, 15—20 feet be­ low the surface of the guano (fig. III-19 and item A 1.2, Appendix A). Peabody Museum, Salem, Mass.

3. Wooden staff, ending in helmeted, nude female figure, seated, holding cup, and wearing large earplugs. Found before 1873, beneath 33 feet of guano, (fig. 111-20 and item A 1.3, Ap­ pendix A). Present whereabouts unknown.

4. Set of ten silver fishes, found before 1867, be­ neath 32 or 34 feet of guano (fig. 111-21 and

a rough anthropomor-

Ítems A 1.4—13, Appendix A). American Mu­ seum of Natural History, No. 1010.

5. Rude wooden figure of geometrical style, found before 1873, beneath 32 or 35 feet of guano (fig. 111-22 and item A 1.14, Appendix A). Present whereabouts unknown.

6. Three clay objects, one wooden staff, and a stone anthropomorphic slab, found before 1873, beneath 62. feet of guano (fig. 111-23 and items A 1.15-19, Appendix A). Present where­ abouts unknown.

Guañape Islands

1. A wooden staff, ending in a knob surrounded by four human faces, found before 1870, be­ neath 27 feet of guano (fig. 111-24 and item A 2.1, Appendix A). British Museum, Christy Collection No. 7008.



penguin’s body, resting upon a piece of cloth,

found between 1867 and 1873, beneath 32 feet


guano (fig. 111-25 and item A 2.2, Appendix

A). Present whereabouts unknown.


Macabi Islands


Three wooden figures, found on North Maca­

bi, January 18, 1871, and certified by thegov-

ernor of the island as having been found under 60 English feet of guano (fig. 111-26 and ítems

A 3.3 -5 , Appendix A). Formerly in Hamburg,

Johanneum Naturhistorisches Museum, pre­ sent location unknown.

Clearly only the Chincha Islands have yieldea depth-recorded artifacts in numbers that permir discussion. But it will be seen that the objects and the depths recorded from the other, more north- erly island groups, although few in number, are not inconsistent with the argument that can be developed from Chincha Islands material. Certain artifacts from the Chincha Islands art closely related to industries and styles already known from the archaeology of the Peruvian mainland. Some comment on these connections and absences of connection will be needed to pre­ pare for the discussion of depth-relations among the objects.

1. The Bollaert armorial slab (fig. 111-18) is of colonial manufacture. The cartouche working of

the outline of the

in the early part of the sixteenth century.5 The shape itself was widely diffused throughout Eu­ rope and America before 1575. The inscription yields no further clues, for it is barely legible. It is carved in an approximation to Gothic letter that is of little use in dating, for this letter was current in Spain at least until the decade of the 1560s.6 The quarterings, like those of many Spanish-American grants of arms, contain topographic allusions. The upper right quadrant shows a long-billed bird, probably a pelican. The lower right quadrant dis- plays waves and three islands, of which the central one bears a horseshoe-shaped nest, characteristic of the guanay nests of the Peruvian guano islands (cf. fig. 111-30). These bearings can refer only to

shield is of N orth Italian origin,

Toward Absolute Time: Guano Archaeology


the Chincha Islands, which are three in number and have long been populated by large colonies of pelicans. Since the arms refer to the islands, they proba­ bly mark the ownership under which the early colonial exploitation of guano was conducted. Be- cause inhabited islands were always crown proper- ty, the arms cannot have been granted to an indi­ vidual.7 They can have signified only crown ow­ nership, under a specific corregimiento, or govern- ment, with its administrative center on the mainland.

This administrative center was surely the port on Paracas Bay, variously known as Sangallan and, later, Pisco (fig. 111-27). The history of this settle- ment is relevant. Cieza de León, writing before 1550, spoke of Sangallan as a port,8 and described the nearby Chincha Islands, without being aware of their guano deposits. In 1572, Viceroy Toledo recommended to the Council of the Indies that a town be founded in Pisco Valley; by 1576, ship- ping was received at Puerto de Pisco; and in 1587 the harbor settlem ent was visited by English pi- rates.y Early in the seventeenth century, the town possessed churches (Franciscan Recollects, found­ ed 1602; San Juan de Dios, founded 1634); in 1640, its ñame was changed to San Clemente de Mancera; and in 1687, the city was wrecked by earthquakes and tidal waves. Pisco was moved two miles inland to its present site in 1688.10 The style of the arms and of their carving sug­ gests the period between 1575 and 1600. If the association with Pisco harbor is valid, they are probably the arms (otherwise unknown) of the set­ tlement founded by order of Viceroy Toledo, ca. 1572, and destroyed in 1687.11 For working pur- poses, a date 1575—1600 is in agreement with the style of the arms and their carving, as well as with

the history

the span 1575—1600, the earlier years agree best with the history of settlem ent at Pisco and with the energetic government of Viceroy Toledo.

of settlem ent on Paracas Bay. Within


rudely carved head at the thick end (fig. III-19). The stick is too light for a club (IV2 inches máx­ imum diameter) and too short for a cañe or digging stick. The form is rather that of a baton of com-









mand, such as the one carried by the Inca master of the roads, as portrayed by Felipe Guamán Poma de Ayala, ca 1613.12 The head carved on the han- dle is rude and direct, worked in a manner that seeks to suggest natural form by rounded pas­ sages. I can find nothing in Preconquest Peruvian wood carving that resembles this long-headed, modeled versión of human shape. Colonial, rather than Preconquest, work is likely. 3. The helmeted, nude wooden figure, re- produced by T. J. Hutchinson, is known only by this wood engraving (fig. 111-20). N o dimensions are given, but the piece is evidently the head of a staff and therefore probably between 5 and 10 inches high. The sex, clearly female, is at variance with the masculine gear of helmet and large ear- plugs. The carving of the body forms is abrupt and schematic, although not without anatomical ac- curacy in the rounded flesh surfaces. The sharply indented outlines of the figure and the squat body proportions recall Inca sculpture distantly, such as the sodalite figurines13 from Pikillajta in Cuzco Valley, or the large diorite head found 8 meters beneath the present level of the Jesuit church in Cuzco.14 Another suggestion of late (that is, fif- teenth century) date is the elongated, concave- flaring form of the cup the figure holds between her hands. Such cups in metal are familiar from north coast sites in Inca and immediately pre-Inca associations.15 On the whole, the style of the fig­ ure cannot be assimilated either to the Coastal styles of consummate naturalism, such as Mochica w ood16 and pottery, or the geometrizing styles of Tiahuanacoid and “Middle period” associations. It seems to relate most closely to the wood carvings of a late, pre-Inca period, such as those from Márquez, at the mouth of the Chillón Valley (Dept. Lima). Among the staffs figured by Baes- sler, one (fig. 187) shows the legs carved and crossed in a manner closely similar to that of our figure 111-20.1 Thus a date in the fourteenth or fifteenth century seems reasonable. 4. The ten silver fishes collected by Squier are available for study at the American Museum of Natural History (fig. 111-21). It is possible that these objects, each with a perforation near the mouth, were originally sewn to a cloth as orna-


Ancient America

ments. Several show more elabórate tooling. These differences might suggest separate groups were it not that the objects are reliably attested as having been found together. In common, howev­ er, their style may be related to that of a number of metal objects of late pre-Inca period, reported from the coast and catalogued by Baessler.18 5. The wooden torso with head, figured by Hutchinson, shows a rude, geometric style (fig. 111-22) that may be compared to the abstract rep­ resentations of the Tiahuanacoid period on the coast. The size is unknown. The face is treated as half an ellipse. It contains lozenge-shaped eyes and a box mouth with five teeth. The fíat plañe of the face is surmounted by a squarish hat with peaks at the corners. The hat is of a form known first in the Tiahuanacoid period, as in the headdresses figured by Baessler and B ennett.19 The lozenge eyes and box mouth with five teeth compare closely with a figure of unknown provenience illustrated by


6. Five objects are shown by Hutchinson in the find reported at 62 feet beneath the guano on the Chincha Islands (fig. 111-23). Specimen A 1.15 is evidently a pottery vessel, representing a seated human with a rope around his neck. The form is common in Mochica pottery of the north coast. The wood engraving suggests the white paint on a red ground that is charac- teristic of many Mochica wares. The human figure represents a prisoner, as may be inferred from other specimens in which the hands are roped to­ gether behind the figure’s back.21 Specimen A 1.16 represents a dog vessel. Un- fortunately, its color cannot be determined. Its most striking singularity is the combination of a flaring neck vent with carrying loop. This assem­ bly is lacking in standard Mochica wares, where the flaring neck never appears with a carrying loop, to my knowledge. Such an assembly does appear repeatedly in pre-Mochica, north coast wares, such as Salinar;22 it disappears from stan­ dard Mochica wares of all classes; and it reappears in Late Chimu vessels.23 The modeled form of the dog, on the other hand, strongly recalls Mochica rather than Chimu techniques of detailed and de- scriptive sculpture.24 Henee, A 1.16 offers a choice: if it can be proved that its period is Late

Chimu, then a large part of the argument of this essay collapses, for the argument is based upon an assumption that the five pieces in figure II1-23 are all contemporaneous within two or three genera- tions. But the modeling is far closer to Mochica than to Chimu, and the neck-and-loop assembly is known in pre-Mochica Salinar style.25 These af- finities will allow a Mochica or pre-Mochica Iden­ tification for item A 1.16 until better evidence for the Chimu dating is discovered. Specimen A 1.17 is evidently a clay fragment of unknown use and style. Possibly an egg or a fruit shape is intended. The light color and precise shape again suggest Mochica origin. Specimen A 1.18 is a wooden staff, slotted at the handle and bearing a crouching animal or human figure. It is almost the exact analogue of one fig­ ured by Baessler as coming from Chancay.26 In the absence of any systematic knowledge about Peru­ vian wood carving, it is impossible to assign this piece or its analogues to a well-defined period. No compelling arguments forcé an identification ei­ ther as Mochica or post-Mochica. The Chancay provenience of the piece figured by Baessler can­ not be taken as a telling argument against Mochica style, for Mochica specimens have long been known from the south coast of Perú,27 although never properly evaluated as evidence for Mochica distribution. Specimen A 1.19 is described as a “stone idol.” It is clearly a thin píate, shaped as an ithyphallic. possibly hermaphrodite, human. The head is marred by flaking, so that little can be observed of its style, although the half-ellipse of the face is clearly and strongly defined. Nothing like it in mainland archaeology is known to me. The un- worked, downward tapering base suggests use ai an upright slab, inserted into the ground. The depth-recorded objects from other island groups than the Chinchas are not numerous enough to warrant detailed discussion. The one group of finds, however, from the Macabi Is- lands,28 under 60 English feet of guano, is closeiy enough related to mainland archaeology to merit treatment (fig. 111-26). All specimens, of which illustrations were made, are of wood. Numbers 1 and 3 are very closely related to the wooden figures found by Hutchinson in Cañete

Toward Absolute Time: Guano Archaeology


Valley (fig. III-44).29

nude male prisoner, as in the Cañete Valley spec- imen. N um ber 3 is a seated figure, badly worn and almost identical with its Cañete Valley analogue. Number 2, a seated, nude, wooden prisoner, is nearly a replica of the Chincha Island Mochica pottery vessel representing such a prisoner (fig. 111-23). Now all three Macabi specimens from Hamburg closely resemble the wood carvings in the British Museum (figs. 111-28,111-29) cataloged as coming from the Macabi Islands.30 The advan- tage of this comparison comes from the fact that the British Museum woodcarvings were found with a pottery fragment of unmistakable Mochica manufacture (no. 8 on fig. III-28).31 Apart from

the well-modeled realistic style of the wood carv­ ings, the Mochica pottery association confirms their identification as Mochica work.

N um ber 1 is a standing,

The depth-relations among the Chincha Island finds may now be treated. The method will be open to innumerable questions, so that an effort must be made to set forth all the assumptions upon which the method is based. The method itself is rudimentary in its simplicity. The depth of a find is taken as a direct indication of the time at which it was deposited on the islands. For the Chincha Is- lands, it is assumed, from the evidence of pho- tographs and early surveys of the guano caps,32 that the guano was laid down in horizontal layers, at a regular rate on all parts of the islands; in other words, that the islands were completely and stead- ily populated by ubiquitous bird colonies,33 and that their production of guano, if subject to varia­ tions, varied cyclically in regular short- and long- term phases. This assumption is supported by the flat, table-top character of the rock surface of the three main islands, N orth, Central, and South Chincha. Second, it is assumed that over secular periods the ratio between deposit of the guano and surface erosion by wind remained constant. Third, the human exploitation of guano, from Mochica times to ca. 1840, was not only regular but negligi- ble, never approaching a large-scale ecological dis- turbance for the birds. (See note 43.) Fourth, de- position ceased on the Chincha Islands during the 1840s, with the beginning of industrial exploita­ tion.34 Fifth, it is assumed that mechanical com-

pression of the guano at deep levels in the cap was insignificant, as suggested by oíd photographs (fig. III-17).35 Sixth, it is assumed that the deposit of artifacts occurred at the surface of the guano cap rather than in pits or shafts. This assumption is not susceptible of proof. Seventh, we assume that depth-recorded finds, regardless of horizontal positions on the islands, are equally and uniformly significant of time-relations.36 Finally, in gener- alizing upon the depth-relations among finds, we assume that the “date” of deposition is in all cases roughly contemporaneous (within a generation) with the date of manufacture. Proof here is also lacking. The máximum depth of the guano cap may be taken as 44.7 m., by averaging the deepest sound- ings taken on the three islands of the Chincha group during 1853.37 Since it is certain that depo­ sition ceased altogether about 1850, this year may be taken as a terminal date. Among the depth- recorded artifacts, the critical specimen is the Bollaert slab, for an absolute date is easily ascer- tained by stylistic and historie evidence. This date has been fixed between 1575 and 1600, with some likelihood that the years around 1575 correspond with the manufacture and installation of the arms on the island. Therefore 1575 will be taken as the year corresponding to the 18-foot, or 5.5 m., depth at which the slab was found. Henee, 275 years elapsed during the accumulation of 5.5 m. of guano. Dividing depth by time, we find that the annual thickness of deposit was on the order of 20 mm., in the compacted, eroded, and layered con- dition imposed by the presence of the bird col- onies. At this rate the accumulation of guano in the deep stacks would approach 2 meters per century. The initiation of the deposits then is seen to fall roughly in the fourth century b .c . (see accom- panying chart). The remaining depth-recorded artifacts from the Chincha Islands may now be given their secu­ lar positions by extrapolation. The depth of 10.4 m. for the silver fishes places them, and the ar­ tifacts found at similar depths, in the fourteenth century a . d . It may be pointed out that nothing in their style is inconsistent with such a dating in late pre-Inca time.38 The depth of 19.8 m. for the


Ancient America

Profile of

cenfer stack

Chincha Islands


1m .----------


’c O


18th c. 5m.--------- 17th c.


i- 16thc —



- ¡







15th c. 14th c. — 13th c. 12th c. 11th c.

10th c.

20m.-------- 9th c. —|

10m .---------



8th c. 7th c.

6th c. 5th c. 4th c. 3rd c. 2d c. 1st c. 1stc. B.C. 2d c. B.C. 3rd c. B.C. 4th c. B.C.

5.5m. Bollaert slab

6.1 m. Salem staff

10.05m. Helmeted female . 10.4m. Silverfishes 10.7m. Geometrical figure

19.8m. Mochica vessel



Mochica-associated artifacts reported by Hutchin­ son brings us to the ninth century a . d ., a dating in full agreement with the most recent estímate of relative north coast chronology.39 That the same rate of secular accumulation holds for certain other island groups is suggested by the well-documented find of Mochica artifacts under 60 English feet of guano on the Macabi Is- lands. (See p. 235.) It should be pointed out that datings other than 1575 are of course possible for the Bollaert slab (fig. III-18). But the other datings are confined within fairly narrow limits. The lower limit is the Spanish Conquest, ca. 1535, when early European settlement on Paracas Bay might have produced

our slab. If 1535 is taken, then 5.5 m. accumulated in 315 years, at a rate of 17 mm. annually, or 1.70 m. per century. At this rate, the Mochica-associ­ ated artifacts at 19.8 m. would fall in the late sev- enth century, which is not unreasonable, by exist- ing relative estimates. But the silver fishes (fig. 111-21) at 10.4 m. and the nearby objects would have been left on the islands in the thirteenth cen­ tury, which is perhaps too early, especially for the helmeted female staff head (fig. 111-20), with its strong, late pre-Inca or early Coastal Inca associa­ tions. If the Bollaert slab was deposited ca. 1640 (an important date in the history of Pisco town) the guano accumulated at the rate of 2.6 m. per cen­ tury, with an initial date in the second century a . d . Henee any date later than 1640 for the Bollaert slab places the Mochica-associated find (19-8 m.) at an impossibly late time, after the twelfth century


The argument on which this essay is based— that depth directly indicates the age of guano ar­ tifacts under certain conditions— should not de- pend at any point upon the biological history of the guano islands, if it is to bring confirmation to the results of such a biological history. Another line of evidence, fortunately, permits an indepen- dent definition of both lower and upper limits. As to a lower limit at 1535 or thereabouts, the possibility is dispelled by early colonial writings that reveal Spanish unawareness of the guano re- sources of the Chincha Islands. Cieza de León, writing before 1550, spoke of these islands and incorrectly described the guano caps as sand hills. H e wrote that the group near Sangallan (in Paracas Bay, the Chinchas and nearby rocks), a little ovei four leagues from the coast, were “seven or eight other small islets, some high and others low, unin- habited, and without wood or water, tree, shrub. or anything else, except seáis and sand hills [are­ The Indians, according to their own account, used to go to these islands to make sacri

fices, and it is presumed that great treasure is bur­

ied on

earliest European mention of Indian visits to the islands, and it proves that before 1550 the Indians had abandoned the habit, and that guano from the

