The Bearded Gods Speak
The Bearded Gods Speak
By Thor Heyerdahl -(1971) [with 32 images at end of text]
It was research in the pacific that led to my own curiosity as to whether or not men could have sailed across the Atlantic before Columbus. This seeming paradox arose from my readings into the existing literature on the obscure provenance of the Polynesians and their culture. Early writers, such as A. Fornander, S.P. Smith, W. J. Perry, and E. Best, writing around the beginning of this century, all strongly argued that there was ample evidence that Polynesia--and especially Easter Island--had been originally settled by migrants from Egypt, Mesopotamia, or some other centre within the ancient high-culture area of the eastern Mediterranean. These early Polynesianists pointed out that striking correspondences were concentrated within these two antipodal areas, such as fitted megalithic masonry, stepped temple pyramids, monolithic statues, mummification, trepanation, priest-kings, royal brother-sister marriage, a calendar system, genealogies, gods of solar lineage, and hieroglyphic tablets. It was invariably stated that the hypothetical migration from the eastern Mediterranean to Polynesia had crossed India or the Indian Ocean, the Indonesian Archipelago, either Australia with Melanesia or Micronesia, and, finally, all of Polynesia, to settle ultimately on Easter Island. It is only on this last little island, off the coast of South America, that script and all the rest of the culture elements parallel to the eastern Mediterranean have been found. Since no traces could be found in the vast continental and oceanic territories purportedly traversed by these migrants, it was very easy for more cautious, subsequent scholars to dismiss these early Diffusionist theories as geographically and chronologically untenable. Yet, such early Diffusionist discoveries as the fact that certain important gods and place names in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia survive in Polynesia made a lasting impression on Polynesianist literature. For example, the sun and the sun god were known and worshipped as Ra in ancient Egypt, while Ra was the name of the sun on all the hundreds of islands of Polynesia. Another example is that consistent Polynesian traditions speak of Uru as an important tribal and place name in their original, extra-Polynesian homeland, which was interpreted as a reference to the ancient Mesopotamian culture centre of Ur. Although the early theories of direct migrations from Ur and Egypt were dismissed by most scholars, the idea that the ancient cultures of the eastern Mediterranean or Arabian worlds figure indistinctly somewhere in the lost origins of the Polynesian people has never completely lost its grip on the Polynesianist subconscious.
A glance at a globe will show that Easter Island is closer to Mesopotamia by way of the Atlantic than by way of the Pacific and Indian Oceans. The only unavoidable way-station along the Atlantic route is tropical America--and here, in the high-culture area from Mexico to Peru, are to be found all the aforementioned Mediterranean-Polynesian culture elements of which no traces exist along the semi-global Indo-Pacific route. In fact, the legendary Polynesian name, Uru, is also the name of the ancient and important Indian tribe dwelling now on Peru's lake Titicaca and assumed to have formerly inhabited the entire area from the megalithic ruins of Tiahuanaco down to the Pacific coast. At the time of the Spanish Conquest, the Uru were the principal reed-boat builders on Lake Titicaca, living, in fact, on floating islands of totora reed. The very same reed, a characteristic South American species, had been brought by man to Easter Island and planted in the local, fresh-water lakes for the purpose of building the same boats of the same material as those of the Uru Indians. And according to Easter Island tradition, the god who brought this exotic fresh-water reed to the island was called Uru.
Two of the world's major marine conveyors, what we earlier termed the Columbus Route in the Atlantic and the Mendana Route in the Pacific, lead straight from the Mediterranean world to Polynesia--with the Isthmus of Panama posing only modest terrestrial interference to downwind conveyor passengers. In fact, Mendana, the first European to set foot in Polynesia, had sailed from the Mediterranean world and crossed the Isthmus of Panama on foot to reach Polynesia by way of Peru. As pointed out in the chapter on Isolationism and Diffusionism, there is no logical reason to assume that an itinerary possible for a medieval European should have been impossible for the bearers of the great civilizations of antiquity.
Although it was not until years later that I found out through experiments how easy it was to travel by aboriginal craft from Africa to America and from America deep into Polynesia, I began early in my research to suspect that the first bearers of culture had reached Easter Island and the adjacent Polynesian groups from South America--irrespective of whether or not tropical America had received any inspiration from the ancient Mediterranean world. Like the great majority of investigators of Polynesian cultural origins, I observed that Polynesian culture was a composite: that more than one group of migrants had ended up on the islands of the extreme East Pacific. With a background including geographical training, and with the practical experience of aboriginal life in Polynesia, I had come to the conclusion that the Southeast Asiatic elements in these islands had come from the Phillipine Sea via the Japan Current and Northwest America, only to arrive at the islands many of which had long since been reached by pre-Inca voyagers from South America.*
*After years of debate, the fact that South America had been a source area for the people and cultures of the Pacific was finally unanimously accepted by resolution of the 3,000 scientists attending the Tenth Pacific Science Congress in Honolulu in 1961. The background evidence is treated at length for the the general reader in my books, American Indians in the Pacific, Allen & Unwin, London, 1952, and Sea Routes to Polynesia, Allen & Unwin, London, 1968.
The racial composition of the Polynesians remained a puzzle, however, no matter to what shores of the Pacific their origins were ascribed. Although clearly of racially mixed stock, the Polynesians are among the tallest people in the world, frequently long-headed, and with a skin hue often as light as that of southern Europeans. Indeed, throughout Polynesia there runs a strain of Europoid or, rather, Arabo-Semetic type, with strongly hooked noses, narrow lips, marked beard growth, and, frequently, reddish-brown hair. This strain, often running through entire families, was observed all the way from Easter Island to New Zealand by the first Europeans to voyage there. The type, recognized by the Polynesians themselves under the name Uru-Keu, was said by them to be descended from an earlier race of blond-haired, white-skinned gods originally inhabiting the islands. These physical features of the Polynesians contrasted in all the aforementioned characteristics, as well as in blood type, with the Papual Melanesians, Negritos, Malays, and Indonesians inhabiting the area whence most modern scholars hypothesized the Polynesians had arrived. This physiological enigma helped keep alive the wild theories concerning the Arabo-Semetic component. The physical characteristics of the South American Indians tallied in general with those of the Malays and Indonesians, to whom they were related; and apart from their agreement with Polynesian blood types and nose shapes, the physical traits of the South American aboriginals differed as much from those of Polynesia as did those of Southeast Asia.
Tall, blond or red-haired people with beards were as non-existent in Mexico and Peru as in Indonesia and the rest of Southeast Asia. These short, slight, yellow-brown peoples on both sides of the Pacific simply were anatomically beardless. How, then, did the Polynesian islanders obtain their deviant physical characteristics, which they ascribed to an early, legendary race?
On Easter Island, the Polynesian outpost farthest from Asia and closest to the New World, detailed traditions insist that the islanders' earliest ancestors came from a vast desert land to the east--that is, from the direction of South America--and reached the island by sailing for sixty days in the direction of the setting sun. The clearly mixed Easter Islanders insist that some of their earliest ancestors had white skins and red hair, whereas others were dark-skinned and black-haired. This was confirmed by the frist Europeans to reach the island. When the Dutch under Roggeveen discoverd the island in 1722, they recorded that among the first natives to come abord their ship was 'an entirely white man', and they recorded about the Eastern Islanders in general, 'One finds some among them of a darker shade, and in others quite white, and no less also a few of reddish tint as if somewhat severely burned by the sun.'
All the early visitors noted, too, that some of the Easter Islanders were not only very fair and tall, but had soft, reddish hair as well. Could such people really have come from the east, from South America, where Quechua, Aymara, and Uru Indians have the same physical characteristics as the black-haired, yellow-brown, very small people of Southeast Asia? Could it be that the pre-Inca culture people of Peru had physical features different from those of the small, round-headed, black-haired Indians living there in historic times?
It is remarkable that in the earliest traditions collected on Easter Island (Thomson, 1889, pp. 526-532) the Easter Islanders claimed that the land sixty days to the east, from which their ancestors came, was called the 'Burial Place'. They added directly:
In this land, the climate was so intensely hot that the people sometimes died from the effects of the heat, and at certain seasons, plants and growing things were scorched and shrivelled up by the burning sun. Westward from Easter Island, all the way to Southeast Asia, there is nothing that corresponds to this description, since all the coasts are verdant, if not covered by dense jungle, But to the east, in the direction and at the distance recalled by the Easter Islanders, lies the desert coast of Peru and northern Chile, and nowhere in the Pacific does there exist a territory more in keeping with the Easter Islanders' description--regarding both climate and name. All along this South American desert coast are abundant, almost contiguous necropolises, many of which grew to fill vast areas as a result of the accumulation of human remains and funeral objects that were preserved almost indefinitely in a climate without rain. In fact, the climate and these burial grounds provide us with the possibility of studying human remains from early periods, whereas organic remains rapidly decayed in adjacent territories with wetter climates, such as Central America, Mexico, and the Pacific island world.
