Thursday, 4 April 2013

The Mysterious Sun Dogs

Before we start this article, it is prefaced with the dustjacket description of the cited book. Digitized April 2013 by Doug Frizzle.
From the book : Americas Ancient Civilizations
Published 1953 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons
The fascinating civilizations of the Mayas, the Aztecs and the Incas are among the great mysteries of antiquity, and both the archaeologist and the general public will welcome this study. It discusses current theories and discoveries in full, and suggests several possibilities in connection with the influence of Asia upon these civilizations and vice-versa. The tremendous interest in the Kon-Tiki expedition and in the recent finds in Yucatan and South America has stimulated interest in the whole field. Mr. Verrill, a practised hand at exploring the past, has given us an admirable synthesis of all that is happening.
Among the topics covered by his book are The Mystery of the American Indian, The Plumed Serpent, Foods the Ancient Americans Gave Us, The Mysterious Sun Dogs, Mining for Mummies, Songs and Proverbs of the Incas, and The Identity of the Bearded God.
This is a rich treasure house of legend and fact, and well worth the attention of anyone who cares to read about the beliefs and cultures of an age long past. It carries much of the fascination of Gods, Graves and Scholars.
A. Hyatt Verrill, who has written America's Ancient Civilizations in collaboration with his wife, was born in New Haven in 1871 and is the author of 115 books, including the recent Shell Collector's Handbook. From 1889 to 1920 he conducted extensive explorations in the West Indies, the Guianas and Central America. From 1928 to 1932 he led archaeological expeditions in Peru and Bolivia. With 24 pages of half-tones and many line drawings.

