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The Origin of the Advanced Maya Civilization in the Yucatan

Douglas T. Peck

For most of the Twentieth century, academic consensus was tied to the theory that the first inhabitants in the Americas evolved from waves of peoples crossing the Bering land bridge from Asia at the end of the last Ice Age. The earliest site of an identifiable cultural settlement was at Clovis, New Mexico, dated around 11,200 years ago, and all subsequent acculturation was believed to have emanated from that point and date. However, recent archaeological finds in both North and South America, most notably being that at Monte Verde in southern Chili (Dillehay 2000), indicate that humans formed settled villages in the Americas much earlier than previously thought. The latest research using Mitochondrial DNA sampling indicates that the Americas were first populated from northern Asia between 40,000 and 20,000 years ago.i These early migrations of nomadic hunter-gatherers first settled and formed organized communities in the coastal plains along shore where animal, marine, and plant foods were readily available yeararound. This study is concerned, not with where the first settlements occurred, but only with the origin of the first settlement that evolved into the advanced Maya civilization.ii The term Maya civilization is used in this instance as a pragmatic historical definition to identify the advanced and ethnically homogeneous polity that had internally developed writing, mathematics, public architecture, and other vestiges of civilization. By definition, this includes such peripheral peoples as the Mixtec, Zapotec, Huastec, and others that have been arbitrarily compartmentalized as separate from the Maya because of variance in language dialect, architectural style, or use of different ceramic motifs and coloring. There is wide disagreement among archaeologists, anthropologists, and historians concerning both the geographical origin and later geographical spread of the advanced Maya civilization. This study presents and supports the theory that the

For a complete discussion of the many controversial theories centered around the Clovis point people settlement versus earlier acculturation, see, (Dillehay, 2000:2-43). The genetic Mitochondrial DNA research from different sources differs in details, but agree on the 40,000 to 20,000 before present (BP) initial arrival date (followed by later waves of more advanced peoples), and largely refutes the several theories that the Maya or other indigenous groups were part of a separate arrival from Europe, the Middle-East or Polynesia. Linguistic studies also confirm the early peopling of the Americas around 30,000 BP (Nichols 1995). References having the most application to the Maya are, (Cann, Stoneking, and Wilson, 1987, 325:31-36; Dillehay 2000:227-248; Merryweather, 1997; Sykes 1999). For a discussion of the several controversial late wave acculturation theories, see (Coe 1993:45-47; Dillehay 2000:109-225). The origin of the name Maya in Spanish history can be traced to Bartolome Colon on Columbus s fourth voyage in reporting the encounter of a large Maya trade canoe in the Bay of Honduras speaks of the canoe as coming from a certain province called Maiam [Maya] or Yucatam [Yucatan] (Tozzer 1941: 7-note 33). Martyr in reporting this same encounter stated that Columbus upon inquiring about the mainland was told: This vast region is divided into two parts, one called Taia and the other called Maia [Maya] (McNutt 1970: dec. 3:318). The report of Columbus s encounter with the Maya canoe is also contained in Ferdinand Colon s biography of Columbus (Keen 1959:231232).


cultural knowledge which constituted the basis for the advanced Maya civilization originated in the Olmec heartland in the Vera Cruz and Tabasco coastal area of the Gulf of Mexico and is recorded in the Maya mythology of an ancient priestly godlike king named Kukulcan. The theory of the advanced Maya civilization evolving from the Olmec in the Gulf Coastal area is not new, has been in existence in published works for some time, and known as the Olmec-Centric Theory.iii The new and original theory in this study consists of evidence relating the origin of the primary elements of Maya civilization to the Kukulcan mythology, and in turn identification of the god-king Kukulcan myth to the Olmec. Further evidence is then presented to show that the Olmec cultural knowledge and the related Kukulcan myth was then spread to the Yucatan and throughout the extensive Maya and peripheral areas in the Formative (Preclassic) and early Classic period by the seafaring and mercantile oriented Chontal Maya.

The long coastline of the Yucatan peninsula and adjacent shores fronting on both the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea was the factor that thrust the early inhabitants of the Yucatan and adjacent areas into a leading role in development of the advanced Maya civilization. This leading role was largely influenced by the development and control of the long range canoe routes that ranged from Tampico in the north, around the shores of the Yucatan to the Bay of Honduras, and up the drainage rivers to the highland cities of the interior. The historically significant and leading role of coastal dwelling seafaring peoples in development of early civilizations is supported in a recent comprehensive study of prehistoric cultures and civilizations (Cunliffe 2001). Since the Maya civilization spanned both prehistoric and early historic times, the limited archaeological findings related to the period, have been supplemented with interpretive study of Maya oral history and mythology that were recorded by the few surviving Maya scribes and the early Spanish observers and historians. Hidden within these ancient oral myths, and the later related art and sculpture that recorded this mythology, can be found a clear identification of the origin of the advanced fundamental elements of Maya civilization such as writing, mathematics, and public architecture. The Geographical and Ethnical Origin of the Advanced Maya Civilization as Derived from the Kukulcan Mythology In the Formative period the ancient Maya revered a godlike priestly king from mythology called Kukulcan who brought the vestiges of civilization to their ancestors. Kukulcan, the godlike ruler from Maya mythology, was a holy man with fair skin, long dark hair, and flowing beard, whose symbol was the feathered and winged rattlesnake, and who instructed the ancient Maya in writing, mathematics, architecture, and the arts of government. Incurring the wrath of the gods, he was forced to leave and departed in a vessel of serpent skins to Tlapallan his home in the East, but vowed that some day he would return. This amalgamation of the several versions of the ancient myth closely follows William H. Prescott s account of the later derived

The Olmec-Centric Theory for Maya cultural origin was put forward in the mid-twentieth century primarily by Mexican scholars, Ignacio Bernal (1969), Alfonso Caso (1942, 1952), Matthew W. Stirling (1965, 1968), John E. Clark (1989, 1990), and Beatriz de la Fuente (1977, 1981). The Olmec-Centric theory was later challenged by other scholars in the discipline who theorized that many of the cultural elements attributed to the Olmec were developed independently in the highland and central area and later influenced and were adopted by the lowland and coastal Maya. Currently the Olmec-Centric Theory has been revived and given support, most notably, by the research of Richard A. Diehl (1981, 1989, 1995), Michael D. Coe (1977, 1989, 1997), and Paul Tolstoy (1990).

Toltec/Aztec Quetzalcoatl myth (Prescott 1969:38-39). Prescott s comprehensive research was conducted in the latter part of the eighteenth and early nineteenth-century from primary source documents.iv Prescott s version is probably closer to the original Kukulcan mythology, since he was not influenced by later twentieth century historiography containing convoluted Post-Classic Quetzalcoatl myths and legends, which bear little resemblance to the older and more valid Formative period Kukulcan mythology. The revered ancient king called Kukulcan was the first historical figure to emerge from the many gods of the Maya myth of creation and from his description of bringing the elements of civilization to the people would thus have been considered by the Maya as the founder of their civilization or culture. In this respect, he can be likened to Abraham who emerged as a historical founding father from the creation mythology of Genesis in the Judaic-Christian Bible. The myth of Kukulcan instructing the Maya in writing and other elements of civilization ostensibly could not have been tied to one single king or ruler, but would have originated in the oral history of a powerful dynasty by that name or with that symbol. This ancient dynasty would have been one that had developed the first organized community which supported a large and precocious leisure class of nobles, and over an extended period of time developed writing, mathematics, and other vestiges of civilization. The fact that Kukulcan in the mythology came from his homeland in the East is misleading. The East referred to in Maya mythology is not geographical east, but the heavenly East associated with the Maya mythology of creation and the god Venus as the Morning Star. Friar Diego de Landa in the early sixteenth-century recorded the history of the Yucatan in his Relacin de las Cosas de Yucatan (Tozzer 1941; Gates 1990).v Landa was probably reporting the Kukulcan mythology (without recognizing it as such) when he stated: Some old men of Yucatan say they have heard from their ancestors [oral mythology] that this country was peopled by a certain race who came from the East (Gates 1990: 30). Landa did not recognize the report as mythology and postulated that the race who came from the East were ancient Jews. There is no valid support or evidence that the ancient mortal Kukulcan dynasty (the basis for the Kukulcan mythology) originated in a geographical homeland that was east of the Maya continental area.

