Popular Science Monthly/Volume 34/March 1889/The Americanists in Congress


THE Seventh International Congress of Americanists met in Berlin, on October 2d, and was opened by Honorary President Gossler, the Prussian Minister of Worship. Although Germany, the speaker said, "had not had any remarkable part in the discovery of America, or in the earliest steps in planting European civilization in the new quarter, it had participated in a rising degree in the scientific discovery of the continent. Americanist studies had, through the brothers Humboldt, already gained burger-rights among us, and had consequently received faithful care; so that the congress finds among us a well-prepared audience, fully appreciating its aims. We understand that a quarter which includes within itself all the zones, all earth-forms, all degrees of civilization, must be closely examined as to its inner relations before the important question whether the peculiar features of the New World indicate any primary connection with the Old can be answered. We recognize, also, that in some districts of America history and prehistory lie far apart; that powerfully organized states, with elaborate constitutions and carefully regulated religious rituals, were destroyed centuries ago, while in the same neighborhoods numerous tribes are still living apparently in a state of nature. The words that were spoken at the first congress in Nancy—"not systems but facts"—have become the programme of the Americanists; doubly valuable in a time when the imagination is too ready to fly heedlessly over wide tracts which disclose their features only to toilsome searchers. Previous congresses have made numerous and important contributions to the structure which we are raising. From meteorology, geography, and the descriptive sciences, to comparative philology and the history of art and religion, the various branches of knowledge have offered their treasures. The circle of studies that help to the investigation of the New World is ever widening, and our extended knowledge of East Asian history and literature is opening to us new means of access to the last of these problems."

Minister Gossler was followed by Signor Guido Cora, who spoke of the discovery in the Vatican archives of important original documents of the time of Columbus.

Dr. Reiss, of Berlin, was chosen president of the congress, and the vice-presidents were Freiherr von Audrian-Werburg, of Vienna; Cora, of Italy; Fabié, of Spain; Gafarel, of France; Morse, of the United States; Netto, of Brazil; and Schmidt, of Copenhagen. At the close of this introductory meeting the president spoke of the condition of Americanistic research and the part which different countries had taken in it.

The first of the regular papers was by Signor Cora, and was on the name of America. The author was not ready to pronounce decisively upon the origin of the name, for various recent investigations had left it uncertain whether it was derived from some word of native origin or was imported. Señor Fabié remarked that the opinion should not be rejected that the name was derived from Amerigo Vespucci, for it had been taken from the maps of that traveler, which were signed with his name.[1] M. Gafarel spoke concerning the American navigation which was carried on principally by Frenchmen, early in the sixteenth century. The whale-fishery had brought Basques, Bretons, and Normans through the northern seas to Canada, as was shown by many names of points along the coast. In the discussion, M. de la Espada tried to prove that M. Gafarel had exaggerated the part which those discoverers, particularly the Basques, had played. The whale-fishery was not then very extensively prosecuted; but the presence of the names referred to could be explained by assuming that a few Basques had occasionally reached Canada in Spanish ships. Señor Fabié announced that the Spanish Government was contemplating the full publication, on the approaching four-hundredth anniversary of the discovery of America, of the manuscripts in its archives by and concerning Columbus.

The antiquities of Mexico and South America were the foremost subjects for discussion at the second session. The relics called agripearls were the occasion of a long debate. They were formerly regarded as peculiar to the Old World, particularly to Africa, but they had recently been found in all parts of America. According to Tischler's researches, the technic of the colored glass pearls corresponded exactly with that of the Venetian Millefiori glasses, and was so essentially different from that of the ancient Roman glasses that they must be ascribed to the beginning of the Renaissance. M. de la Espada agreed as to the European origin of the pearls, and that they had been used in America as ornaments for horses but not for men. Some ancient Mexican mosaic decorations upon human bones were described by M. Andrée as showing a high development of technic and taste. Only eighteen pieces of this kind are known, which have been placed in European collections. Some of them are masks worked out of real skulls or of wood, and others are figures of animals, etc. The mosaic is composed of small pieces of turquoise, malachite, or mussel-shell, pressed into a foundation of pitch, and forming a carefully elaborated design, or representing in colored shadings the forms of the human face. The Berlin Museum possesses a skull-mask of this kind, a head of a puma, and a figure composed of the fore-parts of two animals.

