Thursday, January 5, 2012

Mayan Influence on Mississippian Culture

I got this material from Dale Drinnon who sent me his recent posting on the apparent reaction to the story about a Mayan site been found in Georgia.  As he makes abundantly clear, Mayan maize culture spread readily from its Yucatan homeland easily into the Mississippi valley and even further afield.

What we really do not know with total confidence is just how quickly it actually spread.  It takes a lot of manpower to build a mound and decades of population building is strongly implied here.

The map attached is the most telling because it confirms a fully mature antique culture with regional polities strongly suggested by the apparent grouping.

I also suspect that this cultural diaspora will turn out to be contemporaneous with the emergent European Bronze Age who traded actively for copper.  Right now though, we get later dates consistent with a long survival past the collapse of that particular trade three thousand years ago.

Go to Dale’s site through the attached link.  He has a lot of useful pictures that help fill in the story.

What is missing in the story is a trade driver that sustained traffic between the Gulf and the Yucatan Peninsula.   It may have been sustained with the Atlantean copper trade as copper was drawn from Lake Superior and other copper locales around the Gulf, but certainly ended a long time past for most of these sites.  It really all looks like a superior agricultural society displacing local hunter gathers to exploit good lands.

More on Mayans and Mississippians

A large amount of complete misinformation has been going about the internet since this story broke. Here is one critical review that was brought to my attention after I had made my first posting about the matter:


by Maggie Koerth-Baker at 12:27 PM Friday Dec 23

I hate to lend any dignity to this story by commenting on it, but it's making the rounds, so here goes. Two things:
1. Nobody found Mayan ruins in the U.S. state of GeorgiaAn article posted on The Examiner claimed this was  the case. That article is full of it. So full of it that even the scientist cited in the article is (in a more polite way) publicly calling The Examiner out for being full of it. Mark Williams of the University of Georgia does do research on North American archaeology. He has spent 20 years excavating sites in Georgia's Oconee River valley. But these sites are not Mayan. Instead, they're part of what are broadly known as "Mississippian cultures," a conglomeration of ancient North American peoples who built a lot of earth mound structures and whose cultures are distinct from those of the Mayans and other Central Americans. 

2. Do not automatically trust anything you read on The Examiner website. The Examiner is a content farmthat allows anybody to write whatever they want about anything with absolutely zero oversight or fact-checking. The guy who wrote the bogus story on Mayan artifacts in Georgia appears to have just made up the entire Mississippian/Mayan connection out of his own imagination. As archaeologist Mark Williams told ArtInfo, "No archaeologist would defend this flight of fancy." (Again, this is polite scientist speak for, "Oh, my god. That guy is full of it.") While you're at it, apply the same level of skepticism to anything that comes from Hubpages, which has a similar model to The Examiner and was the source of that bogus "There's a secret cure for cancer!" story  earlier this year. In general, remember that just because it's formatted like a newspaper story, with a dateline at the beginning, does not mean it has been written according to any kind of standard of quality. Check the sources of the article. Check what you read against what Wikipedia and other people have written


OK, time now for my turn.

Cultures do not exist in a vaccuum and this is not a matter where anybody can just speak up out of their prejudices and say "We have never heard of such a thing before so of course it isn't so and anybody would be a fool to listen to this crap"


In this case it is taken as a given that the Mississippian cultures are a cultural conglomerate: MESOAMERICA IS ONE OF THOSE CULTURAL CENTERS WHICH GOES INTO THAT CONGLOMERATE. We already KNOW that the temple mounds come out of Mesoamerican pyramids and are something new and different when they come into the mound area. Similarly, there are other features which seem to be part of that same package that came with the idea of those temple mounds. So going around aying "No Mayas here, HaHaHaHaHa!" does not automatically make the person that says it sound smart. The whole reasoning on that score seems to be that the presumption is absurd. The presumption is NOT absurd, it is already a given that something along those lines MUST haver occurred. These cultures do not exist eternally as unchanging packages that evolved locally and never had any outside input from cultures further off. THAT is the absurd pretense. There is no assumption that the temple mounds simply involved in situ from burial mounds: there was a radical change in what the mounds meant and what they were made for.

We are talking about the Yucatan Mayas. It is known as an established fact that these Mayas traded as far as Puerto Rico and that there are many of their characteristic ball courts there. The location in question in Geiorgia is as far from Yucatan as Puerto Rico is, by direct measure on the map.

Now then, as toThe Examiner. I do not know what kind of intellectual elitism is going on here but conceptionally there is little difference between a "content farm" and the Wikipedia. IN THEORY the Wikipedia should be better checked and independantly confirmed. In actual practice, I have found all too many time I have put quite valid information up on Wikipedia only to see it repeatedly torn down by some know-nothing that has their own pet theory to push, and they can quite obviously fly in the face of published authority and even mathematical proofs if only they are persistent enough. The end result is that anybody in the world can put something up on Wikipedia and the information can bear little relationship to the truth of the matter. So I would say don't go around looking to ANY one authority, ALL authorities have flaws. Read all you can from every source you can, and don't take anything anybody ever tells you at face value. I loved my mom dearly, but when I became an adult I found that all through my childhood she had been giving me misinformation that was deliberately meant to warp my views. And there was no malice to it, she simply believed very firmly in certain wrong things and she would drum those wrong things into me.