This means that modern archaelogists have direct evidence of the remarkable fact that true mummification was practiced by the very founders of the earliest pre-Inca civilization in Peru. In fact, true mummification--with evisceration through the anus and rubbing with resinous and oily preservatives--was common both to Peru and adjacent Polynesia, while it was totally unknown in Indonesia. But whereas hundreds of actual mummies are still available from the desert region of Peru, we have mainly the written records of early voyagers to attest to the wide distribution of the practice of mummifying royal persons throughout the far-flung islands of Polynesia--from Easter Island in the East, to Hawaii in the north, to New Zealand in the southwest. The very widespread occurence of this elaborate practice in a tropical island area whose damp climate prevents lasting success shows that it must have spread from a common cultural source outside the island area. Since mummification cannot have reached the islands from Southeast Asia, it is all the more noteworthy that two most elaborate royal mummy-bundles recently brought from a cave in Hawaii to the Bishop Museum in Honolulu correspond in striking detail with the sophisticated mummy-bundles of the pre-Inca Tiahuanaco culture.
In the tropical rain forests of Central America and Mexico, no human remains of corresponding antiquity have withstood the humid climate. Yet the jade mummy mask and decayed bits of red cloth wrapping attached to the eroded bones found in the giant stone-lidded sarcophagus inside the old Mexican burial pyramid at Palenque testify that it is only because of the unfavourable climate in Mexico and Central America that our access to pre-Columbian human bodies is restricted to the desert areas of Peru.
Do the mummies of ancient Peru exhibit the same homogeneous characteristics of small stature, round-headedness, and stiff black hair as do the Indians inhabiting that area today? Or was there, in pre-Spanish times, a more heterogeneous population in Peru that included tall and fair ethnic types like the puzzling Uru-keu strain of neighbouring Polynesia?
When large-scale excavations of Peruvian necropolises in the middle of the nineteenth century began to provide science with abundant mummy heads for study, European anthropologists were startled to find that some of the heads--both in cranial shape and in colour and texture of hair--displayed physical traits thought to be alien to the aboriginal inhabitants of the Americas. Wilson (1862, vol. 2) had found that hair examined by him from Indian graves elsewhere 'retains its black colour and coarse texture, unchanged alike by time and inhumation'. From the ancient Peruvian cemetaries of Atacama, however, Wilson described some mummies with brown, soft, wavy hair, stating that these 'reveal important variations from one of the most persistent and universal characteristics of the modern American races'. He even speaks of 'essential diversity in cranial conformation'.
Wilson (ibid., p. 228) was especially struck by the contents of one grave at Chacota Bay on the Pacific coast below Tiahuanaco. Here lay the mummies of a man, a woman, and a child--evidently persons of high rank. Their funerary effects included some perfectly preserved brightly coloured bags containing locks of human hair, probably from members of the same family. Of the male mummy, Wilson says:
The hair has undergone little or no change and differs essentially from that most characteristic feature of the Indian of the northern continent. It is brown in colour and as fine in texture as the most delicate Anglo-Saxon's hair.
The body of the female from the same tomb presents in general similar characteristics. The hair is shorter and somewhat coarser but fine when compared with that of the northern Indians. It is of light brown colour, smooth, and neatly braided . . .
The scalp of the infant, he writes, 'is thickly covered with very fine, dark brown hair'. Most remarkable is Wilson's description of the various individual hair samples found in the coloured bags: 'All the hair is of fine texture, of various shades, from fine light brown to black, and to all appearance has undergone no change.' Describing the hair of a mummy found in another tomb in the same vicinity, Wilson observes that 'it is not only brown but remarkably fine, waved in short undulations, with a tendency to curl'.
Wilson was one of the first scholars to suspect, on the basis of these and similar observations, that Peru had supported a heterogeneous population in pre-Spanish times:
The colour and texture of the hair are facts of great importance to the ethnologist, as indicating essential differences from the modern Indians in one important respect; and therefore confirming the probability of equally important ethnic differences suggested by other evidence.
In conclusion, Wilson stressed that the finding of mummies with fine silky brown hair on the coast of Peru went far 'to disprove the assumed unity of physical type throughout the western hemisphere. No feature of the modern Indian is more universal, or yields more slowly even to the effacing influence of hybridity than the long, coarse, black hair. . . .'
In 1925 the noted archaeologists Tello and Lothrop discovered two major necropolises on the Paracas peninsula of the south central coast of Peru, where several hundred carefully wrapped mummies of important personages were preserved in burial caverns and stone-walled tombs that have been carbon-14 dated to the centuries around 300 BC.
It is interesting to note that in the vicinity of these human remains, and dating from the same period, large quantities of hardwood guara, used as a kind of centreboard in the navigation of sail-carrying rafts, are constantly being found, attesting to extensive maritime activity there in early pre-Inca times.
When the colourful and exquisitely designed and woven cotton funeral garments were removed from the more than 2,000-year-old Paracus mummies, it was discovered that the physical attributes of the bodies differed markedly from those of any known South American Indians. The physical anthropologist T. D. Stewart (1943), analysing the skeletal remains of these pre-Inca mummies, found a considerable discrepancy in body heights between the Paracas mummies and skeletal remains from known Peruvian Indians--the Paracas individuals being of notably taller stature. As it had previously been taken for granted that pre-Inca peoples were of the same ethnic stock as the historically known Indians of Peru, Stewart's discovery came as quite a surprise. And, at a loss for an anatomical explanation, he speculated: 'This may be a selected group of large males and not typical of the population as a whole.' Apart from the fact that mummification according to physical stature is unknown in America and elsewhere, this theory assumes that hundreds of tall individuals were available as candidates. Moreover, the elaborate burial and careful preparation of these bodies shows that the mummies had not been mere fishermen or peasants, but were persons of high rank.
Stewart also found that the skull shape of the Paracas mummies was different from that of known Indians in that it exhibited a marked narrowness of the facial features. Failing again to find an anatomical explanation for this difference, he suggested that the facial features might have been altered as a secondary result of the practice in Paracas of artifical deformation of the upper skull. This explanation seems less than plausible in view of the fact that corresponding deformation of the upper skull was widely practiced on infants both in the Americas and in the Old World--without resulting in narrower facial features.
To avoid deriving erroneous conclusions based on upper-skull deformation, Stewart refrained from hypothesizing on the natural cephalic index of the Paracas mummies, which, like their facial form, differed from that of the round-headed American Indian norm. A year after Stewart's Paracas studies, however, A. L. Kroeber (1944), reporting on pre-Inca crania from further north on the same coast, stated that the majority of undeformed Early Chimu skulls were long. Thus, these earliest pyramid builders of Peru were not identical with their historic successors, all of whom are round-headed, like the people of Indonesia. Moreover, excavations at the principal pre-Inca site of Tiahuanaco (A. Chervin, 1908 vol. 3) show that there was a marked mixture of cranial types in this germinal centre of ancient South American civilization, the Tiahuanaco cranial indicies ranging from 71*97 to 93*79--that is, from extreme long-headedness to ultra-round-headedness. Thus, prior to Inca times, people with utterly different cranial forms co-existed in the principal culture centres of the Pacific slopes of South America.
While Stewart examined the bones of the Paracas mummies, a hair analysis on pieces of scalp from ten of them was simultaneously conducted by M. Trotter (1843). She reported that, in general, the colour was 'rusty brown' but that in most cases the sample was 'interspersed with very light, yellow hairs'. She furthermore remarked that the hair of two of the mummies 'was quite definitely wavy', whereas that of the others appeared to be straight. The degree of cross-sectional ovalness in human hair seems closely associated with the extent of waviness or curliness of the hair itself; thus, the Mongoloid hair of the common American Indian is circular in cross-section, while that of Europeans is commonly oval. Analysing the cross-sectional shape of Paracas mummy hair for classification according to the standard grading system, Trotter (ibid., p. 72) states: "The cross-section form shows so much divergency between the different mummies that they cover all divisions of hair form.'
