This post great!
Photograph courtesy Takeshi Inomata
Published April 25, 2013
Civilizations rise and fall, often in dramatic fashion. Their origins, though, are subtler and tend to be overlooked or poorly understood.
The classic period of the lowland Maya in Mesoamerica (A.D. 300 to 950) is a popular topic in archaeology, but little is known about the early preclassic era (before 1000 B.C.). Scientists are typically split between two theories on the subject: Either the Maya developed directly from an older "mother culture" known as the Olmec, or they sprang into existence independently.
Takeshi Inomata, professor of anthropology at the University of Arizona and a National Geographic research grantee, disagrees with both theories. In his work at the archaeological site of Ceibal in Guatemala, he has unearthed evidence for a more complex origin story.
Early Ritual Spaces
The Maya are usually associated with monumental architecture. Massive pyramids and immense plazas testify to a complex and fascinating culture. One can hardly hear the word "Maya" without imagining elaborately decorated kings and priests climbing the long, steep stairs of pyramids like those at Tikal.
But pyramids don't just spring out of the jungle overnight, nor does a complex culture merely appear. Inomata and his team dug below the monumental architecture at Ceibal to see how such structures began.
Inomata assumed that the now iconic classic architecture probably stood on earlier sites used for similar purposes. His assumption turned out to be correct. He found smaller platforms built of earth beneath the pyramids of stone, signaling a formal ritual complex at Ceibal dating to around 1000 B.C.
The presence of ritual architecture early in the development of the Maya is an indication of a settled lifestyle with complex agriculture, religion, and a stratified society—all of which add up to a unified culture and the beginnings of a larger civilization.
Redefining the Olmec Connection
Experts have traditionally believed that when the Olmec were busy building their civilization at large sites such as La Venta, near the Gulf coast in modern Mexico, the people who would become the Maya were living in loosely associated nomadic groups in the jungles to the east and southeast. This theory holds that the Maya derived their entire society—including their architecture and social structure—directly from the Olmec.
But Inomata's work has revealed that the Olmec is not an older civilization. In fact, Ceibal pre-dates La Venta by as long as two centuries. And although some Olmec cities are indeed older than both La Venta and Ceibal, they likely did not interact with the Maya.
"This does not mean that the Maya developed independently," Inomata says. Instead, he believes, the influence flowed both ways. La Venta and Ceibal appear to have developed in tandem in a great cultural shift throughout the region. "It seems more likely that there was a broad history of interactions across these regions, and through these interactions, a new form of society developed."
More Flexible Definitions
To further complicate matters, Inomata stresses that the evidence doesn't show clear distinctions between the Olmec and Maya at the preclassic stage.
The two civilizations are easy to differentiate during the classic period, since the Maya had by then developed a distinct language and culture. But the period between 1000 and 700 B.C. is more transitional. With La Venta and Ceibal freely trading ideas, technologies, cultural elements, and perhaps even population, it's difficult to call one Olmec and the other Maya.
"Determining labels for these early people is quite a tricky question—we're not sure if residents of early Ceibal were wholly Mayan," says Inomata. "We have decided to take a much more flexible approach, avoiding fixed labels in favor of looking at patterns of interaction and how more stable identities developed."
An Agricultural Revolution
Inomata and his team will spend the next three years analyzing the findings from Ceibal. They will then begin to excavate outside the site's center, hoping to gain an understanding of what day-to-day life was like in the preclassic period.
The peripheral areas, separated from the ritual plazas and temples, could hold more keys to the origins of the Maya. Inomata believes that the residential and agricultural areas are particularly important.
Around 1000 B.C. the previously nomadic groups that became the Maya began to build urban ritual areas. "Instead of starting with villages," Inomata says, "they made a ceremonial center." The idea for that may have come from the people who later created La Venta.
A radical shift in agriculture at that time may also have played an important role in the move to a more settled lifestyle. Corn, the principal crop of the Maya, "became much more productive," says Inomata. "And then it made sense to cut down forests and increase agriculture."
