ETHNIC DIVERSITY IN AMERICA BEFORE COLUMBUS
SUGGESTS PREHISTORIC OLD WORLD CONTACTS
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It has long been suspected that peoples of the Old World made contact with the Americas many centuries before Columbus (Hristov & Genoves 1999). The human figures sculptured in stone and pottery, found at archeological sites spanning great distances in America, reveal African, Asian and European as well as Amerindian influences (see: Ethnic Diversity). The oldest and largest stone sculptures dating 1,000 or more years before the Christian Era, are some of the finest examples depicting humans in pre-Columbian America. The earliest craftsmanship reveals a people with multiethnic ancestry. Given only intermittent small-scale migrations from the Old World, cultural development in the New World progressed largely independent of outside influences. In particular, there is the absence of such Old World technology as the use of the wheel. Indeed, knowledge of the wheel did exist in pre-Columbian America (Figs. 1-5), but wheels were not deployed for travel (Ekholm 1946), probably because of the lack of draft animals and the rough terrain. A search for further evidence nonetheless seems to have been considered (see Bron157)
Some have gone the extreme to explain away the African influence in particular. For example, Coe & Diehl (1980), referring to the massive stone sculptures in Mesoamerica, some weighing more than 40 tons, stated, "Much ink has been spilled about the 'Negroid' aspect of the colossal heads-- the flat noses with flaring alae, flat faces, thick lips, and so forth-- ever since the days of José Melgar (1869) [see Examples]. It is certainly true that these do not look like typical American indigenous people. However, an examination of this and other great heads will show how very slightly the original boulder (or the transported blank) has been modified. As seen from the side, a slightly curved line would join the front of the headgear, the tip of the nose, the lips, and the edge of the chin. To sculpt this face with an 'Indian on the Buffalo nickel' nose would have meant removing several additional tons of basalt by the most tedious process and would have increased the chances of breakage in transport, if the monument had been carved near the source-- thus, it was easier and more efficient to produce portraits in this ”Negroid-style." These authors fail to explain why the “African” character appears in thousands of small clay and stone artifacts and in the stationary wall carvings as well <see Example #1, #2, #3>. Encouragingly, in a later publication Coe (1994) refrained from a denunciation of an early African ethnic presence. Blood type analyses in the 20th Century do not support the ethnic diversity visible in artifacts. This could be in part due to the widespread population mortalities from epidemics introduced by Old World colonists in the 16 Century, which reduced the indigenous populations by more than 90 percent. Recovering populations certainly would possess reassembled genotypes in a different manner from that existing prior to the catastrophic epidemics. These epidemics have been attributed to both endemic pathogens and those introduced by European colonists. Studies by Dr. Rodolfo Acuna-Soto of Mexico’s National Autonomous University indicate that many of them may have been outbreaks of Ebola-like viruses. Of especial importance are the records made in 1576 by Dr. Francisco Hernandez, a physician to the Spanish king, who described fevers that caused heavy bleeding, similar to the hemorrhagic Ebola virus. The epidemics raged through the native American populations, killing four out of five people infected, frequently within a couple of days.
The Olmec is one of the earliest American civilizations that began in Southern Mexico around 2,000 B.C. The name in Aztec Nahuatl means "People of the Land of Rubber." Ethnically and culturally they exhibited African and Asian influences (Example #1, #2). These people were concerned about their identity to the extent that they devoted considerable resources to document their presence through the construction of gigantic monuments, the quality of which demanded Herculean efforts (Examples). They have a strong affinity with the early Igbo culture in West Africa. They developed a sophisticated agriculture in America resembling in field layout that which was recently uncovered in West Africa. They are responsible for the development of maize, squash, bean and other wholly American cropping systems. They organized small cities and could have contributed to the origin if the first American written language, now known to date to before 600 B.C. The Olmec language may have been in the Old Saharan or West African style, which today survives in only a few places such as the Igbo and Basque languages. They also developed a kind of sport with religious motifs, using a hard rubber ball that was similar to basketball and became widely adopted throughout Mesoamerica. All the Olmec technology was passed along to succeeding Teotihuacán, Maya, Zapotec, Toltec and Aztec civilizations. Fagan (1989) stated that, "The Preclassic period of Mesoamerican prehistory lasted from approximately 2,000 B.C. to AD 150, a period of major cultural change in both lowlands and highlands. Sedentary villages traded with each other in raw materials and exotic objects. These exchange networks became increasingly complex and eventually came under the monopolistic control of larger villages. Increasing social complexity went hand in hand with the appearance of the first public buildings and evidence of social stratification. These developments are well chronicled in the Valley of Oaxaca and in the Olmec culture of the lowlands, which flourished from approximately 3,500 to 2,500 years ago [1,500-500 B.C.]. Olmec art styles and religious beliefs were among those that spread widely over lowlands and highlands during the late Preclassic period. The complex societies that developed in the Mesoamerican lowlands and highlands depended on diverse agricultural techniques . . .” During the "trading" activity noted by Fagan, people from southern Mexico and Central America could have spread out all over the Americas, and started settlements in the southeastern United States, the Caribbean and South America. Indeed, the early widespread use of Mesoamerican crops, such as corn, beans and squash, attests to this activity. Periodic exploratory and accidental landings of vessels from the Old World were also very probable, with the return of some craft being almost certain (Shao 1976, Marx 1992, Bailey 1994).