Apart from the colour and degree of waviness/ovalness, the fineness of the cross-sectional area is an additional factor used for classifying hair types--the Mongoloid hair of American Indians being very large in cross-section compared to the hair of most Europeans. Trotter found that in cross-sectional area as well, the Paracas mummy hair showed wide variation. And yet, she found the average of all her samples to be approximately 30 per cent less than average mean cross-sectional area of four other previously studied American Indian tribes. She therefore concluded: "The size of the hair was much smaller than has been found for other Indians, but not so small as has been recorded for at least one white racial group [the Dutch].'
Dr Trotter, a hair expert misled by the current anthropological doctrine that only Mongoloid stock was indigenous to South America, attempted to account for these remarkably non-Mongoloid hair characteristics by suggesting that cross-sectional shape and area might have changed through post-mortem dehydration and the colour through 'fading'--the reddish-blond hair having faded from black and the blond hair having darkened from white.
In answer to queries from me in 1951, Dr Trotter re-examined all her evidence with her collaborator, O. H. Duggins, formerly of the Hair and Fiber Section of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and wrote as follows (22 June 1951):
The hair of Paracs mummies, which I examined in 1943, may have changed colour and texture slightly. However, the amount of change in either colour or texture, from any evidence we have, would not deny that the original colour was a reddish brown and that the original texture was fine.
I also consulted a leading British authority, W. R. Dawson (1928, p. 127), who examined a large number of mummies both from Egypt and from South America and had himself reported the discovery of a mummified pre-Inca woman with 'abundant, light brown hair'. He wrote as follows (21 May 1951):
My opinion is that hair does not undergo any marked change post-mortem. The hair of a wavy or curly individual remains curly or wavy, and that of a straight-haired person remains straight. In mummies and desiccated bodies, the hair has a tendency to be crisp and brittle, but this is the natural result of the drying-up of the sebaceous glands . . . It seems to me very unlikely that any change in colour would take place in a body which had never been exposed to the light . . . To sum up, then, all the evidence I have indicates that the nature of hair does not alter after death except in becomming dry and brittle.
However one may choose to explain them, the Paracas mummies alone certainly do not suggest the founders of Peruvian culture looked like the Indians of today.
As we have seen, it has been suggested that all the main physical traits of the mummies analysed misrepresent, in one way or another, the ethnic stock to which those mummified belonged: a result of selective burial, childhood skull-deformation, and post-mortem changes. If this be so, nothing has been learned from the discovery of the Paracas mummies as such, everything petaining to their physical appearance may be misleading, and, for those who wanted to know what these early people looked like, nothing is to be gained by seeing them.
If, on the other hand, we assume that these mummies are what they seem to be--the remains of individuals with physical traits alien to the historic aboriginal population of Peru and commonly associated with the Caucasoid type of the Old World--then we have found in pre-Inca Peru what we were looking for: a natural source of the Uru-keu strain on the adjacent islands of Polynesia and an explanation of the blond ancestors of the Easter Islanders, cited by them as having come from a desert land to the east known as the Burial Place.
We do not have to go to the opposite side of the world in search of a source of the Caucasoid element in Polynesia; there is ample archaeological evidence that such a physical type was prsent on the nearest coast east of Polynesia centuries before the first human arrivals there. Could such a people once have made its way across tropical America, leaving eastern Mediterranean culture elements in its wake?
One need not delve deeply into the literature on Peru before discovering that local records are filled with tales of white, bearded migrants, who first appeared from an unspecified region and departed into the Pacific long before the Spaniards arrived. When Francisco Pizarro discovered Peru, his cousin, the chronicler Pedro Pizarro, who accompanied him, recorded for posterity that some members of the local ruling classes were 'whiter than Spaniards' and that he saw among the Indians some who were white-skinned and blond. Pizarro added that the latter were held by the Incas to be descendants of their gods, the Viracochas. In fact, no sooner had the Spaniards landed on the coast than Inca messengers, running in relay, brought word to the emperor in the highlands that the Viracochas--or sea-foam people--had returned, as they had promised they would according to sacred Inca tradition. The people of Peru had no beards, but they had a word for beard (sonkhasapa) as well as a word for white foreigner (viracocha), which is still frequently applied by them to Europeans today. Because of their white skin and beards, Pizarro and a handful of men were allowed to march, unmolested, through the fortified mountain valleys of Peru and conquer the largest contemporary empire in the world, the vast army of which stood by in awed reverence of these returning Viracochas whose ancestors had played such an important role in Inca traditional history.
The false Viracochas under Pizarro took full advantage of the Inca mistake concerning their identity. They strangled the emperor with impunity in front of his own army and entered Cuzco's sacred temple, where they found realistic images in gold and marble of the ruler of the original Viracochas, Con-Tici Viracocha, whom the Incas venerated as a god. The Spaniards melted down the gold image and smashed the marble statue to pieces, leaving only a written record in which they described the image as being '. . . both to the hair, complexion, features, raiment, and sandals, just as painters represent the Apostle, St Bartholomew'. The Conquistadores continued southward along the high Andean plateau, looting and pillaging their way from Cuzco to the huge Inca temple at Cacha, devoted to the worship of Viracocha. Inside this architectural masterpiece, they found a huge stone statue of the divine priest-king Con-Tici Viracocha himself, represented as a long-robed man of regal bearing with a long beard. A contemporary, Inca Garcilasso, chronicling the encounter, wrote:
The Spaniards, after seeing this temple and the statue with the form that has been described, wanted to make out that St Bartholomew might have travelled as far as Peru to preach to the Gentiles, and that the Indians had made this statue in memory of the event.
Indeed, the Spaniards were so impressed by this statue and Inca accounts of this wandering foreigner, who had visited Peru with his white and bearded entourage some time in the distant past, that the statue and the temple escaped destruction for many years. And the Spanish-Indian Mestizos of Cuzco formed a brotherhood, adopting this statue of 'St Bartholomew' as their guardian. Ultimately, however, the Spaniards realized their mistake, and the huge temple was destroyed; the statue, first disfigured, was later carried off and broken into pieces.
Advancing through the vast Inca empire, the Spaniards came upon huge megalithic sites of pre-Inca origin, which had been abandoned centuries before Columbus and now lay in ruins. One of the most spectacular examples of megalithic architecture in the New World was encountered in Vinaque, between Cuzco and the ocean. The contemporary Spanish chronicler, Cieza de Leon, writing in 1553, reported:
When I questioned the neighboring Indians as to who had made that monument of antiquity, they answered that it was another people, who had been bearded and white like ourselves, who, they say, came to these parts a long time before the Incas reigned, and made their residence there.
How firmly rooted these traditional memories were is best illustrated by the fact that the Peruvian archaeologist, Dr L. Valcarcel, arriving to study the Vinaque ruines 400 years after Cieza de Leon, was given the same information: that these structures had been built by a foreign people 'white like Europeans'.
Proceeding southward to Lake Titicaca, the Spaniards entered the hub of former Viracocha activity. Throughout the Inca empire, traditional histories had agreed in placing the centre for Viracocha habitation on the Island of Titicaca in the lake of the same name, and in the neighbouring city of Tiahuanaco, with its vast stone-dressed pyramid, megalithic walls, and monolithic statues. Cieza de Leon writes:
They also tell . . . that, on the Island of Titicaca, in the past centuries, there was a bearded people white like us, and that a chief by the name of Cari . . . passed over to the island with his men, and waged such war on the people of which I speak that he killed them all.
In a special chapter on what he calls the ancient buildings of Tiahuanaco, Cieza de Leon has this to say:
I asked the natives . . . if these buildings had been constructed in the time of the Incas. They laughed at this question, affirming what has been already stated, that they had been made long before they ruled . . . For this reason, and also because they say they have seen bearded men on the Island of Titicaca and that the building of Vinaque had been constructed by similar men, I say that perhaps it may be that before the Incas reigned there may have been some people of intelligence in these realms, come from some parts not known, who had done these things, and they being few in number and the natives many, they might have been killed in wars.
When Bandelier arrived to excavate among the ruins of the Island of Titicaca 350 years later, this version of local history still persisted. He was told that in very ancient times, the island was inhabited by gentlemen of unknown provenance similar to Europeans; they had cohabited with the local native women and the resulting children became the Incas, who 'drove out the gentlemen and held the island thereafter'.
