Indigenous Caribbean Network

A REBUTTAL TO VAN SERTIMA by Bernard Ortiz De Montellano in co-operation with others


  Current Anthropology,   Volume 38, Number 3, June 1997, pp 419-441


Reproduced   with permission.


Abstract Article Notes Comments Reply References Cited

  In 1976, Ivan Van Sertima proposed that New World   civilizations were strongly influenced by diffusion from Africa.   The first and most important contact, he argued, was between Nubians and   Olmecs in 700 B.C., and it was followed by other contacts from Mali in A.D.   1300. This theory has spread widely in the African-American community, both   lay and scholarly, but it has never been evaluated at length by   Mesoamericanists. This article shows the proposal to be devoid of any   foundation. First, no genuine African artifact has ever been found in a   controlled archaeological excavation in the New World.   The presence of African-origin plants such as the bottle gourd (Lagenaria   siceraria) or of African genes in New World cotton (Gossypium hirsutum)   shows that there was contact between the Old World and the New, but this   contact occurred too long ago to have involved any human agency and is   irrelevant to Egyptian-Olmec contact. The colossal Olmec heads, which   resemble a stereotypical "Negroid," were carved hundreds of years   before the arrival of the presumed models. Additionally, Nubians, who come   from a desert environment and have long, high noses, do not resemble their   supposed "portraits." Claims for the diffusion of pyramid building   and mummification are also fallacious. [1]