The esoteric theogony of the numerous Quetzalcoatl myths in Classic, Postclassic, and early historic (Spanish) period serve only to confuse and throw a shadow on the original clearly defined Formative period Kukulcan mythology. Nicholson devotes sixteen pages in a comprehensive discussion of the subject (Nicholson 1967:78-93). And Milbrath indicates her strong (and unfounded) bias for origin of the mythology in the highlands in her subtitle: Quetzalcoatl-Kukulcan: The Venus god from Central Mexico (Milbrath 1999 : 177-186).


There have been many translations of Landa s Relacion and the most widely used for reference is Tozzer s edited compilation of the translations (Tozzer 1941). Tozzer s translation can be used with confidence, but his comprehensive notes and commentary carry a strong bias for Toltec influence in the Yucatan that are not substantiated by historical fact. The translation and commentary by William Gates is less wordy and gives a more dispassionate and up to date view of the period (Gates 1990).

Figure 1

Reconstructed low relief Olmec sculpture from the La Venta archaeological site on the south shore of the Gulf of Mexico between Vera Cruz and Tabasco.

The search for the geographical and ethnical origin of the Kukulcan myth and cult has been difficult because it stems from oral rather than detailed written history such as that of the Biblical Abraham. And the earliest written account of the myth would have been on perishable bark paper rather than carved in stone so it is unlikely that it will ever be directly confirmed by archaeological investigation. However, one valuable advantage in the search for the origin of the myth is a firmly established and definitive symbol for Kukulcan that can be readily found in artifacts and art from extant archaeological finds. That symbol is the feathered, winged, and plumed rattlesnake. This composite imaginary art form is so unusual that it is highly unlikely that it would have been developed independently for any other purpose than to identify the mythical Kukulcan. The earliest known example of the depiction of the feathered and winged rattlesnake is a low relief sculpture from La Venta, an early Olmec site located on the Tonala River in the estuary where the large Coatzacoalcos River empties into the Gulf of Mexico. In the report of the La Venta excavation, Jeremy A. Sabloff noted the winged rattlesnake on the artifact, but did not identify the figure as related to the Kukulcan mythology (Rust and Sharer 1988:102-104; Sabloff 1997:37). In the reconstructed drawing from a photograph of the Olmec artifact (Figure 1) only the stubs of the wings were evident and the wings have been completed following the style of wings shown on later Maya sculpture. The artifact was broken off at the last rattle of the tail and the plume was added in conformance with later Maya art. The remainder and main body of the figure follows the photograph accurately, but the weathered outline has been enhanced for

clarity. This Olmec sculpture shows a seated or reclining noble enveloped by Kukulcan s symbol of a large and finely carved stylized feathered and winged rattlesnake. The figure can easily be identified as a scholar, merchant, or priest, rather than a warrior. The fore part of the elaborate headdress depicts architecture that is typical of later Maya architecture while the aft part is unclear but can be construed as mathematics. The right hand holds an incense pot used by priests in religious rites, and the left-hand cradles what appears to be several written and folded bark paper books or codices. These items together with the feathered and winged rattlesnake symbol strongly indicate that the Olmec figure in the sculpture is a depiction of the godlike priestly Kukulcan, true to Maya mythology, bringing these several vestiges of civilization to the people. This particular artifact has not been dated, but the mound complex in which it was found has been dated to circa. 800-600 BC. However, the image of Kukulcan depicted in the sculpture probably originated in the larger, and more sophisticated Olmec center at the San Lorenzo archaeological site on the Coatzacoalcos River just a short distance inland from the La Venta site (Coe and Diehl 1980). The San Lorenzo site and the nearby Tres Zapotes site have been dated at around 1500 BC from limited artifacts found at the sites, but from a pragmatic historical view these cities and the nearby Olmec La Venta complex were probably allied and contemporary in existence for most of their flourescent It should be noted that the mythical Kukulcan (or Kukulcan dynasty) depicted on this artifact would have lived and flourished in this area many centuries before the execution of the sculpture, probably between 2000-1500 BC. Just as the previously accepted Clovis point peoples theory for dating the first settled communities has now been moved back thousands of years, it remains now for future archaeological investigations to move the initial development of the Olmec flowering civilization to a time far earlier than the dating of artifacts from the La Venta, San Andrs, San Lorenzo, or other Olmec sites. The early development of the advanced Olmec Culture can be attributed to their favorable location on the southern coast of the Gulf of Mexico. The rich alluvial plain in the semitropical area where the Coatzacoalcos River empties into the Gulf of Mexico would have allowed easily cultivated year-around crops (supplemented by readily acquired marine products) to produce a food surplus without the heavy expenditure of labor necessary to produce only seasonal crops in the highlands. Another advantage of the site was that its location on the coast provided a platform for launching extensive trading by canoe along the coast and up the rivers which flowed from the highlands. The proliferation of Olmec related artifacts indicate that Olmec trade routes extended far inland to the developing cities of the Guatemalan Peten, around the Yucatan as far south as Belize, and across the highlands to the Pacific shore. There is no one single factor that led to the support of an elite aristocracy free to pursue the very arts and science attributed to Kukulcan, but food surplus and extensive trade are vital factors with trade being the most important. The advanced coastal dwelling Olmec traders can be compared to the coastal dwelling ancient seafaring Phoenician traders who brought tin, copper and metallurgy to inaugurate the bronze age in the eastern Mediterranean and gave the ancient Greeks their advanced phonetic alphabet to perfect the Greek written language.vii Writing has long been accepted as one of the
Dates used are rounded figures from the mass of conflicting and controversial dating from archaeological investigation of Olmec sites in the general area. For a detailed overview of the subject, see (Adams 1991:46-75). Though most historians attribute the development of the phonetic alphabet (writing) and arabic numerals (mathematics) to the Phoenicians, Toynbee relates it to a possible origin in the Minoan islands another seafaring society (Toynbee 1947:92). More recent studies of the linear A Minoan script listing an inventory of palace goods 5
vii vi

more important factors to indicate a state of civilization. However, there is wide disagreement among archaeologists concerning the origin of hieroglyphic writing in Mesoamerica. Most theories for the origin of writing cite evidence of early writing on stone artifacts. The geographical locations of the surviving examples of early writing on stone have no real relevance to indicate the true origin of that writing. The earliest writing was placed on perishable bark paper probably many centuries earlier than that carved in stone and thus the origin is not necessarily tied to the location of the stone artifacts containing writing. The worldwide history of writing indicates that the earliest or root writing was developed by and for traders and merchants rather than for kings to record their legacy. The earliest known cuneiform writing of the Sumerians and the Assyrians as well as the earliest hieroglyphic writing of the Egyptians contained only an inventory of food stocks or trade goods. And the earliest linear writing of bronze age Greece and Crete did not record historical facts, but only an inventory of household items and wealth. Since the Olmec were traders and merchants, it would follow that they had the need for, and were the most likely candidates, to invent the early trade related hieroglyphic writing, later developed by the Maya into more sophisticated writing to record the history of their kings. In this regard it is significant that the scholarly Kukulcan was reported in the mythology as bringing the first writing which would have been on bark paper books or codices like those shown on the Olmec artifact (Figure 1). The Madrid, Paris, and Dresden codices are examples of these bark paper books or codices pictured on the Olmec artifact (Forsteman 1989; Knorozov 1982; Villacorta and Villacorta 1977). These later surviving bark paper books or codices are written in Yucatecan, and have been identified as originating in northern Yucatan. The codices, which have been dated from 1250 to 1450, contain both sophisticated hieroglyphic writing concerning their religion and the long count calendar mathematics related to astronomy. The studies and commentaries on the codices primarily by German, Russian, and Spanish scholars, based largely on interpretation of the illustrations and Knorozov s early mode of deciphering Maya hieroglyphic writing, suffer by undue influence from outdated and contested views of Maya history. These commentaries on the codices carry a strong bias for cultural influence and flow from the Mexica highlands to the Maya lowlands based on invalid circular reasoning that since some similar motifs and characteristics in the codices can be found in central and highland areas, therefore that is their source. The well-known ancient myth of Kukulcan bringing writing to the Maya, and his depiction at the early Formative era La Venta site bearing paper books, provides strong evidence to fix the origin of writing to the Olmec. There exists other independent evidence that suggests the Olmec developed the first glyphic writing. An early example of glyphic rebus writing was found on a stone tablet at the La Venta site and dated to 900-500 BC. F. Kent Reilly III has interpreted the writing as showing the three stones of creation and a cross-shaped plant which are allied to the later Classic Maya creation myth (Reilly III 1994; Guthrie 1996:9).
indicates it was allied to Phoenician script and both predated and contemporary in time (Millar 2003:21). Cunliffe in his study of prehistoric cultures and civilizations discusses the leading role the seafaring Phoenician traders played in the spread of Syriac cultural traits throughout the Mediterranean and west of the Straits of Gibralter (Cunliffe 2001:261-275). And Pytheas, the Greek philosopher and geographer, noted in his classic, On the Ocean (320 BC) that the inland societies of the Celts in France and the Britons in southern England had attained some vestiges of civilized life because of their interaction with Greek and Phoenician seafaring traders (Cunliffe 2003:6667,74). The significance of this comparative history of the Chontal Maya and the Phoenicians is that coastal dwelling mercantile oriented and seafaring peoples, such as the Chontal Maya, have a need for and a history of development and spread of high cultural accomplishments associated with civilized societies such as written language and mathematics.