” This fascinating account is our

Toward Absolute Time: Guano Archaeology


Chinchas was still unknown to Europeans. But Cieza knew of guano and its use as fertilizer, for in another passage of the same work he spoke of the Indians’use of guano from the islands off the coast of Tarapaca, several hundred miles farther south than the Chinchas.40 Later writers repeated Ci-

ing over the región made the site uninhabitable, and in 1687 an earthquake and tidal wave led the settlers to abandon the seashore and build anew two miles inland.46 In brief, Pisco flourished best under Viceroy Toledo in the 157Os, before the creation of the

eza’s remarks without further verification. López

port in Chincha Valley and before the incursions

de Velasco, the eminent cosmographer, writing


pirates. The economic history of Pisco and the

before 1574, used the same words, like Reginaldo de Lizárraga, who, ca. 1605—10, followed Cieza closely.41 These writers were aware of guano and described its use at Arica and on the Tarapaca coast in general. Two sources, however, indicate that guano from the islands off the central coast carne into commer- cial use between 1560 and 1580. Pedro de Aven- daño, writing in 1564—65 of the central coast of Perú, spoke of many vessels being loaded at the islands and mentions Indian disputes over owner- ship.42 José de Acosta, writing ca. 1580—90, de­ scribed the guano islands of the central coast brief- ly and specified that the material was used for fertilizer in Lunaguana Valley, just south of the Rio Cañete. The source may have been either the Asia island group or the Chinchas, for Lunaguana Valley is roughly equidistant from the two.43

beginnings of colonial guano exploitation allow the Bollaert slab to be assigned to the decade of the 1570s. The date is further confírmed by the style of the carving. (See p. 227.) Various other aspects of the guano island mate­ rial merit discussion, aspects that do not relate to absolute chronology. The artifacts suggest a spe­ cial guano island apparatus and iconography. Ci­ eza, Garcilaso, and Frezier mention ceremonies and sacrifices.47 The number of wooden staffs sug­ gests an undefined activity specially significant on the islands (items A 1.2, A 1.3, A 2.1, B 2.02, C 3.1, C 4.11, etc). Great layers of cloth deposits, as reported by various writers, probably answer to ceremonial requirements (items C 3.7, C 3-01). The presence of many nude prisoner figures in wood and pottery (items A 1.15, C 3.10, etc.), suggests a penalty for abuse or misappropriation

The upper limit for the Bollaert slab may be


the islands and their resources, especially in the

fixed by reference to the economic history of the

Mochica period. Headless female mummies (item

port on Paracas Bay, namely, Pisco Harbor. As


3.01) and traces of domestic architecture (items

pointed out earlier, the formal foundation of such


2.1, C 3.1—6) point to sustained habitadon. Fi-

a harbor town occurred ca. 1572. The rapid devel- opment of the great mercury mines at Huan- cavelica, however, soon necessitated the founda­ tion of another seaport nearer the natural outlet from Huancavelica. This was found in Chincha Valley, well to the north of the harbor at Pisco. By 1576, Pisco was forbidden to ship mercury, and with this interdict Pisco declined as a harbor. In 1587, the unhappy town was sacked by English pirates; all mercury was passing through the port

nally, a Mochica vessel (fig. 111-30) describes the visitof balsa-rafts to the islands. A human being, in hierade posture, suggests ceremonial behavior.48 Throughout this repertory, however, certain styles of mainland industries are conspicuously lacking. The wares of Nazca Valley and the textiles of Paracas península are not known from the Chincha Islands. On no island group has any spec­ imen of Tiahuanacoid style been recorded. Also lacking from the record are wares such as lea Geo-

in Chincha Valley, and Pisco itself was subordi- nated by viceregal order to the corregimiento lo- cated at Valverde de lea, some 70 kilometers from Pisco.44 N ot until 1640 did Pisco H arbor revive briefly, when Viceroy Mancera attempted to re- establish its activity.45 But new disasters soon be- fell Pisco. Inthe I640s, clouds of guano dustblow-

metric and Chancay. That the ceramics of Nazca and lea valleys should be lacking is astonishing, in the presence of Mochica artifacts that are usually supposed not to extend so far south. In any case, a revisión of our concepts of Mochica extensión is clearly indicated (note 27). Such a revisión at once suggests the hypothesis that the success of the


Ancient America

Mochica cultural pattern may have depended in part upon a technique of guano fertilization of arid coastal valleys. Real proof, however, is at present lacking. Coastal Tiahuanaco peoples may have de­ pended more upon highland connections for sub- sistence than upon intensive coastal agriculture. Nazca and lea valley peoples never achieved wide- spread cultural domination over their remóte neighbors. The Mochica pattern was the only coastal style, to present knowledge, that achieved distribution, however, sporadic, throughout the entire system of north, central, and south coast valleys. The significance of this approach to absolute time, in relation to the early cultures discovered by J. B. Bird in northern Chile49 (Shell and Fish Hook culture on fossilguano at Punta Pichalo) and in relation to climatological history in the South Pacific, has been treated elsewhere by Professor Hutchinson.50 H ere it is necessary only to com- ment upon the contracted time-scale, in terms of the Mochica finds at 60—62 feet. If these are ob­ jects of Late Mochica style, then the tenth to thir- teenth centuries are open for post-Mochica and pre-Inca cultures. If the objects are not terminal in Mochica style, but incipient or Middle, the time- span available for “M iddle-period” styles is sub- stantially reduced, perhaps to a period covering no more than the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The answers to this and other questions were probably destroyed unwittingly during the com- mercial destruction of the guano deposits.51 The truth remains that several assumptions on which this work is based are arbitrarily taken. But it is also true that the evidence of the depth-re­ corded artifacts on the Chincha Islands, without depending upon these assumptions, shows an order in depth that corresponds to order in time. At any moment, examples of depth-recorded ar­ tifacts, now unknown to me, may come to light. If such artifacts depart from the observed correspon- dence between depth and date, then the hypoth- esis will have to be modified or abandoned. But at present no reliably recorded object violates the time-depth correspondence. For the present, therefore, the dates contained in the chart on p. 230 can be considered reasonable, with Mochica

falling between








In order to catalog the objects and yet to leave room in the enumeration for future expansión, a decimal classi- fkation is used. The prefixes A, B, C, designare the

character o f the find as depth-recorded (A); under

stratified conditions (B); at vague, improbable, or unre- corded depths (C). The numeráis before the decimal point designare the island group: Chinchas (1.); Guañ- ape (2.); Macabi (3-); “Lobos” (4.). Following the deci­ mal point, a numeral other than zero indicates that a drawing, a photograph, or the object itself is available for study. If a zero follows the decimal point, no visual evidence is known. In groups o f objects constituting a single find, each object is cataloged by a separate number where visual evidence is at hand.


A l . l . The Bollaert slab (fig III-l8), discovered on

North Chincha Island under 18 feet o f guano in 1847, has been lost to view since 1860. When the drawing was published in 1859, the slab was “about to be presented to the British M useum,” but no record o f such agift has

been discovered. The drawing was shown in 1946 to Albert Van de Put, F.S.A., Late Keeper, Library, Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Mr. Van de Put could not assign a coherent meaning to the inscriptions. The style of the armorial carving, however, led him to write (in litt.,

Feb. 18, 1946): “With regard to the date o f the slab, the shield shape is of, no doubt, Italian (Tuscan?) deriva-

.” Mr. Van de

Put points out that “the carver has not gone very far with the cartouche working o f the outline, which tends to the baroque but is rather severely plain in com-

parison with what was being turned out by the third

,” and he

concludes that “it seems probable that a date about 1575—1600 is indicated.” Inquines addressed to Father Rubén Vargas Ugarte and to Dr. Jorge Zevallos in Perú during 1944 tailed to yield any information concerning the grant o f munici­ pal arms to the port o f Pisco. Similar inquines in Spain remained fruitless. It is certain, however, that Pisco wa¡> granted arms, and it is Iikely that these arms, when located, will correspond with those of the Bollaert slab. Quarterings with topographic allusions are not uncom- mon among Latin American municipal arms (e.g., Pátz-

cuaro, México).

quarter o f the XVI century in Europe

tion, first quarter o f the XVI

Toward Absolute Time: Guano Archaeology


Bibliography: Bollaert 1860, p. 149; London ¡Ilus­

tra ted Times, March 5, 1859, p- 157; M ontoto 1928; García Carraffa 1902—36.

A 1.2. L. W. Jenkins, Director o f the Peabody Mu­

seum, Salem, Mass., describes this object (in litt., July

agod-stick orclub said to have

been found 15—20 feet below the surface [on the Chincha Islands] and given to the Essex Institute by Capt. J. B. King in 1861. It is about 1 V2 in. in diam. and 27 in. long. A head is crudely carved on one end, and

8, 1944) as follows,

the stick tapers to a point at the other end” (fig. 111-19).

A 1 3 . When discussing the Chincha Islands, T. J.

Hutchinson reproduced an engraving o f a wooden staff head, carved in the form o f a nude, seated, and hel­ meted female (fig. II1-20). The legend accompanying the engraving states that it is a “wooden idol found at a depth o f 33 feet under guano.” The text offers no fur­

ther details.

Bibliography: T. J. Hutchinson 1873, vol. I, p. 108.

A 1.4—13. Ten silver fishes were given to E. G.

Squier by Henry Swayne, a landowner in Cañete Val- ley, who obtained them from Juan Pardo, the Italian master of a coasting vessel before 1867. Pardo declared they were extracted from beneath 32 feet o f guano on the Chincha Islands. At the same time there was found “the body o f a female, lacking the head, which, howev- er, was discovered at som e distance from the skeleton. The chest, breasts, and ribs were covered with thin sheets of gold.” This quotation is from Swayne’s letter

to Squier. In a penciled catalog ofhis collection, Squier recorded the depth as 34 feet. It is not explicitly stated that the fishes and the skeleton were parts o f one single find. The fishes were acquired by the American Mu­ seum o f Natural History in 1875 and cataloged as no. 1010 (fig. 111-21). Bibliography: Squier 1871—72, pp. 51—52; Ameri­ can Museum o f Natural History, MS catalog 1, vol. I (All Parts o f the World), p. 33; T. J. Hutchinson 1873, vol. I, p. 129-

A 1.14. T. J. Hutchinson, discussing the Chincha

Islands, reproduced an engraving o f this object (fig. 111-22) with the legend, “wooden idol found at a depth of 35 feet under the guano.” The accompanying text

mentions a “wooden idol discovered at a depth o f thir- ty-two feet.” Bibliography: T. J. Hutchinson 1873, vol. I, p. 105.

A 1.15-19- These five objects (fig. II1-23) from be­

neath 62 feet o f guano on the Chincha Islands are known only through the wood engraving reproduced by T. J. Hutchinson. Hutchinson also reproduced another engraving,

showing eleven objects o f Mochica style, in his discus- sion o f the Chinchas. H e described them as “relies of household gods and regal emblems, taken from a depth

not known to me, but very, very

semblances to the Mochica pieces from Macabí in the British Museum are striking and were commented upon by Hutchinson in a footnote. Hutchinson further stated that on the Chincha Is- lands, “we have had excavated from a depth o f sixty feet in the guano regalía o f the oíd Kings, stone and wooden idols, as well as, now and then, some pieces o f gold.” The present whereabouts o f the Hutchinson collec-

The re-

tions is unknown. In 1874—75 these collections, con­ sisting o f at least five cases, were exhibited in London at the Bethnal Green Museum. Correspondence with the Victoria and Albert Museum, which ultimately ab­ sorbed the Bethnal Green Museum, has yielded no trace o f the collections. Bibliography: T.J. Hutchinson 1873, vol. I,pp. 104,

106-07; 1874, pp. 3 1 3 -1 4 ; 1875, pp.

13, 325.

A 2.1. This portion o f a staff or baton (fig. 111-24) was

found 27 feet beneath guano on South Guañape Island before 1870. Exhibited at the Ethnological Society, London, in 1870, by Josiah Harris, the specimen is now in the British Museum. There it has been identified (in litt.) by Adrián Digby o f the British Museum, Depart­ ment o f Ethnography, as no. 7008 in the Christy Collection. The knob head is surrounded at the neck by four small human faces in relief carving. The hair on each, centrally parted and beginning at the eyebrows, recalls Inca metal figurines from the Valley of Cuzco (cf. Schmidt 1929, p. 390). The Harris staff is almost exactly identícal with an­ other one in the British Museum, registered there as no. 7431, and in our catalog as ítem C 3-13, from the Macabí Islands. Bibliography: Nature, 1870—71, vol. III, p. 59; Squier 1871—72, p. 48; González de la Rosa 1908, p.

42; The Journal o f the Anthropological Institute

Britain and Ireland, London, vol. I, p. 39, fig. 2.

A 2.2. Between 1869 and 1873, not long after the

of Great

beginnings o f commercial exploitation of the Guañape

Islands, numerous artifacts were encountered. T. J.

Hutchinson wrote that “at a depth o f thirty-two feet

under the guano

fiattened Penguin, with a piece o f cloth underneath. Several idols have been discovered here likewise, and the Chinese workmen have turned up gold orna- ments, which, o f course, were at once appropriated and partitíoned, according to their ordinary usages in cases

has been found the body o f a


Ancient America

o f treasure

that “in its flattened position it is only half an inch in

.” The iliustration (fig. 111-25) accom- panying this passage is not clear enough to allow any

inferences concerning cloth.

Bibliography: T.J. Hutchinson 1873, vol. II, p. 129. A 3 -3 —5. Onjanuary 18, 1871, eight or nine wooden figures were encountered on North Macabi Island at a depth o f 60 English feet. On February 28 the governor o f the Guanape and Macabi groups signed an affidavit attesting the conditions o f the find. This certifícate was accompanied by a photograph (now lost) of the objects.

A Lima merchant, Wilhelm Scheel, acquired the pieces

and donated them to the Johanneum Naturhistorisches Museum in Hamburg. Only three specimens arrived at

their destination, where they were exhibited in 1873— 74. The first, no. 1 on figure 111-26, is reported as 73

cm. high; no. 2 as 37 cm.; and no. 3 as 33 cm. The other

specimens lost in transit were five or six in number, “meist sitzend mit untergeschlagenen Beinen, darunter mindestens noch 3 mit dem um den Hals geschlungen- en Stricke.” Bibliography: Bolán 1874, p. 93; Virchow 1873, pp

trove.” O f the penguin, Hutchinson noted

the style or technique o f the


B 2.1. An important group o f artifacts was encoun­

tered on South Guanape Island in 1863—64. The find was made by J. P. Davis o f Boston, an engineer then engaged by the Peruvian government to survey the guano stacks o f the north coast. Davis found a wooden female figure ca. 1 foot high (fig. 111-31); three pottery figures ca. 4 inches high; and two water jars, o f which one portrayed a fish. The discovery occurred at the

o f a cliff about 450 feet high, “among the ruins of

what appeared to have been a stone hut, covered to a slight depth by huanu." E. G. Squier noted that the large wooden figure (fig. 111-3 1) was “so completelv

saturated with the salts o f huanu that it has very nearlv the specific gravity o f marble.” Bibliography: Squier 1871—72, p. 53. B 2.01. In 1871 the report reached London o f the discovery of artifacts on North Guanape Island. The editor of Nature published the report in the following terms: “beneath forty feet o f guano, a cavity was come upon, which, on the removal o f the guano, was found tu be a cave, leading downwards further forty

It contained

birds, lizards’

eggs is preserved. The cracks and fissures in the walls of the caves were found filled with solidified ammoniacal

salt. Two pieces o f earthenware vases were found, bear­

ing figures, also two gold earrings, and a bundle of


well-preserved sea-fowl and other In many cases, the color o f the

medicinal herbs tied up in woven cloth.” The report

also mentions “rude representations o f the human fig­ ure, cut in very hard w ood.” It seems clear that the

entrance to the cave was sealed by 40 feet o f guano, and

that the objects therefore antedated this stratum.

Bibliography: Nature,

1871, vol.

IV, p. 394, Lon­

don; Squier 1871—72, p. 48; González de la Rosa

1908, p. 42.

B 2.02. The governor o f the Guañape Islands re­

corded a number o f finds on South Guañape before

1873. We owe this record to the diligence o f M.

González de la Rosa, who sent a questionnaire concern­

ing guano archaeology to the officials supervising the industry. The questionnaire was sent from Paris be­ tween 1869 and 1872. In 1873, José María García re- plied from South Guañape that objects had been en­

countered at depths o f between 3 and 4 meters.

mentioned “Ídolos y utensilios de madera negra y chon­ ta, los primeros representando un hombre en cuclillas, con los brazos cruzados sobre el pecho y descansando en la cabeza cuadrada en un palo redondo, de 8 cen­ tímetros de diámetro y de metro y medio de largo.” There were also “bastones largos o varas, algunos tall­ ados, y canaletes, que son una especie de remos cortos con pala ancha, tallada esta con figuras de distinta clase

de pescados.” García noted further that neither human remains ñor objects o f stone had been found. Bibliography: González de la Rosa 1908, pp. 40—41.

C 1.1. Gold objects from the Chincha Islands were

exhibited in N ew York at the meeting o f the American Ethnological Society in 1859. The pieces were reported to have been found “with thirty feet or more of [guano] resting upon them .” A sheet gold figure in the find can be illustrated (fig. 111-32). N o record of the appearance o f the other specimens has been found. These orher objects were a gold, tubelike extensión to the figure illustrated (fig. 111-32), and two gold cups o f the weight o f five dollars each. Figure 111-32 weighed a little less

than twelve gold dollars. The pieces were exhibited by Thomas Ewbank, who prepared a drawing o f each piece for his communica- tion to the Society. They were then the property of Trevor & Colgate, the Wall Street bullion dealers, and had been in the latter’s possession for about a year. Bibliography: Squier 1871—72, p. 49.


C 1.2—3. In the Marine Museum at Mystic, Connect-

icut, are two specimens o f Inca pottery from the Chincha Islands (fig. II1-36). They were found during or before 1860. The first is an “aryballos,” about 8 V2 inches high and lightish brown in color. The second is a blackware vessel, shaped like a six-pointed star. De- scriptions, drawings, and information concerning the

Toward Absolute Time: Guano Archaeology


pieces were provided by Cari C. Cutler, Secretary of the Marine Historical Association in Mystic. The pieces formerly belonged to Captain George B. Wendell o f the ship Galatea. Mr. A. O. Vietor o f the Yale Library informed me that this ship was engaged in the Callao—N ew York trade during 1859—60. Captain Wendell acquired pieces from Commander Jones of the Peruvian navy at the Chincha Islands on October 6, 1860, with the information that they carne from “200 feet under the surface o f the guano.” A letter from Commander Jones to Captain W endell gives “300 feet.” (Communicated by Captain W endell’s son, Ar­ thur R. W endell.) That these depths are improbable emerges from the fact that the guano caps never ex­ ceeded 56 varas (168 feet).

C 1.4. A golden figure o f a female (fig. 111-33), from

the Chincha Islands, is in the Museum für Vólker-

kunde, Berlin. As part o f the Gretzer Collection (no. 31760) it entered the museum in 1907. This collection,


in Perú, contains objects acquired roughly between 1870 and 1900.

