Thursday, April 26, 2012
Thames and Hudson Ltd
My friends and I are in agreement of this book from the start that the pictures are first rate especially of the caches found among the ruins of the temple. Archaeologist Eduardo Matos Moctezuma opens the book with his resume leading up to his appointment as head of the Great Temple Project in 1977.
The aim of the project was to excavate the precincts of the great temple of the Aztec's in the heart of Mexico city, Tenochtitlan as the Aztec's called the city. At the time Hernan Cortez saw the city in the lake the population of the city was about 250 000. When the Spaniard's conquered the city they destroyed the great pyramid and its precincts, erecting colonial buildings on top of the temple ruins.
The author begins with a description of Mexico city of today and in historical times, the rise of the Aztecs and the creation of the city. We are also told of early discoveries of important monuments of Tenochtitlan including the eighteenth century discovery of the great calendar stone.
Mr. Moctezuma is next on to the history of the Aztecs and the foundation of the city. The pictures of the jaguar with a jade ball in his mouth and of a "chacmool" statue are wonderful. The great temple is really a series of seven temples built over top of one another.
The temple has two staircases to the summit and at the top of each stand two shrines one is dedicated to Huitzilopochtli, a god who is represented by fetishes, a god of war and patron deity of the city. The other Tlaloc, god of water and fertility. Interesting picture of eight life size statues found near the base of the steps of the Huitzilopochtli shrine of the stage III temple.
Soon we start into the incredible images of the many caches found during excavations including a cache of forty two sacrificed children and hundreds of artifacts including beautifully made clay pots and masks carved in stone, animals and seashells, often only certain parts of the animals.
The author beaks down the material found into Aztec material and tribute material including antiques from the even more ancient site of Teotihuacan. Particularly of interest are the skull masks which incorporate human skulls inlaid with shells and hematite while a green stone mask in the Teotihuacan style with obsidian eyes is very life like.
The images in the book said from the start that it was going to be interesting while Eduardo Moctezuma's recounting of the history of the city, it's inhabitants and its great temple was inclusive for young adults and up. Such a complicated story was simply put forward with the skill and prestige possessed by it's author and excavator of "The Great Temple of the Aztecs".
Musee del Templo Mayor
Friday, April 20, 2012
Third Revised Edition
In the years 1885, 1893 and 1900 J.B Tyrrell working on behalf of the Canadian Geological survey, and his brother, (the author) James W. Tyrrell conducted three expeditions of the Canadian sub-arctics lying north of the 59th parallel, including surveying as well as documenting the "savage" Eskimos of the region.
The expedition begins "One beautiful May morning" as the author and his brother make final preparations from Toronto to meet up with their team of rustic canoe-men and portagers. Among the team is a recommended man named John Flett who is well experienced and an Eskimo linguist.
Three more members of the team are brothers who are Iroquois experts from Caughnawaga these being Pierre, Louis, and Michel French. While at Fort McMurray two more strong fellows would join the expedition they were James Corrigal and Francois Maurice.
The author J.W. Tyrrell refers to three of the above men as "half breeds", the author than goes on to give explanation for why he has not hired Indians from Lake Athabasca because he considers them to be lazy in disposition. Boarding the train in Toronto begins the five day ride to Edmonton.
"We arrived early on the morning of the 22nd at the busy town of Calgary, pleasantly situated in the beautiful valley of the south branch of the Saskatchewan river, and just within view of the snow-clad peaks of the Rocky mountains." "On the evening of the same day, in the teeming rain, we reached Edmonton".
As the journey continues J.W. says " we reached the height of land between the two great valleys of the Saskatchewan and Athabasca rivers. Here, upon a grassy spot, we made our first camp." The author continues "our slumbers were somewhat broken by the fiendish yells of prairie wolves from the surrounding scrub, and the scarcely less diabolical screams of loons sporting on a pond close by. An effort was made to have the later removed, but any one who has ever tried to shoot loons at night will better understand". Soon the author and his brother come across a moose which they shoot multiple times before killing the poor creature.
I really like the sketches and photographs of the journey and the authors writing style is better than his shot but through only the first few chapters in the authors perception of his fellow man is clearly that of an education of the later Victorian era in which the author classifies people as either Gentleman, half breeds or savages.
Among the indigenous people a man by the Christian name of Moberly agrees to help the expedition find the way but unfortunately the guide is unreasonable and lags sulking behind the members of the expedition. After canoeing to Moberly's village they finally arrive where Moberly pulls a screaming fit and threatens to not lead the men unless they hand over to him a portion of their supplies, with this the men head on without their guide.