All the chroniclers accompanying the Conquistadores and visiting Peru immediately after the conquest included in their reports references to the pre-Inca Viracohcas. In these reports, while differing in minor details as a result of having been gathered from informants in widely scattered parts of the vast Inca empire, nevertheless agree in all essentials. The Spaniards' informants included professional Inca historians, who passed on their history from generation to generation, sometimes aided by a system of knotted strings--quipu--or painted boards. Common to all accounts of how culture reached Peru is the admission that the ancestors of the Incas lived more or less as savages till a light-skinned, bearded foreigner and his entourage came to their country, taught them the ways of civilization, and departed. Inca Garcilasso provides the following striking account, in which he interviewed his royal Inca uncle about the earliest history of Peru:
Nephew, I will tell you what you ask with great pleasure, and you should preserve what I have to say in your heart . . . . Know, then, that in ancient times, all this region which you see was covered with forests and thickets, and the people lived like wild beasts, without religion, or government, or town, or houses, without cultivating the land, or clothing their bodies, for they knew not how to weave cotton nor wool to make clothes. They lived two or three together in caves, or clefts in the rocks, or in caverns underground. They ate the herbs of the field and roots or fruit like wild animals, and also human flesh. They covered their bodies with leaves and the bark of trees, or with the skins of animals. In fine, they lived like deer or other game, and even in their intercourse with women, they were like brutes; for they knew nothing of living with separate wives.
Cieza de Leon, writing of the period 'before the rule of the Incas in these realms, and even before they were known', says the period of barbarism ended with the appearance of the personification of the sun on the Island of Titicaca:
And immediately after this event, they tell that from the south [of Cuzco] there came and stayed a white man of tall stature, who, in his appearance and person, showed great authority and veneration. . . . In many places they tell how he gave rules to men how they should live, and that he spoke lovingly to them with much kindness, admonishing them that they should be good with each other and not do any harm or injury, but that instead they should love each other and show charity. In most places they generally call him Ticciviracocha . . . In many parts, temples were built to him, in which they placed stone statues in his likeness. . . .
The chronicler Betanzos, who took part in the discovery of Peru, recorded:
. . . When I asked the Indians what shape this Viracocha had when their ancestors had thus seen him, they said that according to the information they possessed, he was a tall man with a white vestment that reached to his feet, and that this vestment had a girdle; and that he carried his hair short with a tonsure on the head in the manner of a priest; and that he walked solemly, and that he carried in his hands a certain thing which today seems to remind them of the breviary that the priests carry in their hands. And this is the account I received on this subject, according to what the Indians told me. . . .
There is no clear agreement as to where Con-Tici Viracocha came from, however. The chronicler Andgaoya, who also took part in the conquest, wrote:
. . . There is no record of whence he came, except that Viracocha, in the language of the people, means 'Foam of the Sea'. He was a white and bearded man like a Spaniard. The natives of Cuzco, seeing his great valour, took it for something divine and received him as their chief. . . .
The chronicler Zarate cites Lake Titicaca as a possible beginning point for Viracocha and writes:
. . . Some mean to say that he was called Inga Viracocha, which is 'froth or grease of the sea', since, not knowing where the land lay whence he came, (they) believed him to have been formed out of that lagoon.
Gomara, however, recorded:
Some aged Indians also say that he was called Viracocha, which is to say 'grease of the sea', and that he brought his people by sea.
The very name, Con-Tici Viracocha, is a composite of three names for the same white and bearded deity. In pre-Inca times, he was known as Con on the coast of Peru and as Tici or Ticci in the highlands, but when Inca rule and the Inca language (Quechua) spread to encompass the entire territory, the Incas recognized that the names Con and Ticci referred to the same deity as the one they themselves called Viracocha. They thus grouped together the three names, to the satisfaction of all the people of their empire. Legends among the Chimu Indians of the north coast of Peru relate to the interesting tale of this deity's having arrived by sea along the coast from even farther north. Whereas most of the highland legends have him appearing suddenly, at Lake Titicaca, as a personification of the sun, less reverant legends on the coast directly below Titicaca speak of a white-skinned, blond Viracocha who came sailing from the north and paused briefly among the coastal Indians before ascending to Lake Titicaca, where he established a hegemony through fraud: by introducing his fair-haired children to the Indians as supernatural offspring of the sun.
The human aspect of Viracocha is also revealed in a highland legend that says that Viracocha 'was very shrewed and wise and said he was a child of the sun'. All the highland traditions agree that his first place of residence was on Titicaca Island, before he set forth with a fleet of reed boats to a site on the south shore of the lake, where he built the megalithic city of Tiahuanaco. He and his white and bearded followers were expressly referred to as Mitimas, the Inca word for colonist or settlers. They introduced cultivated crops and taught the Indians how to grow them in irrigated terraces; they showed the Indians how to build stone houses and live in organized communities with law and order; they introduced cotton clothing, sun worship, and megalithic carving; they built step-pyramids and erected monolithic statues said to represent the ancestors of each individual tribe over which they claimed dominion.
From Tiahuanaco, according to legend, Viracocha sent his white and bearded messengers into all parts of Peru to teach people that he was their god and creator. However, dissatisfied at length with the bad conduct and hostility of the local Indians, Viracocha, sun-king of Tiahuanaco, which had become the religious and cultural center of the pre-Inca empire, decided to leave. Throughout the vast Inca empire, the Indians recalled until the Spanish arrival the routes of departure followed by Viracocha and his two principal disciples. On Viracocha's instructions, one disciple followed the inland mountain range northwards from Lake Titicaca, preaching as he went, while the other, in the same manner, followed the lowland coast. Con-Tici Viracocha himself took the middle route northward by way of Cacha (where the St Bartholomew-like statute was made in his honour) and Cuzco (whose megalithic walls he is credited with having built). After instructing the Indians of Cuzco in how to behave after his departure, he descended to the Pacific coast and gathered with his Viracocha followers near the port of Manta in Equador, from whence these sun worshippers sailed westward into the Pacific, departing from almost the exact point where the Equator crosses the South American continent.
As we have seen, the Indians of Peru's north coast relate that the pan-Peruvian culture bringer disappeared towards the west, that is, towards Polynesia, although he had originally come from the north. North of the Inca empire, on the mountain plateau of Columbia, the Chibchas, another astonishingly advanced people, had distinguished themselves by a high degree of civilization by the time of European discovery. The traditional history of the Chibchas attributed their cultural attainments as well to the teachings of a foreign migrant, generally known to them as Bochica or Xue. He, too, was remembered as a white man dressed in long, flowing robes and with a beard that fell to his waist. He taught the Chibchas to build, to sow, and to live in village communities with organized government and laws. He ruled for many years, then departed, appointing a successor, whom he urged to govern justly. Bochica was also known as Sua, the local word for sun, and when the Spaniards first arrived, they were taken to be his envoys and were called Sua--or Gagua, which also meant sun.
According to tradition, Bochica, alias Sua, had come from the east. East of Chibcha territory, in Venezuela and adjacent territories, we once again encounter memories of the migrant culture-hero. He is referred to by various names, such as Tsuma or Zume, and he is always credited with introducing the people to agriculture and other benefits of his knowledge. According to one legend, he was accustomed to gathering the people around a lofty rock while he stood above them on its summit delivering instructions and his laws. He lived a certain length of time with the people and then left them. In some areas, legend has him leaving of his own accord; in others, he is driven away by his stiff-necked and unwilling audience, which has become tired of his advice.
Immediately north of Columbia and Venezuela, the Cuna Indians of Panama, who practiced writing on wooden tablets, had a tradition that after a devastating flood, '. . . there appeared a great personage who . . . taught the people how to behave, what to name things, and how to use them. He was followed by a number of disciples who spread his teachings. . . .' (D. B. Stout, Handbook of South American Indians, vol. IV, p. 267.)
North of Panama, in Mexico, yet another highly advanced civilization, that of the Aztecs, was flourishing at the time of the Spanish arrival. The vast military empire of the Aztecs--like that of the Incas--was far larger than Spain or any other contemporary European nation. Yet, when Hernando Cortes landed in Mexico in 1519, his small band of medieval troops marched unmolested through the jungle and up to the Aztec capital in the distant highlands, where they subdued the mighty emperor and subjugated his nation with the same surprising ease as Pizarro was to experience when he reached the Inca empire a few years later. These events were due neither to Spanish military supremacy nor to Indian incompetence, but rather to religious confusion on the part of the Indians as to the nature of these 'returning' white and bearded strangers. All the way from Anahuac in Texas to the borders of Yucatan, the Aztecs spoke of a white and bearded Quetzalcoatl as the Incas spoke of Viracocha. And from the moment of their arrival on the beach in Mexico, the white and bearded Spaniards were regarded by the Aztecs as the returning people of Quetzalcoatl.