Another example of glyphic writing has been found at the San Andres Olmec archaeological site near La Venta on the coastal plain in Tabasco. The excavations at this site (probably a satellite of the La Venta complex) have been led by Dr. Mary Pohl, Florida State University Anthropological Department, and conducted under the auspices of the National Science Foundation. The writing was contained on a small ceramic cylinder found in a refuse pile at the San Andres site. The cylinder when coated with ink and rolled over cloth or bark paper would print out the picture of a stylized bird with Figure 2

Drawing of the print-out that would result from use of the printing cylinder found at the San Andres Olmec archaeological site. From report contained in Institute of Maya Studies Newsletter (2003).

speaking scrolls issuing from its beak that contain glyphic writing (Figure 2). Carbon dating of the layers in the refuse heap give the cylinder a date of 650 BC (Pohl-Pope-Nagy 2003:1). The dating of this artifact predates other evidence of writing by around 350 years and relates to the Olmec/Maya mythology of Kukulcan bringing writing to the people of the area. This early Olmec writing also relates to the depiction of Kukulcan holding bark paper books in the La Venta sculpture (Figure 1) dated between 800-600 BC. Pohl has interpreted the two written words on the San Andres artifact as meaning king and 3 Ajaw , which is a day in the sacred calendar, frequently used in the name of a king. The cylinder printer could thus provide a stamp used to identify property of the King or used as a heading or signature in proclamations or other documents of communication. From this it can be seen that the Olmec not only developed the first writing in Mesoamerica but developed a sophisticated method of printing. In commenting on the significance of the San Andres cylinder artifact, John Yellen, an archaeologist and program manager for the National Science Foundation stated: It was generally accepted that Mayans were among the first Mesoamerican societies to use writing. But this find indicates that the Olmec s form of written communication led into what became forms of writing for several other cultures (Pohl-Pope-Nagy 2003 :1). This lends support for the theory presented in this study that the advanced culture of the Maya (including writing and mathematics) that originated with the Olmec was perfected and spread throughout the Maya and peripheral areas by the seafaring Chontal Maya from their homeland in Tabasco (Figure 5). Support for interpretation of the Olmec Kukulcan artifact (Figure 1) as depicting the origin of writing is also found in the Aztec lore of Quetzalcoatl which may have been derived

from Tula and based on the earlier Olmec/Maya Kukulcan myth. In Aztec mythology, Quetzalcoatl departed the highlands to the east seeking Tlappalan and died on the Gulf coast somewhere in Tabasco (in other versions he disappeared over the sea to the east at this point), which they referred to as the land of writing ( Milbrath 1999:177). And it is significant that the Maya word Tlappalan means land of red and black, the color of Maya writing (Seler 1990-1996, 2:740). Applying the theory that writing and calendar mathematics go hand in hand with the rise of an elite aristocracy, then the origin of mathematics would also rest with the elite aristocracy of the ancient Olmec. The oldest recorded long count inscription was found in the Tres Zapotes Olmec site which lends support for this origin of mathematics (Milbrath 1979; 1999:3). Most scholars tie the development of Maya mathematics to the religious oriented need of priests for calendrical and astronomical calculations. But this study suggests that both writing and mathematics were initially required and developed by merchants for such a mundane purpose as recording the inventory of trade items and later evolved into more sophisticated writing and higher mathematics. The Olmec can also be considered as the originators of typical Maya architecture and city structure as indicated in the headdress of the La Venta sculpture of Kukulcan. The Olmec in this early Formative period imported an impressive amount of stone and other building materials to build high pyramidal temples in the core of their cities, flanked by ceremonial ball-courts, and served by paved roads and artificial canals. Richard E. W. Adams supports this view in stating, the order of magnitude difference of public works was heavily in favor of the Olmec. The immense amounts of earth moved, the numbers of platforms erected, the tons of stone moved and sculpted, and the treasures of valuable materials at the Gulf coast centers have no parallel or match in the highlands (Adams 1991 :85; Diehl 1981, 1989; Diehl and Coe 1995:16-18, 23). The Olmec pattern of city layout and architectural structures was repeated in the late Formative and early Classic sites in northern Yucatan and later spread throughout the Maya area. The most notable example of these formative period sites which follow the Olmec pattern of city layout and architectural structures are those at Komchen and Dzibilchaltun in northern Yucatan (Andrews IV 1980; Andrews V 1984). A similar, though modified by terrain, pattern of city layout and pyramidal architecture was followed throughout Mesoamerica at a later date. There are several theories that name other geographical areas as either the origin or major contributors to the development of Maya high civilization, but they are based primarily on evidence of complex societies with settled villages that rose throughout Mesoamerica in the same period as the rise of the Olmec. But just the ability to form settled villages, build stone buildings, or establish an organized social polity does not insure development of the high cultural elements of a civilized society. In keeping with the Kukulcan mythology, the evidence points to the Olmec as the origin of the high cultural vestiges of civilization, primarily writing, mathematics, and massive public architecture that were later introduced throughout the settled Maya area. The Easterly Move of the Olmec Culture into the Yucatan The consensus of most scholars is that the Olmec cultural entity collapsed or disappeared somewhere between 1000 and 400 BC. This traumatic view is poorly supported by questionable interpretation of limited artifacts and data. The compelling evidence although circumstantial indicates that the main center of Olmec culture migrated eastward along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico for unknown reasons and became known and flourished as the Chontal Maya. Migrations of ancient societies were most often caused by military pressure or natural

environmental factors, neither of which seems to be present in this case. Another factor, independent of these two factors, is a strong religious motive as seen in the migration of the tribes of Abraham from the land of Ur. Thus, the Olmec/Chontal Maya eastward migration may be explained by their religious pursuit of Tlapallan, the homeland of their patron god Kukulcan associated in the East with Venus as the Morning Star. Figure 3

A feathered and plumed rattlesnake, emblazoned with the five-pointed emblem of Venus as the Morning Star, scribed on a classic period artifact found in Maltrata in the Vera Cruz area. Redrawn from Baird, Stars and Wars at Cacaxtla.

The comparison of the historical migrations of Abraham and the peoples known as the Olmec has validity rooted in the mythology and circumstantial evidence of the moves, although neither are supported by strong archaeological findings. However, the circumstantial evidence to support the move to the east for religious reasons is strong. The god-king Kukulcan is associated with Itzamna, the high god of creation who is also associated with Venus as the Morning Star which rises in the east (Farriss 1984:303-304). Itzamna was the supreme god of the Maya (the equivalent of Abraham s Jehovah) who brought writing and the sciences to earth from the Maya ethereal cosmos (Coe 1993:176; Sharer 1994:528-530). The close association between the Itzamna, the supreme god of the Maya, and Kukulcan, the founding god of the Olmec/Chontal Maya, both credited with bringing civilization to mortals in the form of writing and the sciences, and whose homeland was in the East, would have provided a strong religious motivation for the eastward migration. This close association with Itzamna will be shown later when the Chontal Maya became known as the Itza and founded (or captured and renamed) the sacred city of Itzamal in northern Yucatan (Gates 1990:165). Ix Chel the goddess of weaving, medicine, and fertility, was the wife of Itzamna and all other gods of the Maya appeared to be their descendants (Coe 1993:177). And it is significant that Isla Mujeres and Cozumel, two prominent islands off northern Yucatan, occupied by the Chontal Maya/Itza, were sacred pilgrimage sites of the goddess Ix Chel (Gates 1990:27,165). This would suggest