The Mysterious Sun Dogs
Among the remains left by the Incans, the Mayas, the Aztecs, and the Toltecs, there are innumerable carvings, paintings and figures on ceramic ware, as well as woven in textiles, showing the sacred "Sun dogs" or Wari-Wilkas as they were called by the ancient Peruvians.
Many of these representations are obviously excellent likenesses, others are highly conventionalized, but all show the outstanding and distinctive characteristics of the quadruped. These are large, sharp claws and offset thumb-like toes, a long narrow tongue, out-jutting lower jaw, retracted lips showing long, sharp fang-like teeth, a mask-like marking on the face and a long tail with slightly prehensible tip. And all show the distinctive "sun spot" on the breast.
Some of the best of these pictures were engraved on sea shells found in the Spiro Burial Mound at Spiro, Oklahoma (Plate X, No. 4). A great many have been found about Vera Cruz, Mexico, and at Chichen Itza in Yucatan (Plate X, Nos. 8, 9). Others are on pottery and stone from Chan Chan, Ancash and Chavin in Peru (Plate X, Nos. 5, 7) while still others have been found at the extremely ancient city of Tiahuanaco, Bolivia. One on a drum from Mexico shows two "Sun dogs" armed with axes guarding the Sun god (Plate X, 6) and an engraving from the Spiro Mound also shows the creatures acting as guardians of the Sun god. A very fine representation is carved on the chest of a stone figure of a man from Chichen Itza (Plate X, 8). In all probability he was a keeper or priest of a cult built around the animals which were regarded as sacred.
On an idol of the Sun god at Tiahuanaco there are sculptured figures of a group of priests, each with a "Sun dog" on his chest and Raring the same type of headdress as the figure from Chichen Itza and bearing in their hands, staffs with the head of a Wari Wilka at one end.
On a sculptured frieze from the Temple of the Warriors at Chichen Itza there are several "Sun dogs" surrounded by men (Plate X, 9) who may have been priests, while a sculpture shows one of the creatures curled up with its hind foot in its mouth.
That such creatures actually existed and were not purely mythological or imaginary is obvious, yet no scientist has ever been able to even guess at the identity of the animal which it has been assumed is extinct. Judging from its size in comparison with human figures associated with it, the animal must have been five or six feet in length.*
* One of the "authorities" of the American Museum of Natural History states that all depictions of the Wari Wilkas represent cats. It is obvious, however, that many of these paintings, sculptures, etc., are accurate likenesses of the animal I obtained in Chiapas and most certainly do not depict felines. No species of "cat" has a somewhat prehensile tail, a long, anteater-like tongue, prognathous lower jaw and retracted lip, offset thumblike toes, and neither do felines squat on their haunches and hold food in their front paws in the manner of a squirrel.
It has all the appearance of a ferocious beast and the Incan word "Wari" means brave or ferocious. It is also known that at Tiahuanaco the Wari Wilkas were kept in deep smooth-sided stone-lined pits or dens where fragments of bones have been found; as an identical pit has been found near Vera Cruz, Mexico, it is assumed I hat the Aztecs and probably the Mayas followed the same practice.
Personally I have always believed that the "Sun dogs" still existed in some remote little known area in South or Central America. From time to time new and previously unknown mammals, reptiles and birds are discovered in the tropical jungles. The so-called wild dogs of the Guianas were believed to be purely figments of the Indians' imaginations until they actually were found and specimens obtained by zoologists, and if an animal, even of large size, was nocturnal in its habits and dwelt in holes in trees and was not abundant the chances of finding one would be less than one in millions.
My belief that the Wari Wilkas still existed was based mainly on the stories of the Indians of South and Central America. Throughout the area the jungle-dwelling Indians tell tales of a most ferocious and dangerous but luckily very rare creature known as the "Warrawana" or to the English-speaking Carib tribes, the “Warru-tiger." In all of the various dialects of these aborigines the word warru or warra means brave or ferocious and is practically identical with the Quechua (Incan) Wari. According to the Indians the animal reaches a length of about five feet, it is described as having short legs, a long body, a large head with powerful jaws, huge, knife-like teeth, large sharp claws and a long tail. According to the Indians' tales it is nocturnal and preys upon other quadrupeds and birds and especially the trumpet bird which is known as the Warracabra or Warra food and for this reason the animal is often referred to as the Warracabra Tiger.
The Indians declare that it is absolutely fearless, will unhesitatingly attack any creature it meets including man, and that it moves, springs, strikes with its hooked claws, and slashes with the terrible teeth with incredible speed and agility, and they all firmly believe that it is a more or less supernatural creature inhabited by a devil.
During the many years I lived among the Indians of South and Central America and explored the little known jungles I never saw a Warracabra tiger and never met an Indian who claimed to have come upon one personally, but I always had hopes that sooner or later I might be lucky—or unlucky—enough to find one.
At last, when my jungle exploring days were over and I was living in the little town of Ixtepec in southern Mexico, a Lacandon Indian from Chiapas brought me a living specimen of an animal which I instantly recognized as the long lost, supposedly extinct sacred Sun dog of the ancient Americans.
To be sure, it was a young animal, barely two feet in length but it had all of the characteristics shown in the immeasurably old sculptures and paintings. There were the hooked sharp claws, the offset toes, the large head, the undershot lower jaw, the retracted lips, the large knife-like canine teeth. Its face bore a dusky masklike marking and the tip of its tail was slightly prehensile while upon its light-colored breast was a large golden yellow "sunspot." There was no doubt left in my mind. I actually had a living Wari Wilka, a live Warracabra Tiger, the only known specimen of a supposedly long extinct semi-mythical animal. And I very soon found that the Indians' tales of the beast's savagery were no exaggeration. He was the most ferocious and dangerous animal for his size that I have seen. Without the least provocation he would spring like a panther at anyone, his toes with their curved needle-sharp claws wide spread, his ugly jaws open and razor-edged teeth bared and slashing from side to side. No wonder the Indians believed the beasts possessed by devils. If an inanimate object came within his reach he would fly into a maniacal rage, tearing and biting it, tossing it about and making his paroxysms of fury the more terrifying by fearsome deep throated snarls and loud hisses. No wonder the Incans had named the beasts Wari—or ferocious.
I could well imagine what a terrible creature a fully grown specimen would be. Surely the Sun god could not have found a better guardian. As yet no zoologist has been able to identify the "Monster” as we named him. At first, from my description and drawings scientists decided that he was a species of the very rare Bassaricyon for his dentition was similar. Then they suggested that he must be a freak, a malformed Kinkajou. But the dentition of that creature is totally different and—if he were a freak Kinkajou, then all of the sun dogs of the ancient Americans must have been freaks also which of course is practically a scientific impossibility. About the best that the zoologists can do is to say that in case the "Monster" dies and I will send them the skull they will try to classify him So for the present the demoniacal creature remains unique, a "Sun dog” or Wari Wilka or Warracabra Tiger and the epitomé of fury incarnate.

PLATE X (Chapter 10)
1 The "Monster" taken alive in Chiapas, Mexico. Drawn from life by the author. Note lower jaw, face marking, toes, etc.
2 The animal photographed from life.
3 Carving of "Wari-wilka" from Tiahuanaco, Bolivia. Note the resemblance to animal from Mexico.
4 A "Sun Dog" engraved on sea shell. Spiro Mound, Oklahoma. Note facial markings, offset toes, bared teeth, sun spot, etc.
5 Painting of "Wari-wilka" from Chan-Chan, Peru. The head at tip of tail indicates "life" or that it is prehensile.
6 Wooden drum from Mexico showing a Wari-wilka armed with axe and guarding the sun.
7 Painting of a Sun-Dog from Chavin, Peru, showing same characteristics as the live animal from Mexico.
8 Stone carving of "Keeper of the Wari-wilkas" from ball court at Chichen Itza, Yucatan. Compare with Fig. 1.
9 Wari-wilkas on frieze in temple of warriors, Chichen Itza.

Ruth Verrill also wrote, at least twice about the Wari-wilka. Her stories do not quite jive with all the other pieces. Omega, and Levy County. Wikipedia has a description of the animal here, and an excellent drawing of the Tayra is here.

From Wiki - the disamiguation of Sun Dog "A creature with a sun-like blaze on its chest, a slightly prehensile tail, and sharp claws in the artwork of Central and South America, according to A. Hyatt Verrill in his book, "America's Ancient Civilizations." The image most likely depicts a tayra, a tropical mustelid."

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As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.