In his Carta Segunda (1520), Cortes personally recorded the speech delivered to him by the Aztec emperor, Montezuma, after the Aztecs had anointed the Spaniards with blood from a human sacrifice:
We have known for a long time, by the writings handed down by our forefathers, that neither I nor any who inhabit this land are natives of it, but foreigners who came here from remote parts. We also know that we were led here by a ruler, whose subjects we all were, who returned to his country, and after a long time came here again and wished to take his people away. But they had married wives and built houses, and they would neither go with him nor recognize him as their king; therefore he went back. We have ever believed that those who were of his lineage would some time come and claim this land as his, and us as his vassals. From the direction whence you come, which is where the sun rises, and from what you tell me of this great lord who sent you, we believe and think it certain that he is our natural ruler, especially since you say that for a long time he has known about us. Therefore you may feel certain that we shall obey you, and shall respect you as holding the place of that great lord, and in all the land I rule, you may give what orders you wish, and they shall be obeyed, and everything we have shall be put at your service. And since you are thus in your own heritage and your own house, take your ease and rest from the fatigue of the journey and the wars you have had on your way.
In his study of aboriginal American religions (1882, p. 140), Brinton comments:
Such was the extraordinary address with which the Spaniard, with his handful of men, was received by the most powerful war chief of the American continent. It confessed complete submission, without a struggle. But it was the expression of a general sentiment. When the spanish ships for the first time reached the Mexican shores the natives kissed their sides and hailed the white and bearded strangers from the east as gods, sons and brothers of Quetzalcoatl, come back from their celestial home to claim their own on earth and bring again the days of Paradise; a hope, dryly observes Father Mendieta, which the poor Indians soon gave up when they came to feel the acts of their visitors.
Originally, Quetzalcoatl, as well as Viracocha, seems to have been the hereditary name, or rather title, of a hierarchical sequence of priest-kings, who worshipped--and claimed descent from--a supreme sun-god of the same name. Only with time were all Quetzalcoatls, like all Viracochas, amalgamated into one, single historic deity--god and creator, as well as human culture-hero and mortal benefactor.
The name Quetzalcoatl is a composite, often translated freely as Plumed Serpent--quetzal (trogan splendens) being the favourite bird of the Aztecs and coatl the serpent and sacred symbol of light and divinity both in Mexico and Peru. Quetzalcoatl was the supreme god of the Aztecs as Viracocha was of the Incas. Yet, as Brinton writes:
. . . It was not Quetzalcoatl the god, the mysterious creator of the visible world, on whom the thoughts of the Aztec race delighted to dwell, but on Quetzalcoatl, high priest in the glorious city of Tollan (Tula), the teacher of the arts, the wise law-giver, the virtuous prince, the master builder, and the merciful judge.
He forbade the sacrifice of human beings and animals, teaching that bread, flowers, and incense were all that the gods demanded. And he prohibited wars, fighting, robbery, and other forms of violence to such an extent that he was held in affectionate veneration, not only by his own people but by distant nations as well, who made pilgrimages to his capital. The fact that the Aztecs, who excelled in human sacrifice at their pyramids and temples, still recollected a benevolent, pacifist culture-bringer whose teachings closely paralleled the Biblical Commandments so impressed the Spanish friars that they identified Quetzalcoatl with the Apostle Thomas--an exact analogy to the confusion of Viracocha with St Bartholomew in Peru. Brinton goes on to say:
The origin of the earthly Quetzalacoatl is variously given; one cycle of legends narrates his birth in Tollan in some extraordinary manner; a second cycle claims that he was not born in any country known to the Aztecs, but came to them as a stranger. . . . Las Casas narrates his arrival from the east, from some part of Yucatan, he thinks, with very few followers, a tradition which is also repeated with definiteness by the native historian Alva Ixtlilxochitl, but leaving the locality uncertain.
The essence of the Quetzalcoatl traditions is that he was a white man, tall of stature, with a flowing beard--which, according to some chroniclers, was reddish in colour. He wore a strange dress, unlike the attire of the Indians who received him, the historian Veytia recorded that he was 'clothed in a long, white robe strewn with red crosses, and carrying a staff in his hand'. He was accompanied in his travels by builders, painters, astronomers, and craftsmen; he made roads, civilized the people, and passed thus from place to place until, in the end, he disappeared. According to some traditions, he died on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico and was buried there at the seashore by his followers after they had burned his body and all his treasures. Other traditions, however, insisted that Quetzalcoatl and his entourage embarked on a magic raft of serpents and thus sailed away after promising solemnly to return and take possession of the land.
The neighbours of the Aztecs were the Mayas of the tropical lowlands of the Yucatan peninsula, which juts into the Gulf of Mexico. Juan de Grijalva, passing from Cuba to the Yucatan Peninsula a year before Cortes landed on the gulf of Mexico, got the same amazingly respectful reception from the otherwise warlike Indians as that accorded Cortes and Pizarro. The great Maya civilization had collapsed before the Spaniards arrived, but the scattered remnants of the people still possessed detailed traditions as to the origins of the culture that had flourished under their ancestors. They spoke of two distinct culture-heroes, Itzamna and Kukulcan--both bearded, although arriving at different times and from opposite directions, leading the Mayas' ancestors to Yucatan. Brinton says of the descendants of the Mayas:
They did not pretend to be autochthonous, but claimed that their ancestors came from distant regions in two bands. The largest and most ancient immigration was from the east, across, or rather through, the ocean--for the gods had opened twelve paths though it--and this was conducted by the mythical civilizer, Itzamna. The second band, less in number and later in time, came in from the west, and with them was Kukulcan. The former was called the Great Arrival; the latter, the Lesser Arrival . . . To this ancient leader, Itzamna, the nation alluded as their guide, instructor, and civilizer. It was he who gave names to all the rivers and divisions of land; he was their first priest and taught them the proper rites wherewith to please the gods and appease their ill-will; he was the patron of the healers and diviners and had disclosed to them the myserious virtues of plants . . . It was Itzamna who first invented the characters of letters in which the Mayas wrote their numerous books, and with which they carved in such profusion on the stone and wood of their edifices. He also devised their calendar, one more perfect even than that of the Mexicans, though in a general way similar to it. Thus, Itzamna, regarded as ruler, priest, and teacher, was, no doubt, spoken of as an historical personage, and is so put down by various historians, even to the most recent.
After the Great Arrival came the Lesser: the second important hero-myth of the Mayas was that of Kukulcan. This is in no way connected with that of Itzamna, and is probably later in date, and less in national character . . . The natives affirmed, says Las Casas, that in ancient times there came to that land twenty men, the chief of whom was called 'Cocolcan' . . . They wore flowing robes and sandals on their feet, they had long beards and their heads were bare, they ordered that the people should confess and fast. . . .
Kukulcan was remembered as a great architect and pyramid builder who founded the city of Mayapan and caused various important edifices to be built at Chichen Itza. He taught the people to refrain from using arms--even for hunting--and under his beneficent rule, the nation enjoyed peace, prosperity, and abundant harvests.
The mere idea of the cruel and bellicose Mayas' having invented such a peace-loving doctrine as that of Kukulcan, the immigrant priest-king, is as surprising as the insistence on the part of these beardless natives on the flowing beards, fair skin, and long robes of this cultured wanderer and his followers. Nevertheless, his humanitarian teachings and cultural activities coincide completely with those of Quetzalcoatl. Moreover, while Aztec tradition has Quetzalcoatl disappearing eastward in the direction of Yucatan, Maya tradition has Kukulcan coming from the west, from the direction of Mexico. Brinton points out that one of the Maya chronicles opens with a distinct reference to Tula and Nonoal--names inseparable from Quetzalcoatl tradition--and he concludes:
The probability seems to be that Kukulcan was an original Maya divinity, one of their hero-gods, whose myth had in it so many similarities of Quetzalcoatl that the priests of the two nations came to regard the one as the same as the other.
In fact, the word kukulcan is simply a translation of quetzalcoatl. Kukul is the Maya word for quetzal bird, and can is a serpent. Eventually, as in Mexico and Peru, the white and bearded priest-king left. According to Brinton:
He gathered the chiefs together and expounded to them his laws. From among them, he chose as his successor a member of the ancient and wealthy family of the Cocoms. His arrangements completed, he is said, by some, to have journeyed westward, to Mexico or to some other spot towards the sun-setting.
