|Stelae at Copan|
by Frederick Catherwood
In 1842, when he returned to Yucatan to further explore the ruins, he reconfirmed his previous conviction, “I am happy thus early in these pages to have an opportunity of recurring to the opinion expressed in my former volumes, in regard to the builders of the ancient American cities.
“The conclusion to which I came was that ‘there are not sufficient grounds for belief in the great antiquity that has been ascribed to these ruins’; ‘that we are not warranted in going back to any ancient nation of the Old World for the builders of these cities; that they are not the works of people who have passed away and whose history is lost, but that there are strong reasons to believe them the creation of the same races who inhabited the country at the time of the Spanish conquest, or of some not very distant progenitors.”
In the final pages of his last book, Incidents of Travel in Yucatan, Stephens addressed the arguments
|Storming of Teocalis|
by Emanuel Leutze
The second prevailing argument “that a people possessing the power, art, and skill to erect such cities never could have fallen so low as the miserable Indians who now linger about their ruins” was disputed by Stephens for the same reason. He argued, “… their present condition is the natural and inevitable consequence of the same ruthless policy which laid the axe at the root of all ancient recollections and cut off forever all traditionary knowledge.”
Finally, the lack of historical accounts or reference to the cities by the conquering Spaniards was refuted by Stephens, “On the contrary, we have the glowing accounts of Cortez and his companions, of soldiers, priests, and civilians, all concurring in representations of existing cities, then in the actual use and occupation of the Indians, with building and temples, in style and character like those presented in these pages.”
He summarized, “These arguments then – the want of tradition, the degeneracy of the people, and the alleged absence of historical accounts – are not sufficient to be entered upon at the conclusion of these pages; but all the light that history sheds upon them is dim and faint, and may be summed up in few words.”
Travels of John Lloyd Stephens
Over time, Stephens’ beliefs proved to be substantially accurate and his popular books contributed to a groundswell of interest in the lost cities of the Maya.
-- Courtney Miller
Link to Part 1