A close examination of the sculptures and other artwork after ca. 950 B.C. shows continuing, but diminishing Olmec influence, which was accompanied by periodic massive destruction of their monuments. Many of the largest sculptures sustained mutilation on a massive scale, in an effort that must have almost equaled that of their creation. It has been implied that this may have been a ritual at the death of an old ruler, or caused by outside invaders. Beginning around 200 B.C., there appears to have been a long period of integration with the Eurasian peoples moving in from the north and elsewhere. Around this time the quality of the human rendition in ceramics became especially advanced, sometimes equaling that being produced today (e.g., Figs. et27, 54, 55, 63 & 66). The legend of the “god” Quetzalcoatl suggests that he possessed possible African ancestry (Fig. 182), and he left the area sometime after 500 AD. Could there have been a return of some of the Olmec back to Africa back then? Certainly, the Olmec culture diminished its influence in the humid lowlands of southern Mexico after the 1st Century AD. Speculations on the reason for this have included a widespread outbreak of malaria (origins in Africa) and aggressive invaders from the north. However, the African presence is maintained in Mesoamerica through Aztec times in the 15th Century, implying repeated contacts, accidental or otherwise, with the African continent.
Another argument against the Pre-Columbian colonization of America by people from the Old World implies the independent development of "identical" European, African and Asian ethnic types in both hemispheres, which is not easy to imagine. Anthropologists continue to revise estimates when true humans, Homo sapiens, first began to leave Africa. Larick & Ciochon (1996) judged this to be around 80,000 B.C. But, human existence on the African continent extends much further back in time, with DNA evidence from the Cameroons being around 350,000 BC. (see 700,000 BP, and Diamond). Humans had evolved independently with a close relative, Homo erectus, which left central Africa around l.5 million B.C., and spread to all parts of the world with the possible exception of America (Leakey 1995). However, the Calico site in California has already been suspected as a possible Homo erectus site (see Early Humans), and a recent discovery in Kansas of a footprint with an opposed big toe points to the possibility of even earlier species (see Kansas). Analyses of the DNA in mitochondria and the Y chromosome support the theory that Homo sapiens left Africa in two small groups through present day Yemen and spread to other parts of the world after 80,000 B.C. Various races of humans developed in the different geographic regions of the world from wherever Homo sapiens settled down. It took a long time for this to occur to the degree that our major races differ today. A conservative estimate for the differences between some Asian, African and European ethnic groups is at least 20,000 years. As Africa was the point of origin of Homo sapiens, it would make ethnic groups in Africa the most ancient, with a period of development probably exceeding 300,000 years (Please see James Shreeve for detailed account). In America, the accepted dates for the earliest presence of humans range from 15,000 B.C,, to 40,000 B.C., although earlier dates are suspected and eventually could be found (see Savannah).
It is also probable that initial migrations to America were along coastal ice sheets that joined America with the Old World prior to 15,000 B.C. For example, the technology for producing Clovis projectiles developed in southwestern Europe (See Aquatania). Land bridge migrations of Homo sapiens to America began between Siberia and Alaska around 15,000 B.C., and much later migration routes from Europe, Africa and Asia varied. It is possible that after 14,000 B.C. humans sailed west in boats following the then existent ice sheets across the Atlantic. Certainly, the islands of Hawaii were first colonized from the north (e.g., Alaska & Siberia) [see Hawaii History]. Another suggestion is that they arrived first on the Pacific coast to the State of Guerrero, Mexico. Indeed, the Polynesian chicken existed in South America prior to the arrival of Europeans in the 16th Century (see Chickens). Polynesians who brought the chicken to South America then returned home with the American sweet potato and African bottle gourd. Huyghe (1992) pointed out that some Africans, for example, utilized large vessels capable of carrying many tons, in their trading activities around the Indian Ocean.