A westward migrant from Yucatan would necessarily enter the habitat of the Tzendals in the Tabasco and Chiapas jungles. Tzendal legend, centering around their culture-hero, Votan, who came from the direction of Yucatan, was originally recorded in the Tzendal language as dictated by a Tzendal native. Referring to this manuscript, Brinton says:
Few of our hero-myths have given occasion for wilder speculation than that of Votan. . . . At some indefinitely remote epoch, Votan came from the far east. He was sent by the gods to divide out and assign to the different races of men the earth on which they dwell, and to give to each its own language. The land whence he came was vaguely called valum votan, the land of Votan. His message was especially to the Tzendals. Previous to his arrival, they were ignorant, barbarous, and without fixed habitations. He collected them into villages, taught them how to cultivate maize and cotton, and invented the hieroglyphic signs which they learned to carve on the walls of their temples. It is even said that he wrote his own history in them. He instructed civil laws for their government and imparted to them the proper ceremonials of religious worship. . . . They especially remembered him as the inventor of their calendar.
Also remembered as a city builder, he was spoken of as the founder of Palenque with its great stone pyramids, two of which contained burial chambers like those of ancient Egypt. The Tzendal text continues:
Votan brought with him, according to one statement, or, according to another, was followed from his native land by, certain attendants or subordinates, called in the myth tzequil, petticoated, from the long and flowing robes they wore. These aided him in the work of civilization . . . . When at last the time came for his final departure, he did not pass through the valley of death, as must all mortals, but he pentrated through a cave into the under-earth, and found his way to 'the root of heaven'.
With this mysterious expression, the native myth closes its account of him.
We do not have to go further down from the high plateau of Chiapas into the under-earth than to the coastal lowlands of the Zoques before Votan reappears, this time with the name of Condoy. Brinton says:
The Zoques, whose mythology we unfortunately know little or nothing about, adjoined the Tzendals, and were in constant intercourse with them. We have but faint traces of the early mythology of these tribes; but they preserved some legends which showed that they also partook of the belief, so general among their neighbours, of a beneficient culture-god. This myth relates that their first father, who was also their Supreme God, came forth from a cave in a lofty mountain in their country, to govern and direct them . . . . They did not believe that he had died, but that after a certain length of time, he, with his servants and captives, all laden with bright, gleaming gold, retired into the cave and closed its mouth, not to remain there, but to reappear at some other part of the world and confer similar favours on other nations.
South of the Mayas, Tzendals, and Zoques lived the Kiches of Guatemala, whose culture shows a root relationship to that of the Mayas. Their traditions have been preserved for posterity by a rescript of their original national book, the Popul Vuh. From this aboriginal source, we learn that in Yucatan--the gateway from southern Mexico to central America--the inhabitants were well acquainted with the 'wanderer', who seems to have passed through their territory more than once. Known in Guatemala under various names, one of which was Gucumatz, he educated and cultured the local natives, teaching them to develop their own civilization. Brinton concludes:
But, like Viracocha, Quetzalcoatl, and others of these worthies, the story goes that they treated him with scant courtesy, and in anger at their ingratitude, he left them forever, in order to seek a nobler people.
Although the Spaniards encountered the same traditions of white and bearded culture bearers throughout the Americas, from the Mexican highlands, through the central American jungles, down to the mountain plateaus of Peru and Bolivia--that is, precisely where they encountered spectacular ruins of pre-Columbian origin--many modern commentators, used to train, car, and aeroplane travel, find it difficult to imagine that any 'wanderer' can have covered such vast areas in pre-Columbian times. They forget that the medieval Spaniards had no access to trains, cars, or aeroplanes either. Yet, within merely two decades of their fist landing in Mexico, the relatively few Spaniards had explored virtually all the New World territory from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from Kansas to Argentina. Within the same few years, Cabeza de Vaca and three companions became shipwrecked in the surf of the Florida coast, and for eight years (1528-36) they walked--unarmed, barefoot, and almost naked--through unmapped swamps, deserts, and mountains, from one Indian tribe to the next, right across the continent to the Gulf of California, where they finally reached the newly established Spanish settlements there.
Before the same two decades were over, Orellana, sailing from Spain, had crossed the Panama Isthmus and climbed the Andes from the Pacific side, from whence he descended to the sources of the Amazon, following the river across the continent to its mouth on the Atlantic side before returning home to Spain. To believe that a few Spaniards could walk in two decades across mountains and jungles while thinking that the founders of the pre-Columbian empires could not have traversed them in two centuries or even two millenia, is grossly to under-estimate the latter's capabilities.
Throughout the ensuing years, desperate attempts have been made to account for the paradoxical presence of white-skinned, long robed, bearded men in the traditions and legends of the brown-skinned, loincloth-wearing, beardless Indians of tropical America. Some theorized that the flowing beards and robes spoken of in the Indian traditions were allegorical references among sun-worshippers to the rays of the sun. Others attempted to explain away these traditions by claiming they were not, in fact, truly ancient, but that they postdated--and, indeed, had even been inspired by--the early Spanish arrivals.
With the progress of modern archaeology, these nineteenth- and early twentieth-century speculations have proved quite untenable, since highly realistic scultpures and paintings of bearded men have been found in tombs and ruins--and these not only antedate Spanish arrival, but in a great many cases even antedate the Aztec, Maya, and Inca civilizations. These stories encountered by the early Spaniards were not only recited to them orally upon their arrival, but they were already recorded in the written texts of the New World, as the Aztec emperor Montezuma himself emphasized in his speech of welcome to Cortes, and they were illustrated in the art of the very people who founded the civilizations from Mexico to Peru.
As we have seen, when the Spaniards entered the main temples of the Incas in Peru, they found gold and stone statues of the traditional culture-bringer, Viracocha, bearing a confusing resemblance to depictions of one of their own Apostles, with his beard and eastern-Mediterranean-style robe and sandals.
The majority of the great number of statues found by the Spaniards among the ruins of Tiahuanaco and said to represent the progenitors of the various tribes in the realm of Con-Tici Viracocha were destroyed as heathen relics by the Catholic Conquistadores. But a few were hidden by the Indians and thus escaped destruction. In 1932, while the American archaeologist, W. C. Bennet, was carrying out excavations in Tiahuanaco, he unearthed a complete statue undoubtedly representing Con-Tici Viracocha, with a beard and long, girdled robe. The flowing garment was decorated by a horned serpent and two pumas, symbols of the supreme god in both Mexico and Peru. Bennet shows that this statue was almost identical to another bearded statue found on the shore of Lake Titicaca, on the very peninsula, next to the Island of Titicaca, where Viracocha must have landed when he left his refuge there to make his way to Tiahuanaco. Other bearded statues, similarly of pre-Inca origin, have been found at various archaeological sites around Lake Titicaca. Stone suitable for sculrpure was almost non-existent on the Pacific desert coast of Peru, but there, among the Chimu and Nazca cultures, illustrations of the early culture-hero were either moulded in or painted on ceramic, showing him with moustache and chin beard. These representations of Viracocha, originally known locally as Con, are especially common on the north coast of Peru, where legend has it that the bearded god, arriving from the north, entered the area subsequently ruled by the Incas. These ceramic vessels date from the Early Chimu or Mochicas, the earliest founders of local civilization and builders of the finest pyramids in Peru. They depict a person wearing a turban and full-length robe, with a most realistic moustache and long, pointed beard reaching down to his chest.
Ceramic heads and figurines realistically depicting the same bearded personage are common northward from the coast of Peru through Ecuador and Columbia, and they reappear sporadically up through the Isthmus of Panama into Mexico. In fact, highly realistic illustrations of the bearded and often almost Arabo-Semetic ethnic type are extremely common all the way across Mexico, from Guerrero into Yucatan, from the Mexican high plateau and the northern jungles of Vera Cruz to Chiapas, and from there into Guatemala and El Salvador. He is depicted in free-standing statues, carved in reliefs on flat stone stelae, moulded in clay, shaped in gold, painted on ceramic vessels and stucco walls, and represented in the picture writings of pre-Columbian paper folding books. His beard could be long or short; trimmed or natural; pointed, round, or even forked and curled as commonly seen in art from ancient Mesopotamia. In some instances, the Maya priests and other important personages, who could not grow beards themselves, would wear false beards in imitation of the divine founders of their religion.
