Category Archives: Archaeology

Sutro Baths

 

A view of the Sutro Baths from above at Lands End, San Francisco, CA

A view of the Sutro Baths from above at Lands End, San Francisco, CA

The Sutro Baths are relatively young for ruins. They were destroyed in a fire in 1966, and since then have been a popular destination for tourists and locals alike. On a recent trip to San Francisco, we walked the trails on the cliffs above at Lands End.

View of the rocky coast and the Golden Gate Bridge from the cliff trails at Lands End

View of the rocky coast and the Golden Gate Bridge from the cliff trails at Lands End

The views from the trail are stunning, and the walk through the woods and down to the beach is pleasant and not too strenuous. Barring a couple of vertigo inducing moments at the highest points where there is little tree cover, it was easy going.

The beach cliffs at Lands End near the baths

The beach cliffs at Lands End near the baths

From the beaches below, the views of the cliffs are sublime, and yet the jagged curves of the shoreline give the space an enclosed feeling. It can almost feel small when you are standing at sea level.

The cave at Sutro Baths

The cave at Sutro Baths

View through the crevice inside the cave

View through the crevice inside the cave

Just to the right of the ruins is a cave that once housed the pump for the baths. It’s a short walk through to the other side which stops at the edge of the rocky shore. Halfway in, there is a small overlook where you can watch the sea crashing through a sharp crevice, and the sound it makes is thunderous.

The baths with the Cliff House Restaurant in the background

The baths with the Cliff House Restaurant in the background

The old walls of the bath house are relatively low and have a somewhat labyrinthine feeling. I couldn’t help thinking that the place was a bit haunted…maybe not, but it was easy to confuse the wind and the crashing of the waves with what the laughter and splashing of the bathers might have sounded like. Above and to the left of the baths is the Cliff House restaurant where we had drinks after the hike.

The “Shoot” at Sutro Baths c. 1898

The “Shoot” at Sutro Baths c. 1898


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Sylvanus Griswold Morley: Spy Among the Ruins

Sylvanus Griswold Morley

Sylvanus Griswold Morley

Sylvanus Griswold Morley (b. 1883) was an American archaeologist and pre-Columbian Mayan scholar. Some of his most important work included excavations of Chichen Itza on behalf of the Carnegie Institution and the study and publication of Mayan inscriptions. What is less known about Morley, is that he worked as a spy for the United States during World War I. Some time after his death, it became known that he had been employed by the Office of Naval Intelligence to track German and anti-U.S. Activities in Mexico. His cover as an archaeologist being a legitimate one, however, and despite new discoveries and re-evaluations of his work, his scholarly legacy remains intact. The following is an excerpt from his 1915 book, An Introduction to the Study of the Maya Hieroglyphs:

…there is encountered at the very outset in the study of these elements a condition which renders progress slow and results uncertain. In Egyptian texts of any given period the simple phonetic elements or signs are unchanging under all conditions of composition. Like the letters of our own alphabet, they never vary and may be recognized as unfailingly. On the other hand, in Maya texts each glyph is in itself a finished picture, dependent on no other for its meaning, and consequently the various elements entering into it undergo very considerable modifications in order that the resulting composite character may not only be a balanced and harmonious design, but also may exactly fill its allotted space. All such modifications probably in no way affect the meaning of the element thus mutilated.

Normal-form and head-variant glyphs, showing retention of essential element in each.

Normal-form and head-variant glyphs, showing retention of essential element in each.

Though Morley was an important figure in the study of Mayan culture and language, it seems that he devoted more time to his covert activities than to his archaeological research during the period of the Great War. During that time, it came to light that others in the field were also involved in espionage, and the practice of spying under the guise of science and exploration was, of course, controversial. In 1919, the well known anthropologist, Franz Boas, published a letter of protest in The Nation, stating:

…A person, however, who uses science as a cover for political spying, who demeans himself to pose before a foreign government as an investigator and asks for assistance in his alleged researches in order to carry on, under this cloak, his political machinations, prostitutes science in an unpardonable way and forfeits the right to be classed as a scientist.

Much of Morley’s work and his publications on the Maya are now outdated, however he is still highly regarded for his important restoration work on Mayan sites like Chichen Itza, as well as for initiating research programs for the Carnegie Institution for Science. He is remembered favorably as a voice for the Mayan people and culture. Sylvanus Griswold Morley died in 1948 at the age of 65 in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

From the title page of An Introduction to the Study of the Maya Hieroglyphs by Sylvanus Griswold Morley

From the title page of An Introduction to the Study of the Maya Hieroglyphs by Sylvanus Griswold Morley

 

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