Inomata believes this agricultural revolution may have been rooted in genetic changes in the corn plant itself. But this, like so many other ideas about the rise and fall of the Maya civilization, still requires much more evidence to prove.
This post great!
THIS WHOLE THEORY IS A BIT OF A STRETCH FROM WHAT I'VE READ . HOW COULD
TWO CIVILIZATIONS THAT CLOSE TO EACH HAVE NOT COLLABORATED IN ANY WAY ?THAT'S RIDICULOUS .
Dear Nicholas, can i daring say that the world ocean current had a role in spreading these pyramid cultures. it makes more senses after looking at how the "water" flow and the foot prints of pyramid building.....
I think we all know that this is false. Nephi came from Jerusalem and established a massive civilization that the Mayans (Lamanites) took over. We had steel, horses, and great kings that ruled this beautiful land. Mormon pwn.
I've learned from indigenous North Americans that they believe that the Maya were the first in the Americas. They say that a major and rapid geological event forced them to the Yucatan well before the Bering land bridge formed. From there they moved North. I've been told that even the Inuit say they came from South America. Iroquois on Fire by Douglas M. George-Kanentiio touches on this theory and offers archeological evidence to support the Native's beliefs.
Was this article written a half century ago? It has always been
common knowledge that the Mayans originated about 3000-4000 years ago in
Guatemala and recreated their civilization about 1500 or more years ago
in the Mexican Yucatan. I knew this as a very commonly known and
published fact when I took my family traveling in the Yucatan in 1998.
I've also seen examples of the Olmec civilization, at least as old, in
Southeast mainland Mexico in 2005. The two cultures have little
similarity in architecture, art or geography, although the later Mayans
had similar religious beliefs to cultures in central Mexico.
This is the first time I've ever heard that some people believed otherwise. Your article seems to be trying to invent the wheel; well, it's too late to do that.
By the way, I was disappointed to see that the other comments here were mostly off topic rants. I rarely see a relevant comment section on the internet.
Was this article written a half century ago? It has always been common knowledge that the Mayans originated about 3000-4000 years ago in Guatemala and recreated their civilization about 1500 or more years ago in the Mexican Yucatan. I knew this as a very commonly known fact when I took my family traveling in the Yucatan in 1998. I've also seen examples of the Olmec civilization, at least as old, in SouthEast Mainland Mexico in 2005. The two cultures have no similarity in architecture, art or geography.
This is the first time I've ever heard that some people believed otherwise. Your article seems to be trying to invent the wheel; well, it's too late to do that.
I'm confused here. Why compare to La Venta, a middle period Olmec site, when San Lorenzo (1250 BC) and El Manati (perhaps 1400 BC) are approximately the same distance away and exhibit fully developed cultural elements including monumental architecture, massive stone sculpture, and ceramic manufacture that was distributed as far as Oaxaca and the Valley of Mexico by 1200 BC? It seems premature to equate "earthen platform foundations" at el Ceibal to a full blown civilization in the Coatzacoalcos Basin. Also, who said the "rest" of Mesoamerica was peopled by jungle nomads at the time? The pre-classic is widely documented and published as a village farming phase.
Hey Nat Geo, nice of you to put out some archaeological news that doesnt involve your "American Diggers" looting archaeological sites.
Could we just enjoy a fine interesting article without bring up controversial connections with abortion , religion etc. To judge ancient civilizations by todays standards,values and ethics is absurd.
For my part, I think there are at least 50 points of historicity, correlation or other evidence that would be very, very difficult to dismiss based on purely rational, logical grounds.Likewise, I do not think there is any hard evidence that proves its historicity (and I believe this is divinely intended, to allow for and require faith).I also would not claim that there are no legitimate challenges within the current evidences.
The BoM states that they ‘could not record even a hundredth of their history on the metal plates’.Similarly, we estimate that less than 5% of Mesoamerican sites have been excavated—and only 4 Mayan codices have survived to modernity.So there is no need to overstate the case either way, or resort to ad hominem criticisms.