The piece is 15.5 cm. high and weighs 16 gms. Bibliography: Schmidt 1929, p. 367, no. 6, and p.

by a merchant o f Lima during thirty-three years

593; Anonymous n.d., p. 9 3 \Jahrbuch der Koeniglichen preussischen Kunstsammlungen, vol. X X X III, p. 90,


C 1.5—23. During 1872, Louis Agassiz, aboard the

Hassler, stopped in Paracas Bay and acquired a number of objects from the Chincha Islands. The specimens certainly known to have come from the Chincha Islands are 18 objects o f silver, now in Peabody Museum, Har­ vard University under the accession number 73-6-30. N o depths were recorded and the style o f the pieces is generally amorphous. I owe photographs of these spec­ imens to the courtesy o f J. O. Brew and Donald Scott. Bibliography: Peabody Museum 1874, pp. 20—22; Proceedings o f the California Academy o f Sciences, vol. X X X III, pp. 2 5 7 -5 8 , 186 8 -7 2 ; Agassiz 1880, pp.


C 2.1. A human figure o f unspecified material and

technique was collected at the Guanape Islands in 1826. This is the earliest recorded find o f artifact char­

acter on the guano islands. That such finds were com­ mon before 1848 is suggested by Pickett (1848, pp. 37—38): “In the guano deposets [sic], and far below the surface, ancient tools and instruments are frequently

. The original o f the Goodwin figure was long kept at Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut, but it can no longer be found there. Fortunately, a east was made for the American Antiquarian Society in Worces-




ter. The Society in 1910 effected an exchange with Peabody Museum, Harvard University, and the east is now in Cambridge (accession 10-47, specimen 76832). C 2.2. A helmeted, cup-holding wooden figure (fig. 111-34) from the Guañape Islands is in the Museum für Vólkerkunde, Berlin. It stands 118 cm. high and it en­ tered the museum in 1890 with the Maier Collection. The forms may be compared with those of item A 1.3, although the carving o f fish forms on the flesh parts is lacking in the more naturalistic treatment o f the latter. Bibliography: Schmidt 1929, pp. 413, 599. C 2.01. Among the most puzzling reports of Guañape Island guano archaeology is the brief notice in a London magazine in 1871, describing “gold orna­

ments and other objects

paintings o f animals and symbols, o f which the colors

were well preserved

feet thick, and reaching over a mile in extent.” Gonzá­ lez de la Rosa, after inquiring about this discovery, did not find reason to question its authenticity.

Bibliography: Athenaeum, London. no. 2267, April 8, 1871; Squier 1 8 7 1 -7 2 , p. 48; González de la Rosa 1908, p. 44.





a stratum o f woolen rags, five

C 3 .1 —6. During 1868, a survey o f the Macabi Is-

lands yielded traces o f habitation. In the ruins of a dwelling (otherwise not described) were found the fol­

lowing objects:

1. One golden vase, ca. 15 cm. high.

2. “idols” (fig. 111-35, nos.

Four wooden


la). (C


3. One wooden pedestal, suitable for a base for one of the idols.

4. Two wooden containers, one nearly square, “re­ sembling a boat,” and divided in two compart- ments. This piece measured .05 m. wide, .04 m. high, 25 m. long (fig. 111-35, no. 3a). The other vessel, o f cylindrical shape on a narrow foot, stood .05 m. high and contained a brown, ochreous powder. (3.2-3.)

5. One staff with a carved knob (fig. 111-35, no. 2). (C


6. Two necklaces, one o f “figs” (fig. II1-3 5, no. 5), the other o f “cacao beans” (fig. 111-35, no. 4). (C 3 .5 -


7. Several bone amulets o f rude manufacture, one painted red, another carved to resemble a seal’s head.

8. Two reddish pottery statuettes.

9. Two spondylus shells, one filled with vicuña wool.

10. One fragment o f net cloth.


Ancient America

11. One fragment o f cord or string, dyed alternateiy red and white.

12. Fragments o f a cloth o f red and white squares.

These specimens, to judge from the style o f the wood carving, were all o f Mochica manufacture. They represent the most com plete known assembly o f Mochica domestic artifacts anterior to the discovery o f intact Mochica graves by W. D. Strong in 1946 (Strong 1947, pp. 4 5 3 -8 2 ). During 1947 I sought to lócate these objets in the Musée Préhistorique et d’Ethnographie o f Bordeaux.

Because o f the war,

were not available for inspection. But it is not impossi-

ble that further records o f the discovery are preserved in Bordeaux. Bibliography: Dulignon 1884, pp. 157—58, pl. V; Delfortrie 1871, p. 508. C 3-7—16. During 1871, Josiah Harris exhibited at the Ethnographical Society in London a collection of objects from the Macabí Islands. The collection was discovered during Novem berand Decem ber, 1870, on North Macabi, in an area o f 80 square yards, at depths of 14 to 43 and more feet. Cotton rags were also shown. On North Macabi, these had “extended many hundred

yards, at an average thickness o f five feet, and below a deposit o f several feet o f guano.” According to Adrián Digby, Curator o f the Depart­ ment of Ethnology, British Museum, the collection was presented to the British Museum on September 15, 1871, by Josiah Harris and A. W. Franks, where the objects o f pottery and wood were registered as nos.

7 4 1 6 -4 7 . Several

Mr. Digby kindly prepared the following extraer from the British Museum registers:

the collections of this museum

have been illustrated by T. A. Joyce.

on one knee; right hand broken off; snake or cord around neck; figure hollowed; the lower end round and solid; found in the guano.

(N ew ell Coll.) Presented by A. W. Franks.

7421. H alf figure carved in wood, hollowed, origi- nally dark red, wearing sleeveless shirt; snake

encircles neck

ed by Josiah Harris, Esq.

; found in guano. Present­

7422. W ooden vase in form o f a seated male figure,

hands tied behind back; cord twisted around neck, down back, and bound round the


sented by A. W. Franks.

7423. Imperfect wooden vase in form o f a male fig­ ure, hands bound behind back; snake twisted

round his neck biting end o f penis; on cylin-

by A.

found in guano. (N ew ell Coll.) Pre­

drical tenon. (N ew ell Coll.) Presented

W. Franks.

7424. Solid wood carved figure o f a male captive;

originally dark red; hollowed part o f side broken off and lost

guano. Presented by Josiah Harris.

back and ; found in

7425. Flattened male figure carved in wood, color originally dark red; fíat hands on breast; lozenge-shaped eyes filled with white pig- ment; figure is split; found in guano. Present­ ed by A. W. Franks.

7426. Figure o f a female, carved in wood, originally dark red; fíat hands on breast; eyes and mouth filled with whitish pigment. (Newell Coll.)

Presented by A. W. Franks.

7427. Figure o f a female, carved in wood, originally dark red color; fíat; eyes and mouth filled with white pigment; hands on breast; found in guano. (N ew ell Coll.) Presented by A. W.


Two fragments o f large convex terracotta ves-


sel with moulded figures in high relief on con­

7428. Rough figure carved in solid, heavy wood,


Presented by Josiah Harris,

originally o f dark red color; found in guano.



ew ell Coll.) Presented by A. W. Franks.


Fragment o f rim o f large terracotta vessel (?),

rated; found in the guano. (N ew ell C oll.) Pre­

7429- Roughly carved standing male figure; arms

7 4 18.

having a seated human figure with right arm outstretched, broken off; features oblite-

sented by A. W. Franks. Hollow figure o f red earthenware in form o f a male captive, hands tied behind back

appear to have been tied behind; cord around neck; solid, cut out o f heavy wood. (Newell Coll.) Presented by A. W. Franks.

7430. Upper end o f staff, in heavy red wood, in form o f winged human figure wearing head­ dress with fíat semicircular front; playing pan-

forms a vase

found in the guano. (N ew ell

deau pipes. (N ew ell Coll.) Presented by A.

Coll.) Presented by A. W. Franks.




Broken red earthenware vase, representing a

7431. Mace o f heavy dark red wood; cylindrical

captive; found in the guano. Presented by


pear-shaped knob encircled by four

Josiah Harris, Esq.

human heads; in good preservation; found in


Seated wooden figure, legs crossed, left hand

guano. Presented by Josiah Harris, Esq.

Toward Absolute Time: Guano Archaeology


7432. Heavy wood staff, lower part broken off; spheroidal knob, four heads encircling the

base; a throne with canopy and seated figure,


Presented by A. W. Franks. 7433- Heavy wood staff, dark red; cylindrical shaft, lower end sawn off, upper end o f large cir­ cular knob encircled by four heads surmoun- ted by a throne with seated figure, etc. Pre­ sented by J. Harris.

eight small figures,

(N ew ell

en cloth

; found in guano. Presented by

Josiah Harris.

7445. Fragment o f woven, cinnamon brown colored

; found in guano. Presented by


Josiah Harris.

7446. Fragments o f soft, closely woven dark brown cotton cloth, several times folded and a stitch passed through to keep them together; found

in guano. (N ew ell Coll.) Presented by

A. W.


7434. H alf o f upper end o f a mace representing a throned figure

carved in wood, ; found in


(N ew ell Coll.)


7447. Closely woven, cinnamon colored cotton bag

with two longitudinal slits in closed end; dou­ bled eight times and a stitch passed through to

7435. Upper

end o f a wooden

staff in form

o f


keep it together; found in guano. (Newell

double cone with broad central flange; four

Coll.) Presented by A. W. Franks.

taces encircle the base; cylindrical shaft,

In this listing, no. 7416 (fig. 111-28, no. 8) = C 3.7;

cut off. (N ew ell Coll.) Presented by A. W Franks.

bulb-shaped wooden object, origi-

nally red, with collared ends; three horizontal lines engraved on the bulb; found in guano.

(N ew ell Coll.) Presented by A. W. Franks.

7437. Unopened spine-covered bivalve shell found

in guano with the other objects. (N ew ell Coll.) Presented by A. W. Franks.

7436. Part o f a

shell, outside covered with round inner margin o f lip; a

smaller shell had woven cloth adhering to outside. (N ew ell Coll.) Presented by A. W. Franks.

7439. Oblong piece o f rubbed-down shell pierced with four holes in pairs at each end; surface colored with vermillion paint. (N ew ell Coll.) Presented by A. W. Franks.

7440. Two fragments o f a series o f halves o f oval brown berries strung on a twisted brown fiber string; found in guano. Purchased from the widow o f Captain N ew ell and presented by A. W. Franks.

7441. Tassel made o f narrow braids

o f chocolate-

brown colored fiber fastened across at inter-

vals with twisted strings o f yellowish cotton.

(N ew ell Coll.) Presented by A. W. Franks.

7442. Cloth in which gold was found in pieces about

the si2e and shape o f threepenny pieces; oblong, closely woven cotton; edges sel-


Valve o f a bivalve

spines; coral band

vaged; covered with stitching. Presented by J. Harris, Esq.

7443. Piece o f thick woven mat o f cinnamon col­ ored woolen strings; found in guano. Present­ ed by Josiah Harris.

7444. Fragments o f woven

cinnamon colored wool­

no. 7418 (fig. 111-28, no 7) = C 3.8; no. 7420 (fig.

111-28, no. 5) = C 3.9; no. 7422 (fig. 111-29) = C 3.10;

no. 7427 (fig. 111-28, no. 6) = C 3.11; no. 7430 (fig.

111-28, no. 3) = C 3.12; no. 7431 (fig. 111-28, no. 1) = C 3.13, no. 7432 (fig. 111-28, no. 2) = C 3.14; no. 7433 (fig. 111-37) = C 3.15; no. 7434 (fig. 111-38) = C 3.17;

no. 7435 (fig. 111-28, no. 4) = C 3.16.

Item C 3.13 closely resembles item A 2.1 (fig. 111-24) but cannot be the same object, for A 2.1 is registered at the British Museum as no. 7008. All spec­ imens excepting C 3.13 are clearly o f Mochica man­

ufacture. They closely resemble the Chincha Island specimens figured by Hutchinson (fig. 111-39), but are clearly different from H utchinson’s, for this writer noted the resemblances himself in a footnote. Bibliography: Joyce 1912a, fig. 36, pl. VII, p. 42; Joyce 1912b, pl. VIII, opp. p. 86; Nature, vol. IV, p. 196, 1871; T. J. Hutchinson 1873, vol. I, p. 107. C 3.01. On the Macabi Islands before 1873, José María García reported the discovery o f pottery vessels of various sizes, some representing birds. Large clay containers held sheet gold figures and masks. Vast quantities o f cotton cloth in bad condition were en- countered, as well as many female, headless mummy bundles. Several wood staffs appeared, some 60—90

cm. long and 5 cm. in diameter, rounded at the head and

tapering to a point. All these objects were met in the 4 - 5 m. level, as well as above and below this level. González de la Rosa supposed that the headless female mummies pertained to virginal sacrifices and that the islands were a sacred cemetery. A mummy from the guano islands is preserved in the Horniman Museum, London, but the writer was unable to ascertain whether it is headless and female. Bibliography: González de la Rosa 1908, pp. 42—44. C 4 .1 —12. Charles Wiener, who traveled in South


Ancient America

America between 1875 and 1877, formed and pub-

lished a large

Among these, many specimens are figured as coming from the Lobos Islands. It is not clear which group Wiener had in mind. N o such islands are described in the text o f his travels. The map o f his travels, however, shows the “Islas de Lobos” off Chiclayo, in a position corresponding to the group now known as the Islas Lobos de Afuera, a well-known guano station (fig. III-l 6). “The occurrence o f any wooden artifacts on either the Lobos de Afuera or Lobos de Tierra groups is most improbable. The guano on these islands is in general poor in nitrogen and has evidently undergone exten- sive leaching. The occasional wet conditions implied by this fact would militate against the preservation of wood. The artifacts in question are far more Iikely to have come from Macabi” (G. E. Hutchinson).

W iener’s objects (figs. 111-40—111-43) are all of Mochica style and compare closely to the Mochica specimens from other island groups. The items are as follows:

collection o f archaeological materials.



Seated pottery “prisoner” (fig. 111-41).




W ooden vessel rim fragment, with modeled,


running warrior, as on C 3.7

(fig. 111-40, left,




Seated wooden “prisoner” (fig. 111-40), top, left).



Staff head with standing, nude, male “prisoner” (fig. 111-40, top, center).





“prisoner” (fig. 111-40, top,




4.6 Seated wooden “prisoner”; flaring neck at top of









right, second from top).






“prisoner” (fig.




third from top).



4.8 Seated wooden “prisoner” (fig. 111-40, bottom, left).


4.9 Standing wooden warrior (fig. 111-40, bottom, center).



Mummy bundle head in wood (fig. II1-42).


4 .11

Staff o f wood, the head carved as a throne and canopy, containing a seated figure (fig. 111-43)-



Staff o f wood

similar to

C 4.11


Items C 4.9 and C 4.4 are closely similar to the spec­ imens figured by T. J. Hutchinson (fig. 111-44), from Cañete Valley. The others may be compared to the specimens in figure 111-39. It is possible, but unlikely, that W iener copied

Hutchinson’s engravings, changing the proveniences and adding new details. The W iener collections in Paris, as I have been informed by H. Reichlen and John Rowe, do not include these objects, and they are not enumerated in the registers o f the Wiener collections.


Dr. G. Evelyn Hutchinson o f Yale University has add- ed the following remarks:

The guano deposits o f Perú consisted o f the faeces of sea-birds which had undergone a slight diagenetic change in conformity with the great aridity o f the coun- try. The modern bird colonies apparently produce from 8 to 10 cms. a year under the favorable conditions af- forded by the best islands. Taking the lower estímate of

the rate o f increase in thickness o f a

require about 593 years to produce the thickest deposit recorded, on Central Chincha Island. The photograph o f the section on Central Chincha Island, taken by Captain Merriman, shows a vertical section o f the deposit in which twenty-two bands can be counted. It is evident from the height of a man standing on the cliff that the thickness o f these bands in aggre- gate was 150—170 cms., or each band was 6.8—7.8 cms. thick. The stratigraphy therefore suggests annual depo- sition at the same rate as today. There is, however, some evidence from the lower part o f the photograph and also from contemporary descriptions, that thinner layers occurred. The stratification appears, notably from a pair o f photographs published in the Boletín de la Compañía Administradora del Guano, vol. XI, pp. 472 and 483, to have been remarkably horizontal, at least on the North Island. There is some evidence, to be presented in full in a forthcoming monograph, that the nature o f the bird colonies had changed during the peri­ od immediately prior to exploitation in the middle of the nineteenth century and that this change had led to a loss o f guano, through the activities o f burrowing birds. Part o f the discrepancy between the archaeological and stratigraphic estímate o f the rate o f accumulation is per­ haps due to wind erosion at a time when burrowing birds had become common. The archaeological evi­ dence from the Bollaert slab, which anyhow may have

come from near the periphery o f the deposit where its thickness was reduced, therefore tends to give valúes

deposit, it would


low. The result o f wind erosion would be to make any oíd object appear older when measured in terms of the time taken to cover the Bollaert slab. Professor Ku'o- ler’s chronology, therefore, is most unlikely to be over contracted; if it is in error it is Iikely that it is not con-

for the rates o f accumulation o f guano which are

Toward Absolute Time: Guano Archaeology


tracted enough. As his argument stands his conclusions appear inherently probable. The full data will be available shortly in a “Survey of Contemporary Knowledge of Biogeochemistry, III:

The Biogeochemistry of Vertebrare Excretion,” to ap­

pear in

the Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural



(1950)—e d . ] . 52


1 Forthcoming in the Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History (G. E. Hutchinson 1948). See the abstraer by Professor H utchinson o f the relevant portions of this paper, proffered here as Appendix B.

2 The possibility has occurred to various writers, but it has

lack of a suitable

biological history o f the islands. Manuel González de la Rosa took the trouble, between 1869 and 1872, to send a questionnaire on archaeology to thegovernors of the vari­ ous islands. His paper (González de la Rosa 1908), howev- er, expressed skepticism that valid findings on chronology could be derived from the guano islands. The paper by Luis Gamarra Dulanto (1942) is similarly inconclusive. Biological writers, on the other hand, such as Murphy (1936, p. 292), have been deterred from drawing reason- able conclusions by their estimates of immense antiquity, irregular deposition, and mechanical compression of the lower layers o f the guano caps. The views are discussed at length by G. E. Hutchinson in his monograph.

never been developed because o f the

3 Tschudi (1866-69, vol. V, pp. 374-75) remarks that in 1840, when he first visited the Chincha Islands, few ships were in evidence, and the birds were still to be numbered by the millions. In O ctober 1858, however, the ships and the workers were so numerous that no birds were to be seen. Only the great central stacks were left on the islands.

