Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Semitic Peoples in Ancient Mesoamerica: Evidence from Artifacts

I just updated the "Ancient Melting Pot" section of my page on DNA and the Book of Mormon to provide some additional information about the evidence for ancient Semites in the New World. Here is an excerpt, part of which has been updated:

The studies of ancient crania pointing to high genetic diversity and non-Asian features in ancient Native Americans corresponds with the diversity of ancient ceramic figurines of humans in Mesoamerica, showing that many non-Asian racial types were present before the Conquest. John L. Sorenson (1998, p. 18) states:
These ceramic figurines [shown on pages 18-22 of Sorenson, 1998] are mainly in private artifact collections in Mexico. The late Alexander von Wuthenau and other investigators have been struck with the variety of human types revealed by these objects and have drawn attention to this variety by photographic documentation [see especially Alexander von Wuthenau (1975) and Calderón (1977)]. They maintain that this is all the evidence needed to demonstrate that a wide variety of ethnic or racial types were present in Mexico and Central America.
This passage has a footnote given on page 228 of Sorenson:
Certain noted academic physical anthropologists concur. See, for instance, Eusebio Dávalos Hurtado, "El hombre en Mesoamerica hasta la llegada de los Españoles," Memorias y Revista de la Academica Nacional de Ciencias 49 (1964): 411, where that distinguished expert says that the "falsehood" of the claim of a single northeast Asian ancestry for American Indians has been exposed by the figurines shown in von Wuthenau's Unexpected Faces in Ancient America. Moreover, William W. Howells, a noted U.S. physical anthropologist, in "The Origins of American Indian Race Types," in The Maya and Their Neighbors, ed. Clarence L. Hay et al. (New York: Dover Publications, 1977), 3-9, stated that there is probably greater variety among Amerindians "than there may be found in the White racial stock" (p. 5). An extensive literature on both sides of the question is summarized in John L. Sorenson and Martin Raish, Pre-Columbian Contact with the Americas across the Oceans: An Annotated Bibliography, 2nd ed., 2 vols. (Provo, Utah: Research Press, 1996).
Sorenson points to figurines with Semitic and Mediterranean features on page 20, for example. The evidence for pre-Columbian contact with Africans in ancient figurines is also hard to ignore, yet again is utterly inconsistent with the Siberia-only paradigm for Native American origins.

The findings of von Wuthenau have fascinated some non-Mormons who see possible evidence for ancient Hebrews in the Americas. One example is Hope of Israel Ministries, whose page, "The Saga of Ancient Hebrew Explorers: Who Really Discovered America?" argues that ancient Hebrews were in the Americas, possibly from Solomon's navies. The author actually interviewed von Wuthenau and made these comments:
Were Hebrews in the Americas long before Columbus? More evidence comes from the investigations of Dr. Alexander von Wuthenau, whom I interviewed at his home in Mexico City. His living room was filled to overflowing with terra cotta pottery figures and objects d' art. In his book The Art of Terra Cotta Pottery in Pre-Columbian Central and South America, Dr. Von Wuthenau published scores of photographs of these art objects. He tells of his astonishment, when he first noted that in the earliest, lower levels of each excavation he encountered -- not typical Indian heads -- but heads of Mongolians, Chinese, Japanese, Tartars, Negroes, and "all kinds of white people, especially Semitic Types with and without beards" (p. 49).

At Acapulco, von Wuthenau found that early Semitic peoples lived in considerable numbers. "The curious points about these essentially primitive figures are that, first, there is an emphasis on markedly Semitic-Hebrew features," he declared (p. 86). Female figures found in the region are also markedly Caucasian, with delicate eyebrows, small mouths and opulent coiffures.

Cyrus Gordon, who has studied the collection, points out: "In the private collection of Alexander von Wuthenau is a Mayan head, larger than life-size, portraying a pensive, bearded Semite. The dolichosephalic ("long-headed") type fits the Near East well. He resembles certain European Jews, but he is more like many Yemenite Jews."
The cranial evidence for other racial types among the ancient Americans suggests that not all ancient genes have been thoroughly preserved among modern Native Americans, and that DNA testing may not be telling the full story of ancient genetic diversity. And the presence of many Semitic features in depictions of ancient peoples may provide evidence that Old World peoples, including Semites, were represented in the ancient Americas. The view that all ancient Native Americans came from Siberia simply does not agree with all the data and cannot be used to rule out other ancient migrations of European or Semitic peoples to the Americas.


Anonymous said...

This is some interesting stuff. Recently I've been reading New Evidences of Christ in America, by Blaine M. Yorgason, Bruce W. Warren and Harold Brown. VERY good and very compelling. Could you recommend some books or articles dealing with your topic?

Mormanity said...

You may wish to read the FARMS review of New Evidences of Christ in Ancient America. It looks like the authors make quite a few mistakes in their zealous effort to find evidences for the Book of Mormon. Book of Mormon fans need to be cautious and not simply believe everything in print or every faith-promoting rumor we hear. (The legends allegedly from ancient Americans passes on by the Spaniards are one area with possible problems.) Reviews from others (LDS or not) with expertise in key areas can be very helpful.

Authors that I think do a great job of being cautious and accurate in defending and exploring the Book of Mormon include John Sorenson and John Tvedtnes, along with a variety of publications available from FARMS (farms.byu.edu). That's a good place to start.

Anonymous said...

The problem you face is that Muslims are now using this to claim they pre-date Columbus in Americas.

Anonymous said...

There are two just recently published books, The Ark of Millions of Years, Volume One and Two, by E. J. Clark and B. Agnew that give compelling evidence of Semitic peoples in Ancient Mesoamerica and South America. Most of the evidence is in their 2nd book, but in order to fully understand it, it is necessary to read the 1st book. I highly recommend reading these two books.