There was extensive sailing activity by the Phoenicians and Romans up and down the coasts of Europe and Africa; and at least one ancient wreck has been discovered off the coast of Brazil (Fig. 76, Marx 1992). One can imagine that occasionally some of the vessels, with variable ethnic groups on board, may have strayed off their course during storms, and landed in America. Bailey (1994) advanced the possibility of early quests for raw materials, such as tin and copper, in America by seafaring European people during the Bronze Age (6,000-1,190 B.C.) [Also see Bronze]. The possibility that Egypt might have had intense contact with North America is supported by the discovery in 1950 of large boats adjacent to Khufu’s great pyramid. They were buried between 2,589 and 2,566 B.C. One has been restored and it shows considerable wear from long journeys. Its length is 43.63 meters, width 5.66 meters (see Egyptian Boat). However, the absence of bronze tools among the artifacts found in America has not been explained and this argues against contacts with the Old World during the Bronze Age (Please see Bronze Age Tools). There is historical evidence for a large seafaring trade in reindeer hides by people from the Mediterranean area (see Sea Peoples). Edo Nyland reviewed the information available and concluded that Pre-Columbian voyages, especially from the Mediterranean Region, were almost a certainty (see Human Migrations). Discoveries of ancient Asiatic and Middle Eastern writing and sculpture are being found in South America, and a 45,000 year old mammoth kill in Colorado shows one carcass covered by large stones that kept it submerged in a shallow lake pointing to human activity. Arrival to North America that long ago would have necessarily meant coastal sea travel.
The European and Asian faces in Mesoamerican sculpture and artifacts appearing intermittently after 2,000 B.C. show a trend for the former to be more numerous in colder and drier areas, and the latter in humid tropical areas.
The possibility of contact by people from southern and central Asia in Pre-Columbian America has been advanced (Carter 1964, 1976; Ekholm 1946, 1953, 1964, Estrada et al. 1962, Heine-Geldern 1954, 1959; Jairazbhoy 1976, Phillips 1966, Shao 1976, Smith 1915). In the History of the Liang Dynasty, published in China ca. 629 AD, there is mention of a voyage around 499 AD to a country that was very likely America (Shao 1976). The actual place was described as "The Country of the Extreme East." Shao (1976) also showed many photographs of statues and temple art of Mesoamerica that bear a very close resemblance to similar early art of China and India. In particular, the depiction of elephants on some of the early Mayan temples has always been a mystery (Figs. 128, 131 & 133). Although people in Southern Mexico had hunted mammoths in 8,000 B.C. (Coe 1994 & Mammoths, Camelids, & Lions). ), they were extinct long before development of the Maya civilization. The art styles found in Honduras especially resemble those of early India and southern China. Many of these associations were already noted by Vining (1885). People have attributed the finding of Japanese type pottery in coastal Ecuador from ca. 3,000 B.C. to early contact there possibly from Japan sailing down with the coastal currents in small boats (Jairazbhoy 1976, Meggers 1992, Meggers & Evans 1966). Coe (1994) noted a similarity between the architecture at El Tajín, Mexico and Bronze and Iron Age cultures of China.
The possible discovery of the American drugs cocaine and tobacco in Egyptian mummies has been discussed at length by S. A. Wells (see Mummy), although contamination by modern workers may have confounded the data.
There has been an especially interesting probable Norse connection in North America by 1,700 B.C., as revealed in pictographs and petroglyphs (Figs. 11, 15, & 19) (Fell 1982). Some Norse settlements even appear to have developed to the level of herding bighorn sheep (Fig. 20) (see Attachment #1). An advanced form of weaving may also have been brought to America by these explorers who were in search of copper (Bronze Figs. 158, 159, 161). Legends are widespread in Polynesia of contacts with white people (see Polynesia). Other unanswered questions include why are there so many Japanese words and phrases in the Zuni language of New Mexico and Arizona, and why does the native Purepecha language in the State of Michoacán, Mexico bear little resemblance to Nahuatl, the primary indigenous language root in Mesoamerica? Furthermore, the existence of a widespread universal language in pre-Christian times, the West African Language, provides clues to Pre-Columbian voyages throughout the world. Linguistics Archeology that studies the relationships of modern languages to the ancient West African Language is giving us greater insight into people’s migrations. Some more recent sailings to America by Europeans after 700 A.D. seem to have occurred (see Great Ireland and West Virginia Petroglyph).