The BoM may be the only scriptural writ that invites the reader to “experiment” upon the word with faith.Ultimately, it is a book of spiritual light and counsel.A sincere search comprised of righteous application and faith yields a confirming witness, not academic rigor alone; that has always been clear.
I won't address the sundry criticisms raised above (which I might consider inaccurate, incomplete or specious), but would simply encourage us all to keep an open mind until we reach a complete understanding.Of such is science, learning and progress...
Having spent months at many Mesoamerican archaeological sites and studied the Maya and several other ancient peoples in that region over the course of decades, my belief in the Book of Mormon's historicity has only increased (although it is clearly intended to be a modern-day spiritual guide, based on faith in Christ). I do not look at the BoM to shed light on Mesoamerica; rather, Mesoamerica could provide insight into BoM cultures.
I certainly do not think the Maya and the Lehites are one and the same people, although very well could have overlapped, intertwined or been encapsulated. Some Pre-classic Maya (by latest definitions) and probably most Olmec predate Lehi’s arrival. However, the BoM Jaredite culture’s timeline aligns quite closely with the Olmec—and for that matter, the rise and fall of the Pre-Classic Maya based on time periods of very significant shifts align loosely but well with the existence of the BoM’s Nephite civilization. The Book describes several migration groups (none from “Egypt”) and even some emigrant groups—but surely there were many more groups.
In studying cultures and World leading nations,countries and people from the beginning of history to the development of America, each is identified by what they do as a social group at large. With the Mayans regardless of what we think, they lead their society by a religious base. This religious base or the centre of who the Mayans were can not be discounted by any means. Their religion was important to them, it should be just so important to us. If we will regard their religion with the utt-most respect we would be able to see them more clearly as a nation, a country and a people of earth.
Pardon me for asking, and it may see frivolous, and I don't mean to belittle your religious convictions, but, how many of you honestly think that our current iteration of humanity is the pinnacle of technological achievement? Realistically speaking of course, you can discount any and all religious significance from the discussion, religion is based entirely on faith, and is therefor suspect. Religions have very little to do with scientific fact. So again I'd point out that in the length of time since the last dinosaur existed, exactly how many iterations of society could there have been? Please take into account planetary glaciation, plate tectonics, volcanic activity, and erosion that would have most likely erased any prior civilizations, and considering that our pitiful iterations existence thus far has been "recorded" at what, about 25000 meaningless years? Wake up and smell the earths age guys.
It may be more of a religious book, however the Book of Mormon has many interesting correlations to these findings and supports much of what has been found. In a historical context the two civilizations known in the Book of Mormon as Nephites and the other Lamanites, and known in this article as Maya and Olmec, did indeed mature independently and had many social interactions, some peaceful and others not so peaceful. Studying this book, which is a record of these people, may shed more understanding of these structures, why and how they were built. The time tables presented seem to also correlate well with these cultures.
This is part of the Book of Mormon, like it or not it is.
@Dan BornHow are they looting? There are archaeologists from all over the world that dig in those sites. They have the permission from the mexican government to be there :p
Greg Is Right.. Sorry Guys.
Compare the Egypt and South America.
Greg, did you contract malaria or yellow fever while down there? You are sounding a bit delirious.
@Greg Gordon And the religious people come out. Was it the timeline that brought you to life Greg? The idea that people were living in the Americas and building ceremonial centers about the time of the global deluge got you worked up? Damn scientists and their proof!
@Greg GordonSERIOUSLY? You turn an article on excavations into a propaganda punt for your Fantasy Comic? #sosickofBS
@Greg Gordon The whole lost tribes of Israel have been debunked so many times it's not worth discussion. The fact that the events in this article take place over 300 years before the tribes supposedly went missing and the amount of time it would take them to wander the entire earth to get here pretty much makes it BS (with capitals!).
The idea that these people had anything to do with Israel is people just grasping at straws to support a religion with no basis. However, it's humorous watching it (but also a little sad).