Prof. Morse presented a paper by Mr. Gushing, on the object and methods of the Hemenway Archæological Expedition into southwestern Central America. The exhibition arranged by the Berlin Museum contains the results of the excavations made by Mrs. Hemenway on the Rio Salado in Arizona. It has been shown that the desert which now exists in that territory was formerly a richly populated and cultivated region. The remains of seven cities and of extensive canals for conducting the waters of the Salado and another river over the land have been discovered. The condition of the ruins indicates that this ancient, pre-Columbian civilization was destroyed by an earthquake, after which the inhabitants probably emigrated to Mexico.

Senhor Netto, of Brazil, had examined a series of mounds of elliptical ground-plan, with a head-shaped annex, in which were found relics of a people who might be distinguished from the present Indians chiefly by the prominence of female influence among them. All the vases and urns, some of which were quite shapely, were marked by ornaments and designs that were exclusively feminine. Numerous thin sheets of earthenware, shaped like a spherical triangle, and often carefully ornamented, perforated at the corners, appear, from the figures on the vases, to have been worn as "fig-leaf" dresses by the women. The very general tattooing of the women's bodies also points to their having held a high position. Later strata furnished remains of another race, among which this exalted position of the women was not apparent.

Prof. Virchow discussed the present condition of knowledge respecting nephrite and jadeite. Désor had assumed, at the Archæological Congress in Brussels, that all the nephrite was derived from two stations in central Asia, and all the jadeite from Burmah. In the mean time, two natural occurrences of nephrite in serpentine had been observed at Zabt, in Silesia, and one in Switzerland, besides a locality of jadeite. Further, a block of nephrite had been found in the Bodensee, which bore plain marks of pieces having been taken from it. Thus, these stones had been found, and evidently worked, in Europe. M. Arzruni had discovered that both species were subject to considerable variations, and that, therefore, every severed specimen found should be tested for determining its origin with respect to the special properties of its material. The specimens sometimes exhibit remarkable relations. Thus, the famous Humboldt axe and another South American hatchet seem to be identical in substance with the European mineral, and a hatchet from Venezuela with one from Hissarlik.

In his remarks upon the anthropological classification of the native Americans, Prof. Virchow admitted that it would not do to speak of a primitive race; yet the ancient skulls are predominantly of a brachycephalic type. These forms seem to have persisted in the South to the present time, but in the North there had been a noticeable transition to long and medium forms. Herr Fritsch suggested an archæological division on the basis of his studies of the hair. He distinguished two groups of people, one with smooth or waving, moderately long, brown hair, like that of the Polynesians, and the other with coarse, stiff hair, inclining to deep black, like that of the Mongols. The former group includes the Central Americans, and, generally, the ancient civilized peoples of South America, and the other the northwestern tribes, with those of single districts in the South. Even if the supposition of a Mongolian immigration in prehistoric times is admissible with respect to this latter group, it can not be held, so far as present researches show, with regard to the ancient civilized peoples.

Herr Nehring, speaking of the domesticated animals of the ancient Peruvians, observed that the subject was scientifically important, because all the other peoples of ancient America were very poor in this kind of property as compared with the Peruvians and Bolivians and some of the Central American peoples; and, secondly, because the influence of domestication on the formation of races could be better followed on these animals than on those of the Old World. We are concerned in Peru especially with the dog, llama, alpaca, and guinea-pig. The speaker had examined eighteen dog-mummies from ancient Peruvian graves, and had determined that they belonged to three different races—a shepherd's dog, a Dachshund, and a bull-dog or pug. He believed that the "Inca-dog" was derived, not from other South American Canidæ, but from the Mexican wolf (Lupus occidentalis), perhaps through the feebler Texan variety; and that several races had been formed from it in Peru through domestication. In this Herr Nehring dissents from and contradicts Von Tschudi's opinion that the varieties had arisen from crossing with European dogs. As the dog and likewise the llama and alpaca are undoubtedly of America, so also, in the speaker's opinion, is the guinea-pig, notwithstanding B. Hensel and other authors believe that it was introduced from Europe. The fact that no remains of guinea-pigs of prehistoric age had ever been found in Europe told against the latter view. A short discussion ensued upon the cropping or amputation of the ears of ancient American dogs, of which Seler had observed evidences in Mexican pictures, and Nehring had found that it had been practiced on Inca-dogs.