The presence of cultivated plants also sometimes suggests pre-Columbian contact with Asia and Africa, although caution is advised before making definite comparisons (see <Plants>). For example, Spanish friars reported that the Maya in Yucatan were growing both yams and sweet potatoes at the time of the Spanish conquest (Landa 1556). However, the genus of yams, Dioscorea, occurs as separate species in America, Asia and Africa. The botanist, Galletty Wilson maintained that tobacco, a native American plant, was in use across Africa long before the arrival of Portuguese traders; and the American sweet potato was thought to be cultivated in Uganda before the time of Columbus (Bailey 1994). Bernal (1973) remarked that the American peanut was probably cultivated in China by 3,000 B.C. Pompeian murals have been reported to contain accurate portrayals of two tropical American plants, the pineapple and the sour sop, Annona squamosa (Neugebauer 1962).
American cultivated cottons are tetraploid, with one set of genes resembling the genes of American wild cottons, and the other set that of all Asiatic cottons (Bailey 1994, Brücher 1989). Human intervention would be essential to explain this relationship. Tetraploid cotton was being used in Peru in 4,000 B.C.!
The American sweet potato, Ipomoea batatas, is especially interesting, because many varieties of it were being grown in Polynesia long before European contact there (Brücher). Its name in Polynesia and in America is close to "kumar" or "camote," which comes from the Sanskrit word "kumari" (Bailey 1994). The coconut, believed to be from Southeast Asia, is thought by some to have been present in America when the Spaniards arrived. Coconuts cannot remain viable after floating for a long time in seawater.
The bottle gourd, Lagenaria siceraria, is a container plant of African origin. Its earliest occurrence in America was in the Ayacucho Basin of Peru ca. 11,000 B.C. (Lathrop 1977). It was grown throughout America as long ago as 7,000 B.C. Although it was believed spread by ocean currents, its seeds cannot remain viable for the length of time that floating to America would take. Brücher (1989) puzzled at how this plant crossed to the Pacific side of America at such an early date. The Arabs may have brought American maize into Spain in the 13th Century (Bailey 1994). Bailey (1994) suggests other interesting plant examples.
Some of the more readily available Pre-Columbian sculptures and figures found in the Americas are shown in the following links. These are arranged chronologically as Preclassic (1800 B.C. - 150 AD), Classic (150 AD - 900 AD), and Post-Classic (900 AD - 1521 AD). They show the multiethnic characteristics that at various times have exerted an influence in America, and some of the marvelous artwork associated with the various cultures. They are represented as closely as possible to the original works, and their dates are derived primarily from the respective cited references, which should be consulted for detail. Von Wuthenau (1969) emphasized that the individual and ethnic characteristics of the human face are something that no one could invent by accident. Moreover, with the most elementary logic and to all artistic experience an Amerindian could not depict in a masterly way the head of an African, Asian or European without missing a single characteristic, unless he had actually seen such a person.
The wide scale destruction of historical documents in America by the Aztecs, who strove to rewrite history in their own image, and by European invaders after the Conquest, has contributed to our present limited knowledge of Pre-Columbian history in America. Foreign diseases, such as smallpox, measles and whooping cough, decimated the native populations in Mexico alone by an estimated 86% by 1700 AD (Coe 1994). Certainly, such high mortality contributed to a great reduction of ethnic diversity in America. Continuing to ignore the many authors cited herein who have painstakingly strived to record remnants of this history is unconscionable in view of the fact that their evidence for Pre-Columbian contact is strong. Recovered artifacts are scattered in museums and private collections around the world where they are not always generally accessible. The chronological assemblage herein of some of the evidence for Pre-Columbian contacts in America should stimulate additional searches and a broader discussion of the subject. This in turn may lead to new perspectives in our knowledge of ethno-historical events and human population migrations. [Also see Album]
Attachment #1 (FURTHER DETAIL)
As of January 2009 there have been few implements found in the Americas that date from the Bronze Age. (Please see Discussion) Nevertheless, Fell (1982) noted that several outstanding facts become increasingly apparent from various epigraphic expeditions. He stated, "One is that we have greatly underrated the achievements of the Bronze Age peoples of northern Europe. We have long known, from their conspicuous carvings that constitute the rock art of the Bronze Age, that the North Sea and the Baltic were the home waters of fleets of ships. What we have failed to realize is that those same ships and characteristic Bronze Age style, are also depicted on the rocks and cliffs of the maritime regions of eastern North America. And now it is also apparent that these same matching petroglyphs, on both sides of the Atlantic, are also accompanied by readable texts cut in ancient scripts that are likewise found on either side of the Atlantic," (Also see Colonization). The voyages occurred just as the Iron Age was beginning, so that the explorers might have brought with them implements of iron instead of bronze (see Picture), and most would have probably rusted away.
