With the recent discovery of a second calendar inscription that predicts the end of the world age in Mayan Mexico that culture has come under increased scrutiny. Up until November there had only been one calendar tablet, recovered from Tortuguero (see Frank Joseph’s article on page 22) that predicted the end of the fifth age. For this reason scholars have discredited the implication. The new inscription at Camalcalco not only carries the same implication but was written on bricks within a wall, possibly to conceal the message, which can be read as “He will descend from the sky” and which refers to Bolon Yokte a god connected to both war and creation. It corresponds with our “dawning of the Age of Aquarius,” so it remains unknown if the year 2012 will be an end to the old as in destruction of the planet, or a positive New Age.
The Mayan vision is of a world moved by phases of creation and destruction. In ancient Egyptian, the verb “temo” meant “to be complete” or “to make an end of.” In ancient Mexican, the same word meant “to be born” or “to descend.” This is one of many tantalizing similarities between Aztec and Mayan Mexico and the Old World.
From just where did the Mayan Civilization emerge? They seem to share certain characteristics, traits, and even language with cultures from both Asia and Africa.
This is not to say that the Mexican civilization was foreign in origin. The Mayans were as native to Mexico as the Egyptians were to Egypt. Both cultures received and welcomed knowledge from other locales. At the same time, the Mayans were superior in the sciences of astronomy and mathematics. When the Greeks thought ten thousand was an uncountable number, the Mayans measured creation from 400 million years before. When the Greeks had believed Venus to be two separate stars, Lucifer and Hesperus, the Mayan knew it to be one. The Mayans measured the solar year as 365.242198 days, which is more accurate than the Gregorian calendar. Only in modern times have we been more precise at 365.242129, a difference of six seconds. They understood the concept of zero and used it one thousand years before Indian or Arabic mathematicians. The early Mexicans had paper and writing before Homer.
The Rise of Culture in Ancient Mexico
Traditionally it has been claimed they were simply advanced from the older Olmec civilization that was centered at Vera Cruz. The high point of Olmec culture dates from 1500 BC to 400 BC. However, Mayan ruins recently discovered in Cuello, Belize, set the date for Mayan architecture back to 2600 BC. While both cultures existed at the same time, they were separate and distinct outside of their shared knowledge of agriculture. The Mayan Long Count Calendar begins on August 12, 3113 BC (in our own calendar). It would make sense that some sort of event happened at this time; but because so much of Mayan history was destroyed by Europeans it may never be known to us. At the same time in Egypt the first dynasty began.
Circa 3200 BC the world saw a flurry of temple, monument, and pyramid building from Scotland and Stonehenge in Britain, to Iberia, to Egypt, and Mesopotamia. Over the next thousand years this activity slowed, possibly due to wars between the large city-states that had developed.
The Phoenician Influence
The Mayan culture was already developed when another culture clash took place. Around 1200 the lights went out in Europe ushering in the first Dark Ages. Populations actually decreased, trade stopped in many ports, and some cities were completely abandoned. Only one culture survived and actually thrived, the Phoenician. They originated in Asia and were a Semitic people, but they did not remain in the Eastern Mediterranean. They headed west through the Mediterranean Sea and into the Atlantic. They founded cities in the Atlantic ports of Spain and North Africa. They protected their trading routes even to the point of scuttling their own ships if followed by Greeks or Romans.
They also understood the oceans to be highways rather than barriers. What is known as the Canary Current is a water highway from Spain south to the Morocco and the Cape Verde islands and then directly to the Caribbean Sea and Florida. The winds and currents were favorable to making short work of a long passage. They quickly learned the return highway was the Gulf Stream, which could return the fleet to the Atlantic Coast of Europe.
The Moroccan cities of Lixis and Safi were developed long before Rome existed and were controlled by the Phoenicians. Thor Heyerdahl started his famous Ra Voyage from Safi to prove the ancients could make the journey even in reed-built boats.
