Olmec Heads

Olmec Heads

Image of Viracocha from Tiahuanaco, Bolivia

Image of Viracocha from Tiahuanaco, Bolivia

Caucasoid figure, Monte Alban

Caucasoid figure, Monte Alban

Caucasoid figure, Monte Alban

Caucasoid figure, Monte Alban

Caucasoid figure (known as 'The Walker'), La Venta

Caucasoid figure (known as ‘The Walker’), La Venta

Olmec Head

Olmec Head

Olmec Head

Olmec Head

Olmec Heads

Olmec Heads

Readers of my books Fingerprints of the Gods (first published April 1995) and Heaven’s Mirror (first published September 1998) will know that I have consistently argued that the Americas were inhabited in prehistoric times by a variety of different ethnic groups – Negroid, Caucasoid and Mongoloid. Such ideas have caused deep offence to some American Indians, who have long claimed to be the only ‘native’ Americans, and also contradict academic teachings which hold that the New World remained uninhabited by humans until the end of the last Ice Age and was then settled exclusively by Mongoloid nomads from Asia who crossed the Bering Straits about 12,000 years ago (when there was a land bridge between Siberia and Alaska) and made their way thence into all of North and South America – reaching the latter only about 9000 years ago. Naturally this teaching also holds that no Caucasoids or Negroids were present anywhere in the Americas prior to the coming of Columbus and the European conquest in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries AD.

One of the historical mysteries that drew me into writing Fingerprints was the eloquent mythical and sculptural testimony concerning a time, long ago, when people who were definitely not American Indians inhabited the Americas. Both the god Viracocha, in South America, and the god Quetzalcoatl in Mexico were described as tall, white-skinned and red-bearded – sometimes blue-eyed as well.

At Monte Alban, near Oaxaca, and at La Venta, on the Gulf of Mexico (a site associated with the mysterious "Olmec" culture, supposedly the first and the oldest high civilisation of Mesoamerica), ancient carved figures have been found that seem to depict such individuals. In the case of Monte Alban these Caucasoid figures date back to about 600 BC and in the case of La Venta to about 1200 BC – almost 3000 years before the European conquest.

More intriguing still, other sculptures, mostly in the form of carved megalithic heads, were also found at La Venta in the same archaeological strata as the Caucasoid figures. Once again, these sculptures, the so-called "Olmec Heads", do not display the typical features of native American Indians. This time they are unmistakably Negroid in appearance – depicting individuals who must have closely resembled modern Africans, Melanesians or Australian Aborigines.

In Fingerprints of the Gods and Heaven’s Mirror I wrote at length about these anomalistic sculptures and the myths that accompany them. I argued that real people must have served as the models for both types and that they should therefore be taken seriously as historical testimony of the presence of Caucasoids and Negroids in the New World more than 3000 years ago. This view that was not accepted by a single orthodox scholar in 1995 when Fingerprints was first published. Since then new evidence has come to light which has obliged the experts to reconsider their position and step back from the dogma of exclusively Mongoloid settlement of the Americas. The first breakthroughs came in 1996 and 1997:

Washington Post, Final Edition, Tuesday 15 April 1997.
‘Skeletons unearthed in several western states and as far east as Minnesota are challenging traditional views that the earliest Americans all resembled today’s Asians. The skeletons’ skulls bear features similar to those of Europeans, suggesting that Caucasoid people were among the earliest humans to migrate into the New World more than 9000 years ago. Anthropologists have known of such bones for years, but did not fully appreciate their significance until re-appraising them over the last few months. The new analyses were prompted by the discovery last summer of the newest addition to the body of evidence – the unusually complete skeleton of an apparently Caucasoid man who died about 9300 years ago near what is now Kennewick, Washington… The man’s head and shoulders were mummified, preserving much of the skin in that area… Those who examined [him at first thought the bones] were the remains of a European settler [until radiocarbon revealed their great age]. "It’s an exciting time, and I think we’re going to see some real changes in the story about the peopling of North America," said Dennis Stanford, an authority at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History.’