What this means, of course, is that the ancient shipwrights made sound vessels, whose skippers and crews sailed them across the ocean, thereby fulfilling their builders' dreams. Flotillas of ancient Norse, Baltic, and Nordic (often erroneously referred to as Celtic—see Celts) ships each summer set their prows to the northwest, to cross the Atlantic, to return later in the season with cargoes of raw materials furnished by the Algonquians with whom they traded. To make these crossings they depended in part upon the sea roads that had been opened up by the amelioration of the climate at the peak of the Bronze Age. [See Climate] As oceanographers have inferred, the polar ice melted then, and the favorable westward-flowing air and water currents generated by the permanent polar high now became available to aid in the westward passage. The return voyage, as always, could be made on the west wind drift, in the latitude of around 40-deg. North Latitude, as Columbus rediscovered. While these Norse traders opened up the northern parts of North America, other sailors from the Mediterranean lands were doing similar things... but their outward voyage lay along the path that Columbus employed, utilizing the westward-blowing trade winds, found at latitudes below 30-deg. N. Both sets of navigation, though employing different outward routes, were obliged to use the same homeward track, that of the west wind drift in middle latitudes. Along this common sea road the sailors of the two different regions would occasionally meet, thus prompting intercultural exchanges between the Baltic lands and North Africa, as Fell (1982) had inferred previously.
At least twice since the close of the Stone Age, conditions have favored such events. The first occurred during the warm period of the middle Bronze Age. Then the world's climates cooled again, and the northern route to America became too ice-bound and too dangerous to attract adventurers in that direction any longer [see Climate]. It remained thus until about AD 700, when once more the earth's climate ameliorated. Once again the northern icecap melted and the polar seas could support navigation that made use of the polar high. Once more mariners came to northeastern America, this time under a name by which they are known in history--The Vikings. Yet, as the inscriptions show, these Vikings were not just Norsemen, they included as before men from the Baltic lands, Lithuanians and Latvians, as well as peoples from Ireland and probably also Wales. After AD 1,200 the earth grew colder again, the thousand vineyards of William the Conqueror's England died out, and Normans turned their attention to the south of Europe to bring in their Malmsey wines, no longer fermented in England, where no vineyards now survived. The old routes to America were deserted, and that western land lay ignored by Europe until the voyage of Columbus once more awakened the cupidity of monarchs who, by this time, now controlled large populations of Europe. This time the full force of European exploitation fell upon the Amerindians, and the age of American isolation had ended.
Another noteworthy fact is that the ancient Europeans were not barbarians. They not only spoke in the chief dialects of the Indo-European tongues, but already by late Neolithic times, the Europeans could write. The languages they wrote now prove to have been comprehensible to us as representing the principal tongues of modern Europe: Teutonic, Baltic, Celtic, and Basque. Yet, another surprising discovery is due to Professor Linus Brunner, who announced in 1981 the occurrence of Semitic vocabulary in the newly identified Rhaetic language of ancient Switzerland.
The heretofore mysterious people, to whom the archeologists have attached such names as 'Beaker Folk,' 'Bell-beaker People,' and so on, now prove to be Europeans of presently existing stocks. They spoke in early variant forms of languages that we can see as related closely to the classical Teutonic, Norse, and other tongues of Europe at the time of the Romans. The inscriptions found on their artifacts prove this. That it was not understood before is simply because archeologists have mistaken the writing for decorative engraving. When a loom weight has inscribed upon it the word warp, it is obvious that this is a purely practical identification label for a weaver. Decorative it may be, but let us not overlook the fact that such a label tells us immediately the linguistic stock of the person who engraved it. Moreover, of course, it certifies that the engraver belonged to a literate society. The Pre-Christian languages that were spoken were apparently all very closely related to a most ancient form, West African (see Migrations for a more extensive treatment of this subject). The Basque Language apparently survives as a close approximation of ancient West African.
When we examine the rock and cliff inscriptions of Scandinavia, we discover that the 'meaningless' decorations beside their ship carvings are none other than a readable comment in Baltic speech. They are appropriate to the scene depicted, and we know at once that the designer was familiar with the language spoken by the ancestors of the people who still live along the Baltic coasts today. They were known as Balts. Let us recognize this simple fact, and call them by their proper names. In addition, when we find very similar, and similarly lettered, engravings on North American rocks, it is our obligation to recognize their European origins, and to call them by their proper names too.
Please see Bibliography for citations noted in this section.