4 Murphy 1936, vol. I, p. 289. Professor Hutchinson pro­ vides the following com ment to this passage: “An even more impressive piece of evidence of a general horizontal stratification o f great regularity is to be obtained from the photographs of the N orth Island deposit in 1853, pub­ lished in the Boletín de la Compañía Administradora del Guano, vol XI (1926), pp. 472 and 483, illustrating re- prints of papers o f Raimondi. These will be republished as a composite in my m onograph.” O ther comments by Pro­ fessor Hutchinson in the following pages will be followed by the initials G. E. H.

5 Albert Van de Put, Late K eeper of the Victoria and Albert Museum and authority on Spanish heraldry, has suggested (in litt., Feb. 18, 1946) adate “about 1575-1600.” Inqui­ nes addressed to Perú yielded a theory to the effect that the stone was perhaps a funeral monument left upon the islands by a Flemish pírate in the late sixteenth or early seventeenth century. (Communicated by Jorge Zevallos,

Chief of the Sección Histórica at the Archivo Nacional in Lima, in litt., Nov. 9, 1944). O f significance is only the

independent agreement, concordant with my view, upon a possible late-sixteenth-century dating.

6 Gothic letter was used in the inscriptions on the founda­ tion stone of the Escorial in 1563. See the account by Fray Juan de San Gerónim o 1845, p. 23.

7 Individuáis were not granted land by the crown, but only the labor of Indians resident upon specifíed lands. See Zavala (1935) for a treatm ent of the entire question.

8 Cieza de León 1864, p. 27. A Spanish town named San­ gallan existed as early as 1535, seven leagues up the river from the sea. Jim énez de la Espanda 1881, p. xvii; Cal- ancha 1638, p. 235.

9 G obernantes del Perú 1921-26, vol. IV, p. 126; vol. V ,p. 486; vol. X, pp. 335-37.

10 Paz Soldán 1862—63, pp. 565ff.; Montesinos 1906, vol. II, p. 258; Pérez de Torres 1749, p. 10; Anonymous


11 Prolonged investigation and correspondence with Peru- vian and Spanish authorities failed to yield any description of the municipal arms o f Pisco. Surely such arms were granted, ca. 1572; renewed in 1640; and perhaps granted again in 1688.

12 Guamán Poma de Ayala 1936, fol. 356. Guamán’s colo­ nial officials all carry long, slender staffs, or thick, knobby clubs.

13 Such sodalite figurines, known from the central coast of Perú, are made of material quarried in Boliva. (See Ahlfield and W agner 1931, and Valcárcel 1933, pp. 21— 48.) Valcárcel (1933, pp. 28, 33) mentions sodalite figu­ rines like those of Pikillajta from lea and Nazca valleys as well as from the Paracas península.

14 See Anonymous 1933, pl. XVII, 499, and pp. 81-82.

15 Baessler 1906, pl. 20, fig. 320; Hamy 1897, pl. LIV, 154- 57 (Ancón).

16 Mochica staffs are figured by Strong 1947, pp. 466, 478, 481. Cf. also Squier 1871-72, p. 54, figs. 11-13.

17 Baessler 1902—03, vol. I, pl. 33. The staff, 161 cm. long, has a cross-legged figure 15 cm. high on the handle. Cf. also Schmidt 1929, p. 413.

18 Baessler 1906, nos. 237, 298, 460, 461. Baessler’s mate- rials in general are of a style that may be identified as “Late,” in the sense that they are either Incaic or immedi- ately pre-Incaic. The Squier fishes may also be compared to the Late Chimu pressed blackware representations on pottery o f the north coast, e.g., Baessler 1902-03, vol. II, pl. 72, figs. 262-63.

19 Baessler 1902-03, vol. IV, fig. 408 (featherwork); Ben- nett 1946a, pl. 43 (Coll. John Wise, hat in velvet tech- nique).

20 Seler 1893, pl. 13, fig. 5 (Macedo Coll.).

21 As in Schmidt (1929, p. 135), from Chimbóte, or in the specimen in the Museum of the American Indian (5/ 1746), 0.243 m. high from Chimbóte. Cf. Tello 1938, p.


22 2 and p. 65; Larco Hoyle 1944, p. 12.

Tello 1938, fig.

23 As on the blackware'specimen from Lambayeque, figured


Ancient America

by Bennett (1946, pl. 49, d), or in the pressed blackware specimen from Chiclayo figured by Schmidt 1929, p. 212 (23 cm. high).

24 Cf. Tello 1938, p. 171.

25 It is absent from the Cupisnique wares discovered and published by Larco Hoyle (1941). But the dog vessel may belong to a style that is still undiscovered on the mainland.

26 Baessler 1902-03, vol. I, pl. 33, fig. 188. The figure is 8.5

cm. high, on a staff of 68 cm. overall length.

27 Mochica artifacts from Ancón are fairly numerous at the Museum of the American Indian: nos. 5/1732, 8/4538, 14/4540, 14/4544, 14/7671, 15/1449; from near Lima, 7/2721, 7/2724, 7/2735, 7/2740; lea, 14/4570. Peabody Museum, Harvard, has a Mochica specimen from Pisco or lea (75572, Farrabee collection, 1909). For Cañete Valley

see T. J. Hutchinson 1873, vol. 1, pp. 138—39.

28 See Appendix A, items no. A 3.3—5.

29 T.J. Hutchinson 1873, vol. I, p. 138, figure onp. 139 (our

fig. II1-44).

30 See Appendix A, items no. C 3.7-16.

31 W iener (1880, p. 580)

figures another set of wood and

pottery specimens as coming from the Lobos Islands (fig. II1-40). These correspond so exactly with the Hamburg and British Museum specimens that they might be taken for parts o f the same find. W iener’s collections are housed

at the Musée de l’H om m e in Paris. The curators there

were unable to identify

at present in Paris. On p. 617, W iener figures another Mochica prisoner vessel, as from the Lobos Islands (fig. 111-40). On p. 650, a wooden head, very much like that of Hamburg no. 2, is shown with the same provenance (fig. II1-42). On p. 687, wooden staffs (fig. 111-43) appear from

W iener’s figures with specimens

the Lobos Islands, closely similar to the Mochica staffs figured by Joyce (our figs. 111-37,111-38) and T .J. H utch­ inson (our fig. 111-39). Also of the same style are the staff- heads brought to Bordeaux from Macabi (fig. 111-35).

32 Canas 1854.

33 The photographs of 1853 and 1860 support such an as- sumption. See the treatm ent by G. E. Hutchinson (1948).

34 Stevenson (1825—29, vol. I, p. 357) observed only “sev­ eral small vessels constantly em ployed” at the Chinchas in 1825. In 1840, Tschudi (1866-69, vol. V, pp. 374-75) saw ships arrive at the islands only rarely. But in O ctober 1858, a great flotilla was steadily engaged, and no birds were in evidence, although Tschudi had seen “millions” in


35 Contrast the views held by Murphy 1936, vol. I, p. 292.

36 Among many unproved assumptions, this is the weakest. Cañas (1854, p. 25)gives areas and volumes of guano for each island. Area divided into volume yields a mean depth of 12.12 m. This suggests the lenticular form of the guano cap, thinning toward the periphery of the island. (See Murphy 1936, vol. I, pl. 16.) But the depth recorded finds

the removal o f the cap and therefore

were made late in

figure III-17. The only exception is the Bollaert slab, found in 1847. “If the Bollaert slab was under an atypically thin pe- ripheral layer, all the postulated dates based on its use are too oíd. It would be as well to point out that this pos- sibility, which is the greatest potential source of error, can only lead to a false expansión of the chronology.” (G. E. H.)

37 Cañas 1854, pp. 20-2 3 . This surveyor’s depths are given in Peruvian varas (.8475 m.). His deepest soundings:

N orth Chincha, 50 varas; Central Chincha, 56 varas;

South Chincha, 52 varas.

38 On the Inca conquest of the valleys of the south coast of Perú, under Topa Inca ca. 1470, see Rowe 1946, p. 207.

39 Strong 1947, pp. 459-64.

40 Cieza de León 1864, pp. 27, 265—66 (Markham transla- tion). This work was first published in 1552. The writer

has verified Markham’s translation o f “sand hills” in Antwerp edition of 1553 (p. 14).

41 López de Velasco 1894, p. 492; Lizárraga 1946, p. 88.


H errera y Tordesillas (1601, p. 60) is another geographer

who repeats Cieza without verification. It is likely that Garcilaso de la Vega, who left Perú in 1560, also knew no

more than Cieza (1553, fol. 102).

42 Apuntiamientos (sic) para el buen gobierno del Perú, MS cited by Jim énez de la Espada 1881, Appendix 2, p.


43 Acosta 1940, pp. 328—29. A much later writer, in 1792, reports that Chincha Island guano was mainly used in Chancay Valley (Ureta 1792, p. 220). Cf. Tschudi 1847, pp. 239-42. Chancay Valley had consumed ca. 33,000- 36,000 fanegas (cwts.) annually since 1790. “Asia Island is perhaps an unlikely source; the island

had little guano in the last century, as its form does not permit much accumulation. The Chincha Islands are far

likely, particularly since U reta (1792) and Hum-

boldt noted that boats regularly brought guano from the Chinchas to Chancay.” (G. E. H.)


44 Foundation o f Pisco ca. 1572: Gobernantes del Perú 1921—26, vol. IV, p. 126 (hereafter GP). Pisco forbidden to ship mercury: GP, vol. V, p. 486. Pisco sacked by pi­ rates and subordinated to lea: GP, vol. X, pp. 312, 335— 37. All mercury shipped through Chincha Harbor, GP,

vol. X, p. 271. Cf. Pérez de Torres (1749, p. 10) on Chincha H arbor ca. 1588, when Pisco shipped only rhe wines of lea. O n one mercury shipping route, see

W hitaker 1941, p. 14.

45 Montesinos 1906, vol. II, p. 258. The ñame was changed to San Clemente de Mancera, and the town was given jurisdiction over the “pampa de Chincha.”

46 Clouds of guano dust: Cobo 1890—93, vol. I, p. 180 (writ­ ten 1652 but probably referring to events of the I640s) Anonymous 1940-43, vol. XIV, p. 30. This last source describes the quake and flood o f 1687 (vol. XIII, p. 38).

Cf. Paz Soldán 1862-63, pp. 565ff.

Toward Absolute Time: Guano Archaeology


1609, fol. 102; Frezier 1717, p. 235; cf. Baessler 1902- 03, vol. II, text, pls. 72—73: “in the Peruvian myths seáis played a part, because the inhabitants o f the seabord [sic] believed that after death their souls were carried by them to the island of G uano.”

48 Photograph of the specimen in the museum at Hacienda Chiclín kindly communicated by Rafael Larco Hoyle.

49 Bird 1943.

50 G. E. Hutchinson 1948.

51 It is far from unlikely that, once aware of the importance of guano archaeology, curators here and abroad will dis- cover appreciable numbers of depth-recorded artifacts not known to me. G reat Britain, however, has been thor- oughly searched; Professor G. E. Hutchinson and I ad- dressed some 300 letters during 1944 to museums in G reat Britain. The answers, at that difficult time, were

astonishing in their prom pt and thorough attention to the problem. Only two collections yielded relevant material (items C 3.7—16, C 3.01). 52 G. E. Hutchinson, 1948

[It may be noted for the record that dating objects by guano stratigraphy anticipated the carbón-14 results with some ac- curacy, but the layered condition was destroyed in the nine- teenth century, and its association with ancient objects was unique in the Peruvian islands. Guano archaeology was stillborn, and nothing new is known to me since this publica­ tion. A. W. Franks, who gave twenty-one items to the British Museum in 1871, is probably Sir Augustus Wollaston Franks, for whom, as its owner in Britain, the medieval Franks Casket in the British Museum was named in 1867 when he gave it there.— g k¡


The Design of Space in Maya Architecture

The notion of elaborated shelter so far dominates our concepts of architecture that we often find it difficult to think of building in its monumental sense, apart from shelter. As monumental form, architecture commemorates a valuable experience by distinguishing one space from others in an am­ pie and durable edifice. Such an edifíce does not need to endose rooms: it may suffice to cancel space by solid masses, or to inscribe space with an otherwise useless system of lines and shapes. The simplest monumental modes are the precinct, the hut, the cairn, and the path. The precinct marks off an area to be reserved; the hut endoses it in part; the path signáis a direction; and the cairn marks a point by elevation. From precinct to stadium forms one typological series; from hut to cathedral another; from path to arcade-lined boulevard an­ other; and from cairn to pyramid still another. The combinations of path, precinct, hut, and cairn yield all the possibilities of monumental architec­ tural form, not only in terms of solids, but also in terms of the space bathing those solids. In this context, the study of the form of ancient American architecture requires concepts some- what different from those customary in European architectural history.


Although we commonly think of a roadway in function of a transportation system, it is not neces- sary to regard all roadlike construction as trans­ portation devices. Transportation is merely one of the possible and common functions of a roadway. 1. It may serve to connect nothing, as on the

pampas of the south coast of Perú, where the im- mense network of abstract lines goes nowhere.1 The lines describe zoómorphic and abstract fig­ ures; they climb precipitous slopes without regard

for any traveler’s comfort, and they termínate abruptly after miles of progress for no evident rea- son. The form of these lines is clearly monu­ mental, to inscribe some meaning upon the inhu­ man and hostile wastes of nature. For unknown reasons, the lines indícate directions, as thegraphs of a forgotten but once important human activity. In this sense, their monumentality is as evident as that of a Maya stela or pyramid.

2. A roadway may serve singly and entirely as an

element in the formal composition of space. In this

event, the roadway need connect nothing, any more than an esplanade connects. The roadway serves as a form of oriented longitudinal space, directing attention from nowhere in particular to a point of interest. Such is the case at Polol in the Peten Maya area, where a roadway 40 meters wide, bounded by parallel walls ca. 150 meters long, forms an esplanade entrance into the central


At Teotihuacan (fig. 111-46), the entire site can be regarded as such a roadway, running north- south for over a mile, to provide a formal axis for the lateral development of platform and building groups. The roadway connects nothing; it only aí- fords axial order.3

3. Roadways may connect places, although this

is not their primary purpose, which may be the production of agreeably ordered space. Such is the case in a number of Maya sites. At Uaxactun, Groups A and B face one another


The Design of Space in Maya Architecture


from south to north across a ravine spanned by a graded causeway.4 The distance between the cen- ters of the two groups is about 250 meters. The plaza of Group A is about ten meters higher than Group B; Group A is the more ampie and wider enclosure. Thus the roadway connects U-shaped courts which open toward one another in a re- ciprocal relation. At Nakúm, Group E (the subordinate northern enclosure) is connected with Group A to the south by a wide roadway. It is about 25 meters wide and it runs between long, discontinuous, and narrow platform mounds in parallel rows. In this case, the two groups cannot be regarded as reciprocating, for the whole assembly has bifold rotational sym- metry (Z-form), with the vistas in the roadway blocked at both ends.5 Ixkún displays a variant on the pathway site. A roadway about 750 meters long runs north and south connecting the temples on two small hills. Midway between them and opening on both sides of the axis of the roadway is a connected system of small courts.6 At Labná, in the Puuc, a no rth - south causeway likewise connects two open court systems 175 meters apart.

4. Roadways serving to connect distant places in

the service of an established system of commu- nication are familiar in Perú, since the Classic stage if not earlier, and in the Maya area, where elevated and permanent roads connect various ceremonial centers of northern Yucatán.7


The pyramid, as an element in group design, had complex possibilities, according to emphasis on special approaches; abutment with other edifices, axial relation to other elements, elaborations in

plan, and so on. H ere we shall consider the free- standing single pyramid in relation to the space surrounding it.

1. In Shepard’s terms,8 the plan of Pyramid E-

VH-sub at Uaxactún has radial symmetry.9 The axes of reflection for the fundamental portion are the four staircases and the four inset corners. If we disregard its temple building, the pyramid called El Castillo at Chichén Itzá is exactly identical in symmetrical form .10 These two edifices represent

roughly the early and the late shapes of Maya architecture. In group design, this type of pyramid, with stairs on all four sides, has four equal fronts, of which each suggests and requires an adequate spatial en- vironment. Thus the radially symmetrical pyramid is the most monumental and commanding of pyra­ midal forms, for all approaches to it are of equal valué, and the form tends to induce further radial

symmetry in its general setting among other edi­ fices. It is a rare form in America, used sparingly even by the Maya architects, who were most par- tial to it.

2. Virtually all other large freestanding pyra­

mids in Mesoamerica and in the Andean area dis-

play only bilateral or mirror symmetry. The axis of reflection is usually a ramp or staircase. All parts of the edifice faithfully mirror one another to right and left of this axis. At best, this form commands two environments instead of four (Balakbal,

only one, depending

on the number of staircases. If there are staircases front and rear, the building demands front and rear approaches. If there is only a front staircase, only the front approach requires spatial design. The Pyramids of the Sun and Moon at Teotihua­ cán (fig. III-193) have but one approach.12 The large pyramids of Tikal (fig. III-197) are of this same type. But at Tikal, the rear and sides are of such steep and forbidding setback angles that the single-front approach, already indicated by the flight of stairs, gains compelling authority.13

Structure V I),11 and usually


The necessary counterpart in group design to the freestanding pyramid is the precinct. If the free­ standing pyramid functions as a great cairn in call- ing attention to the site, the pyramid also requires boundaries to the special place it celebrates. These boundaries may be mere walls or ditches, as in the fence of hexagonal basalt columns at La Venta in México (fig. III-45).14 More commonly, in Mesoamerica, extended platforms, sometimes with buildings, served the limiting function. The limiting platforms (fig. III-194) defined the basic measure of the space of an enclosure; within the


Ancient America

enclosure, or at its edge, the pyramid rose high to mark the valué and importance of the place.