The ancient historian and geographer Strabo said the Phoenicians were the informants of Homer. They occupied the Atlantic Coast of Iberia from just after 1200 and were responsible for bringing writing to the Greeks. The early Mexicans manufactured genuine paper, not with wood pulp but using reed hibiscus bark and other fibrous plants. They beat, soaked, and cleansed the wet shreds together in a process that is very complicated. It was the same process the Phoenicians used and the Egyptians mastered.
Phoenicians and Egyptians as well as early Mexicans shared the practice of trepanning the skull which some consider magic and others believe was to heal fractures. They shared the use of artificial irrigation; fishing with nets; sinkers and floats; board games; and dress according to rank.
With recorded trading routes from Egypt to Africa and beyond, could the Phoenicians have brought knowledge of the ziggurat style temple to Mexico? Mexico would actually build more pyramids than all of Egypt and Mesopotamia. Both cultures erected their temples to be oriented to the four cardinal points. Both associated them with religions and the heavens. Horus in Egypt was worshipped as a bird, while Quetzalcoatl in Mexico was a god associated with a bird. Egyptian motifs show the serpent and incense burner as part of pharaoh’s regalia. Mayan and Aztec statuettes of gods show the same motifs. Both cultures had sun and moon gods as well as a rain god. Hadad, the Phoenician rain god, and Tlaloc, the Mexican rain god, were both robed and bearded and both carried a lightening bolt in their right hand. Quetzalcoatl, also known as Kukulcan, is depicted as a bearded civilization bringer. Since the Mexicans did not typically have more than thin beard growth, they created false beards on their carvings for ceremonial use by kings and priests. The Egyptians, too, used false beards. The Semitic Asians who may have been the ones who transmitted such information were bearded. Unfortunately both Phoenicians and Mexicans shared the gruesome practices of child sacrifice, self-laceration, and flaying people alive.
The Popol Vuh is the Mayan equivalent of the scriptures of Hebrews, Buddhists, and Hindus. It is a collection of preserved writings that notably reflects some of the mythological tales of the Middle East. The world, the Mayans declare was born out of nothingness. From the darkness the deity brought light. It records a host of peoples, black and white of many languages, crossing the sea to reach what is Mexico.
It has a similar Garden of Eden story. Just as the Biblical Eve allowed herself to be seduced into eating a fruit that caused her to discover her own nakedness and suffer in childbirth, so did a Mayan maiden eat from a sacred tree. The punishment was the same.
Like the Bible’s Book of Kings, the Popol Vuh has a section dedicated to the royal genealogies. A flood story is shared between the Bible and the Aztecs where a Mexican Noah lets a vulture fly. The Aztecs had a form of baptism by water, and a host, actually corn flour and blood similar to the Christian celebration of the transmutation of bread and wine into the flesh and blood of God.
Africans in the New World
While the Olmec and Mayan civilizations may have grown up side by side, the Olmecs have one distinctive art form not shared with the Maya. At La Venta and Tres Zapotes on the eastern coast of Mexico there are carvings depicting Semitic Phoenician faces as well as huge stone heads of an unmistakable African appearance. These carvings are of massive single blocks or boulders of basalt, some actually weighing fifty tons. While some believe the Phoenicians brought over North African slaves, it is unusual for monuments to be made to slaves. While it could imply a slave revolt had overthrown Phoenician masters, it is just as possible to argue that African sailors had used the ocean current as well. Black populations were found in Panama by Balboa, on Saint Vincent where they were called Black Caribees, in Florida where they were called the Jamassi, and in Brazil where they were known as the Charruas. Ivan van Sertima discovered in doing the research for his book, They Came Before Columbus, that slightly over 13% of Olmec burials were Negroid. He points out that the Mandingo tribe used a gourd rattle in their magic called a Mantaraka. The same instrument in the New World, similarly used in magic is the maracas.
From Southeast Asia to America
Apart from similarities with pre-Columbian Asia that may have arrived from westbound travelers, there was another influence in Mexican civilizations that is equally intriguing. This influence was not from southwest Asia, but from Southeast Asia. Again ocean-going adventurers understood the currents were simply roadways across the ocean. One current that begins in Southeast Asia is called the North Pacific Current. It begins in the South China Sea and crosses the Pacific Ocean where it approaches land in southern California and heads south to Mexico and Central America.
