Around 1600 BC, many unexplained changes occurred in the basin of the Gulf of Mexico.
Today, the public’s perspective of Native American history is often based on the appearance of the New World when European colonists first occupied the lands of indigenous peoples. Mexico, Central America and Peru are viewed as the locations of the most advanced native civilizations. In the United States, the location of indigenous ethnic groups in 1776 has in the past been assumed to have been their location for the previous 1000 years. However, the facts uncovered by archaeologists in the late 20th century have radically changed our understanding of the Western Hemisphere’s ancient history.
Prior to around 1600 BC, the most advanced societies in the northern half of the Western Hemisphere are now known to have been located in the Southeastern United States, possibly also in Cuba, Puerto Rico and Hispaniola. The first public “architecture” in the Western Hemisphere was in northern Louisiana. A circular cluster of mounds were built around 3500 BC at Watson’s Brake. The cultivation of indigenous plants began in the Southeast began at least by 3,500 BC. The oldest known pottery in the Western Hemisphere has been found in the vicinity of Augusta, GA along the Savannah River and dated to around 2,500 BC.
Beginning around 2,200 BC, indigenous peoples along the South Atlantic Coast and especially around Sapelo Island, GA began creating massive shell rings, which functioned as villages. The rings were abandoned around 1,600 BC. At this time, there was NO pottery or large scale public architecture in Mexico. See http://www.examiner.com/architecture-design-in-national/america-s-architectural-heritage-sapelo-island-georgia.
Louisiana platform villages
Around 1,600 BC an ethnic group began constructing large villages on raised semi-circular, earthen platforms along tributaries of the Lower Mississippi River. Within these platform villages, they also built ceremonial mounds. A mound built at the Poverty Point, LA village site is one of the largest ever constructed in the United States. The platform villages were long abandoned when the French arrived in the region in the late 1600s AD, so the identity of the Native ethnic groups, who occupied them, is not known. See http://www.examiner.com/architecture-design-in-national/poverty-point-national-monument-west-carroll-parish-louisiana.
The rise of the Zoque (Olmec) Civlization
Around 1,600 BC a new culture appeared on the Gulf Coast of the Mexican State of Vera Cruz. It introduced the construction of pyramidal mounds and the technology for making pottery to Mexico. By 1,500 BC the Zoque were building large villages and cultivating plants indigenous to Mexico, in addition to the cultivated plants that are typical of the Caribbean Basin. By 1200 BC the Zoque were building cities with large pyramids and numerous public structures. The Zoque towns and ceremonial centers were abandoned around 600 BC. This is also the same time period that the platform village at Poverty Point, LA was abandoned. http://www.examiner.com/architecture-design-in-national/the-olmecs-of-tabasco-mexico-and-the-smoky-mountains.
Surviving history of the Zoque preserved in stone, indicates that the Zoque claimed to have arrived on the coast of Mexico from a homeland across the Gulf of Mexico in three giant flotillas of sea-going canoes. This is not an impossible claim because the ancestors of the Polynesians were exploring the Pacific Basin as early as 50,000 BC! In fact, the stone statues and figurines that the Zoque carved describe themselves as looking like the Maori Polynesians of New Zealand. The Yuchi Indians of the Southeastern United States also have a tradition that they paddled to North America from the “home of the sun” in the East. See http://www.examiner.com/architecture-design-in-national/who-are-the-yuchi.
Archaeologists search for a “missing link”
The Zoque arrived in Mexico carrying many traits of “civilization.” They did not look like the indigenous peoples of central Mexico, but definitely journeyed from somewhere else in the Western Hemisphere. Archaeologists have not determined conclusively their place of origin. Pseudo-archaeologists through the years have published books claiming that the Zoque were from central Africa, Egypt, Phoenicia or even Scandinavia. However, absolutely no archaeological or genetic evidence backs these theories.