@Greg Gordon We're talking about actual facts here. why on earth would you bring up religion and mormonism? Just enjoy the article without comparing or bringing religion into the picture.
@John Edwards The Maya.
Just as an after thought, who is our recent history killed off his members by the 100's as a religious dictator? There's more then one. Some by not so many but even one life lost to religious-zealots is one to many.
@A. Anderson My brother Jeff Dobson and I explored that very question in The Waters of Chaos. It's two novels, WoC: The Modern Quest, which is based on real science, and WoC: The Ancient Saga, which is based on ancient writings, myths, and lore. We propose a new model of human evolution and cultural advancement tied to sea level rise and fall. http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=jerry+dobson&rh=i%3Aaps%2Ck%3Ajerry+dobson
@A. Anderson Basically we all hold a "religious" belief whether is be a recently created on based on the BoM or one even more recent but rooted in the past, the so-called science of evolutionary beliefs. You are correct in stating we all hold our religions with faith, and I don't speak for anyone else, but faith is only one aspect of my religious beliefs. To accept the modern religious tenants of secular humanistic scientific beliefs is to shun human nature our beliefs and take on a faith in ever shifting dogmas of the popular scientific communities. When mankind puts themselves up as gods we are all in trouble.
Very good points. My lay-knowledge guess is that we are probably the most advanced incarnation of scientific achievement to date, having reached an age of industrialization that has nearly exhausted the fossil fuels necessary for such "achievement". After our almost certain collapse when the energy runs out, subsequent incarnations will have far less energy sources to work with because I don't think that there will be enough time before the sun becomes a red giant to recharge the fossil fuel stores.
@Preston Socha time to get off that bike mate, the BofM is a bunch of fairy tales made up by a horny young man with too much time on his hands and has not a thing to do with the first peoples of the Americas
@Preston Socha Dito "Me fromcali" I'm sure that if what you’re saying had any truth to it, the people who have been studying this and doing the scientific research for years would have connected the Maya and Olmec people to your Book of Mormon’s contention that theses people came from Egypt.
@Preston Socha Give it a rest, dude. The BofM has so many anachronisms and a plethora of other discrediting factors as per its historicity being validly based upon ancient civilizations in the Americas, it makes reason stand on its head. In fact the official LDS church refuses to qualify anything with regard to its historicity, and apologetic groups within that church postulate numerous theories, such as the ‘limited geography theory’, which has nothing to do with South America. Even B.H. Robersts, a past ‘General Authority’ of the Mormon church stated that there were many, many serious ‘issues’ witht the book. Further, the BofM ‘science’ of Hugh Nibley and his ilk has pretty much been laid to rest, except for those of the ‘flat earth society’ mindset. If you want to retain membership in the Mormon church for whatever reason, best not to base that membership on archeological, wishful thinking with regard to the BofM. Move on; find some other reasons.
I'm a Mormon scientist with a passing interest in this question. Me fromCali's claims that there isn't a shred of evidence to support the historicity of the Book of Mormon are absolutely false. Many scholars have studied this question. Some of the evidence found is inconclusive, some is unimpressive, but some is very hard to dismiss. If one chooses to reject the historicity of the Book of Mormon because they can't accept the supernatural (divine) elements of its origin, that's fine. However, there's no need to try to make false claims about the growing body of evidence in its favor. Reading a couple of anti-Mormon sites does not make one an expert in this field.
On the other hand, Preston is also egregiously mistaken. I know of no serious Mormon scholar who equates the Nephites and the Lamanites with the entire Mayan and Olmec civilizations. Most people who object to Book of Mormon studies don't even take the time to familiarize themselves with the latest arguments, but some who do are legitimately put off when they read bold and entirely unsubstantiated claims like these. Let's not overstate our case.
@Me fromCali You might recall that Preston made no claim that this proves the Book of Mormon is true. It is not a history book but one of faith. There is also nothing that proves the Book of Mormon to be false. This is a great article how a new discovery can turn old theories of our past on its head.
I agree with Preston, there are interesting similarities and a comparison of this knowledge and the record of the Nephites is insightful.