Frans Blom 15 first identified the form and func- tion of an assembly of edifices in the Maya area, serving as a monument to the most significant horizon positions of the rising sun. In Group E at Uaxactun, the assembly consists of a pyramid fac- ing east; across the court from it, three temples occupy a north—south terrace. From the eastward facing point of observation on the pyramid stairs, the rising sun was seen to emerge over the north- ernmost temple on the solstice morning of June 21; over the central temple on the equinox morn- ings of March 21 and September 21; and over the southernmost temple on the solstice morning of December 21.16 This particular assembly is com- mon from Ixkun to Río Bec in the central Maya area: twelve and possibly eighteen sites show it. Ruppert supposes that their function “in the origi­ nal instance may have been astronomical but provincially and decadently became merely ritu- alistic.” Ricketson properly associated such assem- blies with ritual and geomancy, rather than with observational astronomy.17 Signifícant to us is the fact that the collocation of pyramidal forms about a plaza obeyed relation- ships of celestial order and thus reflected the cos­ mos in the spatial relationships of the ritual center.


A ball-game of ritual character, played with a rub- ber sphere on special courts by opponents wearing distinctive costume and protective armours, has been an outstanding trait of Middle American culture since remóte antiquity. The game was played in the southwestern United States, throughout Mesoamerica, and in the Antilles.18 There is no evidence of it in the Andean area. As an architecturai form, the ball court (fig. 111-49) is most common in the Maya area. Essen- tially it is two elongated and parallel pyramidal platforms of specialized profile. The playing arca consists of the alley between the platforms, two end-fields, and the inner surfaces of the platforms.

Types and subtypes throughout Mesoamerica are defined by the combination of vertical and sloping planes of the platforms. In plan the ball court displays biaxial radial sym- metry. It is the most eloquent of all forms in dis- playing the Mesoamerican concern for space de- sign among edifices. The surface of the pyramidal platforms are meaningful, not only as the bound- aries of masses, but also as the boundaries of a volume of space between the masses. Profiling, measurements, proportions, and symmetry of forms all are governed by the requirement of space design for a specific purpose. In the monu­ mental frame of reference, ball courts compose a close-knit assembly of precinct, pyramids, and pathway, often enriched by buildings at the pe- riphery (Chichen Itza).


Many ancient American buildings rise upon long, shallow plans. They may endose a chain of narrow rooms, as at the Maya site of Nakum. Structure D 19 there forms the Southern side of the great plaza. The building is more than 400 feet long and only 30 feet wide, with about forty-four rooms, opening north or south by narrow doorways. This building type, in innumerable variants, is ex- tremely common throughout Mesoamerica and the Andean area. Sometimes it resembles the Greco-Román stoa, as at Chichen Itza (fig. 111-50) or Pachacamac, consisting of a long wall with col- umns in front of it, and roofing between wall and columns. Usually the extended block buildings rest upon platforms; the platforms allow for ter- races in front of the building and for staircases connecting the terraces. Building, terraces, and steps produce distinct yet related modes of spatial organization. Such edifices served mainly as precinct or boun- dary markers for specific areas and subareas of the ceremonial center. Often the extended block building, as at the House of the Governor in Ux­ mal, is subordinated to a court on one facade.20 With the other, opposite facade, it dominates an implicit court on its own ampie terrace. Unusually revealing of the Mesoamerican archi- tect’s reticence in the design of interior spaces is

The Design of Space in Maya Architecture


his handling of the quadrangular building en- closure. If we restrict the discussion to true build- ings, relatively few examples are available at Uax­ actun, Tikal, Palenque, Piedras Negras, Uxmal, Kabah, Chichén Itza, Mitla, and Tula.


At Uxmal the principal courts display rectangular

design, achieved by unconnected buildings. In both the Nunnery and the Palomas, the main en-

trance axis bisects the long sides of the rectangle.21

There is m irror symmetry

the courtyards and in each of the component buildings. Córner exits, lightly marked on the

south side, are left between the buildings of the Nunnery group. The N unnery platform level rises

by several terraces from south to north, and the

north range forms a closed rear wall to the court. In the Palomas Group, the court is a place of pas- sage to a second courtyard dominated by a

pyramid. If the outer contour of the plans of the two courts is considered, distinct types are evident. The Palomas contour tends to form a true rec­ tangle. The Nunnery contour approaches cru- ciform shape. The cruciform contour reappears at Kabah, also in the Puuc district, in two quad-

rangles known as the Codz Poop and the West Group.22 At Mitla (fig. 111-48), Groups E, F, J, and

K all are open-cornered courts of cruciform

contour. Group F at Tikal23 shows the composite fea- tures of both the Nunnery and the Palomas at Ux­ mal. Structure 76 forms an open-cornered quad- rangle with Structures 74 and 77, upon a plan of cruciform contour, but Structure 75 joins the quadrangle in a rectangular contour, as at the Palomas.

of left and right both in


The enclosing ranges of buildings m eet at the cor- ners to form a closed court in the Maya area at Palenque in the building called the Palace.24 H ere the solution is indecisive, for only the northern corners are closed, while the Southern corners re-

main open. The contour of the entire court forms a true rectangle, as at the Palomas Group in Uxmal. At Piedras Negras, in Courts 1 and 2,25 the cor­ ners of the courts are open, although the designer disposed of the flexible double-range system used at Palenque, with parallel vaults and piered fa- cades. Fie refrained, nevertheless, from continu- ing this system around the corners. Mention should be made of unvaulted Maya buildings in this context. At Uaxactun, Structure A-IX26 is a houselike edifice upon a high platform.

The ruins of its outer wall surround three sides of a court about sixteen meters wide. Further details are not known, but the form suggests wooden roofing and supports upon a many-chambered plan. This disposition is repeated in two courts at San Clemente in the Peten with the unusual feature of

a connecting interior stairway leading from the

lower to the upper court. H ere again, the contour

is rectangular.27

At Mitla (fig. III-48),28 two forms of the closed- corner quadrangle appear: the first, represented by Courts G, H, I, A, B, and C, has the cruciform outer contour in plan because of the fact that the enclosing ranges touch one another only in their inner corners. In these buildings, the designer still conceived the ranges as separate entities without real connection in plan and structure. H e achieved only the closing of the córner exits, but not the structural and formal unifkation of the court as a whole. Court D at Mitla, on the other hand, is a closed- corner quadrangle of true rectangular contour. In- ternally, the ranges still fail to connect at the cor­ ners. It is as if the open-cornered ranges of the Palomas Group have simply been pushed together until their corners met. Courts G, H, I, A, B, and C likewise resemble the Nunnery at Uxmal, in that the ranges of the open- cornered, cruciform-contour group have been pushed together until the corners met. The unusual patio building at Chichén Itza called the Mercado (fig. III-50)29 cannot properly be considered as forming part of the quadrangle enclosure series of the Maya area. It pertains in- stead to the development of the many-aisled, colonnaded buildings of the Mexican period in


Ancient America

Yucatán, when the designers, under Mexican in- fluence, began to compose the interior spaces of buildings. The Mercado patio is really a colonnade of quadrangular form at modest scale, rather than a great courtyard enclosure of the type of the Nunn- ery at Uxmal. Its closest parallel is found at Tula in Structure 1 (fig. III-51).30 Only Chichén Itzá and Tula show examples of complete enclosure by continuous structure, made possible by the use of the colonnade. A hesitating example of colonnaded enclosure ap­ pears at Palenque. But at Tikal, Uxmal, Kabah, and Mitla, the designers were reluctant to free themselves from the concept of enclosure by sep­ arare masses. The Maya architect usually thought of his building as masses. H e composed them from the outside, juxtaposing them for effects in space design. The Mexican architect at Tula, on the contrary, thought of a building as a hollow volume of which the interiors should and could be carried around corners and through different levels. The architects of Mitla thought much like Maya builders, but they experimented hesi- tatingly with colonnaded volumes in G roup E.


We mentioned earlier the urgent requirement of the American Indian designer for differentiation by height. The various ways of achieving dif- ferences of level are worth review.

1. Easiest and most natural were the differences

of contour in the building site itself. Monte Al- bán31 in Southern México (fig. 111-47), for in- stance, was a natural pyramid, rising steeply from the valley floor. The architects took advantage of its spurs, saddles, shoulders, and abrupt contours by levelling and fílling wherever necessary to achieve striking differences of level. In the Maya area, the Usumacinta región offered naturally ter- raced sites dropping swiftly to the level of the river. The architects of Palenque, Yaxchilán, and Piedras Negras used these contours with consum- mate skill to achieve graceful variety of space de­ sign. Andean terracing is another example of the artificial enrichment of natural contours, both in the highlands and on the coast.32

2. By the skillful spacing of ranges of buildings, the architects could achieve the effect of many- storied buildings, either on artificial or on natural terraces. In the Maya area generally, this device was common. In the Peten, the acropolis plat­ forms provided the necessary terracing. In the Río Bec district at the center of the Maya area, natural contours were used. In the Puuc and Chenes dis- tricts, a pyramidal core of artificial origin was faced with ranges of buildings simulating many-storied edifices.33 The same device appeared in northern and eastern Yucatan, as well as on the G ulf coast of México, in the Totonac territory centering upon Tajín, and in Aztec dwelling compounds.34

3. Genuine superposition of stories, with the requisite strengthening of bearing walls and plan- ned distribution of loads, was common only in the Andean area. Sporadic cases of true multistoried building appear in the Maya area.

Genuine superposition is indicative of interest in the design of interior volumes and of a high degree of technological skill. Both characterize Andean architecture more consistently than that of Mesoamerica. Occasionally, however, the Maya architect achieved complex superpositions of an audacity never attempted in South America. Such is the case at Palenque. The Palace tower, square in plan, rose four stories. An interior staircase, cleverly adapted to a central shaft, gave access to four distinct levels of vaulted corridors resting one on top of the other.35 Less audacious in structure but more massive m effect is the Caracol at Chichen Itza. Here the circular plan consists of two concentric annular vaults surrounding a central masonry pier. The pier contains a spiral stairway leading to a vaulted second-story chamber. The chamber loads only upon the stairway pier. The use of the building is


In general, if a modern engineer or architect were restricted to Maya materials and techniques, he would not hesitare to superimpose several layers of corbel vaults provided he always were allowed to align all the bearing walls vertically. For if the bearing walls of an upper story charge the capstone or vault overhang of a lower story, the edifice collapses. But as long as the bearing walls

The Design of Space in Maya Architecture

24 7

or piers in superposition are vertically aligned, the

stability of the entire complex is increased, within the limits of the crushing strength of the stone. The Maya architect may have resorted to super­ position more often than the ruins allow us to guess. In one case, he was perhaps careless about vertical alignment of bearing walls. At Xtampak, if we may trust Maler’s drawings,37 the bearing wall

of the third-story vault charges nearly on the cap-

stone of a second-story vault. At Tikal, superpositions appear to be common. The most impressive is Structure 10.38 From across the south ravine which it overhangs, the spectator has the illusion of a five-storied struc­

ture; the cross section shows two terraces: the lower with two stories and the upper terrace with three.


A satisfactory history of columnar supports in an­

cient America has not been written. At Teotihua­

cán, a colonnaded vestibule appears in Classic time

at the upper level of the edifice called “Los Subter­

ráneos.”39 In Southern México, at Monte Albán, on the same horizon, columnar supports mark the facade of Mound X and other buildings.40 Both at Teotihuacán and Monte Albán these supports are square in plan and date from the Classic stage.

In the Maya area, Classic stage sites fall squarely

in two geographical divisions. Columnar supports

are absent in the Petén and Motagua districts, al­ though heavy piers resembling portions of wall occasionally separate the doorways of multicham-

bered buildings, as, for example, at the Copán ball- court temples. True columnar supports appear in the Usumacinta región and throughout the Classic stage sites of Yucatán proper. Narrow piers and squarish columns are proper to the facades of the Usumacinta región; round columns characterize the Puuc district, northern Yucatán, and the East coast. It is often implicitly assumed that pier, square column, and round column represent a develop- ment sequence. Actually the three types must be regarded more as geographical peculiarities than

development. W ooden

as evolutionary steps in a

supports were used in the earliest stages of build­

ing history. The concept of a shafted support is one of the oldest of all building devices. The rep­ lica in stone or clay is not much younger. The signifkant variable in respect to chronology is not the form of the shaft but the context in which it is used. At the Petén and Motagua sites, the builders were chiefly interested in the massive design of space by pyramids and platforms. The chambers enclosed by Petén and Motagua buildings were incidental to this overriding interest. The facades were designed to retain mass and density. The doorways were minor incidents in the massive and sculptural treatm ent of the temples and “palaces” of Copán or Tikal. This concept of space design by masses is in fact older than the isolated, coherently chambered plans of the Usumacinta región, the Puuc, and Yucatán. At Palenque, Yaxchilán, and Piedras Negras, space design by masses was a continuing tradition, but it was enriched by highly articulated buildings, such as the “palaces” and temples, with narrow- piered facades and complex chambered construc­ tion, interior buttressing, and skeletal roofcombs. This entire constellation of building traits sig- nified, in Late Classic time, a profound shift in architectural form from sculptural masses to orga- nized interior volumes of increasing spatial com- plexity. That round columns are completely lack- ing in the Usumacinta región is a geographical and not a chronological peculiarity, for coeval sites in the Puuc district display a lavish use of round col­ umns, both freestanding and engaged.41 Ultimately, in the Mexican period of Yucatán, the round column became the dominant form at Mayapán, Ake, or Tulum, but it never entirely displaced the square shaft. The reason for the in­ creasing abundance of round columns in Post- Classic Maya architecture is probably to be found in the spatial context of their use. As the organiza- tion of interior volumes became more and more spacious, the square column, with its pierlike sug- gestion of a mass of wall, was seen to obstruct the interior spaces with too massive a bulk. The eye slips around a cylindrical shaft. The round column is visually absorbed by the spaces it supports, while a square shaft arrests the eye with a blocklike recollection of wall surfaces.


Ancient America

In any case, the coherent organization of cham- bered volumes requires columnar supports or piers. If interior spaces are to display continuous design, they must melt one into another by gradual transitions. Only the column and the colonnade in ancient building practice permitted these sub- tleties. But the resources of the column were not called upon until the desire to organize interior spaces aróse among the architects of the Classic stage in the western and northern Maya areas.


Architectural space is distinguished from the space of mere habitation by monumental order and imposing size. The design of architectural space in ancient America offers three general categories:

1. Fenced-in enclosures of geometric plan, de- fined mainly by thin-walled construction.

2. Courtyards and plazas in several levels, formed by the collocation of impressive masses such as pyramids and platforms.

3. Coherent organization of chambered and roof- ed volumes, as buildings and groups of buildings.

There is reason to hold that class 1 represents the oldest mode of space design in Mesoamerica and in the Andean area. At La Venta, in Veracruz (fig. 111-45), the great plaza at the north of the site is an enclosure roughly 60 x 75 meters, fenced in by a close-set row of hexagonal columns of basalt. Some of the columns weigh over two tons; all are set on the clay floor of a sunken plaza. The court is entered by a wide south aperture, flanked by smaller rectangular enclosures of the same basalt hexagons.42 The grandiose character of this sys­ tem firs well with the colossal heads of the area. No other example is known in Mesoamerica. To date we know nothing conclusive about the age of La Venta. Typologically, however, the site must be regarded, even if of very late date, as a survival or vestige of a primitive mode of monu­ mental enclosure, far older, typologically, than the precincts formed of pyramids and platforms. Class 2, of courts bounded by pyramids and plat­ forms, is of an antiquity going back at least to the

Great Cult stage, with the greatest development marked in the Classic stage. O f Classic stage date are the pyramidal and platform courts of the Maya area, from northern Yucatán (Oxkintok and Cobá) to the Usumacinta, Petén, and Motagua sites of Guatemala and Honduras. The acropolis of Copán is the classic example. Monte Albán, Teotihuacán, Xochicalco, and Tajín in México are other exam- ples illustrative of the technique of designing space by massive assemblages. The coherent organization of chambered vol­ umes is a development of the Classic stage, timidly proposed at first in massive buildings and gradu- ally amplified during the terminal periods of American Preconquest history. In Mesoamerica, the phenomenon is closely linked with regional variation in the articulation of columnar supports from the undifferentiated wall masses of Early Classic and Pre-Classic periods.


1. European plan and structure generate such complex enclosures that the history of occidental

building has rightly been regarded as a Progressive conquest of enclosed spaces. In American antiq­ uity, however, the rooms were at all times less important than the masses. The design of a build­ ing was secured far less by the enclosure of rooms in an articulated envelope than by the ponderous combination of vast masses, solid throughout, sculpturally related to one another, and struc- turally dependent upon simple static accumula- tions of building material.

2. The concept of a unit of architecture differs in

Europe and in ancient America. In Europe, the sacred building, the market, the courts of justice, the palaces, and the houses are each directly recog- nizable as isolated and functionally defmite en- tities. In American architecture such clear distinc- tions are often impossible. The greatest uncertain- ty surrounds the identification of “palaces” and “temples.” The room-clusters that might have served as residential units usually blend and merge with other types, such as pyramidal platforms with “temple” buildings, with ball-game courts, with sweathouses, colonnades, and courtyards, to the point at which clear distinctions among building

The Design of Space in Maya Architecture


units become difficult. At Copán, for example, the vast primary platform covering twelve acres un-

derlies and supports quantities of secondary plat- forms; these in turn bear other platforms, pyra­ mids, and buildings that merge with one another to such an extent that Copán can be regarded as one giant construction of subordínate parts con- tinuous with one another.

3. A cardinal objective of the American Indian

architect in all periods and regions was to achieve differentiation by height. The ceremonial centers and the cities display a multiplicity of level that probably distinguished the hierarchic rank of the vague functions to which the edifices were dedi- cated. For example, Tikal in the Petén, the largest and perhaps oldest of Maya sites, consists of courts and plazas arranged in some eight groups upon an area between two and three miles in diameter. A cross section from south to north43 through the most densely built región reveáis the site as a cluster of acropolis platforms of artificial construction, sep­ arated by natural ravines and by sunken plazas. Between acropolis and sunken plaza, the plat­ forms and buildings rise in graded ranges, leading from large, lower courtyards to progressively smaller but higher courtyards, and ultimately, to the diminutive temple chambers surmounting the great pyramidal platforms. Among the various building groups, the ravines and valleys are span- ned by immense causeways, both level and graded, leading from level to level. At Copán, on the other hand, where the level river valley gave no marked natural differences of contour, the builders slowly constructed an ar­ tificial hill over 30 meters high, covering twelve acres of ground, and rising from the river by a now lost grand stairway.44 The Usumacinta river valley sites, at Piedras Negras, Yaxchilán, and Palenque, all enjoyed the rolling contours of a narrow river valley. H ere the Maya builders of the Classic stage could most easi- ly achieve the ascending ranks of courts rising in hierarchic order from the lowest esplanades and plazas to the highest temple buildings overlooking the smaller, more withdrawn and lofty quad- rangles.45 Thus, in ancient America, architecture was endowed with a kind of dimensionality lacking

in much Oíd World building, that is, the artificial height of the building grade above the natural site grade.