that in addition to writing and mathematics, the Olmec/Chontal Maya/Itza were also the origin or were influential in development of the Maya pantheon of gods. This conclusion is supported by the fact that the only extant listing of the Maya pantheon of gods is contained in the Dresden and Madrid codices from northern Yucatan possibly originating in Itzamal or Chichen Itza. The feathered and plumed rattlesnake scribed on a Classic period artifact from Maltrata in the Vera Cruz area, shown in Figure 3, ties the homeland of Kukulcan to the East as associated with Venus as the five-pointed Morning Star. However, the report of the archaeological source of this art work follows the popular consensus and views the figure as derived from the highland god Quetzalcoatl (Baird 1989:105-122, Fig. 39; Milbrath 1999:178-179). It seems more likely that the figure was intended to refer to the Olmec/Chontal Maya god Kukulcan since it is from that homeland area and depicts his emblem of a feathered and plumed rattlesnake associated with Venus as the Morning Star. The early seafaring coastal dwelling Chontal Maya are so-called because they spoke the Chontal dialect of Yucatecan, the far western dialect of the root Proto-Mayan language, which would have been the basic language of their close neighbors the Olmec. This postulation of a common Olmec/Chontal Maya language is based on logic and geography, and relates to the unknown proto-Mayan language of the Gulf coast area in the Formative period, rather than the later Nahuatl, Yucatecan, Oaxacan, or Mixe-Zoque dialects. The many extant linguistic studies have one thing in common, that the ancient Mayan language in the Formative period, called Proto-Mayan, was a common language throughout the wide Maya territory which would have included the Olmec, Zapotec (later Mixtec), Chontal Maya, and other Maya peripheral areas. The many divisions or dialects appeared only at a late date from around 1000 and were accelerated by the Spanish conquest (Greenberg 1987; Nichols 1995). An example of this later dialectal acceleration is the late Formative period western Chontal dialect of the root ProtoMayan language being related to both Yucatecan and the later Nahuatl. This close relationship between Yucatecan and Nahuatl was confirmed when Geronimo de Aguilar, who was fluent in Yucatecan, was able to understand the people of the Vera Cruz area and act as interpreter for Corts (McNutt 1970:61). Then after leaving Vera Cruz, Aguilar was able to communicate in Yucatecan as far into the central area as Cholula (McNutt 1970:81).viii It is significant that the rise of the seafaring Chontal Maya in Tabasco coincided with the unclear decline or demise of the Olmec a relatively short distance west in Vera Cruz with whom they could easily have had close relations and an interplay of cultural knowledge through established coastal trade. This close relationship could have signaled that the Olmec did not collapse or disappear from the scene, but melded into the growing power of their close neighbors the Chontal Maya probably through intermarriage of their elite rulers. Thus, the powerful Chontal Maya would have acquired the blood lines and high culture of the Olmec, embodied in the Kukulcan mythology. The origin of the Formative period Chontal Maya is unclear with regard to both time and geographical location although it is generally reported in the coastal Tabasco area. The origin and the subsequent moves into the Yucatan (well over a millennium) are an archaeological dark period because the seafaring mercantile-oriented Chontal Maya recorded their history in perishable bark paper books rather than carving it in stone on monuments or on the exterior of
The maiden Maya slave named Malinali, later christened Marina, replaced Aguilar as Corts s interpreter on the approach to and while in Tenochtitlan, the Aztec capitol city. Before being sold into slavery in the Yucatan Marina was born and raised in the Coatzacoalcos River area west of Tabasco and thus was more fluent in the far western Nahuatl dialect of the root Proto-Mayan language such as was used in the central highlands and Aztec territory.


their buildings. There has been no serious subjective study or archaeological investigation of the Formative era Chontal Maya as the excavations in the northern Yucatan and Tabasco go no deeper than the Classic or late Preclassic period. And even if this archaeological investigation was pursued, it is doubtful that any significant finds would result because of the absence of nonperishable artifacts. The only widely recognized published work on the Chontal Maya is limited to the late prehistoric and early historic (Spanish) period (Scholes 1968). Thus, the theory of the early Formative era move of the Olmec/Chontal Maya from the Vera Cruz-Tabasco area to northern Yucatan is supported primarily by circumstantial and pattern-recognition evidence derived from deductive interpretation of extant artifacts and art associated with their mythology and religion (Peck 2002b). However, there is substantial and valid circumstantial evidence provided by the easterly move of cultural traits and traditions, most notably writing, mathematics (to include the Olmec long count calendar), and the Kukulcan cult from Olmec/Maya mythology. This easterly migration was accomplished largely through use of their extensive and well established canoe trade enterprise. In the dark period between 700-500 BC and AD 400-600 the seafaring Chontal Maya developed (or inherited from the Olmec) canoe trade routes that ran along the entire coast of the known Maya territory and inland by navigable rivers to central and highland cities. And there is evidence that suggests they had ventured across the sea to the islands of the Caribbean and to Florida (Peck 1998a, 51:3-14; 1998b, 4; 2001, 54:145-149; 2002a:13-30). To control this large and extensive trade enterprise the Chontal Maya established ports and way stations along the route, the best-known being those on Cozumel and Isla Cerritos. A feel for the size and capability of this large trade enterprise was revealed in a 1984 Mexican investigation of Isla Cerritos off the north coast of the Yucatan (Andrews, Negron, Castellanos, Palma, and Rivero 1988:196-207). Isla Cerritos was a major stronghold and centrally located distribution center for the Chontal Maya trade enterprise. The island was first developed as an active port around 300 BC or earlier and showed continuous occupation during the Formative and early Classic period. The archaeological investigation of Isla Cerritos revealed a number of large stone warehouse platforms and the loading area on the southern shore of the island was protected by a 2000 meter stone breakwater that could easily provide shelter for 300-400 large trading canoes. The magnitude of this large port facility would confirm that the seafaring Chontal Maya were a populous, sophisticated, and powerful entity within the complex of early Maya society. From the wealth and power that would have accrued from this lucrative trade, the precocious Chontal Maya ostensibly embarked on a military expansionist movement out of the confines of the Tabasco shores and into the Yucatan in which they had a strong presence with their coastal ports. Although the primary movement was to the east, there was a lesser movement to the west as indicated by the large Huastec Maya colony at the mouth of the Rio Panuca. Since Tula was on the head waters of the Rio Panuca, a relatively easy trip for the Maya trading canoes, this would account for the introduction of Maya cultural traits and traditions found in Tula and other Mexican highland centers. Sahagn in reporting the ancient oral history of the Mixtec in the central highlands (Zapotec in the formative period) noted that the early [prehistoric] foreign [Maya] visiting merchants carried with them the red and black ink, the manuscripts and painted books and the wisdom (Leon- Portilla 1969:10). The Chontal Maya trade routes, later used for military expansion, is shown in Figure 4.


Prominent among these cultural traits of the Chontal Maya introduced into the Mexican highlands were the feathered and winged rattlesnake emblem of Kukulcan, the Chak Mol sculptures wearing a typical Olmec helmet, the quetzal-feathered headdress for prominent warriors and kings, the round disk of the sun god, and the Venus symbol with the associated five rayed star. Yet most Maya scholars, without valid argument, use this similarity of cultural traits to indicate the opposite, that the Maya derived these identical cultural traits from the Toltec either by infusion or military conquest. The Chac Mol figures found in both Tula and the Yucatan have been the most frequently mentioned evidence for showing Tula cultural influence in the Yucatan even though the figures found in the Yucatan are far more abundant and more finely carved. The Yucatan origin of the Chac Mol has now been strengthened by the finding of a finely carved Chac Mol in an earlier temple inside the Castillo (El Capitan) in Chichen Itza that predates the Tula figures (Coe 1993:146). And further, Tula contained no prototypes of the abundant and finely constructed advanced architectural features found

Figure 4

Chart showing how the Chontal Maya trade routes and the military migration into the Yucatan led to the introduction of Maya cultural traits throughout a wide area.

