Historical Reprints History Ancient Inhabitants of America 2vol. set

Ancient Inhabitants of America 2vol. set

Ancient Inhabitants of America 2vol. set
Catalog # SKU3933
Publisher TGS Publishing
Weight 2.00 lbs
Author Name Alexander De Humboldt, Helen Maria Williams
ISBN 10: 0000000000
ISBN 13: 0000000000000


The Ancient
Inhabitants of America

Descriptions & Views of
Some of the Most Striking
Scenes in the Cordilleras

2 Volume Set

Alexander De Humboldt
Translator: Helen Maria Williams

I have collected, in the following work, whatever relates to the origin and first progress of the arts among the natives of America. (1814)



In the beginning of the Conquest of America, the attention of Europe was chiefly directed toward the gigantic constructions of Couzco, the high roads carried along the centre of the Cordilleras, the pyramids with steps, and the worship and symbolical writings of the Mexicans. The country around Port Jackson, in New Holland, and the island of Otaheite, have not been more frequently described in our times, than were the regions of Mexico and Peru at that period. To form a proper estimate of the simplicity, the true and local colouring which characterizes the descriptions of the first Spanish writers, we must have visited the spot. While we peruse their writings, we regret that they are not accompanied with drawings, to have given us aprecise idea of the numerous monuments which became the prey of fanaticism, or which have been suffered to fall into ruin from negligence not less culpable. The ardour, with which America had been the object of investigation, diminished from the beginning of the seventeeth century.

The Spanish colonies, which were the only regions formerly inhabited by civilized nations, were shut against foreigners; and recently, when the Abbe Clavigero published in Italy his ancient history of Mexico, the facts, attested by a crowd of occular witnesses, often hostile to each other, were regarded as extremely doubtful. Some distinguished writers more struck with the contrasts than the harmony of nature, have described the whole of America as a marshy country unfavourable to the increase of animals, and newly inhabited by hordes as savage as the people of the South Sea. In the historical researches respecting the Americans, candid examination had given place to absolute scepticism. The declamatory descriptions of Solis, and of some other writers, who had never quitted Europe, were confounded with the simple but true narratives of the first travellers; and it seemed to be the duty of a philosopher, to refuse assent to every observation made by the missionaries.

Since the end of the last century a happy revolution has taken place in the manner of examining the civilization of nations, and the causes which impede or favour its progress. We have become acquainted with countries, the customs, institutions, and arts of which differ almost as widely from those of the Greeks and Romans, as the primitive forms of extinct races of animals differ from those of the species, which are the objects of descriptive natural history. The society at Calcutta has thrown a luminous ray over the history of the people of Asia. The monuments of Egypt which are at present delineated with singular precision, have been compared with the monuments of countries the most remote; and my own recent investigations on the natives of America appear at an epocha, in which we no longer deem unworthy of attention whatever is not conformable to that style, of which the Greeks have left such inimitable models.

It might have been preferable to have arranged the materials, contained in this work, in geographical order; but the difficulty of collecting, and terminating at the same time, a great number of plates engraved in Italy, Germany, and France, has prevented me from following this method. The want of order, compensated, to a certain degree, by the advantage of variety, is also less reprehensible in the descriptions of a Picturesque Atlas, than in a regular Treatise; and I shall endeavour to remedy this inconvenience by a table, in which the plates are classed agreeably to the nature of the objects they represent.


The monuments of nations, from which we are separated by a long interval of ages, are calculated to fix our attention in two distinct points of view. The works of art, belonging to a people highly advanced in civilization, excite our admiration by the harmony and beauty of their forms, and by the genius with which they are conceived. The bust of Alexander, found in the garden of the Pisoes, would be esteemed a valuable relic of antiquity, although no inscription indicated the features of the conqueror of Arbela. An engraved stone, or a medal of the polished ages of Greece, interests the lovers of the arts by the severity of the style, or by its finished execution, although no legend or monogram connects these objects with any particular point of history. Such is the privilege of the marvels of genius, which were produced in the climes of Asia Minor, and in part of the south of Europe.

The monuments of those nations, on the contrary, which have attained no high degree of intellectual cultivation, which either from religious or political causes, or the nature of their organization, have never been affected by the beauty of forms, can be considered only as memorials of history. To this class belong the remains of sculpture, scattered over the vast countries which extend from the banks of the Euphrates to the eastern shores of Asia. The idols of Thibet and Hindostan, those which have been discovered on the central plains of Mongolia, are calculated to throw light on the ancient communication of nations with each other, and on the common origin of their mythological traditions.

The rudest works, the most grotesque forms, those masses of sculptured rocks, venerable only from their enormous magnitude, and their remote antiquity; those lofty pyramids, which indicate the multitudes employed in their construction are all connected with the philosophical study of history. By the same connection, the feeble remains of the skill, or rather industry, of the nations of the New Continent become worthy of our attention. Influenced by this persuasion, I have, in the course of my travels brought together whatever objects I have been able, by unwearied research, to discover in the countries, where intolerance in those ages of barbarism left scarcely any vestige of the manners and religious rites of their ancient inhabitants; when edifices and temples were demolished for the stones with which they were erected, or the hidden treasures they were supposed to contain.