Herr Wittmack presented a paper upon the useful plants of the Peruvians, which was based chiefly upon traces found in their graves. Their bread-plant was maize, which their sculptured works and the ornamentation of the pillars of their temples and palaces show was held in high esteem among them. Three varieties of this plant have been distinguished—Indian corn, the pointed-grained, and the umbilicated. Besides maize, a kind of lamb's quarters (the seeds of Chenopodium quinoa) and two kinds of pulse were utilized, and the speaker inferred that our bean was derived from America. Small tubers like potatoes, but which could not be determined, and fruits of the anotto, had been observed in the graves.

Concerning the inhabitants of Mexico at the time of the conquest, Herr Hartmann remarked that the reports of the conquistadores left us in the dark, and we were therefore sent to the ancient representations. His own researches indicated that Montezuma's people had the same physical race characteristics as are exhibited by the present Dakotas, Pawnees, Comanches, etc. The Araucanians, Patagonians, and Fuegians might likewise be regarded as related to the Aztecs; in fact, he had often found among them the peculiar, dreamy, melancholy facial expression which is ascribed to the ancient Mexicans. In the light of the later researches, Colombia, the country of the Chibchas, the third most important people in pre-Columbian America, obtains a special significance, because it was the region which at the time of the discovery prevented contact between Mexican and Peruvian civilizations. The speaker produced linguistic evidence that the Chibchas, who were resident in the heart of Colombia, were not an immemorially isolated people in the sense in which they had formed one of the puzzles of the New World. They had near relatives in the people of Costa Rica and northern Colombia. People of Chibcha and Mexican origin met in Costa Rica. According to these evidences the dispersion of the Chibcha people may be historically conceived by assuming that originally dwelling near Cundinamarca, they afterward spread out, and were still later scattered by the influx of wild Brazilian tribes and driven to the mountains, where they lost their connections. A paper was also presented by Herr Uhle on the primitive history and wanderings of the Chibchas.

Other papers were read by Messrs. Borsari, on the constructions of the ancient Peruvians; Müller, on the Sambakis of Brazil, a people who had a prehistoric civilization; Von den Steinen, on his second journey to the Xingu, in which certain conclusions, particularly those respecting the relationship of the Tupi and the Caribs, which he had formed in his former journey, were confirmed; and on the Calendar-stone and various antiquities, statuettes, and potteries of Mexico and Central America. M. Hamy made some remarks at the close of the meeting on the falsification of American antiquities, which had reached a great height, and exhibited an album containing specimens of the counterfeits.—Translated for the Popular Science Monthly from Humboldt.

The importance of educating youth for the duties of citizenship is made more obvious at every general election. As indicated by Prof. Woodward, of St. Louis, some months ago, a course of civics in the public schools should embrace an analysis of our scheme of government, national, State, and municipal, with a general statement of the functions of each; the necessary expenses of each of the governments, with a detail of the institutions that must be supported by taxation; the methods in use of levying and collecting taxes; and the duties of citizenship—such as the maintenance of individual independence; the contribution of one's share in taxes to the necessary expenses of government; participation in all measures necessary to secure the selection of faithful and competent servants to discharge the duties of government; the cultivation of a proper public opinion in favor of honesty, temperance, and the refinements of civilized life; and the contribution of something, small or great, to the common weal, beyond the duties specially named, whereby the world may be the better for one's having lived in it.
  1. M. Jules Marcou says, in the "Bulletin of the Paris Geographical Society," that "it is beyond question that one edition of Vespucci's letter on his third voyage has the name Amerigo in the place of the Christian name; nineteen editions had Albericus, and subsequent Italian editions had Alberico. The one with Amerigo on the title-page was published in 1506, but M. Marcou suggests that this was never intended to be a variation of Alberico, but rather the adaptation of Amerrique, a name already known and applied to the New World, to Vespucci's name to distinguish him, as we say now 'Chinese Gordon,' to distinguish the particular Gordon by suggesting one of his greatest feats."