in Chichen Itza and other cities of the Yucatan (Sharer 1994:406). There is evidence that the early Maya traders not only introduced these outward signs of their culture into the highlands, but members of Maya nobility may have become an integral part of the ruling hierarchy. Recent opening of a tomb in the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan contains the remains of three individuals identified as nobility, all other human finds being sacrificial victims. These three individuals have all the earmarks of Maya nobility. The nobles were buried in the Maya manner, seated in cross-legged position and accompanied by shell,

obsidian, and jade ceremonial items, including some Maya-style artifacts ( Popson 2003:16). These early Maya nobles (probably with the status of ambassadors) would have brought the original Olmec/Maya Kukulcan mythology with them which was later perverted by the highland cultures into the many faceted Quetzalcoatl myth. But still clinging to the popular theory that the highland area was the origin of advanced Mesoamerican culture, Linda Manzanilla of the Universidad Nacional Autnoma de Mexico, in a tortured denial explanation, states the find does not tell us somebody came from the Maya region; only that this material [jade earspools and other Maya ceremonial items] was appreciated by Teotihuacan society ( Popson 2003:16). While the late blooming, culturally inferior, highland states adopted many of the outward appearing cultural traits of the Maya, they were unable to assimilate their writing or higher mathematics. There is no indication that the people of Tula or the later highland centers of the area including the Aztecs had knowledge of or could use the advanced mathematics associated with the long count calendar such as those contained in the Dresden and Madrid codices from northern Yucatan. While the Maya of the lowlands, and particularly the northern Yucatan, had developed a sophisticated system of hieroglyphic writing, the highland peoples used only crude pictographs to record the spoken word. Herrera confirms this fact in his Historia, - that written books were found only in Yucatan and Honduras (Goetz and Morley 1950:10; Herrera 1934, Dec. III, Book II, Chap. XVIII). And Martyr in the fourth Decade of his De Orbe Nova reports that Cortes found many books on the island of Cozumel (McNutt 1970 :27). Yet the several detailed accounts of Cortes s expedition in the central and highland areas report no such finding of written books. Much of the strong, but unfounded bias for highland Toltec influence on lowland Maya culture, can be traced to Herbert J. Spinden s monumental study of the development of Maya art and sculpture published in 1913 by the Peabody Museum of American Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University (Spinden 1975). Scattered throughout the book, which is arranged by subject matter rather than chronologically, are consistent conclusions that the art work and architectural style of the Maya were influenced by the highland centers of Tula and Teotihuacan. With regard to the Yucatan, Spinden states: It seems clear from the sculpture alone that Chichen Itza fell under the influence of foreigners [Toltec] who infused new spirit into the decadent art and introduced new ideas of their own (Spinden 1975: 212). Spinden and his close colleague at Harvard, Alfred M. Tozzer, were at the forefront in establishing this bias for highland influence on Maya culture, and it was carried forward, enhanced, and given additional weight by later scholars in the discipline. These early influential writers did not provide meaningful evidence or a viable argument to support their assertion that cultural influence flowed from the highland centers to the lowland Maya. However, this study and a previous allied study presents evidence and a viable argument that indicates cultural influence including the fundamental elements of civilization, writing, mathematics, public architecture and art, flowed from the Gulf coastal areas to the Yucatan and central and highland centers and ultimately throughout Mesoamerica (Peck 2002b). The prominent English archaeologist J. Eric S. Thompson was also instrumental in advancing the unsupported, but popular and generally accepted view, that the lowland Maya obtained much of their culture from Tula or the central Mexica area. In noting the similarity between certain cultural traits found in Tula and those in Chichen Itza, Thompson, without valid justification, asserted that this similarity indicated that influence and dominance moved eastward from the highlands centers to the lowlands. One example (among many) of Thompson s bias for Toltec influence was his interpretation of four sculptured figures found in Chichen Itza which he labeled as four Bacob gods from Toltec religion (Thompson 1966:131). Contrary to Thompson s view, these four figures are Itza Chacobs, or burden bearer gods who supported

the four corners of the Maya cosmos (Figure 5). The Itza sculptures are on columns supporting the roof of a temple and clearly related to the seafaring Chontal Maya rather than the peoples from the interior highlands. The bearded faces relate to the Olmec (as in the bearded god-king Kukulcan) and the costumed symbols of a turtle, two kinds of sea shells, and what can be interpreted as a fishing net, relate to the seashore of the Yucatan and the Itza (Chontal Maya) heritage as seafaring traders, rather than relating to the mountains of Tula. Thus, contrary to Thompson s conclusion, the evidence instead points to the four Bacob gods in Toltec religion being introduced into the highlands at an earlier date by the seafaring coastal dwelling Chontal Maya traders. Figure 5

Four Itza Chacobs, or burden bearer gods, who supported the four corners of the Maya cosmos. From sculptures on columns of a temple in Chichen Itza.

The highland mythology of Quetzalcoatl is best known in history from Montezuma s view as reported in Hernan Cortes s well-documented conquest of Mexico, which has been a strong influence to erroneously place the origin of the myth in the highlands. Montezuma s view in some aspects adhered to the earlier original Kukulcan myth from the lowlands since he saw Cortes exactly fulfilling the ancient Kukulcan mythology by appearing miraculously as a sophisticated, powerful, and godlike bearded king, who returned by sea from the East (Prescott 1969:38-39, 171-172). Corts quoted Montezuma as asserting: We have always held that those who descended from him [Quetzalcoatl] would one day come back to subjugate this land and take us as vassals (Cortes 1985:117). And Bernal Diaz in his account of Corts s expedition stated: We now know, their Indian ancestors had foretold [mythology] that men with beards would come from the direction of the sunrise and would rule over them (Diaz del Castillo 1933:69). It is apparent that other elements of the Aztec as well as the earlier Toltec perverted the Quetzalcoatl myth into a proliferation of gods having very little relationship to the original ancient Kukulcan mythology. Quetzalcoatl is shown in different places in the highlands as a god of wind, rain, resurrection, music, life and death, maize, and the most prominent being the god of war and human sacrifice (Nicholson 1967:78-120). However, the highland Codex Chimalpopoca, in a seemingly contradictory rendition, retained the earlier unadulterated view by noting: Truly with him it began, from him it flowed out, from Quetzalcoatl [Kukulcan], all art and knowledge (Bierhorst 1974, 13 :38). The art work in the highlands that depict Quetzalcoatl show only the later perverted view of the Kukulcan myth. The relatively crude Toltec depiction

of a winged rattlesnake devouring a skeleton, shown in Figure 6, bears no relationship to the finely carved sculpture of the scholarly priest-king from Kukulcan mythology pictured in the far earlier Olmec artifact (Figure 1). Irene Nicholson in a comprehensive treatise on Mesoamerican mythology asserts, without a valid supporting argument, that the Maya deity Kukulcan was derived from and patterned after these many highland manifestations of Quetzalcoatl (Nicholson 1967:78-120). But then she throws a shadow on her view by noting the name Quetzalcoatl includes the Quetzal bird, which is native to the Maya lowlands rather than the highlands, and later concedes that both deities may have evolved from a single source possibly further back than either. There is no valid basis for the conclusion that the Figure 6

A low relief sculpture of a winged rattlesnake on a building in Tula that has been commonly interpreted as the emblem of Quetzalcoatl.

Kukulcan myth was derived from the highland Quetzalcoatl cult since the Kukulcan myth of the Formative period Olmec/Chontal Maya predated the Quetzalcoatl cult by nearly a millennium. The Maya cultural traits found in the Mexica central and highland areas were introduced by movement of peaceful Chontal Maya traders, but the move eastward, although preceded by traders, developed into an epic military migration and conquest. The extensive Chontal Maya military campaign would have moved east along the familiar shores of the Yucatan in which they had well-established ports and way stations. The move would have been supported by their large canoes offshore and their military forces were probably augmented by mercenary soldiers which they could well afford. The conquest of the Yucatan was probably accomplished over a long