Modern archaeology has come to the conclusion that the oldest civilization in Mexico, and the one that inspired and gave rise to the subsequent civilizations of the Toltecs, Mayas, and Aztecs, originated in the tropical jungle lowlands on the Gulf Coast of Mexico. This, as we have shown earlier, is precisely where the strong current comes in from across the Atlantic and where, in fact, the Spaniards themselves landed under Cortes. Here on the coast, in a highly unfavourable climate, archaeology has revealed that American civilization began abruptly with the sudden appearance of hieroglyphic script, a highly evolved calendar system, megalithic art, adobe manufacture, ceramic skills, pyramid building, and most sophisticated scultpure. Since the creators of this amazing culture revolution are utterly unknown, modern science has merely assigned a name to them: Olmecs.
Lacking suitable stone in their jungle habitat, the Olmecs would fetch stones weighing up to 25 tons and drag them back over 50 miles through swamps and jungles to their temple sites. With unsurpassed skill, they sculpted human heads and full figures--in the round and in relief--so realistically that we today have a very good indication of what the Olmecs looked like.
To judge from their art, the Olmecs comprised two contrasting ethnic types: one was remarkably Negroid, with thick lips, flat broad nose, and a round face. This type has been popularly referred to among archaeologists as 'baby face'. The other Olmec type is strikingly different, sometimes representing an almost Semitic type, with narrow face, sharp profile, strongly hooked nose, thin lips, and a beard that can vary from a small goatee to a full beard reaching such a length that this type has sometimes been jokingly referred to among archaeologists as 'Uncle Sam'. Since neither of the two contrasting Olmec types--the Negroid and the Semitic--bears the slightest resemblance to any ethnic group known to have existed in aboriginal America, whereas both represent physical types characteristic of the ancient civilizations of the Old World, their sudden appearance as culture-bringers in the New World, just in the area where the natural ocean converyor arrives from Africa, has led to a flurry of speculations. Like the early Spanish friars, religious sects even in our own modern days have jumped to the conclusion that Biblical or Mormon personages--not to mention the whole Lost Tribe of Israel--were the founders of Olmec civilization. Such mystical claims on the part of laymen have not furthered the Diffusionist cause, as they have frightened many serious scholars into remaining in the seemingly less incautious Isolationist camp. But is it really less incautious to ignore--and even attempt to explain away--available botanical, archaeological, and historical evidence than to face the fact that voyagers from Asia Minor were sailing beyond Gibralter with astronomers, masons, and other experts aboard on organized colonizing expeditions--in the very centuries when Olmec civilization was beginning on the Gulf of Mexico? The Phoenicians and their unknown predecessors, who founded such megalithic cities on the Atlantic coast of Africa as Lixus, were navigating more than a thousand years before Christ in literally the same water as the Mayas of Yucatan, because just as the Moroccan sun becomes the Mexican sun in a matter of hours, so Moroccan water becomes Mexican water in a matter of weeks.
In one of the most important Maya pyramids, at Chichen Itza in Yucatan, an entrance was found leading to interior chambers with walls and rectangular columns covered by stucco and painted with coloured frescoes, all strikingly reminiscent of eastern Mediterranean royal tombs. These coloured paintings, copied in detail by the archaeologist E. H. Morris, J. Charlot, and A. A. Morris (1931), have subsequently been destroyed by humidity and tourists. Among the most important motifs of these frescoes was a seashore battle involving two different racial types. One of these, represented as having white skin and long, flowing, yellow hair, is shown either arriving or departing by boat on the ocean, which is symbolized by blue waves and crabs, rays, and other marine creatures. The white mariners are shown either nude and circumcised or dressed in tunics. One of them is shown with a distinct beard. Morris, Charlot, and Morris cautiously state that the unusual appearance of the yellow-haired mariners '. . . gives rise to much interesting speculation as to their identity'. The other ethnic type, in contrast, is represented as dark-skinned and wearing feathered headdresses and loinclothes. These dark-skinned men are shown waging war against the light-skinned ones, several of whom they are leading away as bound captives. In another panel, one of these white prisoners, his long, yellow hair reaching to his waist, is being sacrificed by two black men, whereas another, his vessel capsized, is trying to escape by swimming, pursued by carnivorous fish, while his extremely long golden hair floats in the waves. In one of these mural panels, a white mariner is walking peacefully away, carrying a rolled bundle and other possessions on his back while his empty boat is shown offshore, yellow in colour and with the highly raised bow and stern strongly suggestive of a Lake Titicaca reed boat.
Reed boats have been recorded in post-Columbian times in eight different Mexican states, although they are not reported from Yucatan. The vessel depicted in the Mayan pyramid also recalls the reed boats used until modern times at Lixus on the Atlantic coast of Morocco. Similar mural paintings in ancient Egyptian tombs show crescent-shaped reed boats, sometimes involved in battles on the Nile. A relief in ancient Nineveh, however, shows Mesopotamians using reed boats in a battle on the sea; bearded men with long, flowing hair are shown swimming for their lives in an ocean, which, as in the mural at Chichen Itza, is symbolized by large crabs and marine creatures. In the Nineveh relief, however, some of the reed boats are depicted as crowded with both men and women escaping across the sea, their arms raised in prayer to the sun.
Battle and escape have possibly brought as many mariners to grips with unknown seas and currents as have fogs and offshore gales. What happened to the fleeing sun-worshippers in the Nineveh relief happened to countless other mariners in Asia Minor and Africa from the very dawn of civilization. Basic similarities in human nature make history repeat itself. Thus we shall never know whether it was war, accidental drift, or planned exploration that brought tall, blond, and bearded men across the open sea from Africa to the Canary Islands long before European arrival there. We know from written accounts of the discovery of the Canary Islands a few generations before Columbus that these remote Atlantic islands were inhabited by an ethnically mixed population called Guanches; some of these aboriginal Canary Islanders were small, swarthy mediterranean types, whereas others were tall, white-skinned, and blond. An early watercolour by Torriani (1590), showing six aboriginal Guanches, depicts them with extremely white skin and yellow hair and beards. Their beards are shown either extremely long and uncut or trimmed and pointed, whereas their long, yellow hair flows far down their backs--just like the hair of the blond mariners in the frescoes of the Mayan pyramid at Yucatan.
Linguistic traces and cultural vestiges--including the art of trepanning--clearly link the Guanches with the ancient civilizations that extended from Mesopotamia to the Atlantic coast of Morocco. Thus, the Berbers of Morocco, also a people of composite ethnic origins, included small, Negroid tribes as well as a tall, blond, and blue-eyed racial element which appeared at random from the Atlas Mountains to the Atlantic coast before the Arabs arrived. Blond and fair people are often erroneously associated only with Northern Europe, although such physical types have survived sporadically into historic times all the way from Asia minor to the Atlas Mountains. Individuals with brown and even blond hair are frequently depicted amont both gods and naked reed-boat navigators on ancient Egyptian tomb wall-paintings. And the daughter-in-law of Pharaoh Cheops was found pictured with yellow hair and blue eyes when her tomb was opened at the foot of the pyramid of her husband, Pharaoh Chephren.
Trepanning, known from ancient Mexico and extremely important in ancient Peru, was almost absent from Europe until the nineteenth century AD and was not at all known in Asia except in Mesopotamia. In the Old World, its distribution thus coincided with ancient civilizations: from Mesopotamia and Egypt to the Atlantic coast of Morocco, reappearing surprisingly on the Canary Islands.
Who brought the art of trepanning to these Atlantic islands, where all traces of the art of boat-building had been lost by the time Europeans arrived? Both history and archaeology have shown that the Phoenicians, with their home ports in Asia Minor and North Africa, had established firm colonies on the Canary Islands centuries before the birth of Christ. They used these distant islands as staging areas on their difficult sailings to their purple dye manufacturing colonies, of which vestiges have been found as far beyond Morocco as the coast of present-day Senegal.
It has been frequently suggested--rightly or wrongly--that the Phonecians were light-skinned and blond. If this is true, there is no problem in explaining the presence of the light skinned, blond Guanches on the Canary Islands. If it is not true, then some other early mariners--fair-skinned, blond, and bearded--must have reached the Canary Islands by navigating in the powerful Canary Current.
As we have seen, anybody navigating in this current--as we did, twice--finds himself on a perpetual conveyor belt that will, if he does not fight it successfully, deposit him on the shores of tropical America. As we have also seen, white-skinned mariners with long, yellow hair, resembling the Canary Islanders, were depicted in frescoes by the Mayas on the very peninsula where this Canary Current comes in. Indeed, both among the Mayas and their Mexican neighbours, the Aztecs, consistent traditions related that white and bearded men had arrived by sea, from across the Atlantic, instructing their food-gathering, tribal ancestors in the sophisticated arts of civilization before departing, promising some day to return. Hence, the arriving Spaniards caused no surprise and were received as the awaited fulfilment of ancient promises. Today's Isolationist, then, having failed to find any visible centre of cultural evolution in the New World and contradicted by gradually accumulating objective evidence from botany, physical anthropology, archaeology, and naviation, finds himself bereft of concrete support for his position. Although neither Isolationist nor Diffusionist can as yet adduce absolute evidence for his position, the burden of proof has now clearly shifted to those who reject the very possibility of pre-Columbian, trans-Atlantic inspiration.