4. In general terms, the American designer was

far more sensitive to certain spatial aspects of ar­ chitecture than the European builder. It is ax- iomatic that any building creates a surrounding space. Strictly considered, the spaces engendered between and among buildings have not often been regarded as significant in European architecture. In American Precolumbian building they were treated as a primary source of architectural effect. The American Indian architect was restricted by technology to the assembling of solid masses, but in the operations of design, he was infinitely more attentive to their harmonious combination than the Europeans. This special field in which the American excelled was the achievement of large and rhythmically ordered open volumes. The open volume, composed by richly articu- lated surfaces and related by storied changes of level, is the most strikingly developed formal as- pect of ancient American building. Painstaking at- tention to the spatial forms among edifices is lack­ ing at no major architectural site in ancient Amer­


To summarize, the principal formal aspects of Maya architecture concern the dominance of masses over the enclosed rooms, in a system of poorly differentiated functional building types, organized by striking differences of level and height, and deliberately composed in respect to the spatial environment generated between or among edifices.


1 Kosok and Reiche 1947, pp. 204-05; Reiche 1949, fig.


2 Lundell 1934, pp. 177-82, fig. 3.

3 Gamio 1922, vol. I, pl. 8.

4 Ricketson and Ricketson 1937, fig. 198.

5 Tozzer 1913, pl. 33. Shepard 1948, p. 221.

6 Morley 1937-38, vol. V, pt. 2, pl. 196a.

7 Villa 1934, pl. 9.

8 Shepard 1948, p. 221.

9 Ricketson and Ricketson 1937, fig. 33.

10 Marquina 1951, p. 848.

11 Ruppert and Denison 1943, pl. 69.

12 Gamio 1922, vol. I, pl. 12.


Ancient America

13 Marquina 1951, pp. 541—44.

14 Covarrubias 1946, p. 92.

15 Blom 1924.

16 Ricketson and Ricketson 1937, fig. 68. Morley 1946, pp.


17 Ruppert and Denison 1943, p. 5. Ricketson and Ricket­ son 1937, p. 107.

18 Schroeder 1955, pp. 156-61. Blom 1932, pp. 486-530.

Satterthwaite 1944, pp. 3 -7.

19 Tozzer 1913, p. 170, fig. 55.

20 Marquina 1951, p. 763. Holmes 1895—97, pp. 80-96.

21 Ruz Lhuillier 1945, p. 40, holds that the Puuc-type quad- rangle at Dzehkabtun (Chenes district) is of the Nunnery type.

22 Marquina 1928, p. 67.

23 Tozzer 1911, pl. 29, structures 74-77.

24 Maudslay 1889-1902. Holmes 1895-97, pp. 167-86, pl. XXIV.

25 Satterthwaite 1935. Proskouriakoff 1946, no. 4. Morley 1937-38, vol. V, p. 2, pl. 202.

26 Ricketson and Ricketson 1937, p. 34.

27 Morley 1937-38, vol. III, p. 450; vol V, p. 2, pl. 207.

28 Holmes 1895-97, pp. 227-79.

29 Ruppert 1943, figs. 1-2.

30 Acosta 1945, pp. 23—64.

31 Marquina 1951, p. 313. Rubín la Borbolla 1953, pp. 134—


32 Fejos 1944, fig. 10 (Inty Pata).

33 Marquina 1951, p. 747 (Sayil).

34 Vaillant 1939, pl. 41.

35 Holmes 1895-97, figs. 54-57.

36 Ruppert 1935, p. 275.

37 Spinden 1913, figs. 142-43.

38 Tozzer 1913, pp. 112-13.

39 Gamio 1922, vol. I, pl. 53.

40 Caso 1935, pp. 13-14.

41 Andrews 1942, pp. 262—63.

42 Covarrubias 1946, p. 91. Stirling 1940; 1943.

43 Tozzer 1911, pl. 30.

44 Stromsvik 1947, p. 63.

45 Proskouriakoff 1946, no. 4.

46 Contrast the situation in classical G reek architecture as analyzed by R. Scranton 1949, p. 252.

jAn addition to the remarks on columnar spaces (pp. 247-48) is my “Serpent and Atlantean Columns: Symbols of Maya- Toltec Polity,” Journal of the Society of Architecturai Histo­ rian, 41:2 (1982), 9 3 -1 1 5 .—g k ]


Polygenesis and Diffusion:

Courtyards in Mesoamerican Architecture

The recent revival of diffusionist arguments for American antiquity, sponsored by R. Heine- Geldern and G. Ekholm, depends mainly upon visual comparisons to prove the Oíd World origins of New World civilizations in Precolumbian time. Both Ekholm and Heine-Geldern proposed Southeast Asian origins for many American archi- tectural forms. I have suggested that for every one of these an older European parallel can also be proposed (trefoil corbelled arches, miniature roofed buildings inside temples, sacred tree or cross forms, colonnette decorations, Atlantean supports, and mouth-shaped doorways). The the- sis of Asiatic origins is thereby diluted to include the entire Oíd World. Thus the Asiatic “focus” loses both precisión and meaning.1To trace these themes through long evolutions in America re- mains difficult or impossible. To this list of visual parallels I propose now to add courtyard designs. In order to be consistent the diffusionists would have to argüe from visual similarities between the Román atrium house and the colonnaded courtyard designs of México and Yucatán, that the two are historically related. They would also have to produce Southeast Asian links for the chain of diffusion. It is my contention that the two forms are unrelated, both historically and visually, being independently convergent rather than causally related, as I shall prove by a re- capitulation of the history of courtyards in ancient America. This topic has the great advantage over others of allowing us to examine many successive links in coherent traditions of design both in the Oíd World and in America. This is still not possi- ble with Olmec and similar motifs, upon which the

diffusionists have anchored many of their conten- tions. As an architecturai form, the courtyard throughout history displays an extremely wide range of possibilities. The elements of courtyard design are few and simple, yet their expressive range, as determined by the historical examples, is practically unlimited, like the expressive range of black-to-white gradations in pictorial schemes. The courtyard not only documents the fundamen­ tal modes of social organization, but also serves to perpetúate and intensify any given mode. The archetypal basis of all courtyard composi- tions, where the effort is made to mark off a re- served area, is the precinct.2 Every civilization and every generation produces its own variations upon this fundamental monumental mode. Essentially the precinct is an enclosure open to the sky above; its scale, height, chambering, and ornament affect the expressive meaning. The variations may be secured in the boundary, in the enclosure, or in the environs. The boundary may be continuous or broken in various ways. The enclosure may be a raised platform or a sunken garden or a stairway of terraces, depending upon the designer’s desire for focused or diffuse atten- tion in the occupants. In relation to its surround- ings a courtyard may reflect a wish either for pri- vacy and retreat or for connectedness with the environs, by means of gaps and leaks in the bound­ ary. Among all these modulations, the most signifi- cant elements in the consideration of ancient American courtyards would seem to be the units of which the boundary is formed; the intervals or



Ancient America

gaps between these units; and the differences among inner and outer floor-levels.


A useful sequence among Mesoamerican architec­ tural groupings emerges from study of the corners in courtyard designs. Courts3 with open corners characterize the oldest and simplest groupings of platforms, as at La Venta (fig. 111-45), the Olmec site in Southern Veracruz, or Oztoyahualco near Teotihuacán. Closed platform corners, achieved by continuous construction, first appear during the Classic era, as at the Ciudadela of Teotihuacán (fig. II1-46). Further examples of open— and closed— cor- nered platform composition appear at Monte Al- bán (fig. 111-47). The mountaintop acropolis de­ fines an oblong court. Its narrow south end is highest, rising as an asymmetric cluster of pyra­ mids. At the north end, another cluster of plat­ forms surrounds a sunken court separated from the main plaza by a barrier platform. The east range is lined with great stairways and the west side has three freestanding elements. Of these the northern group, called System IV, and the Southern end, called Mound M, reflect the arrangement of the whole acropolis upon a smaller scale. The assemblage of platforms might be de­ scribed as an amphitheater composition, affording privacy and enclosure to large gatherings of peo- pie whose attention centers upon a dominant stair- way and temple at the end or in the center of the enclosure. The essential parts are barrier plat­ forms with closed corners at the front and sides and a stagelike elevation either at the rear or in the center. In orientation and grouping, the entire de­ sign bears a striking resemblance not only to the Ciudadela of Teotihuacán (fig. 111-46), but also to the Olmec grouping at La Venta in Southern Ve­ racruz (fig. 111-45), where the northward succes- sion of pyramidal elevation, long court, and north­ ern precinct are geometrically identical, although less imposing than at Teotihuacán and Monte Albán. Another similar grouping appears at Tikal in the Perdido Quadrangle, where the south end of the Morley Causeway is without doubt a pyramid and

forecourt grouping. It is also tempting in this con- nection to include the Palomas Group at Uxmal, where the pyramid and its court are separated from a lower forecourt by a barrier platform to the north, very much in the manner of Tikal, Monte Albán, and La Venta. When we consider courtyards surrounded not alone by platforms, but also by true buildings, the same difference between open-cornered designs and closed-cornered structures reappears, but it is transposed to a later era. For instance, the building courtyard at Tikal,4 now called Group F, has open corners, like the Nunnery at Uxmal. These build­ ings both may be regarded as works of the Classic era, prior to the Mexican—Maya period at Chichén Itzá. Unique among Classic Maya examples of closed-cornered quadrangle construction is the “Palace” building of Palenque, where the doubled vaults turned both corners in the northern range. O f the córner piers here nothing survives, and the exact date of the construction is still uncertain, but the design differs radically from that of all other Maya courtyard buildings in having a colonnaded exterior córner. At Monte Alban (fig. 111-47) two examples of closed-cornered quadrangle buildings confront each other across the Southern end of the main plaza. The courtyard building atop the Danzantes Mound has eight chambers. Mound S bears a square building with possibly fourteen chambers. Only the foundation walls are determined. A model in stone (Marquina 1951, p. 347) probably reports the original appearance of these build­ ings, which are placed more like temples than like dwellings, although their plans closely resemble the many dwelling groups scattered about the northern shoulders of Monte Alban, such as the house group which rises above Tomb 105. To the developmental interpretation of these house group plans we shall return in a moment. For the time being, their superficial resemblance to the Mediterranean atrium house may be noted. Mitla (fig. 111-48) is another site where a shift from open corners to closed ones may be assumed. The Southern and western groups are open quad- rangles of Classic date (Monte Alban III). The other edifices all belong to a later period, probably

Polygenesis and Diffusion


Post-Classic and pre-Toltec. These later buildings form three groups, each composed of three quad- rangles. From north to south, they are the Church Group, the Group of the Columns, and the Ar­ royo Group. Their chronology has never been es- tablished beyond doubt, but if we distinguish

loose from tight organization, two stylistic phases emerge. Courts E and F have widely opened cor- ners. In Courts A, B, and C and G, H, and I the corners are closed without being turned. In Court

D the corners are closed by interlocking cham-

bers. The exterior effect suggests a suburban villa, jealous of privacy, turning closed walls upon the visitor, not seeking a coherent space with the neighboring edifices.

Similar to these closely linked courts are the buildings discovered by Noguera at Xochicalco

and called the Palace (fig. 111-49). As in Court D at Mitla, the corners are closed by chambers which, however, never turn the córner, so that no room has a bent or angled axis.5 The newly excavated Palacio de las Mariposas at Teotihuacan, near the southwest córner of the Moon Pyramid, was announced to newspapers in July 1962 by its discoverer, Jorge Acosta. This square courtyard, surrounded by twelve square piers, seems to belong to the type of those at Chichén and Tula, but its emplacement and the sculptural forms strongly suggest a date prior to a .d . 700, when Teotihuacan was abandoned. Un­

til further information is available, the Mariposas

Court appears to be the earliest known example of the peristyle type, datable for the time being be­ tween the Middle and Late Classic periods, ap- proximately a .d . 600—700. Surely later than these Classic period edifices of Monte Alban, Teotihuacan, and Mitla are the per­ istyle Toltec buildings of Chichén Itza and Tula. The excavator at Chichén, K. Ruppert,6 calis the Mercado (fig. 111-50) a “gallery-patio,” and he asks if it and other similar structures at Chichén Itza may not have served as judicial courts connected with marketplace activities. H e fixed the date of the Mercado type at Chichén Itza after the open- ing of the twelfth century. The excavator at Tula, J. R. Acosta, discovered a similar but smaller patio building (fig. 111-51) forming part of the extensive “palace” built upon

a platform adjoining Mound B.7 Two other

colonnaded chambers, Rooms 2 and 3, have rec­ tangular impluvium bases like those of Structures 3-B-3 and 3-B-8 at the Mercado and at Chichén Itza.8 All these courts resemble ceremonial en- closures more than houses. Their proximity to important public spaces and temple buildings makes it unlikely that they were used as dwellings, either at Chichén or at Tula.9 The question nevertheless remains: how to ex- plain the superficial resemblances between Medi- terranean atrium houses and Mesoamerican court­

yard buildings. That they are only formal conver- gences rather than functional similarides will emerge from the following considerations.


The M editerranean atrium house was unknown in ancient America. The distinguishing trait in the Román house10 is that the adjoining chambers

continuously surround an axial, central court. The court is like a cavity in the body of the dwelling. The house as a whole was a body, with an envelope surrounding the cavity. It sheltered household fires, allowing the smoke to escape overhead, while the pitched roofs shed rainwater into the impluvium, or square courtyard basin. Nothing suggests that the Román house aróse as a coalition

or unión of houses.11 It seems always to have been unitary, from Mesopotamian examples onward, without separate component traditions. It was

never a resolution or unification of previously dis- connected parts. O ur Mexican and Maya courtyards, on the other hand, emerge from a different tradition of domes- tic architecture. Instead of the archetype of the house-body, as in the Román dwelling, we en- counter another process of formation to which we may give the ñame of the house-cluster. It is clear­

ly evident at Teotihuacan, in the newly excavated

Tzacualli-period settlement of Oztoyahualco,12 where Plaza 1 has a radiocarbon date about the time of Christ. Three house mounds form a court­ yard with open corners. The south side is defined by a low platform spanning the court. Similar dis-

positions seem to have been normal at Tikal,13and they governed, as we might expect, the arrange-


Ancient America

ment of temple







This review of Mesoamerican courtyard types


Later on at Teotihuacán the big house clusters at Tlamimilolpa and Xolalpan span perhaps five cen- turies, and in them both we can read the same process of clustering among separate units around a common courtyard, whose originally open cor- ners gradually were blocked with secondary con- structions.15 This process is most clearly docu- mented at the Atetelco house ruin (fig. 111-52), where colonnaded vestibules (roofed?) led out from the northern courtyard corners. O ther stages in the process of the filling of the corners are docu- mented in the Viking Group and in the 1917


displays a long seriation of which the linkages are still unclear. Yet the main movement from open-

cornered to closed-cornered courtyards is unmis- takable— first in respect to the platforms, and later repeated in the compositions of the buildings themselves. The first evolution perhaps began in Southern Veracruz, and it was probably complete by the period of Teotihuacán II (Miccaotli phase) before about a . d . 300. The second stage, in the closing of the corners of courts formed by build­ ings, was probably not achieved until the building of the “Palace” at Palenque long after a .d . 500. The peristyle court of M editerranean architecture appears in ancient America first at Teotihuacan,

Linné estimated the Tlamimilolpa ruin as having over three hundred rooms. Their arrangement is less regular than at Xolalpan, which belongs to a later period, but at both groups, the principie of accretion reflects a fundamental clustering upon three faces of a rectangular precinct, as at Oztoya- hualco. In this connection the house-group ruins at Monte Albán are clearly house-clusters, sym- metrically surrounding small sunken quadrangle courts, and more open on the eastern entrance face. Perhaps the clearest of all documents for the Precolumbian house-cluster in Mesoamerica are the sixteenth-century drawings reporting the form of Aztec palace compounds. One of these, in the agave-paper Mapa de Quinatzín (fig. 111-53), por- trays a palace of Texcoco during the reign of Nezahualpilli at the cióse of the fifteenth century. The date of the actual drawing is 1542—46.17 The sense of an open-cornered courtyard surrounded by platforms, each with its row of chambers, is accurately portrayed without European perspec- tive conventions. It is a house-cluster arranged around a public place, and nothing in it suggests the organic unity of the atrium plan of the Medi­ terranean world. Codex Mendoza, which was painted on Euro- pean paper after 154218 contains a perspective rendering of Montezuma’s palace on two levels in the new European style of drawing, but it too re­ cords the house-cluster of Precolumbian antiq­ uity, uncontaminated by European ideas of the Mediterranean atrium house.

. 700, and again much later on, after

a .d . 1200, at Chichén Itza and Tula without any historical connection. In regard to house groups, the evidence suggests that courtyard clusters are the tradidonal mode, and that resemblances to the atrium-type house of other world areas are both fragmentary and fortuitous. In conclusión, the case is a useful and important one, for it allows us to observe many stages in the process of convergence, whereby two traditions, initially distinct, different, and unrelated, even- tually arrived at approximate resemblance. The diffusionist argument, on the other hand, is like assuming a cióse blood relationship between per­ sons who look alike, although born many cen- turies apart, of different races, and on different continents.

before a . d


1 The most complete statement of the new diffusionist ar- guments is the group of essays entitled Asia and North

America: Transpacific Contacts, comp. Marian W. Smith,

Society for American Archaeology, Memoirs, no. 9 (Salt Lake City, 1953). For the argument based upon motifs appearing in art, see the essay by Gordon Ekholm entitled “A Possible Focus of Asiatic Influence in the Late Classic Cultures of Mesoamerica,” ibid., pp. 72—89- To be added to his bibliography are the major works by C. Hentze,

de la Chine antique et de l’Amertque

Rituels, croyances

(Antwerp, 1936); Miguel Covarrubias, The Eagle, thejag uarand the Serpent (New York, 1934);Harold S. Gladwin, Excavations at Snaketown (Globe, 1937). The most com­ plete diffusionist statement by a modern art historian is the essay by R. Wittkower, “Eagle and Serpent: A Study in

Polygenesis and Diffusion


the Migration of Symbols,” Journal of the Warburg and

CourtauldInstitutes, II (1938-39), 293—325. See also the three articles by R. Heine-Geldern: “Representations of

the Asiatic Tiger in

nese Influences on the Pottery of México 10); and “Chínese Influences in México



" (I, 321—26); “Chí­

" (I, 207— the Tajín

" (I, 195—206), in XXXIII International Con-

gress ofAmericanists, SanJosé, Costa Rica, 1958, Proceedings (San José, Costa Rica, 1959). My arguments appear in Art and Architecture ofAncient America (Baltimore, 1962), pp. llff.