period in a gradual movement that occupied the archaeological dark period between circa 600 BC and AD 500. In the move along the coast they built (or occupied and improved) large imposing cities near shore in northern Yucatan, Xicalango, Edzna, Komchen, Champoton (Chakan-Putun), Dzibilchaltun, that later in the Classic period rivaled the art, hieroglyphics, and architecture of the contemporary Maya cities farther south in the Peten (Andrews 1984; Andrews IV and Andrews V 1980; Andrews V, Ringle III, Barnes, Rubio, and Negron 1984:73-92). It is significant that the Chilam Balam of Chumayel referred to the northwestern coast of the Yucatan near Chompoton (Champoton) as Chakum Putun or Plain of the Chontal (Edmonson 1986 :52). And to further suggest this eastward movement of the Chontal Maya, the ruler of the large and powerful city of Pontechan (Chompoton) was named Tabasco (McNutt 1970:58). Direct and dated archaeological confirmation of this movement is lacking. However, there are artifacts and art from late archaeological sites that point to the movement. Numerous Olmec related artifacts have been found on the small ceremonial and burial island of Jaina off the northwest coast of the Yucatan and terra-cotta artifacts of the Olmec fat god are ubiquitous to the Campeche area. It should be noted that many of these Olmec style figurines have full beards which is consistent with the Olmec origin of the Kukulcan myth. In keeping with this study, the conventional labeling of these artifacts and figurines as related to the Olmec, could be more accurately labeled as related to the Chontal Maya easterly migration and conquest of the Yucatan. And the square panels with crossed members on the building pictured in the headdress of Kukulcan in the La Venta Olmec artifact are identical to many sculptured or built up facades in later Maya architecture in the Yucatan. The Olmec mathematical long count calendar moved with the Chontal Maya to northern Yucatan where it was used to record astronomical phenomena. The long count calendar was the earliest form of calendars based on observations of the two solstices and the two equinoxes, calculated at 91 day intervals, resulting in a 364 day solar year (Edmonson 1988:111). The advanced mathematics associated with the long count calendar is evident in the Dresden and Madrid codices and it is significant that these codices originated in northern Yucatan. More than a hundred early archaeological sites in northern Yucatan, with Dzibilchaltun being the most prominent, align their buildings with the solar equinoxes, zenith passages, and solstices. And the Temple of Kukulcan (Castillo, El Capitan) in Chichen Itza is aligned with the solar year and the four staircases, each with 91 steps, adds up to the long count 364 day year. But the most telling Olmec cultural feature that the Chontal Maya had adopted and brought to the Yucatan was the god Kukulcan and his emblem of the feathered and winged rattlesnake. The Kukulcan Myth in Archaeological Investigation at Chichen Itza The Chontal Maya, empowered by their lucrative trade and northern coastal conquests, left the coast and struck inland conquering most of the Yucatan peninsula during an unknown time in the late Formative period. Known in the later Postclassic period as the Itza, they established their capital at a captured unnamed city in north central Yucatan which they renamed Chichen Itza, but maintained their seafaring and trading heritage with strong coastal ports and distribution centers scattered around the perimeter of Yucatan (Chompoton, Isla Cerritos, Belma, Cozumel). This move inland probably first captured and renamed the sacred city of Itzamal (Izamal), halfway between the coast and Chichen Itza in north-central Yucatan. Itzamal was a sacred religious pilgrimage site dedicated to the Maya supreme god Itzamna, the inventor of writing and the sciences (Coe 1993:176) and thus associated with Kukulcan and the Chontal Maya. The southern extent of the early Chontal Maya conquest of the Yucatan is unclear, but the spread of cultural similarities from Chichen Itza would indicate that conquest extended well into and

probably beyond the Puuc region (Puuc and Chontal are synonymous in Yucatecan) and encompassed the centers of Uxmal, Kabah, Sayil, and Labna. The developed theory of the Chontal Maya evolving into and becoming known as the Itza is new with this study and is at odds with academic consensus. Michael Coe mirrors the current consensus that the Itza were a late and relatively small group that originated in eastern Tabasco and first migrated to Chompoton, then south to Tayasal, then north up the east coast of the Yucatan to Tulum and Xelha, then west to Chichen Itza and Mayapan (Coe 1993:140). This unlikely scenario was probably based primarily on the Chilam Balam books which are dated to the late Postclassic period and are not relevant to the far earlier migration of the Chontal Maya/Itza from Tabasco. In like manner, the decline of Chontal Maya/Itz influence and control of their Puuc centers in the late Postclassic period is not relevant to the earlier widespread conquest of the area. The Itza name first appeared in the Book of Chilam Balam of Chumayel (Edmonson 1986 ; Roys 1967), and the Book of Chilam Balam of Tizimin (Edmonson 1982). Both of these Chilam Balam books were written in the late Postclassic period and Landa discusses the Itza in his colonial era Relacion de las Cosas de Yucatan (Landa 1941; Landa 1978). The use of the name Itza for the Chontal Maya appeared in written history long after the capture and subsequent build-up of the large and sophisticated city later known as Chichen Itza. The name was probably derived from the god Itzamna since the high priest of the Itza (and thus the Chontal Maya) was called Zamma, or Itzamna or Itzam as written in Spanish (Tozzer 1957:22). In one instance the Chilam Balam of Chumayel refers to the city as Chichen Itzam rather than Chichen Itza (Roys 1967:75-76). And the name Itza appears in the name of the sacred city of Itzamal (dedicated to the god Itzamna) a short distance northwest of Chichen Itza, one of the cities captured and renamed in their move inland from the coast. The Chontal Maya were so-named because of their language dialect which was centered in the Tabasco area. The translation of the word Chontal simply means foreigner in the Mayan language which relates to their status in the Yucatan as foreigners from Tabasco. The true original name of the Chontal Maya has not been identified in earlier historiography. The word Chontal (foreigner) is meaningless to identify a specific ethnic group, but the word Itza is meaningful in that it can be found as a component part of the names of Maya gods and Maya geographical sites that overlap the Chontal designation. It may well be that the Chontal Maya were known as Itzam or Itza dating back to the time of their advanced development in Tabasco in the Formative period. In like manner, the true name of the Olmec is unknown as that name was arbitrarily adopted from the Aztec Olmeca, the name of the people living in the coastal area of Vera Cruz and Tabasco in the late Postclassic and colonial period. Just as the name of the Itza may have been developed from the god Itzamna, the true name of the early Formative period Olmec could have been more properly derived from their god Kukulcan rather than the Aztec Olmeca. But the unclear and controversial derivation of the Itza name and the Postclassic confused history of the Chontal Maya/Itza in their declining years (i.e. the Chilam Balam books) are not directly relevant to this study which is concerned only with development and spread of their advanced culture from Tabasco in the formative and early Classic period. The Madrid, Paris, and Dresden codices picture the many gods of the Itza. With trade being their primary source of wealth, one of their important gods was Ek Chuah, the merchant god. Their principal god or godlike saint was Kukulcan, which they had inherited from the Olmec, and his emblem of the feathered and winged rattlesnake is prominent in all their art and sculpture. However, in the long intervening period involving the move from Tabasco, the god Kukulcan, while retaining elements of creation associated with Itzamna, had lost much of the scholarly and

priestly features and taken on those of the god of war and sacrifice. The two works of art from Chichen Itza shown in Figure 7 are from the many examples that clearly indicate that Kukulcan was the principal and most revered god of the Itza since he was the central figure in their most sacred religious ritual. Also the scenes depicting ritual celebrations of the Chontal Maya/Itza conquest of the Yucatan (Figures 9,10,11,12) are filled with these same vivid depictions of Kukulcan s emblem of the winged rattlesnake. And Landa noted in his Relacin that the largest temple in Chichen Itza, where this sacred ritual was performed, was called Kukulcan by the Itza (Gates 1990:32; Tozzer 1941:22).ix Figure 7

This art work from Chichen Itza shows the sacred religious ritual of extracting the heart from a living captive. The winged rattlesnake of Kukulcan hovers over the scene on the left and provides an altar for the scene on the right.