Representations of bearded individuals abound throughout Mexico although the pure bred Indian is remarkable for his absence of facial hair. This example of a representation of Huehueteotl, the old god of fire, with a brazier on his head, seems to indicate that beards in different styles must have been familiar to artists at one point, even though later examples have become extremely stylized through being copied.
These three heads from: Rio Balsas (left), Vera Cruz (center), and Tres Zapotes (right) are additional examples of bearded figurines in pre-Columbian Mexico.
Tlaloc, the bearded rain god from Oaxaca.
Throughout Central America legend tells of bearded wanderers, such as those shown on the Mixtec Codex Dorenberg.
Quetzalcoatl and his followers, according to the Toltec legends, were obliged to flee from Tula by the followers of the rival god Tezcatlipoca. At about the same time, the Mayas were being invaded by the Toltecs, and Maya tradition recalls the arrival of Kukulcan (which in Maya means plumed serpent) from the west. The Toltecs rebuilt the great Maya ceremonial centre of Chichen Itza and on the pillars of the Temple of the Warriors depicted fierce looking, bearded warriors.
Early Chimu effigy jar, depicting Viracocha. This is one of a number of similar jars from pre-Inca Peru showing a bearded, hook-nosed figure. The style of the beard and the features varies from the rather high-cheekboned and somewhat drawn faces to fuller-faced, round-bearded types. In some examples the headdress shows two rounded ears or even a feline head, which indicate a connection with the ubiquitous jaguar cult.
A pottery vessel from northern Peru shows an interesting scene: white-skinned, naked captives, circumcised, being led by fully armed, dark-skinned warriors. It is possible that the practice of circumcision was brought to the New World by cultural contact at a very early period.
A scene from the 'Tomb of the Doctor' at Saqqara, showing circumcision being performed in ancient Egypt.
A page from the Aztec Codex Nuttall, depicting bearded men attacking a town by means of rafts. These bearded men may well have represented partisans or followers of Quetzalcoatl.
Two panels from a set painted in 1698, depicting the Conquest of Mexico and now in the Museo de America in Madrid. They show Cortes, accompanied by Spaniards, riding to meet Montezuma, who is carried on a litter. Montezuma's own reasons for welcoming the invading Spaniards were recorded by Cortes in his Carta Segunda of 1520.
When Cortes landed in Mexico, he was welcomed by the Indians, who are shown here giving him a bead--probably jade or turquoise--necklace. Bearing in mind the legend of the return of Quetzalcoatl, Montezuma tried in vain to put off Cortes' progress inland, but the rich gifts with which he attempted to delay the Spaniards only persuaded them that greater treasures were to be discovered in the interior.
A Peruvian deity riding in a reed boat is shown on this early Chimu pot. Similar boats are still used in Peru and Bolivia around the Lake Titicaca area.
The monumental gateway known as the Gateway of the Sun, Tiahuanaco, Bolivia. This great monolith was cut from a block of lava 12 1/2 ft. x 10 ft. It bears a carved central figure, depicting the sun god, dominating a frieze of three rows of birdmen attendants. The central figure is generally said to represent Viracocha. The gateway itself dates from the Classic Tiahuanaco period.
The mummified body of a Canary Island Guanche. Mummification occurs in civilizations of the eastern Mediterranean, the Canary Islands, and the high-culture areas of Mexico and Peru and in Polynesia. These areas are linked by direct ocean currents; mummification is but one of the cultural traits shared by all of them. The reed boat, another common trait, might well have been their means of diffusion. Although the body illustrated above has dark hair, the Guanches were often blond.
A mummy casket of coconut sennit--as yet unopened--from Hawaii.
This woodcut, published in 1534, only two years after the event it portrays, shows the Inca, Atahualpa, shaded by a parasol and carried on a litter, meeting Father Valverde and Pizarro in the great square at Cajamarca. Valverde, Pizarro's chaplain, tried to convert the Inca to Catholicism, but the latter seized the Bible proffered him and flung it to the earth. At this gesture, Pizarro's troops, who were in hiding, came out and attacked. Although outnumbered by the Inca's retinue of 4,000 men, the Spaniards--with the help of twenty-seven horsemen and a few cannons--massacred the Inca army and assasinated the Inca. After this the conquest of Peru was a relatively simple matter.
Peruvian Indian holding a quipu, shown in the Chronicle of Huaman Poma de Ayala. Similar knotted string memory aids are also found in Polynesia and testify to the long trans-Pacific journeys of the early Peruvians.
The Polynesians, like the South and Central American Indians, practiced mummifcation, a culture trait which probably spread to the islands with pre-Inca colonists and which reminds one of similar Old World practices. Above, a mummified head from New Zealand.
This Peruvian skull, from Maket Tempu near Lima, shows European-like hair on a pre-Inca head. The hair is of a very light colour, fine texture and waviness.
Another example of a pre-Inca skull with light colored hair.
Fair hair had often been a sign of high social status among the black-haired, pre-Columbian Indians of South America, as it was among the Polynesians at the time of Captain Cook's voyage across the Pacific. This mummy bundle from Peru, which is more than 2,000 years old, has been opened to expose the head wearing a wig with two long braids of blond, human hair.
The Olmec civilization in ancient Mexico left many of these giant stone heads that depict remarkably African features, sometimes referred to as the "baby face" type. A number of them include braided African hair carved down the necks.
Quetzalcoatl standing on the top of a step-pyramid, holding a staff and wearing a long, white robe covered with crosses, from an Aztec codex.
Quetzal feathers were much used in the feather mosaics of the Aztecs and were one of the emblems of the emperor. The headdress above, over four feet high, and decorated with gold discs and blue, crimson and white feathers, was given to Cortes by Montezuma as a gift for his sovereign.
Early Chimu art shows culture heroes travelling on a serpent raft. This may refer to one of the many versions of Viracocha's departure by sea--promising to return--and is similar to the legend of the departure of Quetzalcoatl from Mexico. The hero is accompanied by a bird-headed attendant, much like those of which appear on the Gateway of the Sun at Tiahuanaco.
The pyramid of Papa Ra in Tahiti, after Dumont D'Urville, Voyage antour du Monde, 1854. This shows a step pyramid similar to those of the New World and possibly harking back to Old World prototypes.
The Toltecs rebuilt this great Maya ceremonial center of Chichen Itza. The two doorjambs of the temple at the top of the pyramid represent large, plumed rattlesnakes.
The sunken temple at Tiahuanaco. In the foreground, Stela 15 and two smaller stelae. In the background, the stairway to the main entrance of the Kalasasaya temple, a monumental complex dating from the Inca occupation of the sacred city.
The Toltecs, who preceded the Aztecs, had a very strong devotion to Quetzalcoatl, whom they regarded as the original culture-bearer of their race. Even in later times, the Aztecs, when asked about the origins of Quetzalcoatl, referred to him as the 'high priest in the glorious city Tollan [Tula], teacher of the arts and wise law-giver.' The toltecs erected a step-pyramid crowned by a temple in his honour at Tula; the roof of this temple was supported by huge 'Atlantes', said to represent the culture-bearer and his followers.
The Olmec civilization seems to have emerged fully formed in the jungle lowlands around the Gulf of Mexico. Although their cultural influence was felt throughout Mexico, they disappeared without leaving any written records, and our knowledge of their civilization is still very incomplete. This carving represents the semitic "Uncle Sam" type, discovered throughout pre-Columbian America.
Ruins of the temple of Viracocha at Cacha, Peru. It was in this temple that the Spaniards found a huge, bearded, stone statue of Con-Tici Viracocha, which they took to be St Bartholomew. Note the temple's megalithic foundations.
The reconstruction of one of the mural paintings from the Temple of the Warriors at Chichen Itza shows white-skinned prisoners being led away naked by dark-skinned captors while others are preparing to retreat by sea. It is interesting to note that the captives--shown on another part of the same mural as being fair-haired--are not circumcized, a practice which was not prevalent in high-culture areas of the Americas.