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WITH SOMETHING ABOUT CENTRAL AMERICA.
T is nearly four hundred years since the
existence of America was made known to the inhabitants of the Eastern hemisphere. My
young friends are all aware of the voyage of Columbus, and the discovery of the mighty continent.
I have also told them something about Pizarro and Cortez, and how they proceeded in their discoveries; but as some new inquiry is likely to arise from the importation of the Aztec children, I am anxious to say a few words about those parts of Central America, which, of late years, have come under the examination of the traveller.
The celebrated Humboldt was the first who, in the present century, drew the attention of Europe to the monuments reared by the labours of the native races of America, and more recently, Mr. Stephens, an American gentleman, proceeded on a mission to the states of Central America, situate
within that comparatively narrow part of North America, extending from the southern shore of the Gulf of Mexico to the Isthmus of Panama. Within this tract of country some very wonderful discoveries have been made, especially of ruined cities, on which Peter Parley has a few words to say.
In the district I have named, which is that generally called Honduras, are found buried in woods on the left hand of the Copau river, numerous pyramidal structures and monuments of stone. Having procured a guide, Mr. Stephens went in quest of the ruins; the guide was an Indian well acquainted with the locality, his name was Jose
After passing over an open country for some miles, they entered the woods, Jose clearing a path before with a hatchet. They presently came to the bank of a river, and saw on the opposite side, a stone wall, about a hundred feet high, with furze growing out of the top. It ran north and south of the river, but in some places it had fallen, while in other parts, it remained entire. When more closely examined, it was found to be constructed of cut stone, well laid, and in a good state of preservation. They ascended by large stone steps, in some places perfect, and in others thrown down by trees, which had grown up between the crevices, and reached a terrace, the form of which it was impossible to make out, from the denseness of the forests in which it was enveloped. The guide cleared the way with the hatchet, and the travellers passed,' as it lay half buried in the earth, a large fragment of stone elaborately sculptured, and came to an angle of a structure adorned by sculptures which exhibited the form and character of an altar. I have no doubt that the large sculptured stone invariably found in front of each idol was the sacrificial altar.
In the neighbourhood of Pueblo are the remains of another ruined city, containing a collection of monuments of the same general character with those of Copau, but twice or three times as high. One statue, twelve feet high, is lying on the ground. There are found others erect of the same dimensions. The chief statue is round, having various sculptures on its sides, and is situated on an elevation in the midst of a circle formed by a wall of stones. At a little distance from this is another statue, that of a female, or rather a female figure is sculptured upon its two sides.
The most important part of these ruins is called El Sacrificatorio. It is a quadrangular stone structure sixty-six feet wide on each side of the base, and rising in a pyramidal form to the height of thirty-three feet. On three sides there is a range of steps in the middle, each step seventeen inches high and but eight inches on the upper surface, which makes the range so steep, that in ascending, great caution is necessary. The top is broken and ruined, but there is no doubt but that it once supported an altar for those sacrifices of human beings, which struck even the Spaniards with horror. It was barely large enough for the altar and the official priests, and the whole was in full view of the people at the foot.
The barbarous murderers carried off the victim entirely naked, and extended him upon the altar, pointing out the idol to which the sacrifice was made, that the people might pay their adorations. The altar had a convex surface, and the body of the victim lay arched, with the trunk elevated, and the head and feet depressed. Four priests held the legs and arms, another kept his head firm with a wooden instrument, made in the form of a coiled serpent, so that he was prevented from making the least motion. The chief priest then approached, and with a knife, made of flint, cut an aperture in the breast, and tore out the heart, which, yet palpitating, he offered to the sun, and then threw it at the feet of the idol. If the idol was gigantic and hollow, it was usual to introduce the heart of the victim into his mouth, with a golden spoon. If the victim was a prisoner of war, as soon as he was sacrificed, they cut off the head, to preserve the skull, and threw the body down the steps, when it was taken up by the officer or soldier to whom the prisoner belonged, and carried to his house, to be dressed and served up for the entertainment of his friends. If he was not a prisoner of war, but a slave purchased for the sacrifice, the proprietor carried off the body for the same purpose.
Such is a very slight outline of the ancient country to which the Aztec children are said to belong. The particulars concerning them are as follows :
They are stated to have been brought from the place of refuge chosen by the Aztecs when driven from Mexico by Cortes, and, it is added, that they are among the last serviving relics of that fast declining race, with whose history I have endeavoured to make my young readers, in some degree, acquainted. The children certainly resemble very closely the sculptured figures of Aztec origin, such as those given in the cut, and they are said to have recognised a Mexican idol, which was shown to them during their stay in New York, and to have thrown themselves before it in stupid adoration. The smallness of their stature is accounted for by a wellknown cause of degeneracy. The children are assigned to the sacerdotal caste. The boy is about three feet in height, the girl less, and, it is said, weighs seventeen pounds. Their diminutive stature may justify the children being called Lilliputians.
Professor Anderson thinks the boy about seventeen years of age and the girl eleven; but they have been proved to be younger hy our English savans. The boy is the type of the pair; his retreating forehead, and strongly-marked aquiline nose, give his head a bird-like appearance. The girl has the same characteristics, but less strongly marked. Both are playful, fond of music, and of seeing objects sketched on paper. The complexion of both is dark, similar to that of the negro. Upon the whole, my young friends will find much to be pleased with in their little Mexican brother and sister.