2 G. Kubler, “The Design of Space in Maya Architecture,” Miscellanea Paul Rivet (México, 1958), II, 515—31.

3 “A more or less level and more or less square or rec­ tangular area fairly set apart by platform and/or building walls on two or more adjacent sides” (L. Satterthwaite, Piedras Negras Archaeology: Architecture, part 1. no. 1 {Philadelphia: University Museum, 1943], p. 17.

4 Linton Satterthwaite, in litt., writes that its “veneer ma- sonry is a safe indicator of "Late Classic!” To date only the survey and related field notes have been accomplished by the Tikal project.

5 I. Marquina, Arquitectura prehispánica (México, 1951), lám. 44.

6 K. Ruppert, "The Mercado, Chichén Itzá, Yucatán,” Car­ negie Institution of Washington, Publication 546: Contribu­ tions to American Anthropology and History, VIII, no. 43 (1943), 223-60.

7 J. Acosta, “La tercera temporada de exploraciones ar­ queológicas en Tula, Hidalgo, 1942,” Revista Mexicana de Estudios Antropológicos, VI, no. 3 (1944).

8 O f the other examples, only the Chultun-Group structure qualifies as a clearly defined courtyard type; the others (6- E-3, 5-B-19, and 2-D-6) all are colonnaded chambers, while 5-B-17 has two galleries but no colonnaded patio.

9 Another peristyle court like those of Tula and Chichén is at La Quemada in Zacatecas, with twelve cylindrical col­ umns of stone spalls. See Marquina, Arquitectura pre­ hispánica, lám. 72 and fot. 97.

10 H. D rerup, “Bildraum und Realraum in der rómischen Architektur,” Rómiscbe Mitteilungen, LXVI (1959), 147— 74; and A. K. Lake, “The Origin of the Román H ouse,”

American Journal of Archaeology, XLI (1937), 509-601. The oldest known example of courtyard houses of this type is in Southern Mesopotamia, dated 2800 B.c. by ra- diocarbon. P. Delougaz, The Temple Oval at Chafajah,

Oriental Institute Publications, LIII (Chicago, 1940), pl.


11 The idea that the tablinum was originally a hut and the atrium a fenced-in courtyard in front of the hut has been discarded by Román archaeologists in favor of the idea of an “organic whole which developed independently from a simple origin” (Lake, “Origin of the Román H ouse,” p.


12 R. Millón, “The Beginnings of Teotihuacán,” American Antiquity, X XVI (1960), 1-10.

E. Hazard, “Map of the Ruins o f Tikal,”

13 R. F. Carr and J.

Tikal Report, no. 11, Museum Monographs, The Univer­ sity Museum (Philadelphia, 1961).

14 O. G. Ricketson, Jr., and E. B. Ricketson, Uaxactun, Guatemala, Group E, 1926—1931, Carnegie Institution of Washington, Publication 477 (Washington, 1937), es­ pecially figure 22.

15 S. Linné, Mexican Highland Cultures: Archaeological Re­ searches at Teotihuacán, Calpulalpan, and Chalchicomula in 1934—35 (Stockholm, 1942), pp. 91-123; also Archae­ ological Researches at Teotihuacán (Stockholm, 1934), pp. 40—49. R. Millón and J. A. Bennyhoff, “A Long Architec­ tural Sequence at Teotihuacán,” American Antiquity, X X VII (1961), 561. L. Séjourné, Un palacio en la ciudad de los dioses (México, 1959).

16 I. Marquina, Arquitectura prehispánica, lam. 25.

17 D. Robertson, Mexican Manuscript Painting of the Early Colonial Period: The Metropolitan Schools (New Haven,

1959), p. 139.

18 Ibid., pl.

26 and pp. 95


¡In reply to an article by B. M undkur appearing in Current Anthropology this year, I mentioned “Isomorphy Before Diffu­ sion,” which will appear in Notas Mesoamericanas (México; in press in Spanish). The argument is that visual resemblances merit comparative study without assuming the diffusion of isolated traits taken out of context.— g k ]


Precolumbian Mural Painting

It is fairly clear today that fígural elements are older in Maya wall painting than in vase painting. Both these are older than the illustrations in manuscripts. W hether the same sequence— wall painting first, followed by fígural vase painting, and concluded by illustrated books— also holds for highland México is still impossible to prove. The truth is that we know far less about wall paint­ ing— the presumptive source of painted conven- tions— than about pottery painting, which has received the most attention because of the abun- dance of the remains. The question I would like to examine is whether clearly marked stages can be found within the de- velopment of mural painting, stages like those which have been postulated for pottery painting. In fact, among the many kinds of ancient Ameri­ can art found by archaeologists in the past century, mural paintings were the last to be discovered. In the Maya country, rain and vegetation destroyed them, and in México, the oíd walls were broken and were consumed by fire and covered by drifting earth. When H enri Beuchat published his Manuel d’archéologie américaine in 1912, he meant it to be a defmitive synthése of all that was known. W ithout reproducing them, he knew only of the Maya muráis discovered at Chacmultun by E. H. Thompson in 1904. H e also mentioned the wall paintings in the Temple of the Tigers at Chichén Itzá, which he reproduced only in a small Sunday- supplement sample of that rich series of scenes. Finally, he illustrated a painted frieze in a dubious drawing from the walls of Chan-Chan on the north coast of Perú.1 In 1943, about thirty years later, Pal Kelemen had little more to say. H e relegated muráis to a

short chapter near the end of his survey, and he illustrated only ten sites, including two in the southwestern United States but none in Perú.2 By 1946 the repertory compiled by Salvador Toscano,3 the Mexican art historian, listed twenty- two Mexican and Maya buildings with wall paint­ ings. But in that same year, Giles Healey dis­ covered a building entirely decorated with Maya muráis at Bonampak in the State of Chiapas. This event transformed all prior notions about Maya wall painting. Bonampak was immediately recog- nized as a masterpiece of world art, and the study of these extraordinary scenes is still in progress.4 In 1958, UNESCO published an álbum on Pre­ columbian paintings in México. They are divided into four geographic and cultural groups: the Teo­ tihuacan style, the Toltec-Aztec style, the Classi- cal-Maya school, and the Maya-Toltec style. The classing is ethnic, by tribe or people. There is no mention of the position of the style of Monte Al- ban, although two of the tomb paintings there are splendidly illustrated. All the plates are of actual frescoes, newly photographed.5 The examples now known all display clearly the whole system of ancient American pictorial con- ventions. W hether in México or in Maya country, the system always depends upon outline drawing, colored in fíat, local tones, without gradations of light and shade and without the illusion of round- ed bodies achieved by gradated color. Many more paintings have been discovered since 1946, especially at Teotihuacan, and their appearance suggests the outlines of an interpreta­ tion which considers form and content simul- taneously, under a classing by pictorial systems instead of by subject or tribe.


Precolumbian Mural Painting



Still lacking are any integral remains of the art in its earliest stages. In the Valley of México, the oldest large mural is probably a destroyed fresco found in a lower level construction at the Temple of Agri- culture at Teotihuacan. It exists today only in a copy (fig. 111-54). The fresco probably was painted in the period called Teotihuacan II, during a 500- year span between 250 b .c . and a .d . 250. Unfor- tunately, we have no idea of the preparatory stages leading to this astonishing design, which I will dis- cuss below in more detail, ñor have other exam­ ples of this type been recovered. Among Maya muráis, that in Structure B XIII at Uaxactun (fig. 111-55) likewise is our earliest regional example, and it records an advanced moment in the history of Maya wall painting. The pottery and architec­ ture found with the mural place its date between the fourth and the sixth centuries a .d . depending upon the choice of correlation with Christian time. Likewise at Monte Alban in Oaxaca two frescoed tombs survive (fig. 111-56). The earlier one was painted about a .d . 500. Thus we have to begin everywhere with mature or even late examples of painting. For the earlier stages, the prior ceramic history sometimes suggests the presence of a lost art of monumental painting, but it would be much

less justified to attem pt to

coes from vase paintings in America than in Per- iclean Greece. There the attempt is warranted by texts describing lost paintings. Yet we now know numbers of muráis in America, probably more than in classical Greece, and it seems justified to try to discuss them as a group.

reconstruct lost fres-


It is now apparent that Teotihuacan in the Valley of México was the metrópolis for highland Méx­ ico, radiating upon the early Maya settlements and upon those of Oaxaca in Southern México. The simplest división of its long history is by Pre-Clas-

sic, Classic, and Post-Classic periods, spanning about 1,500 years, from 600 b . c . until about a . d .

900. The early period embraces 600—200 b . c .; the

middle or Classic period endured from about 200 B.c: until the seventh century a . d ., when the great site was burned and largely abandoned. A Post- Classic era followed the seventh century. At Teo­ tihuacán proper, the muráis appear at the cere­ monial center itself, as well as in the outlying sub- urbs surroundingTeotihuacán, and they all belong to the Classic period, 200 b . c .—a .d . 700. At Monte Albán the third period corresponds to Teotihuacán II and III, without usable subdivi- sions. This duration is insufficiently defined both at the beginning and at the end. In Maya territory, the dating of the frescoes at Bonampak and at Chichén Itzá is equally uncertain. A possible error of several centuries still beclouds their position in time, yet there is agreement that Bonampak was painted between a . d . 550 and 810. The frescoes of Chichén Itzá in Yucatán were painted between

a . d . 1000 and about

quence in that period is still uncertain. The de­ stroyed muráis of Santa Rita are the least certain of all: the accepted date has long been late fourteenth or early fifteenth centuries, although a case can be made for their being as early as the tenth century. Henee, wherever we look, uncertainties of dating are present, and it is very diffícult to be sure which carne first, and which affected the others, so that it is best to consider the types of mural painting without trying to fix their dates more exactly than the tools of chronology now allow. Perhaps the

pattern of distribution among the types we dis- cussed earlier will allow us to define more clearly than others have the question of those regional peculiarities in painting, which emerge when for­ mal types are considered. Others, like Salvador Toscano6 in 1944, prefer- ring to go by subjeets, have classed these paintings as decorative, mythological, and historical. But this classing by subject matter immediately blind- ed students to the formal organization of the frescoes and therefore to their functional signifi- cance and to their historical derivations. Several distinct types of pictorial system emerge from a study of these muráis. The main ones are:

friezes, processions, scenes, narrative registers, and illustrations. Each of these terms needs some definition.

1260, but their exact se­


Ancient America


A frieze is a band of decoration composed of re-

peatingelements, occupying an architectural field, such as a cornice or a door frame (figs. 111-78 and III-l 11 are friezelike). It is probably the oldest type of wall painting. It surely occurred long be­ fore the invention of pictorial scenes, although we still lack any intact examples of great antiquity in America. The function of the frieze is to strike the atten­ tion by repeating the same shape, and it serves the same purpose as ritual and liturgy. Often, when its elements display bilateral symmetry (fig. III-l 11), the effect is static, but when the elements are asymmetrical (fig. 111-78), their repetition will take the eye in the direction suggested by each form. In friezes, this directional property is unor- ganized, in not being exploited beyond the sim- plest suggestion of passage from one part of a space to another. Painted friezes as defined here seem rare every- where excepting at Teotihuacán, where they are very common. Elsewhere friezes are Iikely to be made of stone elements composed for striking chiaroscuro effects, as at Tajín, Mitla, or Uxmal. In Maya territories, painting was reserved for pro- tected interiors and for the enhancement of monu­ mental sculpture, as at Piedras Negras, where the reliefs were colored green and red. For the pre­ sent, Teotihuacán seems to have been an originat- ing center of Precolumbian wall painting. Con- tinuing excavations will probably show that this apparent concentration is merely an accident of preservation.


A procession can be described as a directionally

organized figural band. It contains a variety of ele­ ments or variations upon an element, instead of the redundant monotony of the frieze proper. The procession usually has profile figures shown in motion from both sides toward a center, thus con- taining varied actions of a high degree of unity

within a banded space. Friezelike files of priests, warriors, or animals, who converge upon a shrine

or image with attributes or offerings are common forms. Sacrificial processions are common at Teotihua­ cán (fig. III-l 17 is part of a procession), and they recur in the tombs of Monte Albán (fig. 111-56). These are both of Classic date and prior to the seventh century a .d . The two pictorial traditions are closely related. The same type, with Indian-file warriors and priests converging from both sides, appears frequently at Chichén Itzá during the Toltec Maya period and at Tula, northwest of México City. At both places, the type may be dated in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. It probably had a connection with the ball-game courts which were so important in Post-Classic civilization throughout Mesoamerica. Henee pro- cessional compositions of this kind seem related to the ascendancy of highland Mexican peoples in Mesoamerican archaeological history. Painted reliefs commonly appear among the Toltec Maya processional compositions. Painting alone is both evanescent and fugitive, but it can be made more durable by applying it to relief sculp­ ture in a more monumental expression. But in that case it becomes cosmetic, for the artist has turned his attention away from painting as the primary illusion and towards sculptural problems such as raised line or the intaglio field, with new relations to changing sources of light. The technical condi- tions are different, and the forms therefore differ.


Unlike friezes or processions, scenes describe places with figures in varied actions. A scene may

describe one place or several within the same frame, but some indication of place is essential. It does not accompany the spectator, as the frieze does, but it arrests him, by drawing his attention from the setting to the action portrayed.

of function there is

often Iikely to be a difference of forms. The func­ tion of the frieze is to command attention by re­

peating the same shape. A scene marshals the spectator’s attention al- together differently. The function of the scene is to absorb the onlooker into its variegated system.

W here there is a difference

Precolumbian Mural Painting


If a frieze resembles ritual and liturgy, a scene resembles dramatic art. As ritual is typologically older than drama, so is the frieze older than the scene, without ever being displaced or replaced by the newer function. H enee friezes and scenes may be regarded as different form-classes within ancient American painting. The frieze usually appears subordinated to buildings, to vessel forms, and to textiles. But the scene fixes attention more firmly upon its own character as coherent illusion, and it requires a setting undisturbed by other fields of interest. The mural found at a lower level of Teotihuacan, later built over so that the oíd walls survived with their paintings beneath the new buildings, may be the earliest fully developed scene we know

(fig. 111-54). It is known today only in a copy made in 1886.7 The original has nearly disappeared through weathering. The scene was painted no later than the Early Classic period, that is, about

a .d .

300, as we know from the presence of an

image of a tripod cylinder vessel of that period. In the scene, a perspective system similar to that of Egyptian Oíd Kingdom painting is in use. The main elements are clearly represented. Statues limit the field, and in front of them are funerary pyres, where mummy bundles are being burned. Between the pyres there are personages who make bread and bring offerings, and in the bottom register wavy forms represent water.8 A specific place and moment are represented. Another large scene painted at about the same time was discovered in 1942 in a house ruin of Tepantitla, a suburb of Teotihuacan.9 The mural consists of upper and lower registers. The upper half (figs. 111-74, 111-75) displays the figure of the raingod Tlaloc, flanked by censer-bearing priests from whose mouths come florid speech scrolls. These signify their prayerful songs to the god of fertility and germination, who stands upon a wavy sea filled with marine creatures. The lower half (fig. 111-73), according to Alfon­ so Caso, shows the souls of the dead rejoicing in their eternal home. At the center is a mountain upon a lake. In the lake are swimmers, and from the lake spring two rivers flowing in opposite di- rections. Each stream is studded with eye-shaped

forms, perhaps representing the bubbles of live water. The right-hand stream flows to a lake bor- dered by trees and flowers. Most of the figures sing and play games among butterflies. At the right a singer is shown who perhaps had just entered Paradise through the water of the lake, bearing a branch in his upraised hand. The animation of these figures may represent a latergeneration than the cremation scene. They recall the celebrated portrait figurines of the Middle Classic period at Teotihuacan, while those of the cremation scene evoke the figurines of the Early Classic period, or Teotihuacan II. To present knowledge, however, the painters of Teotihuacan did not compose scenes on several adjoining walls. This kind of pic­ torial extensión was perhaps a Classic Maya invention. Room 2 at Bonampak (figs. 111-57, 111-58), painted a century before the end of the Initial Se­ ries Period, has one of the most coherent mural scenes in the history of world painting. This battle- scene is a triptych, covering three walls. It de­ scribes a raid by Maya warriors upon a tribe of stringy-haired, dark-skinned folk who live in dense vegetation. Facing the triptych, on the en- trance wall, is the arraignment of the captives. The two scenes probably show related instants in the capture and public display of the same enemy at this border-station on the southwestern Maya frontier. The triptych is filled with the noise of battle, while the judgment is hushed and static. H ere all the figures are quiet, to hear the order pronounced by the prince who is ciad in a jaguar skin, pointing with his left hand. During the Toltec domination of the Maya peo- pie at Chichén Itza, from about a . d . 1000 until 1260, this Maya tradition of scenic composition was continued in the frescoes which adorned the Temple of the Warriors and the upper Temple of the Jaguars. But these differ from the art of Bo­ nampak in being small-figure designs. The sea coast village and the raid with its procession of captives, of probable twelfth-century date, in the Temple of the Warriors (fig. 111-59), recall certain conventions of the south Mexican manuscripts, usually identified as Mixtee, like Codex Nuttall, although their freedom and animation might also


Ancient America

bear comparison with the Paradise fresco of Teoti­ huacan. The Chichen Itza frescoes are today in fragmentary condition, and they can be studied only in watercolor reproductions made for the Carnegie Institution of Washington. About a century later, another generation of painters at Chichen Itza left a much more rhythmic system of crowded fígural action. The battle scene from the upper Temple of the Jaguars is one panel among seven, portraying a siege scene, two differ­ ent battles, and a paradise scene. The best pre- served (fig. 111-60) is a battle scene with about 120 figures grouped in eleven rows and eleven col- umns, making a rhythmic panorama of spearmen, whose attitudes are in sequence, like the frames oí a cinematic or stroboscopic action exposure. Our illustration, redrawn by Jean Charlot in the 1920s, shows the motions in question.


