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ornament. The custom of the Chontales Indians appears to have been to burn their dead, and place the ashes in a thin painted urn, inclosed within a stronger one. This was buried, along with the stone for grinding maize, and a cairn of stones built over the grave, in the centre of which was sometimes set up the statue of the deceased.
It was evident that the tomb had been ransacked in search of treasure ; but our guide was very reticent about it. He admitted, however, on further questioning, that he had found a broken “metlate,” or maize-grinder, in the grave. Velasquez got down into the deepest hole, and unearthed some more fragments of pottery, but nothing more.
We then descended the steep face of the hill again, and crossed the plain to where the “worked stones”. were lying. We found them to be broken fragments of statues, one larger, better worked, and in much fairer preservation than the others. They had all been as much battered and broken as possible; but the greater size and solidity of this one had made it more difficult to deface.
It was in two parts, the head being severed from the body. The total length of the two fragments was about five feet. The face had been battered and broken. The nose was gone, and the mouth defaced; but enough was left to show that the latter had been protruding. The eyes were in good preservation, prominent, and with the eyeballs projecting. Around the head was an ornamented circlet, like a crown. The arms were laid over the breast, and were continued upwards over the shoulder, and partly down the back, as if it had been intended to indicate the shoulder-blades. The legs were doubled up,
and continued round to the back, in the same way as the arms.
The back of the figure was elaborately carved, the most noticeable features being a wide ornamented belt around the waist, and two well-carved crosses, one on each shoulder.
The other stones lying about were broken portions of other smaller figures and of pedestals. All were made out of very hard, tough trachyte; and the labour required to make the principal one out of such difficult material without tools of iron must have been immense.
The fragments were all lying out on the bare plain. I thought they must have been brought from some burialplace of the ancient Indians. Our guide, on being asked, said he had seen other cairns of stones besides these on the hill-top, but could not recollect where. He was very uneasy when questioned; and at last said he had business to attend to, and left us abruptly. After he went away, we examined all around for traces of graves. Between the plain and the river was a thicket of low trees and undergrowth. Peering into this, we saw some heaps of stones; and, pushing in amongst the bushes, we found it was full of old Indian graves, marked by heaps of stones, in the centres of some of which still stood the pedestals on which the statues had been placed. Most of the heaps were about twenty feet in diameter, and composed of stones of the average size of a man's head: but one, from the centre of which grew an immense cotton-wood tree, was made of about a dozen very large stones, some of which were about five feet long, three broad, and one thick, Here we got a clue to the explanation of the behaviour of our guide. When he told us that he knew not where there
Ch. IX.] DEFACEMENT OF ANCIENT STATUES.
were any more cairns, he was standing within thirty feet of one hidden by the thicket, which bore evident marks of having been recently disturbed. It was the cairn of big stones. One of these had been overturned, and some fresh-cut poles, that had been used as levers, were lying alongside, with the green bark broken and bruised. A hole had been dug underneath it, and filled up with stones again. Our lounging friend had been doing a little exploring on his own account. Many of the natives believe that treasure is buried under these heaps of stones; and the interest that foreigners take in them they ascribe to their wish to obtain these treasures. Our guide, wishing to get these himself, had taken us to the single grave on the top of the hill, which he had already ransacked, and professed ignorance of the others. I only hope that he did not compound with his conscience for the lies he had told us by coming back after we left, and trying to break off another nose of an idol, as the natives call the images. They think they show their zeal for Christianity by defacing them. This is why scarcely any of the noses of the images are left. They were the most salient points for attack. And that the images have not been utterly destroyed by the ill-usage they have had for three hundred years is due to the hard, tough rock of which they are made. It is probable that the statues at El Salto were brought out from the cairns into the plain, and publicly thrown down, defaced, and broken, when the Spaniards first took possession of the Juigalpa district, and forced Christianity upon the Indians; for the conquerors everywhere overthrew and mutilated the “idols” of the Indians, set up the cross and their own images, and forced the poor people to be baptised. The change was not a great one. Already the cross was an emblem amongst them, and baptism a rite; and the images they were called upon to adore did not differ so greatly from those they had worshipped before. They easily conformed to the new faith. D’Avila is said to have overthrown the idols at Rivas, and to have baptised nine thousand Indians. Then the Spaniards, having Christianised the Indians, made slaves of them, and ground them to the dust with merciless cruelties and overwork, which quickly depopulated whole towns and districts.
The presence of the cross in central America greatly astonished the Spanish discoverers. In Yucatan it was the emblem of the “god of rain." There has been much speculation by various authors respecting its origin, as a religious emblem, in Mexico and central America; and it has even been supposed that some of the early Icelandic Christians of the ninth century may have reached the coast of Mexico, and introduced some knowledge of the Christian religion. But the cross was a religious emblem of the greatest antiquity, both in Syria and Egypt, and baptism was a pre-Christian rite; and these and other observances, such as auricular confession and monastic institutions, were so mixed up with the worship of a great number of gods, at the head of which was the worship of the sun, and were associated with such horrid human sacrifices and pagan ceremonials, that it is more likely that they acquired the cross, with other pagan traditions handed down to them from a remote antiquity, from the common stock from whence both the inhabitants of the Eastern and Western hemispheres were descended. There is good evidence for supposing that young children were offered up in sacrifice to Thaloc,