Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Nicaraguan Relics

This is a newspaper report, found in The Scranton Republican, dated 29 Oct. 1894, relating a visit made by the author to Zapatera Island, Nicaragua.  His visit was before the statues were removed to Granada so he observed them in their original setting.  
His descriptions and observations differ somewhat from the other reports (mainly Squier and Bovallius) but is still an important source.  He mentions a German archaeologist whom I have been unable to identify.  He may be referring to the Swedish scholar Carl Bovallius.  He describes things not evident in the present display of the statues, however, some of his descriptions seem a little exaggerated or erroneous.  For example he states that the ceremonial sites were visited by hordes of people, but provides no evidence.  Again he mentions that there were female statues with pierced ears.  I haven't seen any evidence of this.  Other questionable statements such as there being a vast plain on the island (it is quite mountainous and wooded), that the statues were made of granite (they are of basalt), and that there were writings on some of the statues.
His descriptions of some statues that had an Assyrian appearance and wore beards was interesting and supports my theory.  He judges them to have been thousands of years old which may or may not be true.  I am hoping that it is true but we still lack clear evidence.  

Huge Idols Surmounted with the Heads of Animals---Evidences That Hordes of People Once Worshiped There---An Alligator's Sanitarium.

In the beautiful lake of Nicaragua there are situated a number of islands, one of them called Zapatera, which has been for thousands of years a seat of ancient Indian worship.  The island is not inhabited and is only partly known to natives and foreigners.  Having heard of some important discoveries recently made by a German archaeologist, who was formerly connected with Dr. Schliemann's in Majcenal, I decided to pay a visit to the place.

Arrived at a small bay, the shores of which were adorned with hundreds of lazy alligators, I reached a landing place, where the remains of a small artificial harbor are still to be recognized.  Hence I was guided by an Indian to a staircase hewn in huge rocks.  In ascending the hill I counted 707 steps.

Arrived at the top, I saw a vast plain, in the center of which rise seven elevations that form a Latin cross.  These hills are surrounded by a number of small cemeteries, that evidently contain the remains of victims sacrificed to the (seven times seven) forty-nine idols, besides statues of priests and kings cut out of hard, black, polished granite.  The elevation that forms the center of the cross is about twice the size of the remaining six, and is some hundred feet in diameter.  On the top of it are seven large sacrificial stones, surrounded by vessels into which the blood of the victims ran when rites were performed.  It is evident that on the smaller elevations the sacrificial stones a smaller and of inferior workmanship.  

The center hill is adorned with seven huge idols, some of them perfectly preserved.  The principal one represents a figure about fourteen feet high, showing a striking likeness to Assyrian idols, and wearing a long beard, on which remains of red coloring are still visible.  The head is covered with a huge elephant's head.  On one side of this rather hideous idol stands a female figure of very fair appearance, whose features are strikingly Egyptian.  The head is covered with the head of a lioness, the mouth wide open.  On the other side is the statue of a high priest, whose headpiece consists of a big snake curled up, fitting the grim looking face like the turban of an Eastern priest.  In the right hand the figure holds a short knife, while the left holds something that looks like a human heart.  The other idols represent both male and female figures, the former of hideous aspect, while the later present pleasant faces.  

The ears of the female figures are pierced with holes, which serve to hold earrings, as one of these was found buried in the soil.  The value of the gold and pearls in it amounted to some $500, not including its artistic and archaeological value; the workmanship was very fine.  The heads of all these statues are covered with monstous head of lions, alligators, tigers, horses, sheep and other animals, the species of which it is impossible to determine.  Most of the statues are in a very fair state of preservation, while some have been disfigured by shocks of earthquakes.  Judging from the effect of the weathering upon these idols, they must be thousands of years old, considering the hard quality of the stone and the damage done.  Thanks to the hidden position of the place, it has escaped destruction by the hands of the fanatical Spanish priest.  On some of the idols there are hieroglyphic inscriptions that have absolutely nothing in common with the rude inscriptions generally found on ancient Indian remains in Central America.

Descending again the artificial staircase I remarked that it must have been long in use, as it was pretty well worn out by footsteps.  It evidently led to one of the principal places of worship, where masses of people congregated during certain periods of the year to witness the bloody rites of their priestcraft.  That the place was inhabited, except perhaps by a few guardians, is not probable, for the surroundings consist of barren rocks, and traces of habitations are not found.

From this gloomy place I went to a smaller island, which certainly in times past formed part of Zapatera.  On this barren spot, which is partly covered by volcanic ashes, stands a monolith about 200 feet in diameter.  The top is covered with a variety of cabalistic signs--tigers, lions, snakes, hippopotami and other strange animals--all hewn in rock and partly disfigured by the weather.  Very remarkable are a great many Latin, Maltese and Greek crosses, beautifully worked and well conserved.  In the center of the surface there is a large, stately figure of grim appearance holding a smaller figure tight in each hand, perhaps the representation of a powerful chief holding his vanquished foes.  The place is covered with inscriptions that bear a great resemblance to the ancient inscriptions on the island of Cyprus.  Professor Max Muller, of Oxford, to whom some fragments have been forwarded, deems it possible to decipher them.

Having returned to the main island, the Indians guided me to a small laguna, a few miles inland.  The water of the laguna contains quantities of sulphur and iron, and is believed to be used as a kind of watering place by the sick alligators that live in the sweet water of the large lake.  My guides declared that these animals were in the habit of climbing up the rather steep shores of the lake, walking a few miles through the woods, till they reach the mouth of the crater, at the bottom of which is the laguna, and then walking down about 500 feet to begin their "cure" in the yellow waters of the pond.  The alligators in this laguna are extremely rapacious and very dangerous, as I experienced, while the same animals are shy and harmless in the lake.  There being no fish or other nourishment in the lake, the invalids are condemned to a sever diet, and therefore snap even at a man when they get a chance; after the cure has worked its effect they are said to return by the same way to the lake to enjoy their usual sport.  I was incredulous about these wanderings, so the Indians showed me the trail where the feet and tails of the alligators were distinctly imprinted.  

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