For those who are interested they can read about studies conducted at the Neal A. Maxwell institute and come to their own conclusion. There was one article that outlined our current knowledge of astronomy and the progress of Creation. Very interesting correlations.
Hello, Me fromCali,
I have a few things to say in response to your comment. I don't intend this in a rude way, but rather, it seems to me that you have some of your facts a little confused.
The first is the Joseph Smith did not find the Urim and Thummin (what you refer to as a 'seer stone') while digging a well. If you refuse to believe in angelic help in his finding the Book of Mormon, his history does say that he found it in a hill near Palmyra, New York. He found the both the Gold Plates, and the Urim and Thummin there.
Second, your statement "You don't hear about Native Americans being 'white and delightsome' anymore" bothers me. I do not know what you have been told by anyone else, member of the LDS church, or not, but the Book of Mormon does not say anything about that. In his vision he says that he saw people come to the land, and there were white and delightsome (see 1 Nephi 13:15). In 4 Nephi 1:10 it does say that the people of Nephi were exceedingly fair and delgihtsome, and I assume this means the Lamanites as well, because they were all one people. I also assume the the division of the people mentioned in verses 35-38 that the former curse of the Lamanites returned, for the same reasons it did in 2 Nephi 5:20-25, as well as the reasons mentioned in 1 Nephi 12:23, and 13:1-16
Also, I say this to everyone who has been throwing around, "No, I'm right, and you're just wrong!" comments,
Just stop. This is idiotic, unkind behavior. And its not just going on in this thread. Someone says "Hmm, this corresponds with the Book of Mormon," and so there are people who say, "NO! The Book of Mormon is just false! Its got so many problems"--which, may I point out, no one actually says what the problems are, just that it has them--"and you're practically running off a cliff to believe in it!" So... you can call my opinion idiotic and stupid (however indirectly), but I'm supposed to respect yours? Yeah, that makes sense.
I have found no proof that either proves nor disproves the Book of Mormon. I have, however found more evidence that strongly suggests that the Book of Mormon is authentic then I have that says otherwise. Here is my main source; https://www.lds.org/ensign/2000/01/mounting-evidence-for-the-book-of-mormon?lang=eng
I'm not saying that you have to read it, or agree with it, but if you want some research that has been done on the topic, it would be a place to start studying.
So, that is all I have to say.
Thanks for reading.
Have a great day!
I must agree with those not in favor of the Mormon/LDS Church's stand that the Book of Mormon is historical fact of Meso-America. I am a Mormon (probably not much longer), served a mission, and worked in their temple. I have over the 28 years I've been a member, never found a shred of proof for Joseph Smith's and every other prophet's testimony of validity. If you believe in the Book of Mormon you believe in the very first pages attached to it that declare what scientists, historians, and other have only found to be false... Sorry if that upsets anyone...
I was attempting to provide an example of a serious and popular (and Church-funded) expedition which lined up Mesoamerican cultures with the Book of Mormon. I wasn't trying to indicate his book had substantially more authority than any other, rather that it was a popular belief and considered credible for quite some time.
All of the reasons I cited (and many others) apply just as well to North America.
For the reasons you cite and others, Mesoamerica is a dubious location for the actual Book of Mormon events. North America is a good fit for those same reasons.
@ Jacob D. - Making an appeal to authority by claiming to be a scientist, or what-have-you, is a classic fallacy that Mormon apologists resort to ad nauseam. Nothwithstanding your pre-eminence, sir, this is FACT: There are far more evidences, or issues, or ‘red flags’ on many fronts, not just archeological, that support the *claim* that the BofM is not what the LDS church purports it to be, i.e., an ancient record written by ancient North and/or South American ‘prophets’. Being dismissive with the usual lame, perfunctory, tired, Mormon apologetic rhetoric of someone just “...reading a couple of anti-Mormon sites” does not make the heretofore stated FACT without merit. Perhaps you will one day have the courage to be able to set aside the fear that has been bred into your bones since childhood of ‘loosing your salvation’ if you question and examine ALL of the evidences and end up concurring with those, or some of them that runs contrary to the grain of Mormon beliefs; that you will be capable of, not to necessarily adopt or accept everything, but at the very least acknowledge with non-dogmatic honesty, those plausibly valid and germane conclusions. B.H. Roberts did, and he still retained his membership. The record is clear that he did NOT believe the BofM was an historical record.