Not all scholars agree that Kennewick Man was a Caucasoid [Link 1]. But at the very least the discovery has raised significant doubts about the established model of the peopling of the Americas. Other discoveries have raised further doubts.


"Similarities to modern day Aborigines or Africans…"

p39

‘It was the head of an old man with a broad flat nose and thick lips. The lips were slightly parted, exposing strong, square teeth. The expression on the face suggested an ancient, patient wisdom, and the eyes seemed to gaze unafraid into eternity… It would be impossible, I thought, for a sculptor to invent all the different combined characteristics of an authentic racial type. The portrayal of an authentic combination of racial characteristics therefore implied strongly that a human model had been used.

‘I walked around the great head a couple of times. It was 22 feet in circumference, weighted 19.8 tons, stood almost 8 feet high, had been carved out of solid basalt, and displayed clearly an authentic combination of racial characteristics. Indeed, like other pieces I had seen, it unmistakably and unambiguously showed a Negro… My own view is that the Olmec Heads present us with physiologically accurate images of real individuals of Negroid stock…’

I returned to this mystery in my 1998 book Heaven’s Mirror:

‘Orthodox historians do not accept the presence of any Africans in the new World prior to the time of Columbus and have tried to sidestep the implications of the obviously African features of the 3000-year-old Olmec heads – 16 of which have so far been found. It may at least be taken as a sign that there is no racism in archaeology that there are also supposed to have been no Caucasians in the New World before Columbus! Scholars have therefore predictably raised quibbles about the Quetzalcoatl myth of the tall bearded white man and have sought to dismiss any suggestions that it might be reflected in the numerous reliefs of Caucasian faces that have been excavated in some of the oldest archaeological sites of Mexico. In the Olmec area several were found in the same strata as the African heads and sometimes side by side with them, but images of Caucasians have also been excavated as far afield as Monte Alban in the south-west, a site dated to between 1000 and 600 BC.’

‘In 1996 and 1997 the discovery of Caucasian bones more than 9000 years old in the Americas seems, quite suddenly, to have validated the Quetzalcoatl myth. It is therefore now legitimate to ask how long it may be before another lucky turn of the archaeologist’s spade will uncover the bones of individuals who could have served as prototypes for the great Olmec heads.’

That ‘lucky turn of the archaeologist’s spade’ was not long in coming. On 22 August 1999, the London Sunday Times (and a few days later a BBC2 television documentary) reported the discovery in Brazil and Columbia of more than 50 skeletons and skulls of a Negroid people who had lived in South America about 12,000 years ago – about 3000 years before the first known penetration of Mongoloid peoples into this region. ([Link 2] and [Link 3])

One particularly well preserved example, the remains of a young girl whom scientists have nicknamed ‘Luzia’ has been described as ‘the oldest human skeleton yet found on the American landmass’. It has been studied by Walter Neves, Professor of Biological Anthropology at the University of Sao Paolo, who states:

‘When we started seeing the results, it was amazing because we realised the statistics were not showing these people to be Mongoloid; they were showing that they were anything except Mongoloid… They are similar to modern-day Aborigines or Africans and show no similarities at all with Mongoloids from east Asia and modern-day Indians’

The Sunday Times also quotes Richard Neave, a forensic artist with the University of Manchester who has made a reconstruction of Luzia’s face. ‘That,’ he comments, ‘is a Negroid face. The proportions of the face do not say anything about it being Mongoloid.’

Up till now, as far as I know, no scholar has pointed out that the discoveries in Brazil and Columbia could offer an explanation for the Negroid features of the Olmec Heads. It’s true that the Olmec sculptures were found in strata between 3000 and 4000 years old – whereas the Brazilian and Columbian skeletons are much older than that. But this does not rule out a possible connection. At the very least it is surely an intriguing coincidence (a) that pieces of monumental sculpture depicting Negroid individuals have come down to us from the prehistoric antiquity of the Americas and (b) that a Negroid people, previously unidentified and unsuspected by historians, have now been scientifically proven to have inhabited the Americas around 12,000 years ago. Perhaps the "Olmec" Heads were not made by the "Olmecs" at all but were inherited by them as heirlooms, handed down from an earlier time?