The early part of the expedition heads through thick sheets of rain, up hill portages climbing through dense forest and jagged rocks carrying thousands of pounds of supplies and over small lakes as the expedition turns into a fantastic journey and civilization slowly disappears. One of the last stops before heading into the wild of the sub-arctic is at Fort McMurray, a settlement containing five small log buildings and then a number of Indian villages containing Cree tepee's pass by.
As the people disappear the men are joined by huge swarms of mosquito's and black flies and unfortunately James Corrigal receives a gash to his knee but is thankfully still use full. The hardship and sheer brute struggle of the journey shows the men of the expedition to be worthy of the truly heroic challenge facing them.
Pierre turns out to be the strongest canoe man in the bunch with the ability to guide his canoe through the most rugged rapids. The nineteenth century photographs of the people and the journey are truly amazing, thankfully on just about every page they are found.
Soon the trees start to thin out and become more isolated and gnarled, the air becomes colder, the mosquito's go away and glaciers appear. The men now look across a barren rocky landscape covered in mosses and to their good fortune find miles of herds of caribou of which the men kill a couple dozen and spend the next three days cutting up and drying for the long journey they have before them.
Near the outlet of Markham lake the men make a discovery as J.W. explains "It is worthy of note that at this point some very old moss grown "tepee" poles and fragments of birch bark were found, indicating that in days gone by the spot had been visited by Indians". The author goes on to say "There was more than sentiment to us in the fact, for from the old rotten poles, few and small though they were, we built a fire that gave us not a little comfort and cheer."
After a number of days on the lower Dubawnt river navigating ice flows and open water and down pouring rain the cold wet explorers come across at the second rapids signs of people as J.W. tells us "the first unmistakable signs of the recent habitations of Eskimos were discovered, They consist of rings of camp stones, an old bow, several broken arrows, a whip-stock and numerous broken or partly formed willow ribs of a "kyack," or canoe."
The following day down a little stream called the Chamberlain river on the edge of Grant lake the men of the expedition spot their first Eskimo as the author explains "Towards evening we sighted, upon the right bank" "the solitary lodge of an Eskimo. In front of the doorway stood a man gazing towards us, and behind and around him excited women and children were gathered. These were all placed inside the "topick" or lodge, and the door laced up securely. But the man remained outside."
The meeting was cordial with the Eskimos and upon leaving the authors steersman Louis commented that "They are not savage, but real descent people." On the evening of the 26th of august the expedition reached a magnificent body of water known as Aberdeen lake, the author says "a feeling of awe crept over us. We were undoubtedly the first white men who had ever viewed it, and in the knowledge of this fact there was inspiration."
On the page opposite is a photo of one of the men standing next to an Eskimo cairn. From here J.W. goes on to describe the daily life of the Eskimos including types of tools they use and type of animals they hunt also the author goes into their winter and summer homes and the amusements of the people.
As the journey continues much of the men's time is spent hunting for food, as winter begins to approach the canoes become bogged down in the ice and the decision is made to abandon most of their supplies including the rock collection which had been gathered.
With the load lightened and the weather worsening the men make a last dash in their now lighter vessels down the west shore of the Hudson bay the canoes to journey further ends in the ice with no where to go except over the frozen shore.
The men of the expedition are hungry and weary while Michel French's feet have suffered frost bite, Pierre too is physically weak, this is true of the author and his brother while John Flett and Jim Corrigal are in the best condition and agree to go on without the others the remaining fifty or so miles to Fort Churchill to get help for the rest.
The return of John and Jim is only a couple days wait and with them provisions and help gets the expedition party to Fort Churchill where they can rest and recover for a couple weeks while Michel's feet are attended by the doctor there. At Fort Churchill the men gather supplies for the final leg of the journey but due to crippling leg problems both the author and his brother are left to ride bundled on sleds while Michel is left behind to recover.
As the expedition come to its end Pierre and Louis are both crippled from the snowshoes and must be dispatched by horse and sleigh the rest of the journey. The men of the expedition have traveled by canoe and hiking thirty two hundred miles in eight months to accomplish their goal.
The book ends with the author giving a rap up of the assets of Hudson bay including animals, vegetables and minerals. In the end J.W. Tyrrell expresses a great respect for his fellow man but especially for the Eskimo people, his earlier classification of savages and half breeds have been words and not backed by any dislike for his fellow man.To me the books last jewel is it's second appendix, Eskimo vocabulary of words and phrases.
Across the Sub-Arctics of Canada was one of the best most exciting books I have read in a long time though it may be difficult to find I do recommend this wonderful early Canadian adventure, truly heroic!
Painting by Tom Thomson