But actually, if something is true it will be true no matter who should say it, and if a matter is false it will be false no matter who says it. The whole basic concept of a "Reliable source" can be misleading, nobody is ever 100% correct. After a while you will come to know what is a good idea or a bad idea from your own perspective. And I am not about to try to tell you what you should think is right or wrong for you, all I can do is make some suggestions about what sounds right or wrong from MY perspective.

The first feature to be noted is that a new ethnic element intrudes into the Mississippi Valley area at the beginning of Missississippian times. They show traits of their cranial anatomy which resemble Mexicans and Mayans more than the Eastern Woodlands tribes and they tend to be somewhat shorter. They also deform their skulls in the same way as the Mayans do. Yes, they are coneheads. At some Mississippian sites it is difficult to find skulls which were NOT deformed in infancy.

The next thing to be noted is that they represent themselves artistically in a manner reminsicent of the Mayans and other South-Mexican cultures, with similar red-pottery figurines:
Now as to the pottery which is allegedly just like Mayan Pottery: That part is true also but it does not begin to tell the whoile story. In fact this is something which has been known for a long time and is one of the key features to understanding the Mississippian cultures. In 1928, Dr. G. C. Valiant published Resemblances in Ceramics of Central and North America, after doing a series of investigations in Mexico for the American Museum of Natural History. He had discovered a series of ceramic traits which he called the "Q Complex" for convenience's sake. He introduced his subject with these words:

I shall endeavour to call attention to several curious parallels found mainly in the ceramics of Central America and the Southwestern and Southeastern United States That seem to indicate some sort of a relationship, even taking into account the barrier of five hundred kilometers of archaeologically unknown territory...While the Antillean influence on the far southeastern United States is attributable to direct contact[and known settlements over much of Florida-DD]...The traits existing in the pottery of the Western drainage of the Mississippi and to a lesser degree in Tennessee [and adjoining Georgia and Alabama-DD], however, are of a character that indicates a stronger source of infection than a symbolism brought in perhaps by exiles from another land. In short, in the Western Mississippi valley, there exists apparently some sort of action by one culture upon another. These ceramic traits which are quite foreign to the run of the pottery of the eastern states include:

1. Tripod support of vessels.
2.Funnel-necked jars.
3.Double-bodied jars.
4.Rarely, the shoe form of vessel.
5.the high and low form of annular base for vessels.
6. Spout handles
7.the composite silhouette form of bowl.
8. Vessels modeled in the effigy of animals or humans.
9. Vessels with spouts, in plain and in effigy
10. Vessels with the head or features attached

And ended with the conclusions that:

It does not seem possible to explain away such parallels as these by independant invention of styles since the basis of the ceramic development of the Eastern United States does not seem to contain the germs for this Western Mississippi [ie. Mississippian-DD] complex. Nor from this same lack of transitional steps is it probable that the styles developed there and moved South. Yet to what epoch and to what culture in Central America, on the other hand, do these forms relate?
As an inexplicable residue among the ceramics of Guatemala, Honduras, Salvador and Costa Rica, occur such traits as composite silhouette, decoration by incision [Mississippian example below-DD], support of vessels by legs or cylinders, spouted vessels, pot stands and effigy forms. These elements obtain under such conditions of antiquity as beneath the volcanic ash of Salvador, under the Old Empire Maya remains at Homul and Uaxactun, and are associated with pre-Maya material at the Finca Arevalo in Guatemala. [the traits are also present down to Peru and absent over much of Mexico, Vaillant recounts]...Doctor Lothrop and this writer designated these elements as influence Q, since we know neither their center of distribution nor their makers. This complex occupies in Central America a position analogous to the relation between the primitive cultures in the Valley of Mexico and the Toltec and Aztec cultures.

In other words, we are not only talking Mayan ceramics, we are talking old, basic traditional Mayan ceramics. Something that the country people would remember when their elite rulers had been taken away, and pottery traits which would not have been transmitted by way of Northern Mexico primarily.

As I had mentioned before, the Mississippian houses were built according to the usual Mayan plan. To be frank, these are nothing like the wigwams common in the eastern United States, they are tropical huts.

The high steep-sided roofs are designed to shed heavy tropical rainfall and designs much like this are common in Northern South America and also in Indonesia (They are also used to indicate the possibility of TransPacific diffusion between those other two regions, along with use of the BLOWGUN, which the Mayas also had. The duplication of blowgun technology on both sides of the Pacific is something that is hard for non-diffusionists to explain)

And then of course the most obvious and characteristic feature of the Mississippian cultures is the creation and use of the stepped-pyramid temple mounds, built along parallel principles but using earth instead of stone as the construction material. And this came with a version of Mesoamerican pyramid ceremonialism, placement around a plaza,human sacrifice, headhunting and veneration of human skulls.

And besides buliding pyramids after a design similar to the Mayan pyamids at Chichin Itza, the people carried a name by which they seem to have called themselves, Itsas. a hundred years ago or more, this was not even questioned, it was taken for granted that these people had come from that part of the Yucatan and that is why they were using that name.


I had begun to develop a very long and involved followup to this article on linguistics, making very involved and complicated arguments, but then I saw how the situation could be represented most easily. In the Wikipedia entry discussing the validity or non-validity of the so-called Amerind linguistic superfamily, a long list of languages is included. I excerpt part of the listing here:

1.                  Penutian
1.      Gulf
2.                  Atakapa
3.                  Chitimacha
4.                  Muskogean
5.                  Natchez
6.                  Tunica
7.                  Yukian
2.                  Mexican Penutian
1.                  Huave
2.                  Mayan
3.                  Mixe–Zoque
4.                  Totonac

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