The Chontal Maya developed astronomy and the related mathematics to a high level of science after completion of their move into northern Yucatan. A study by archaeastronomers of the unique round buildings at Edzna, Paalmul, Dzibilchaltun, Mayapan, and the Caracol building in Chichen Itza revealed that they were used for celestial observations and were probably the source of the advanced mathematical tables and data in the Dresden and Madrid codices (Aveni 1978:136143, 2001:15, 169-199, 271-276; Aveni, Gibbs, and Hartung 1975:977-985; Coggins and Drucker 1988:17-56; Kelley 1975,76,77). There is no indication of this advanced science of celestial observations and development of mathematical tables and data in the limited evidence (limited to solar solstices and zeniths) from the highland centers. However, Susan Milbrath follows popular consensus and
Landa set in motion the historically unfounded and erroneous notion that in early times Chichen Itza was ruled by a king named Kukulcan, who came from central Mexico, where he was worshiped as the god Quetzalcoatl (Tozzer 1941:22-23, note 128). This historical error has been carried forward from Landa and given undue support by modern historians (Goetz and Morley 1950:207).


cites the largely irrelevant fact that the solar orientations of some of the buildings in Chichen Itza, coincide with the second solar zenith at Teotihuacn, a site that may have influenced the development of the calendar at Chichen Itza ( Milbrath 1999:68; Chia and Morison 1980:562). This leap of faith to conclude that one random coincidence of the orientation of buildings indicates that the Itza derived their advanced calendar and mathematics from Teotihuacan rather than from their Olmec/Chontal Maya predecessors is supported only by assertions rather than valid evidence. Another study shows how the mathematical tables and data in the Dresden and Madrid codices could have been used by the Chontal Maya for celestial navigation on their long overseas voyages to the Caribbean and to Florida (Peck 2001:145-149). The Itz did not record their history in stone and with the ravishes of time which destroyed the earliest books, and the almost total destruction of later books by Bishop Landa and other clerics,

Figure 8

Detail of a low relief sculpture in Chichen Itza showing captive rulers or nobles involved in a ritual ceremony.

there is little left to go on in tracing the history of the Itza from the time their Chontal Maya predecessors left Tabasco to their arrival and capture of an existing city later called Chichen Itza. But like the tradition of ancient and modern governments, the Itz covered the walls of their buildings with detailed scenes of their past military conquests. These finely carved sculptures and the finely executed frescoes and pictorial murals in their buildings commemorate and provide a historical record of the epic conquest of the Yucatan by Chontal Maya warriors in their eastward movement along the coast from Tabasco. The reluctance of historians to accept the view of a large organized military conquest of a

wide area composed of many city-states is that this pattern has not been found in the many archaeological investigations centered in the jungle lowlands of the Peten. The limited warfare between successive dynasties of the warlords of Tikal and Calakmul and other nearby dynastic warlords has been studied and reported in detail so it has been presumed that this pattern of petty warfare of the late Classic period was common throughout the long early history of the Maya. It is unclear whether the Chontal Maya in the early period of the military conquests were governed by a dynastic hereditary king or by a council of elders, elected or chosen for their accomplishments in war or commerce The extensive murals in Chichen Itza seem to support the latter form of rule. This art work suggests that the Chontal Maya conquest involved leaving the rulers of conquered territory intact, but requiring tributary allegiance to the governing body in Chichen Itza. In sharp contrast to the humiliation and sacrifice of conquered rulers, as practiced further south, the murals and sculpture show conquered rulers and nobles who appear in all the finery of their office with their hands only loosely tied in front and appearing in a ceremony that suggests a ritual surrender or pledge of allegiance to their conquerors (Figure 8). Thus the Chontal Maya/Itza ability to maintain control and influence over a wide territory can be compared to the Roman Empire which maintained its wide-spread control of trade and tribute by offering protection and trade while leaving the cultural norms and religions intact under controlled puppet rulers. The elaborately buried Maya nobles recently found in the Pyramid of the Sun in Teotihuacan (Popson 2003:16) could well have been the Chontal Maya/Itza ambassadors whose duty was to maintain this influence in that and other highland centers (see chart in Figure 4). The sculpture and murals in Chichen Itza do not contain explanatory glyphs or dates as common to Maya art further south. This deficiency has resulted in serious misinterpretation of these masterful and definitive works of art which in turn has led to a distorted and inaccurate view of this important part of Maya history. The history of the conquest has been limited to a narrow interpretation of the battle scenes as only the limited capture of Chichen Itza rather than the epic conquest of the Yucatan by the Chontal Maya from Tabasco. And to compound this problem, most scholars (without supporting argument) interpret the capture, not by the Chontal Maya or Itza, but by invading Toltec warriors. Thorough analysis of all of the scenes depicted in this historical art of Chichen Itza reveals that, if they had been dated, they would have revealed much of the history of the long military campaign from Tabasco. Yet the current consensus among archaeologists is that these scenes are related only to the capture of Chichen Itza. Many of the battle scenes show the use of large war canoes offshore together with the use of scaffolds at walled towns on shore. None of the towns shown can with any certainty be tied to the unnamed town captured by the Chontal Maya and later known as Chichen Itza. Scholars are too quick to assume that a particular battle scene depicted in a building was necessarily associated with the construction or completion of the building and so should be given that date and association. The murals together with numerous graffiti show many different kings or military leaders and the scenes are ostensibly spread over an extended period of time (the archaeological dark period) and over a wide geographical area along the shore. Figure 9 shows two of the several scenes that depict the use of war canoes in the Chontal Maya conquest of the Yucatan. The lower scene shows a large war canoe (probably around 48 feet in length) carrying Chontal Maya warriors who have stormed ashore and taken prisoners. The scene at the top shows Chontal Maya canoes carrying warriors, complete with typical Maya

round shields, Atlatl (spear throwers), and quivers of spears, in their eastward movement along the coast from Tabasco. The fact that Kukulcan s feathered and winged rattlesnake has invaded the temple on shore and the houses on shore are ablaze supports the view of an amphibious military conquest. The misinterpretation of this seashore mural in widely accepted historiography has contributed to the false and inaccurate view of this period of Chontal Maya history. Robert Sharer in the fifth edition of The Ancient Maya ignores the burning houses on shore and the weapons of the warriors and incorrectly interprets it as a peaceful fishing village with fishermen in their canoes offshore (Sharer 1994:671). And Michael Coe in the fifth edition of The Maya, follows the general unfounded consensus and labels the men in the canoes as Toltec warriors (Coe 1993:143).x This extensive and finely executed art work in the public buildings and temples of Chichen Itza, when properly interpreted, provides valid and strong evidence of a lengthy, successful and epic military conquest of the Yucatan, conducted along and close to the shore, rather than just the limited late capture of one inland city.

Some late archaeological investigations have questioned Toltec dominance in Chichen Itza, but these narrow and highly technical reports (which only briefly touch on the Toltec question) have received limited distribution and the historically inaccurate view of Toltec conquest or strong influence in Chichen Itza prevails in current published historiography.


Figure 9

The top drawing is a detail from a mural in the Temple of the Warriors in Chichen Itza that depicted the Chontal Maya eastward military movement along the shore of the Yucatan. The lower drawing, taken from Frederick Catherwood s sketch in John L. Stephens s Incidents of Travel in Yucatan, depicts a Chontal Maya war canoe attacking a seashore village.

In addition to and complimentary to the battle scenes, the elaborate scribed murals of religious ceremonial dances and parades in the lower Temple of the Jaguar, shown in Figure 10, celebrated the epic military conquest of the Yucatan. But again, the murals do not contain glyphs to identify the participants or dates to indicate when the ritual was performed or what event it was celebrating. This elaborately costumed ceremony was ostensibly performed annually from an unknown initial date far earlier than the Classic era date assigned to construction of the building or execution of the

murals. Accordingly, the unclear dating of this particular temple, or the dates that the murals were drawn, are Figure 10

Two details from a much larger linear mural of a ceremonial dance or parade on the walls of the Temple of the Jaguar in Chichen Itza.

irrelevant to establishing dates in Maya antiquity for the events being commemorated. The upper detail shows a masked goggle-eyed priest enveloped by the rattlesnake emblem of Kukulcan. Both Itzamna and the Maya rain god chac are frequently shown with accentuated gogglelike eyes, but the close association of Itzamna and Kukulcan with creation and the act of bringing the arts and science of civilization to the Maya, would suggest that this goggle-eyed priest, enveloped by Kukulcan s winged rattlesnake, represents Itzamna/Kukulcan. A goggle-eyed mask found in Chichen Itza (Figure 11) contains a prominent overlay of a feathered and winged rattlesnake, as related to the mask worn by the priest in the mural, and confirms the relationship between goggle23

Figure 11

The goggle-eyed portion of a metal mask, embossed with the feathered and winged rattlesnake of Kukulcan, found in Chichen Itza. From Kelley (1980).