Abstract Article Notes Comments Reply References Cited

  In his 1976 book They Came Before Columbus, Ivan Van Sertima   argued that "Negroid" Africans had come to the Americas at various   times before the European discovery and had either inspired or influenced the   development of the first civilizations to emerge on these continents. Like   other pseudoscientific writings that had been published up until that time,   the book was either completely ignored or generally dismissed by   anthropologists, historians, and other academic professionals. Except for a   brief reference by Glyn Daniel (1977), it was never   reviewed in any of the professional journals. Daniel, who also reviewed Barry   Fell's America   B.C. (1976), dismissed it,   but neither he nor any other academic professional ever developed a detailed   or cogent response to the main thrust of Van Sertima's ideas. As Daniel   himself predicted, the book became a profitable venture for both Van Sertima   and his publisher. [2]
  Readers were apparently attracted by the real mysteries that surrounded the   subject: the origins and evolution of civilizations in the Americas. At   the same time, the book also received the attention and enthusiastic support   of a small but increasingly influential group of "cultural   nationalists" in the African-American community. By the late 1980s Van   Sertima's ideas were being heartily endorsed by Molefi Asante, one of the   gurus of the Afrocentric movement (Asante 1988:48; 1990:158; 197 n. 43;   1993:136-37; Asante and Matson 1991:15-19).   This movement in all its complexity [3] emerged from the   cultural nationalism of the 1960s and 1970s with clearly articulated theories   of human development that incorporated Van Sertima's ideas on the origins of   civilization in the Americas.   According to the Afrocentrists, all of the world's early civilizations,   including those of ancient Egypt, ancient Mesopotamia, India, China, Europe,   and the Americas, [4] were created or   inspired by racially "black" peoples.
  In articulating their claims, the Afrocentrists relied very heavily on the   ideas of Cheikh Anta Diop (1974, 1991), Chancellor   Williams (1987), John G.   Jackson (1970), George James   (1976), and others. [5] These writers   reformulated the standard 19th- and early 20th-century European and North American   racial concepts in such a way that the Afrocentrists could promote a   hegemonic "black" model of human development. In his 1974 book, The   African Origins of Civilization: Myth or Reality, Diop accepted the   standard tripartite division of the human species into "Caucasoid,"   "Negroid," and "Mongoloid" and subdivided the "black   race" into persons with predominantly straight or wavy hair, such as the   Dravidians of India, and persons with predominantly curly or tightly coiled   hair, such as the Ibo of Nigeria (Diop 1974:164-65,   237). In an attempt to incorporate as many groups as possible into the   "Negro" category, Diop also accepted the racist Western definition   of "blackness" as any degree of "black" or African   ancestry. [6] Of course, once   these race concepts were reformulated, they could be applied to a   reinterpreted history of civilization and human development with predictable   results.
  Accordingly, civilization was said to have originated with the   "black" peoples of the Upper Nile   in Ethiopia   and the Sudan   and to have been transmitted from there to the ancient Egyptians, also   defined as "black" regardless of their skin color and their other   physical characteristics. From its alleged African homeland, civilization was   presumably bequeathed to other "black" peoples throughout the world   through either direct contact or indirect diffusion. These alleged   "black" recipients included the ancient Sumerians of Mesopotamia,   the Sabaeans of South Arabia, the Elamites of southwestern Iran, the   Dravidians of India, the Shang of China, and the Minoans of ancient Crete, among others. [7] In the case of   the Americas,   a more complicated scenario had to be advanced in order to account for the   relative isolation of these continents and the geographical obstacles posed   by the Atlantic and the Pacific. This   scenario, developed most completely by Van Sertima, was incorporated into the   emerging Afrocentric view by the late 1980s. [8]
  According to Van Sertima's hypothesis, the Nubian rulers of ancient Egypt   (25th dynasty, 712-664 B.C.) organized an expedition with the help of the   Phoenicians to obtain various commodities, including iron, from sources on   the Atlantic coast of North Africa, Europe, and the British Isles during the   late 8th or early 7th century B.C. This expedition allegedly sailed from the   Nile Delta or the Levant across the Mediterranean, through the Pillars    of Hercules, and down the Atlantic coast of North    Africa, where it was caught in some current or storm that sent   it across the Atlantic to the Americas.   Following the prevailing wind and ocean currents, the expedition allegedly   sailed or drifted westward from some unspecified location in the eastern   Caribbean or the Bahamas to the Gulf Coast of Mexico, where it came into   contact with the receptive but inferior Olmecs. According to the scenario at   this point, the Olmecs presumably accepted the leaders of the Nubian/Egyptian   expedition as their rulers ("black warrior dynasts"), and these   individuals, in turn, created, inspired, or influenced the creation of the   Olmec civilization, which in turn influenced Monte Albán, Teotihuacan, the   Classic Maya, and all the other Mesoamerican civilizations that followed. [9]
  In Van Sertima's scenario, the Nubians became the models for the colossal   stone heads which the Olmecs produced in the years that followed the alleged   contact. They also presided over a mixed crew of voyagers that included   Egyptians, Phoenicians, and "several women." The Nubians   subsequently provided the impetus for the building of pyramids and ceremonial   centers and introduced a number of technological innovations and practices   (mummification, cire-perdue metallurgy, the symbolic use of purple murex dye,   weaving, etc.) which presumably influenced Mesoamerican religion, mythology,   customs, and even the calendar. This is an enormous number of claims, and   several large volumes would be needed to deal with all of them. In this essay   we will discuss the evidence that would be most significant if it were true.   We will deal elsewhere with Van Sertima's historical methodology, his use of   sources, and his writings on iconography and linguistics (Ortiz de Montellano,   Haslip-Viera, and Barbour 1997).