It is known that Polynesians did settle in North America at a very early date. Ancient Polynesian skeletons have been confirmed in Mexico; perhaps as old as 40,000 BC. Geologists dated homo sapiens footprints in solidified pumice as being 40,000 years old. Polynesian skeletons found in Mexico have been dated from 14,000 to as old as 21,000 years before the present. Even North American Indian tribes, such as the Creeks, carry traces of Polynesian DNA. There was probably a Polynesian culture thriving in Baja California when the Spanish first arrived in the 1500s. So for an indigenous ethnic group in Mexico such as the Zoque, having Polynesian features is quite plausible.
Artifacts and structures found along the western coast of Cuba
During the 1950s Cuban divers and underwater archaeologists found extensive artifact evidence of a Native American civilization on the western end of Cuba that was different and more advanced that the Taino-Arawak peoples, who migrated to the island beginning around 900 AD. Their theories are based on the likelihood that Cuba probably functioned as a gateway of ideas, crops and peoples for all of the Americas. Cuba is only 90 miles (144km) from the Florida Keys and 96 miles (154km) from the Yucatan Peninsula.
During the last decades of the 20th century, there was increasing worldwide interest in the ancient story of Atlantis, an advanced Bronze Age civilization on an island that sank into the Atlantic Ocean. The artifacts and structures on and near the islands of western Cuba were in one of those regions theorized as the location of Atlantis. In late 1990s Russian-Canadian oceanographic engineer, Paulina Zelitsky, used underwater cameras to film structures at 2,200 feet (667m) under water which seem to be pyramids, plazas, mounds, and terraces.
The November 2002 issue of National Geographic contained an article on the discovery and speculated that the ruins were 6,000 years old. There was no scientific proof of the assigned date. The article inferred that only people from the Old World could have built such structures, and failed to mention the large structures being built in North America 6,000 years ago. None of the materials in the apparent structures have been brought to the surface for scientific dating. Little has been done since then to confirm the exact nature of the underwater structures.
In 2000 author Andrew Collins theorized that the mythical city of Atlantis was located near the Isle of Youth in Cuba, is book was entitled, “Gateway to Atlantis: The Search for the Source of a Lost Civilization.” The book speculated that catastrophic earthquakes and centuries of hurricanes had concealed the ruins of Atlantis. There is no similarity between the architecture of the Olmec Civilization and the contemporary Bronze Age cultures of Europe, but there is evidence of an advanced people living in permanent settlements in western Cuba.
During the past decade, anthropological research has tended to support the theory by Cuban archaeologists that their island was an ancient crossroads of advanced indigenous cultures. In 2005 the highly respected anthropology program at the University of Alabama carried out joint studies with Cuban archaeologists on several sites. It was determined that prior to being exterminated by Spanish invaders, the native peoples of Cuba were skilled farmers, who grew many varieties of fruits, vegetables and herbs now found in supermarkets around the world. They built some stone architecture, but tended to live in small villages so that the residents could maintain a sustainable relationship with the environment.
Since 2004 research by Native American scholars, funded by the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, Perdido Bay Creek Tribe, the Lost Worlds Organization, the Florida Endowment for the Humanities and private philanthropists have found extensive evidence that support the Cuban theory of their island being a gateway between cultures. Maya words, cultural traditions AND DNA have been found in the Creek Indian mound builders of the Southeast.
Historians have also identified a once powerful people with many Mesoamerican traditions, known to the English as the Soque and the French as the Joque in South Carolina at the time of European contact. Remnants of the Soque joined with the Creeks and the Cherokees. There is an isolated band of Eastern Cherokees, known as the Snowbird Cherokees. They are called “moon faces” by the main body of the Cherokees, because many Snowbird families closely resemble the ancient stone sculptures of the Olmecs.
Until comprehensive archaeological studies are carried out along the western coast of Cuba, the possibility of a lost civilization being there must remain in the realm of speculation. Cuba’s economy is transforming, but still can not afford the expenditure of such a massive undertaking. The most likely model for a large scale archeological study to take place would be similar to the University of Alabama’s joint project with Cuban archaeologists. Perhaps several universities from several nations could be involved. Whatever transpires in the future, it is clear that the history book on the native peoples of the Western Hemisphere is yet to be completed.
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