A Chinese influence?

A footnote to this story, and a sign of the galloping collapse of consensus amongst orthodox scholars concerning the peopling of the Americas, is a row that began to simmer in academic circles in the late 1990’s concerning possible cultural links between ancient Chinese and ancient American cultures – specifically the Olmec and the Shang. The main proponents of this view are Professor Mike Xu, who teaches in the foreign languages department at the University of Central Oklahoma, USA, and Chen Hanping of China’s Historical Research Institute.

According to an article published in US News and World Report, and to Internet postings, Xu believes ‘the first complex culture in Mesoamerica may have come into existence with the help of a group of Chinese who fled across the seas as refugees at the end of the Shang dynasty. The Olmec civilisation arose around 1200 BC, which coincides with the time when King Wu of Zhou attacked and defeated King Zhou, the last Shang ruler, bringing his dynasty to a close.’ ([Link 4])

Xu is also reported to have ‘explosive’ evidence in the form of archaic writings:

‘Over the past three years he has found some 150 glyphs on photographs of real specimens of Olmec pottery, jade artefacts and sculptures. As well as himself leafing through dictionaries of ancient Chinese, he has also taken his drawings of these markings to be examined by mainland Chinese experts in ancient writing, and most have agreed that they closely resemble the characters used in Chinese oracle bone writings and bronze inscriptions. "At first these experts all tried to send me away, saying they could not give an opinion of foreign artefacts," Mike Xu recalls. But after his repeated entreaties, they reluctantly took a look. The moment they saw his drawings, each of them asked him: "Where in China were these inscriptions found?" When they heard they came from America they were all dumbstruck. "If these inscriptions had been found in excavations in China", says Chen Hanping, a research associate at the mainland’s Historical Research Institute, "they would certainly be regarded as symbols of the pre-Quin-dynasty period".’ ([Link 4])

Reaction from other scholars has been almost universally hostile (see [Link 4]). This posting, from C. Cook, Associate Professor of Chinese at Lehigh University, sums up several key objections:

‘Some asked me to post my observations re the script on the Olmec celts identified by Chen, Hanping as Chinese in US News and World Report Nov 4, pp 46-8. I have finally seen the article with the reproduction of the Olmec graphs and the section that Chen believed was similar to the oracle bone script of the Shang.

  1. the graphs isolated by Chen are not Chinese. They bear some graphic similarity to some archaic Chinese graphs or parts of graphs but as single graphs equal nothing and do not have the equivalents he assigned to them. It is bogus.
  2. obviously, the graphs/glyphs pulled out by Chen should be considered within the context of the entire "inscription". This is impossible as the rest of the marks bear none but a few isolated similarities. In fact the Olmec "script" may not represent language at all, but like the Naxi and other ur-scripts, be more a code for storytelling than an actual transcription of language. The Shang oracle bone script, on the other hand, is very advanced and unquestionably qualifies as belonging to a writing system.
  3. Finally, the "inscription" must be considered within the context of the sculptures. There is very little beyond the occasional face of human representation in Shang period art (some carved jade figures, but these are kneeling, often incised, and covered with animal décor, tattoos, clothes, etc.). One famous bronze has a shaman-like figure in the mouth of an animal, but there is no similarity to the Olmec representations.
  4. A point of correction: the US News and WR article claims that Chen is the foremost authority of only about 12 scholars worldwide who are trained in ancient script. First, Chen is a very minor scholar. Second, there are more than 12 scholars in the US alone who can read Shang script, many many more in China and elsewhere.’ ([Link 5])

