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Mesoamerica

Cradle of Civilization in North America


From the highlands of Mexico to the jungles of Central America, pyramids, colossal stone heads, ancient writing, Maya calendars and much more capture our imaginations of civilizations both strange and wonderful. This is Mesoamerica — home of the Olmecs, Mayas, Aztecs and the sophisticated citizens of Teotihuacan.

For all the refinements of civilization, each of these "empires" eventually collapsed. In many respects, Teotihuacan rivaled its contemporary, Rome. Yet instead of barbarians, its collapse was thought to have been brought about by abrupt climate change. In 535–536 CE, a worldwide disaster plummeted temperatures, robbing everyone in the Northern Hemisphere of a full year's harvest. Thought to have been the result of volcanic debris trapped in the atmosphere, the cooling persisted, resulting in widespread drought and famine. Records of the disaster were made around the world, in China, Byzantium and Gaelic Ireland.

The Mayas and the Aztecs, on the other hand, found guns, germs and steel to be more formidable opponents with the arrival of the Spanish.

The North American Cradle


As early as 1500 BCE, the Olmec civilization inhabited parts of what is now Southern Mexico. Their culture is most noted for its colossal heads, but they also had a form of writing — the earliest in the Western Hemisphere. The Olmec culture declined about 400 BCE.

Teotihuacan was a large city, approximately 25 miles (40 km) northeast of modern Mexico's capital. The earliest structures date to about 200 BCE. During the reign of the Roman Empire in Europe, Teotihuacan reached its peak, boasting a population of nearly a quarter of a million people. And a century or two after Rome fell, so did Teotihuacan. The city is most noted for its broad avenues, large pyramids and colorful murals.

The Maya culture spans four thousand years, from roughly 2000 BCE to present day. Though many aspects of their culture originated with earlier peoples, the Maya perfected such things as writing and the calendar. Many modern day Mayas continue to speak their language as a first language. Though conquered by the Spanish, some Maya tribes retained independence up until 1697 CE, when the last Mayas were finally subdued. The Maya culture continues to be a popular subject, especially recently with the craze over "2012" and the end of an age, according to the Maya calendar.

Connections to the Atlantis Myth


Some researchers have proposed that the existence of pyramids both in Mesoamerica and in Egypt indicate a connection between the locales in the prehistoric past. Such a connection, they offer, could have been Plato's Atlantis. The square pyramid, however, is a simple, stable form that could easily have been developed in more than one location, independently of one another. There is nothing intrinsically unique about the pyramid shape. Therefore, it adds about as much proof of a connection through Atlantis as the fact that structures at both locations were built by humans.

However, Plato did say in his dialogs, Timaeus and Critias that Atlantis had colonies across the great ocean (the Atlantic) in the islands and on the continent itself. Could this be referring to America and the Caribbean? Scholars caution not to read too much into Plato's ideas of geography, and that is good advice. There is always the danger of seeing significance in patterns where there is none — for example, the "face" on Mars, animal shapes in the clouds, caricatures in wood grain, butterflies in ink blots, and an omen in a tea cup.

Jared Diamond, in his award-winning bestseller, Guns, Germs and Steel, theorized that the late start of the cradles of civilization in the Americas was the result of its longitudinal geography, as opposed to the latitudinal geography of Eurasia. Climate zones in the Americas are accordingly far narrower than their counterparts in the Old World. The American advantages are accordingly slim. Diamond's reasoning seems reasonable.

Could it be instead that prior knowledge of civilization gave humanity an advantage? If the catalyst for our "ancient" cradles of civilization came from Atlantean certainty concerning the benefits of civilization, then it could be that immigration of Atlanteans may have been the critical factor in the initialization of those cradles.

What if the descendants of Atlantis in the West were forced out of their homes far later than were their cousins from their original homeland? Thus, the Atlantean influence reached Mesoamerica far later than it did in Eurasia. The Atlantean homeland was destroyed about 9600 BCE, while rising sea levels might not have forced evacuation in the West until four or five thousand years later. The later immigration of Atlanteans into Mesoamerica, compared to their cousins' far earlier arrival in Eurasia, could have been part of the basis for the delayed start of civilization in the Americas, rather than Diamond's purely geographical cause.

On a slightly different subject, the idea of making connections to Atlantis based solely on the spelling of names or words is more than a bit ludicrous. Such an association needs significant corroboration; not hunches and guesswork.

Peter Tompkins, in his book, Mysteries of the Mexican Pyramids (Harper & Row, 1976), tells us, "Migrant Chichimecs serving in the Toltec army, who called themselves Aztecs after their mythical home in Aztlan, built the city of Tenochtitlan." The similarity between the names "Aztlan" and "Atlan(tis)" is interesting, but far from compelling. The fact that the "-tlan" ending means "land" or "realm" is also interesting, but barely so.

Tompkins tells us something else, though, which commands more than a little interest: "According to Aztec tradition, the city of Tenochtitlan was modeled after the lost capital of their original homeland, situated on an island in the middle of a lake surrounded by rings of canals and interconnecting dams." This sounds strikingly similar to Plato's description of the capital city of Atlantis.

Another interesting fact compels even more interest: Some Native American tribes possess the mitochondrial DNA haplogroup X, a trait shared with the Basques and Suomi (Finns) of Europe. The genetic separation between the European and American groups has been calculated at a minimum of 12,000 years ago — about the same time the sea swallowed Plato's Atlantis.

For more information, see Mission: Atlantis.

 

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