Chinese archives preserved the Classic of Mountains and Seas and Fu-Sang, recording in great detail Chinese voyages to California, Arizona, and throughout Mexico.
Henriette Mertz, a Chicago lawyer, and ex-code breaker for the U.S. government’s Cryptography Department, published Pale Ink in 1953 and made the west familiar with these early voyages as well as illustrating the similarities. These include the calendar styles, shared gods, foodstuffs, and transmitted words.
The Chinese and Hindu Chinese as well as the Mexican calendars share the use of animals for days, months and years, but more remarkably both share a mistrust of the end of the year. The year is an imperfect total of days that instead of having 360 days, the number of degrees in a circle, it has an additional five days. This imbalance is viewed as unlucky in China and Mexico. Both cultures stamp out their fires, destroy all their household images of gods, and suffer through those five days. Then they rekindle the fires and create new images of gods.
While there exists an assumption that pyramid building was brought to Mexico by those familiar with Mesopotamian or Egyptian pyramids, this leaves a huge gap in time. Pyramids in Cambodia and Java, however, have much closer dates and styles. Puuc-style temple columns at Sayil in the Yucatan bear a close resemblance to the Mebon temple in Cambodia. They were both erected circa AD 1000. A Mayan stela found in Pierdras Guatemala dating to AD 761 closely resembles a Buddhist shrine from AD 724. The Asian pyramid building began in the same centuries as the Mexican pyramid building Borobudur was built in AD 800, Angkor Wat in AD 1100. In Mexico Tikal was at its height AD 600, and around AD 900, the Puuc-style pyramids at Uxmal, Kabah and Labna were developed.
The founder of the Buddhist faith was Gautama Buddha. He was born in Nepal in 560 BC. His mother conceived him, it is said, after a dream. Her name is Maya. When he was 29 he left and spent weeks in meditation protected by a serpent. Then he went out in the world, took in disciples, and spent 45 years wandering the earth, preaching. His doctrine included a life after death, the need for prayer and good deeds, and a world that will be destroyed five times, four that had already taken place. He founded monasteries and nunneries for his teachers. The Sun, the Tree, and the Serpent became the three most important symbols in Buddhism as they are in Mayan and Aztec Mexico.
In Mexico, Huitzilopochtli was also miraculously conceived and founded monasteries and nunneries as sanctuaries for meditation and learning.
Certain motifs of each religion are also shared. Doorways at Cambodia’s Angkor Wat have a serpent head with open mouth similar to Chichen Itza. Java’s Buddhist temple has the Lion throne that is replicated in sites in Mexico. The lotus motif is equally shared on both sides of the Pacific.
In Central Asia the word “tepe” means mountain. In Mexico and Arizona the word for mountain (and hill) is also “tepe” or “tepec.” It is from this word that the Native Americans took the word tepee to describe their pointed shelters.
In Thailand, the word “ko” means island. In the Mexican Caribbean “cay” has the same meaning and this word becomes “key” as in Florida’s Key West.
When the legendary Kukulcan reached Mexico, he created a city named Mayapan, naming it for the mother of Buddha. Did the Central American nation, Guatemala, also take the name of the Buddha himself, Guatama?
In Mexico, mostly in Oaxaca, there are plant lice that grow on the nopal cactus. These insects are used because they produce a potent, intense red dye. In Tibet and Nepal the same cochineal insects were brought in, from where is unknown, for the same use. The cactus was brought into Bengal and the ancient Mexico word nopalli and the Nepalli people (of that country) share the use of it.
While some of this may sound fanciful, Michael D. Coe, the leading figure in Olmec and Mayan anthropology, found so may resemblances between the people in Bali and Meso America he claimed he could predict what the modern Balinese people were going to do from his knowledge of the Mayans. (See Frank Joseph’s essay in Lost Civilizations and Secrets of the Past).
Ancient Mexican civilization cannot be said to be born of transoceanic visits, but it can be said that it was both influenced by pre-Columbian visits and that it influenced its early visitors as well.