The comparative view which I shall take of the works of art belonging to Peru and Mexico, and those of the ancient world, will give some interest to my researches, as well as to the Picturesque Atlas which will contain the result of my investigations. Biassed by no system, I shall point out those analogies that naturally present themselves, distinguishing such as seem to prove an indentity of race from such as perhaps depend only on internal causes, on the resemblance of all nations in the display of their intellectual faculties. I shall here confine myself to a succinct description of the objects represented in the engravings. The consequences which seem to result from the comparative view of these monuments can be discussed only in the narrative of my journey; since, as the nations to whom these edifices and sculptures are attributed still exist, their character, and the knowledge of their manners, will throw light on the history of their migrations.

Investigations of monuments erected by half-civilized nations have another kind of interest, which we may call psychological; presenting to us a picture of the uniform progress of the human mind. The works of the first inhabitants of Mexico hold an intermediary place between those of the Scythian tribes, and the ancient monuments of Hindostan. What a striking spectacle does human genius present, when we survey the immense disparity, that separates the tombs of Tinian and the stutues of Easter Island, from the monuments of the Mexican temple of Mitla; and compare the shapeless idols of this temple with the masterpieces of the chisel of Praxiteles or Lysippus! But we shall cease to wonder at the rude style or incorrect expression of the monuments of the nations of America, when we reflect, that, cut off from the rest of mankind, wanderers in a country where man must have long struggled against Nature in her most savage and disordered aspect, these tribes, with no resources but in their own energy, could only emerge with tardy progress from their native barbarism. The east of Asia, the west and the north of Europe, present the same phenomena.

In pointing them out, I shall not pretend to investigate from what hidden causes the germe of the fine arts grew and spread only over a very small part of the Globe. How many nations of the ancient world lived in a climate equal with that of Greece, and surrounded with every object that elevates the imagination, without awakening to that sensibility of the perfection of forms, the peculiar privilege of the Greeks, to whose creative genius belong all that the arts possess of beautiful and sublime! These considerations are sufficient to explain my intentions in the publication of these fragments of American monuments. Their study may become useful, like that of the most imperfect languages; which are interesting, not only by their analogy with those that are known, but still more by the strict connection, which exists between their structure and the degree of intelligence in man, when more or less remote from civilization.

Presenting in the same work the rude monuments of the indigenous tribes of America, and the picturesque views of the mountainous countries which they inhabited, my intention is to connect objects, the relation of which to each other has not escaped the sagacity of those, who apply themselves to the philosophical study of the human mind. Although the manners of a people, the display of their intellectual faculties, the peculiar character stamped on their works, depend on a great number of causes which are nut merely local, it is nevertheless true, that the climate, the nature of the soil, the physiognomy of the plants, the view of beautiful or savage nature, have given influence on the progress of the arts, and on the style which distinguishes their productions. This influence becomes the more perceptible, the farther Man is removed from civilization. What a contrast between the architecture of a tribe that has dwelt in vast and gloomy caverns, and that of hordes, whose bold monuments recal in the shafts of their columns, the towering trunks of the palm trees of the desert! An accurate knowledge of the origin of the arts can be acquired only from studying the nature of the site where they arose. The only American tribes, among whom we fiud remarkable monuments, are the inhabitants of mountains. Isolated in the regions of the clouds, on the most elevated plains of the Globe, surrounded by volcanoes, the craters of which are encircled by eternal snows, they appear to have admired, in the solitude of their deserts, those objects only which strike the imagination by the greatness of their masses; and their productions bear the stamp of the savage nature of the Cordilleras.

A part of this Atlas is appropriated to sketches of the great scenes of this savage nature. I have been less studious to delineate those, which produce only a picturesque effect, than to give an exact representation of the shapes of the mountains, the vallies by which their sides are furrowed, and the tremendous cascades formed by the fall of their torrents. The Andes bear the same proportion to the chain of the Alps, as these to the chain of the Pyrenees. Whatever I have beheld of picturesque or awful on the borders of the Saverne, in the north of Germany, on the Euganean mountains, the central chain of Europe, or the rapid declivity of the peak of Teneriffe, I have found all assembled in the Cordilleras of the New World. It would require ages to observe these beauties, and discover the wonders which nature has lavished over an extent of two thousand five hundred leagues, from the granitic mountains of the Strait of Magellan to the coasts bordering on the east of Asia. I shall think I have accomplished my purpose, if the feeble sketches contained in this work should lead other travellers, friends of the arts, to visit the regions which I traversed, and to retrace accurately those stupendous scenes, to which the Old Continent offers no resemblance.

500 pages - in two volumes - 7 x 8½ softcover - Print size, 12 point font

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