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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Maya Engravings of Frederick Catherwood

This illustration by Frederick Catherwood shows the characteristic shape of the Mayan arch.

The Maya Engravings of Frederick Catherwood
Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatán and Incidents of Travel in Yucatán,
by John Stephens and Frederick Catherwood
published in 1841

  If you have been to any part of the Mayan world, mostly the Yucatan, Guatemala and parts of Belize you realize how absurd the idea of the ancient Mayan ruins being in any way a "lost" civilization.  The people who live in the vicinity of the ruin sites speak Mayan and trace their background to historically known periods of migration and pre and post contact polities.  What is remarkable about the Incidents of Travel is that it can fairly be described as "rediscovering" a lost civilization.
Mayan stela drawn by Frederick Catherwood. For the audience of that time period (1840s) these images essentially demonstrated the existence of a hithero "unknown" people, despite the fact that the natives of the area spoke Mayan.

     When I was staying out in the jungle, I actually picked up a copy of the book itself, but unless you are deeply, deeply interested in mid 19th century/Victorian travel narratives I'm afraid I can't recommend the text to read. But the pictures- those are worth looking up.  When you are talking about the Maya, you talking about a people who were still fighting Spanish/Indian wars INTO the 20th century, and yet in 1841 literally no one in America had heard of them.

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