eyed gods and the god Kukulcan. However, David H. Kelley follows the lead of most archaeologists and, without viable foundation or argument, asserts that this mask, even though found in Chichen Itza, represents the highland Toltec and Aztec rain god Tlaloc-Quetzalcoatl (Kelly 1980:10). The Itzamna/Kukulcan priest in the linear mural from the Temple of the Jaguar was shown being approached by two costumed and masked priests or nobles, carrying large bundles or bags, which Linda Schele has associated with the conjuring of the Feathered Serpent (Schele and Mathews 1998:254). The fourth figure in this detail is a Maya warrior armed with typical well-defined Maya spears and spear-throwers and standing on a float that is a representation or stage replica of a war canoe. This representation of primary gods in the ceremony would have established the Chontal Maya conquest of the Yucatan with god-given legitimacy by tying it into the creation myth of Itzamna/Kukulcan. The lower detail pictures four fully armed warriors with typical Maya arms, headdress, and attire, even down to typical Maya style sandals. The warriors are shown in a bent forward position which would indicate that they were following a carefully choreographed style of ritual dancing. The warriors in this lower detail as well as the warrior figure in the upper detail would indicate with validity that the murals in the Temple of the Jaguar in Chichen Itza are associated with both the Maya myth of creation and the Chontal Maya conquest of the Yucatan. Linda Schele sums up her interpretation of the murals in the Temple of the Jaguar by noting : The entire composition declared for all to see that the Itza descended from the Ah Puh, People of the Reeds, who invented civilized life and the arts of war ( Schele and Matthews 1998:226). The People of the Reeds are associated with the Vera Cruz/Tabasco coastal area, and the

people who invented civilized life and the arts of war, is a clear reference to the Olmec in that area. This lends support for the theory that the major elements of Maya civilization originated with the Olmec on the Gulf coast and was then brought to the Yucatan in the migration and conquest by the seafaring Chontal Maya in the little known Formative period. The early Formative period Chontal Maya military migration may have extended well beyond the Yucatan peninsula and into the southern central lowland of the Peten and thence into the highlands of Guatemala. The Relacin, written by Diego Garcia de Palacio in 1575, recorded the ancient history of the Maya in the vicinity of Copan. Quoting from oral history of the indigenous Maya and a bark paper book, since lost, Garcia had this to say: They [Maya] say that in olden times a great lord of the Province of Yucatan came here and built these buildings [Copan] and that at the end of a few [?] years he returned to his home alone, and left them empty. According to this book it seems that in olden times, people from Yucatan [Chontal Maya/Itza] conquered and subjected the provinces of Ayajal, Lacadon, Verapaz, and the land of Chiquimula and this [land] of Copan (Garcia de Palacio 1866, 6 :5; Goetz and Morley 1950:9). However, a recent compilation of archaeological investigations at Copan reveals that this view of Yucatan influence is not accepted and the consensus among archaeologists that similarities of art motifs and archaeological styles in Copan, when compared with those of Teotihuacan, indicates acculturation from that source rather than from the Yucatan (Martin and Grube 2000:191-213). This conclusion, which is contrary to logic and oral and written Maya history, is reached in spite of the fact that the abundant examples of hieroglyphic writing in Copan have an affinity with the Yucatan rather than the relatively uncultured Teotihuacan area. The same art motifs and archaeological styles in Copan that are claimed to have originated in Teotihuacan, can be found in the numerous archaeological sites in the Yucatan in far greater abundance and more finely executed. And further, the geographical topography favors acculturation from the Yucatan and strongly mitigates against influence or movement from Teotihuacan. The chart in Figure 4 shows how the trade routes of the Chontal Maya canoes could have enabled the traders, ambassadors, or warriors to reach Copan from the Bay of Honduras within less than a hundred miles over easily traveled terrain while the trip from Teotihuacan would have required travel over a thousand miles of difficult mountainous terrain. The Dresden Codex from northern Yucatan contains two examples of a Maya god that have several elements associated with the Kukulcan myth, but the figures mirror the late evolved concept of the god (Figure 12). The figures, which have not been identified with validity, show a stylized late version of Kukulcan s winged rattlesnake with a human head and are included in a directory of numerous Maya gods associated with both worldly matters and cosmic creation (Frstemann 1989: 191-212; Knorozov 1982:65; Villacorta and Villacorta 1989:70-72). The winged rattlesnake s head has been replaced with a human head which could represent the god Kukulcan or the elderly god Itzamna associated with Kukulcan. These pictured gods also have accentuated goggle-like eyes as in the mask of the Itzamna/Kukulcan priest (Figure 10) and in the mask pictured in Chichen Itza art (Figure 11). The figures are placed with a background of the sea to associate them with the ancient Kukulcan myth. Villacorta describes the background of these particular gods in the original codex as being de color verde Mar, or color of the sea, in sharp contrast to the plain white, ochre or red applied to the background of the other gods in the codex (Villacorta and Villacorta 1977:73). Susan Milbrath follows current consensus of predecessors and identifies these figures in the Dresden Codex as the god Chac with a water-lily headdress, evoking links with the water lily serpent and the highland god Quetzalcoatl-Kukulcan. Milbrath s view was apparently influenced

(almost Figure 12

Two illustrations of a Maya god in the Dresden Codex that depict the god with the body of a winged rattlesnake.

verbatim) by Villacorta and Knorozov (Milbrath 1999:201; Villacorta and Villacorta 1977:73; Knorozov 1982:65). However, it would seem more likely that this codex from northern Yucatan, in the heart of the Itza territory, would picture the revered Itza god Kukulcan in his guise as a feathered and winged rattlesnake rather than the god Chac, the water-lily serpent, or the highland god Quetzalcoatl. A well defined, but highly stylized, depiction of a winged rattlesnake related to the Kukulcan myth has been found on a carved lintel in Yaxchilan in the lowlands south of the Yucatan (Figure 15). This depiction of a winged rattlesnake has been interpreted as showing Lady Xoc, a queen of the late Classic period, performing a religious ritual involving materialization of an ancestor figure (Sharer 1994:245). The detail of a Maya warrior emerging from the mouth of the rattlesnake is strikingly similar to the warrior shown emerging from the mouth of a winged rattlesnake in the art from

Chichen Itza (Figure 7). The stylized plumed rattles on the tail have morphed into what could be interpreted as another head, but the overall figure closely resembles the depiction of winged rattlesnakes found Figure 13

An example of a winged rattlesnake emblem that was pictured on a carved lintel in Yaxchilan on the Usumacinta River.

in art from northern Yucatan. This strong similarity of geographically unrelated works of art suggests a common source from an earlier date associated with the winged rattlesnake symbol of the god Kukulcan. The chart in Figure 4 graphically illustrates how the large Usumacinta River offered an easily traveled highway for migration, conquest, or cultural influence from the Gulf coastal area into the southern lowlands. Yaxchilan was a large and important Maya center on the Usumacinta River in the Classic period that has not previously been associated with the Chontal Maya/Itza conquests. The Classic period site of the city has undergone extensive archaeological investigation, first by Alfred Maudslay and Teobert Maler and more recently by the Instituto Nacional de Antropologia e Historia of Mexico. As in the northern Yucatan, these investigations have not reached the Formative period site which lies buried under the extensive Classic period buildings. However, as in other lowland sites, the evidence of Classic period hieroglyphic writing, mathematics, and architectural style in Yaxchilan have an affinity with these elements developed further north by the Olmec/Chontal Maya in the formative period. The emblem glyph

for the city contains a prominent Jaguar head that is remarkably similar to the cleft-head sculptured jaguar masks that are ubiquitous to the Olmec/Chontal Maya area near the outlet of the Usumacinta River (Martin and Grube 2000:119). Conclusions The Maya mythology of the ancient scholarly priest-king Kukulcan constituted a valid historical account that related the ethnical and geographical origin of writing, mathematics, massive public architecture, and other vestiges of the advanced Maya civilization. Analysis of extant archaeological artifacts, when related to ancient oral mythology, would fix the origin of the Kukulcan myth, and thus the origin of the advanced Maya civilization, to the early Formative period Olmec in the rich alluvial plain area where the Coatzacoalcos River empties into the Gulf of Mexico. The Olmec ethnical cultural heritage and knowledge did not die out or disappear with abandonment of their early centers, but melded into the growing power of the militaristic mercantile oriented Chontal Maya a short distance east in Tabasco. The Chontal Maya, through their widespread trading enterprise together with their military expansionist movement into neighboring areas, then spread the Kukulcan myth, writing, mathematics, and other vestiges of advanced civilization to the Yucatan and throughout the Maya lowland and peripheral highland areas. The current consensus that the Maya in the Yucatan and Peten lowlands were influenced and derived much of their culture (including the Kukulcan mythology) from Tula or Teotihuacan has no creditable historical foundation. This flawed historical view has resulted from misinterpretation of Maya mythology and related archaeological artifacts, together with misinterpretation of early Spanish historical documents.



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