Sanxingdui Mask

Sanxingdui Mask

Mayan Chac Mask architectural Feature

Mayan Chac Mask architectural Feature

Bulging eyes and a long curling nose

I haven’t the faintest idea whether Professor Cook and the other critics are right or whether Xu and Chen are onto something with their Shang-Olmec connection. Further open-minded research is required to settle the issue but in the meantime I would like to draw attention to a small piece of evidence that Santha and I first became aware of when we visited the Mysteries of Ancient China Exhibition at the British Museum in early January 1997 and, more recently, when we visited Beijing’s History Museum in March 1999. We were intrigued by artefacts from the sacrificial pits at Sanxingdui in Sichuan province. Including bronzes in the shape of human heads, fragments of gold, many jades and a large number of elephant tusks, these artefacts were discovered in 1986 and are the work of a previously unidentified high civilisation that flourished in Sichuan from around 1200 to 1000 BC.

Of particular interest was an exhibit described as "Mask with ornamented forehead and protruding pupils". It is one of three large masks that were found in pit 2 at Sanxingdui. According to the British Museum’s commentary (Mysteries of Ancient China. Page 69):

‘the most startling features are the pupils of the eyes, which project on stalks… A further remarkable feature is the long upstanding projection rising from the nose of the mask. This projection is scroll-shaped, with an upright section coiled at the top and with a double loop at the bottom… The combination of the large ears, the protruding eyes and the tall quill makes this face completely fantastic.’

Is it a coincidence that almost exactly the same ‘fantastic’ and ‘startling’ features – bulging eyes and a long, curling projection to the nose – are found upon the Chac masks of the ancient Maya of Central America, the successors to the Olmecs? Chac masks were sometimes also incorporated as architectural features into Maya temples.


Step pyramids, Xian, China

Step pyramids, Xian, China


Step pyramids, Teotihuacan, Mexico

Step pyramids, Teotihuacan, Mexico

Conspicuous strangers

Perhaps such similarities are just coincidences – although personally I rather doubt it. Setting aside all other issues and anomalies, however (and there are many, eg, see images on right), I contend that the ancient Caucasoid and Negroid skeletons that have been found in the New World mean that there can no longer be any room for preconceived notions. The true history of the peopling of the Americas is likely to turn out to be extraordinarily complex and attenuated, involving many different ethnic groups and cultures in many different epochs. It does not surprise me at all that the Chinese might have been here 3000 years ago, or the Phoenicians at about the same time – as others have suggested – or the remarkable Jomon culture of Japan, or the Egyptians, or – much later – the Vikings. I believe it to be very likely, indeed little short of a certainty, that all these peoples and several others as well must have independently ‘discovered’ the Americas, in isolated individual cases, over and over again, from the very earliest times.

But how early?

If we keep on pushing this inquiry back into the past – back beyond the earliest-known historical civilisations – then what, ultimately, do we come to?

The possible Shang influence on Olmec writing and art takes us back 3000 years, well within the bounds of recorded history. But Kennewick Man and Luzia take us back respectively 9300 and 12000 years, the latter date being some 7000 years earlier than Sumer and Egypt – the earliest known historical civilisations – and smack in the middle of the end of the last Ice Age when the Earth passed through a gigantic cataclysm and floods from the melting ice sheets scoured the globe.

Some scholars have expressed the view that Luzia’s people could have come to South America from the Pacific and been related to Australian Aborigines. Certainly there is evidence that in ancient times the Aboriginies possessed sophisticated sailing and navigational skills. So far, however, there is no historical theory that can explain the presence in the New World at such early dates not only of Negroid Aboriginies but also of Caucasoids – let alone the fact that memories of these conspicuous strangers appear to have been preserved in myths and in sculptures as far afield as Bolivia and Mexico.

As well as being an intriguing human and archaeological mystery, therefore, what we now know about the first Americans represents a radical and robust challenge to orthodox scholarship.

I suspect that this story will run and run.