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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 24.djvu/845

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PREHISTORIC ART IN AMERICA.

impossible to attribute them to the barbarous tribes that inhabited the country at the time of the arrival of the Europeans. These tribes were incapable of executing works of this kind, and even of comprehending any art, however crude it may appear to us. Who, then, were the peoples to whom we can attribute the painted stones? What was their origin? The illustrious German traveler tells us nothing that can diminish our ignorance on this point.

There are mentioned as among the works in the country of the Chibkas, in the United States of Colombia, a stone probably designed for sacrificial purposes, and sustained by caryatides, a jaguar sculptured at the entrance to a cave near Neyba, and gigantic llamas. In the land of the allied tribe of the Muiscao, the granitic and syenitic rocks are adorned with colossal figures of crocodiles and tigers, guardians doubtless of the images of the sun and moon, the supreme gods of the South American natives. All of these figures are coarsely executed, and betray, like the North American figures, an extreme absence of taste and an absolute inability to reproduce objects faithfully.

Abundant examples occur on the Pacific coast of an art which we can best compare with that of Guatemala. A granite block near Macaya, known as the Piedra de Leon, is covered with sculptures which all are agreed are very ancient. The most important group represents a face-to-face struggle of a man and a puma. The figures suggest movement, and the man and the animal appear to be really struggling. Near the little city of Nepen may be seen a colossal serpent; a short distance from Arequipa, trees and flowers; farther on, bisons with bored noses are wearing movable rings cut in the same stone. At the Pintados de las Rayas, geometrical figures, circles, and rectangles, the meaning of which can not be defined, take the place of figures from life. In the province of Tarapac√°, considerable surfaces are covered with figures of men and animals mostly fairly good specimens of work, and with a kind of characters arranged vertically. The lines are from twelve to eighteen feet long, and each character is quite deeply engraved. This is not an isolated instance. Inscriptions very much worn have been found near Huara, and between Mendoza and La Punta, Chili, is a large pillar on which letters have been imagined analogous in some respects with the Chinese alphabet. These evidences are very vague, and, however well disposed to discover in them the beginnings of graphic art, we can not as yet found so important a conclusion upon them.

The use of colors was certainly known to the Americans from the most remote antiquity. The ochres, soot-black, and lime doubtless furnished them their first coloring elements, and there was nothing in the idea of using these pigments above the most primitive conceptions. Experiment induced a rapid progress, and men learned to extract vegetable colors from leaves, fruits, roots, stems, and seeds. A coloring-matter was also borrowed, like the Tyrian purple, from sea-mol-