Another kind of wall painting, at least as oíd as the Early Classic period, before a .d . 300, is the nar- rative register. It consists of a banded succession of scenes, sharing a common ground line. Whe- ther or not the scenes are divided into separate panels, the register leads the spectator through a series of narrative events. Its relationship to the procession and to the scene is obvious: with pro- cessions, the register shares a linear order of fig­ ures, and with scenic painting it shares the detailed characterization of the setting. In other words, some registered narratives approach friezes, while others are scenic, always relative to the degree of figural variety developed within the register. The storytelling register can be either ritual or dramat- ic, according to its repetidousness or its variety. The oldest known Maya mural is a narrative reg­ ister (fig. 111-55). It carne to light in 1937 at Uaxac­ tun on the wall of a small unvaulted room. Ten and one-half feet long by three feet high, it is com- posed in two registers. At least twenty-six human figures appear, painted in five colors on a brown- ish-pink ground. Their gestures have an animadon lacking in sculpture of the same Early Classic peri­ od. For instance, the posture of the dancing dwarf in the upper register appears in sculpture only about a century later. There are three scenes: a

standing conference on the left; three seated per­ sons inside a house; and some dancers on the right, with a drummer and a dozen or more spectators. The figures are in three scales— large, médium, and small— corresponding perhaps to rank. At Bonampak (fig. 111-64), where the muráis were painted a century before the end of the Initial Series Period, only the central chamber contains the large-scene muráis discussed above. The end rooms of the building are decorated with narrative registers. Room 1 (figs. 111-61,111-62, and 111-64) shows robing scenes for important persons. At the level of the bench, files of musicians and atten­ dants face away from the door to converge upon the central personages at the center of the back wall. Over the doorway is a register with seated servants. On the rear wall an attendant displays a child to the white-robed courtiers. Every detail conveys a sense of preparation and rehearsal. The whole room concerns the private life of the court, revolving about the family of the prince. Cos- tumes, gestures, and expressions display a refined ritual of social behavior, governed by luxurious tastes and by a rigid code of manners. In Room 3 (fig. 111-63) the terraces of a pyra­ midal platform extend over three walls. The pyra­ mid has light stages rising between other plat­ forms. The terraced steps of the pyramid swarm with winged human figures wearing feather head- dresses and big wings suspended at their hips. On the end walls the scene is watched by a prince upon his dais, accompanied by family and servants and by a dwarf carried in a litter by a cluster of cos- tumed men. The general impression is of music, dancing, and pageantry, witnessed by important persons and centering upon a display of dancers. One whole act is drawing to an end; another will soon begin, to judge from the acrobats and tum- blers approaching from the left of the end wall. The question of the order of the painting of these three rooms is still an open one. Pros­ kouriakoff and Thompson suggested that Rooms 1, 2, and 3 were painted in that order, but Tozzer preferred to place Room 2 first, followed by Rooms 1 and 3. I wrote in 1962 that the register compositions of Room 1 ought to be the earliest, and the scenes later, as works of different periods and persons, in the order 1, 3, 2. I have now

Precolumbian Mural Painting


changed my mind, in the light of these com- parisons between muráis from different regions, because there is no proof now possible that the painters at Bonampak were inventing new pic­ torial solutions during the time the rooms were painted. It is more Iikely that different pictorial systems, corresponding to differences in subject matter, were employed during a brief time, say a year, when the rooms were all being painted. Closely similar to the muráis of Bonampak are paintings on the walls of a room at Mul-Chic, near Uxmal, 8.4 m. x 2.2 m. high, showing a battle with massacre and capture of prisoners, a priestly pro­ cession, and preparations for the sacrifice of pris­ oners. These scenes merge into one another along the length of the south wall, moving from right to left and continuing on the east wall. The narrative sequence clearly approaches a register composi­ tion of the same class as the end rooms of Bonam­ pak. On the strength of resemblances with dated costume traits of the Puuc región, Román Piña Chan10 ascribes them to the closing centuries of the Initial Series Period. H e sees the battle as oc- curring between traditional Puuc Maya people and Toltec intruders. The style of painting is for him a Puuc style at the end of the Initial Series Period, and therefore not too remóte in time from Bo­ nampak. The pictorial system at Mul-Chic reduces every narrative elem ent to a procession.


The end of the pictorial road seems generally to be book illustration, when the picture takes its orders from a written text. Ancient Maya manuscripts have solid pages of text perforated at intervals by text figures which ¡Ilústrate the meaning of the glyphs. Mexican manuscripts of Precolumbian date are genealogical, as Codex Bodley, or ritual, as Codex Borgia. In both cases the pictures follow apredeterm ined historical or calendrical text, rep­ resented by dates written with conventional signs. None of these is older than a . d . 1000, and it is clear that many pictorial conventions are shared alike by wall painters and manuscript illustrators. But if we accept this late dating of the Precolum­ bian manuscripts, their conventions must have been derived from those of the muralists.

Strangely hybrid wall paintings nearly five feet high once adorned thirty-five feet of the walls of a platform at Santa Rita in British Honduras (fig. 111-65), published by Thomas Gann in 1900.11 The glyph forms are Maya. The architectural pro- files recall Puuc Maya comparisons. The figural style, however, shows Mexican connections, per- haps closer to Mixtee sources than to Toltec ones. The contorted bodies, the angular costume panels, the rectilinear units, the high color in seven tones, and the enrichment by oversized tassels, garlands, feathers, and jewelry— all these give a strong sug- gestion of non-Maya models perhaps from the Mixteca in Oaxaca, like those of the type of Codex Borgia and the muráis of Mitla. Farther up the east coast at Tulum (fig. 111-66) are fragments of frescoed walls on buildings erec- ted during the eleventh or twelfth centuries. These frescoes resemble Codex Peresianus (fig. 111-67), one of the three Precolumbian Maya manuscripts, especially in the división of the wall by registers and compartments like those of the pleated, screenfold manuscripts. Muráis of fifteenth-century date offer an ex- traordinary demonstration of the relation between the manuscripts and the muráis. A mural from Tizatlan near Tlaxcala (fig. 111-68) and the Codex Borgia manuscript (fig. 111-69) include almost identical representations of the god Tezcatlipoca or his priest. Unfortunately, the remarkable iden­ tity gives no clue, internal or external, as to the direction of the relation, unless it is that wall paint­ ing and pottery painting both took leads at this time from book art, as we can see in other exam­ ples, like the book-sized frescoes on the lintels of Mitla (fig. 111-70). The latter closely correspond to Burgoa’s description of the way in which screen­ fold manuscripts were hung as wall decorations around the rooms of the houses before the Con- quest. But with these examples we are moving away from wall paintings as such to derivations from other arts, which happen to be painted on walls.


I have tried in this paper to demónstrate the vari- ety of types which coexisted in mural painting at all


Ancient America

points of its history during about 1,500 years. The dated examples forbid us to treat them as a devel- opmental sequence. Instead they are found to- gether at the same moment, suggesting in a way that each was suited to a different kind of meaning. Sacrifices and battles, which cali for many figures, often were shown as scenes in a deep-space per- spective. Processions, rituals, and narratives were more likely to be fitted into banded registers. The case of Bonampak proves that both modes existed simultaneously. Furthermore, the instances of muráis based upon book illustrations show that that problem is only a special case of the more general question of compositional schemes. We did not examine all possible schemes, but it is easy to see how the same schemes of composition reappear in other techniques, such as relief sculpture, book illustra- tion, metalwork, and pottery decoration. Yet if mural painting was for a long time the theater where formal innovations and developments first were devised and presented, then it is to mural painting rather than to ceramic history that we should look for the shaping events in the history of ancient Mesoamerican art. Ironically, the reverse has happened: the ar­ chaeological histories of Mexican and Maya ce­ ramic types are far more detailed and voluminous than the history of the wall painting, which proba- bly governed the pictorial decoration of pottery. It will be interesting in the long run to observe how the disciplines of the social sciences, with their stress upon statistical events, upon pots more than art, will eventually accommodate to the qualitative fact of the wall paintings studied here. For the present, the archaeologists have given us a detailed history of pottery types, but we still lack an inclusive history of ancient American painting, within which the history of painted pot­ tery is only one chapter. W hen that history can be written, if it ever can be written, the history of the muráis should be among its chief subjects.




Beuchat, Manueld’archéologieaméricaine: Amériquepré-

historique— Ch ilisations disparues (Paris, 1912).



Kelemen, Medieval American Art: A Survey in Two Vol­

umes (New York, 1943).


S. Toscano, Arte precolombino de México y América Central (México, 1944), pp. 552-75.



Ruppert, J. E. S. Thompson, and T. Proskouriakoff,

Bonampak. Chiapas, México, Carnegie Institution of

Washington, Publication 602 (Washington, 1955). Also


Villagra Caleti, “Las pinturas de Bonampak,” Cuader­

nos Americanos, VI (1947), 151—68.



Bernal, México: Pinturas prehispánicas, Colección

UNESCO de Arte Mundial (Paris, 1958).


Toscano, Arte precolombino, p. 325: (1) decorativos, (2) mitológicos, and (3) históricos o descriptivos. The latter includes historical scenes and religious ceremonies.


Leopoldo Batres, “N ouvelles fouilles á Téotihuacan,” Re- vue d’ethnographie, V (1886), 478; “Les fouilles operées á

Téotihuacan,” in Congrés international des Américanistes,



1906,A cta(Q uebec, 1908), Il,2 7 7 -8 2 ;a n d Teoti­


huacán o la ciudad sagrada de los Toltecas (México, 1906).



Seler, Gesammelte Abhandlungen zur amerikanischen

Sprach- und Altertumskunde (Graz, 1961), V, 411; M. Gamio, La Población del Valle de Teotihuacan (México, 1922), II; G. C. Vaillant, The Aztecs ofMéxico (New York, 1942), pl. 24. Seler interpreted the lateral figures as de- scending demons o f darkness; Gamio as cremation scenes; and Vaillant as water-goddesses. All were plausible and none is complete.


See A. Villagra Caleti, “Trabajos realizados en Teotihua­ cán, 1952,” Anales del Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, México, VI (1954), 6 9 -7 8 ; A. Caso, “El paraíso terrenal en Teotihuacán,” Cuadernos Americanos, I, no. 6 (1942), 127—36; and L. Séjourné, Un palacio en la ciudad de los dioses (México, 1959).


R. Piña Chan, “Algunas consideraciones sobre las pin­ turas de Mul-Chic, Yucatán,” Estudios de cultura Maya, IV (1964), 77-78.


Thomas Gann, “Mounds in N orthern H onduras,” 19th Annual Report, Bureau of American Ethnology (1897-981, part 2 (Washington, 1900), pp. 665—92.

[Princeton University Press will soon publish The Muráis of Bonampak, a dissertation at Yale by Mary Ellen Miller in

1981.—g k ]


The Iconography of the Art of Teotihuacán

The detailed meaning of the art of Teotihuacán remains a mystery. There are no texts coeval with its forms, and no image has been clearly or un- equivocally identified in the terms intended by its maker. Some students, like Laurette Séjourné, have tried to find a unitary or magic key to in- terpretation in cultural symbolism,1 and others, like Hasso von Winning, have approached the art by examining motifs for detailed comparative study.2 This paper will attem pt to define ico- nographic relationships rather than search for a single key to unlock all the meanings of Teotihua­ cán iconography, and rather than nibble at single themes. I wish to try an intermediare solution by attempting to describe the whole configuration and its internal relationships.


To begin, let us question one assumption that usu- ally governs the reading of Teotihuacán iconogra­ phy: that the faithful representation of biological species and daily objects was the primary concern of the artists of Teotihuacán,3 in spite of the pre- ponderance in that art of compound forms which have no counterpart in visible reality. We can proceed by listing those few representa- tions which are integral replicas of natural forms. The human figure appears most frequently from

Late Tlamimilolpa

sometimes without costume, as in the Paradise mural (fig. 111-7 3) of Tepantitla,5 but more com­ monly in costume, as priest (fig. III-l 17) or war­ rior (figs. 111-83 and 111-84), and often represent- ing or impersonating a deity (fig. 111-87), by bear­

(IIA—III, a . d .

3 0 0 —4 0 0 ) on,4


ing or wearing iconographical attributes such as butterfly wings, a conch (figs. 111-79 and 111-80), or an animal helmet. The helmet may be an eagle’s beak framing the face or a compound animal-head mask (fig. III-91)- In pottery figurines these elab- orations increase with time, becoming most con- spicuous in the Metepec (formerly Amantla) phase of Teotihuacan IV (fig. III-107). Serpents, birds, and jaguars are rarely shown naturally; they are symbolically compounded. Coyote, dog, frog, and eagle are present and there are several kinds of shells, as well as starfish and plant forms. Yet the delineation of these species rarely shows the natu­ ral form alone; it is usually combined with other delineations of species whose relationship is sym- bolic or ritual. Examples are the serpent-birds, double-bodied jaguars, and feathered jaguar-ser-

pents leaping in the waves of the muráis at the Temple of Agriculture (figs. 111-95 and 111-96). Thus the iconography of Teotihuacan advances in symbolic complication more than in naturalistic description. Even the delineation of the human figure is subjected to symbolic compounding of this kind. In addition to at least forty-five images of life forms, the repertory at Teotihuacan includes over fifty glyph-signs (see table III-l on pages 265-67) appearing singly and in combination. Most of these signs and images reappear in Veracruz, at Monte Alban, and at Xochicalco. Some, like the goggled rain figure and the seashell forms, appear at Early Classic sites in Guatemala, like Tikal, Ka- minaljuyu, and Lake Amatitlan, but their occur- rence is not noted in the table. {Kaminaljuyu is added in this editione d .] Teotihuacan shares


Ancient America

some of these forms only with Monte Alban, oth­ ers only with Veracruz, and still others only with Xochicalco. A few signs and figures occur in all four regions: a jaguar-man (fig. 111-85), an oíd man (fig. 111-90), crossed bands or nets (fig. III-l 17). The “year-sign” or “trapeze-and-ray,” a motif of interlacing iines common on Teotihuacan head- dresses (fig. 111-84), appears throughout Meso­ america (Caso 1958—59; 1962). Among com­ pound forms only the animal-helmet, composed of a jaguar muzzle with serpent fangs and round bird- or butterfly-eyes (fig. 111-91), recurs at Monte Alban, Xochicalco, and Chichén Itza. There are a few signs and images, both single and compound, that are peculiar to Teotihuacan alone. Single elements which do not appear else- where in México (except in the Maya area) are quetzal (fig. III-l09), water-drops (fig. 111-86), isolated human eyes (fig. 111-73), and tripled mountains (fig. III-102). Compound forms in- clude the feathered jaguar (fig. 111-92) and a ser- pent-bodied owl (fig. III-l09).


The entire repertory of pictorial expression at Teotihuacan supports the view that painters and sculptors were seeking forms of logographic clar- ity and simplicity. They were less interested in recording appearances than in combining and compounding associative meanings in a quest for viable forms of writing. H enee I shall stress the narrow range of pictorial motifs at Teotihuacan, the rarity of integral organic representations (about one in four), and the numerical impor­ tance of compound signs and symbols. No one has yet attempted a general soludon by constructing a linguistic model that would corre­ spond more or less accurately to all the systematic relationships without seeking detailed interpreta- tions of any single form. The present linguistic approach pretends to no high degree of accuracy but only to a probabilistic assessment of whether or not the various kinds of reoresentations can be related to one another. The linguistic model requires that each form be examined for its grammatical function, whether noun, adjective, or verb. It appears from this study

that among some one hundred signs and images (see Table III-1) at Teotihuacan, a majority is used as nominal expressions to describe beings, sub-

stances, and concepts. N ext most numerous are adjectival uses describing qualities and rank. Least common are verbal statements relating to opera- tions and actions, as when a jaguar-headed man approaches a temple upon a roadway marked with footprints (fig. 111-85) or when a spectacled rain- god warrior appears at a dancing platform indi- cated by scattered footprints (fig. 111-83). Such distribution of the parts of speech corresponds less to any narrative or exposition than to litany and liturgy, where the ñames of the deity and the worshiper’s petitions are pronounced with an abundance of nominal and adjectival forms and few verbal ones.

A litany consists of a recital of the ñames and

qualities of the deity being worshiped, together with the favors requested from it. The liturgy is an order of Service, specifying the sequence of the parts. To each deity special forms of address are used, and special favors are asked of it in return for properly performed rites and sacrifices. The litany is grammatically poor but it is rich in metaphors

and titles.

At Teotihuacan the mural scenes are arranged in

connecting rooms as at Zacuala or on ascending terraces (Sejoune 1959). This ordering strongly suggests liturgical sequence. Within each mural composition a principal theme or figure is evident, enriched by associated figures and by meaningful frames suggesting a recital of the powers of the deity, together with petitions to be granted by the god. We can assume that the images of Teotihua­ can desígnate complex liturgical comparisons, where powers, forces, and presences are evoked in metaphors or images. Several verbs are clearly shown, like praying, dancing (fig. 111-83), traveling (fig. II1-85), and sacrificing (fig. 111-54). Any further interpretation depends upon how we read the nouns and adjec- tives, and how we assess their importance or rank. The word-pictures can be divided into simple and compound forms, as well as frontal and profile images. Their composition obeys rhythms of alter­ naron and of fourfold and fivefold división. The context or level of discourse is indicated by frames

Table UI-1*











1. Raingod,

goggles only



£KJ =





2. Raingod, as warrior



3. Water female



4. Oíd male





[Early Xolalpan]


Fat male



[M etepec]

6. Shrouded head (Xipe?)


[Early Xolalpan]

7. Cleft head


8. Skeletal figure




[Late Xolalpan]

9. Club-footed figure



Bearded male

11. Warrior or hunter


[Late Tlamimilolpa]

12. Female containing figurines





[Late Tlamimilolpa]


Swimmers [Hunchback] [Heads]


[Early Xolalpan] [Late Xolalpan]

Other Life








16. Jaguar



17. Eagle


[M etepec




[M etepec



D og or coyote



20. Owl




21. Pisóte




23. Butterfly





[Late Xolalpan]

24. Starfish



25. Squid


26. Conch


Copan [KJ]

27. Pecten


[Late Tlamimilolpa]

28. Flower




[Tezoyuca ?]

29- Biznaga


30. Monkey


[Late Xolalpan]

31. Maguey


32. Frog

33. Turtle



34. Corn


[Cacao pods] [Cactus fruit (heart?)] Compound Life Figures



[Early Xolalpan]

35. Raingod— jaguar




36. Raingod— reptile





Table II1-1* (Continued)


M onte







37. Raingod—vegetation



38. Raingod—starfish


39. Feathered serpent




40. Feathered jaguar


41. Eagle-headed serpent

42. Coyote-headed serpent


[Early Xolalpan]