I trust you won’t feel that I am hitting below the belt, but if you want to believe that a fellow who puts a rock (“seer stone”) that he found one day while digging a well, into a hat and then starts dictating through the medium of that rock to a scribe what some ancient prophet in the Americas wrote on metal plates which became the Book of Mormon, then who am I to even attempt to denigrate your belief in that? This is not the issue. The issue is one of good, readily available scholarship that paints a different picture than the one the official LDS church paints.
It doesn’t take a rocket ‘scientist’ or a scientist of any other discipline to come to the accurate and even obvious conclusions that a LOT of stuff doesn’t add up to the claims that the LDS church makes with regard to the BofM. The Mormon church has an amazing knack of constantly re-inventing itself and ‘line upon a line, here a little and there a little’ to change and distance itself when ‘good science’ and scholarship becomes a fait accompli in refutation of their old, out-dated, doctrines and claims. A more recent example of this is the change in the BofM title page about the peoples in that book being watered down from ‘principal ancestors’ to ‘among the ancestors’ of the modern day Native Americans. You don’t hear about Native Americans becoming ‘white and delightsome’ any more; about Native Americans being of Hebrew decent, but growing up I sure did! But I digress. Look, dude, the sound, well researched literature in support of the significant plausibility that the BofM is a twentieth century work of fiction is out there to peruse. Enough said.
@ Shaune Wallace - Scientists of all disciplines rarely state that they ‘prove’ something. There are only indicators that lend to probabilities and degrees of significance.
“The glory of God is intelligence” and “Know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
By using my God-given gift of reason and intuition -- limited as they are -- I choose to be free from dogmatic ignorance and ecclesiastical threats of damnation. This is my “pearl of great price”.
Well stated. In other words, if enough people declare “All is well, in Zion!” then all is well in Zion -- end of story. All you have to do is cross your fingers on both hands, raise your arms held high above your head, yell out loud, “I believe! I believe!” and start running for the cliff’s edge. Do this and I guarantee you will get a “burning in your bosom”.
@Jacob D. How about "Archaeology and the Book of Mormon" by Milton R. Hunter. It very clearly states the opinion that the church should accept parallels between the Nephites and Lamanites with specific meso-american civilizations. As I understand it this was essentially church canon in the mid-20th century until fairly recently.
Realistically, there is no "growing body of evidence" in favour of the historocity of the Book of Mormon, though there may well be a growing body of opinion.
While you did mention evidence which is unimpressive, inconclusive and hard to dismiss, unfortunately you left out a key category: evidence which directly contradicts the claims made. Genetic evidence clearly indicates that the Native Americans are descended from Asian populations, not Mediterranean. There are no linguistic similarities between the languages of the Americas and those of Egypt or the Levant. The Book of Mormon is filled with references to things that there is no evidence ever existed in the Americas, like elephants, and chariots, and steel weapons. The discrepancies are substantial and irreconcilable with the archaeological and anthropological evidence.
Before writing my opinions off as those of someone who didn't familiarize myself with the Book of Mormon, I should mention that I have read it, in its entirety, and was raised as a member of the church. I am very familiar with exactly what the Book of Mormon proposes, as well as modern archaeological research in the Americas.
You are welcome to believe whatever you wish, and if the Book of Mormon has value to you as a source of spiritual inspiration, so be it; but please don't deny that there are large factual problems with what it proposes. Arguing that archaeological evidence on the issue is "inconclusive" and glossing over the massive problems that come with literally interpreting that text doesn't help anyone.
@Jessica Clark You're about a year late in your response and a half century late in your education.
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