  Van Sertima (1992a:16; 1992c:65; 1995:73)   occasionally says that the Olmecs were not pure Africans or that the African   voyagers only influenced and were not the main catalyst for the rise of   civilization in the Americas, but these disclaimers are merely pro forma. The   cumulative total of his claims amounts to a decisive influence on most   aspects of the Olmec culture (religion, language, pyramids, customs, weaving,   metalworking, dyeing, etc.). If the Nubians were not "godlike" or   superior, why would the Olmecs on short acquaintance put forth the herculean   efforts required to transport and carve their likenesses in basalt? If the   Nubians were not superior, why would most of Van Sertima's followers   attribute the "sudden" rise of the Olmecs to Egypto-Nubian   influences? [10]
  Van Sertima also claimed that "black Africans" made other journeys   to the Americas   at various times after the 7th century B.C. The most important of these   alleged voyages was that of Abu-Bakari II, the Mandingo emperor of Mali, in A.D.   1311. According to Van Sertima, Abu-Bakari embarked from some unspecified   location on the western coast of his dominions (Senegambia)   with a large fleet of ships and sailed across the Atlantic   to the Gulf Coast of Mexico, where his expedition came into contact with the   peoples of the Vera Cruz region, the Valley of Mexico,   and the Valley    of Oaxaca. These   peoples were profoundly influenced by Abu-Bakari and his Mandingo agents in   the areas of technology, religion, and the arts in the period after contact   was established.
  In the years since the publication of They Came Before Columbus,   Van Sertima has revised his hypothesis only slightly and with great   reluctance. For example, in the early 1980s he pushed hack the date for the earliest   possible contact between the Olmecs and the Egypto-Nubians to the early 10th   century B.C. in an attempt to account for the revised dates established for   the origins of Olmec civilization at that time (see Coe and Diehl 1980, Rust and Sharer 1988),   The revised chronology was also used by Van Sertima to claim that the Nubians   had had a strong influence over the Egyptians from the early 11th to the   middle of the 7th century B.C. (Van Sertima 1992c:60-61,   67, 69). [11] More recently,   he has grudgingly accepted the Olmec chronology by emphasizing the alleged   importance of the "black-Egyptian" in pharaonic society and by   claiming that "the black African . . . played a dominant role in the Old World at either end of the dating equation, be it   1200 B.C. or 700 B.C." (Van Sertima 1992b:38-39;   1995:74, 76). [12]
  Van Sertima has nurtured a coterie of enthusiastic supporters among the   Afrocentrists and the cultural nationalists in general. [13] These   individuals are inclined to promote his concepts as historical truths. They   have also launched impassioned attacks against the academic establishment for   not supporting Van Sertima's and other questionable theories. [14] The recent   publication of one of his essays by the Smithsonian Institution Press (Van Sertima 1995)   has conferred some academic respectability on his views, and he has been   praised by St. Clair Drake (1987:312) and   Manning Marable (1991:22), two   non-Afrocentric scholars with considerable reputations. His hypothesis has   become almost an article of faith within the African-American community. It   is taught across the country in African-American and Africana studies   programs that use Maulana Karenga's Introduction to Black Studies   (1993) and similar   texts. It is taught in the large urban school districts that have adopted   Afrocentric curricula (Clarke 1989; Kunjufu 1987a,b; see also Ortiz de Montellano 1991,   1995). The   presumably "Negroid" Olmec heads have become staples of   African-American historical museums and exhibitions. It is therefore no   wonder that students in colleges and universities across the country are   mystified by the dismissive statements occasionally uttered by academic   professionals when Van Sertima's ideas are discussed. African-American   students, in particular, have not been impressed by the abbreviated critiques   that have been published thus far. They are also generally suspicious of the   academic establishment, with its record of "neglect" and   "distortion" with regard to Africa,   and have called for a detailed response to Van Sertima's ideas. This article   is an attempt to address the issues articulated by students and concerned   educators with regard to the validity of Van Sertima's hypotheses and the   failure of the academic establishment to confront them in a systematic way.   It is important for anthropologists and archaeologists to deal with this   question because of its prevalence and because it diminishes the real accomplishments   of Native American cultures. As Robert Sharer and Wendy Ashmore (1979:45) put it,   "Archaeology has a responsibility to prevent pseudo-archaeologists from robbing   humanity of the real achievements of past cultures." This essay will   examine Van Sertima's claims to determine whether they have any validity or   foundation in the evidence that has been collected thus far by scholars in   the humanities and the social and physical sciences.
  It is necessary to limit our discussion here to the most important claims and   the most convincing types of evidence. Authentic artifacts found in   controlled archaeological excavations provide absolute proof of contact;   however, no such artifact of African origin has ever been found in the New World, The archaeological discovery of   nonnative plants can also provide good evidence of contact. Van Sertima's   crucial claim deals with the influence of the alleged Nubian/Egyptian   visitors of the 25th dynasty on the Olmec culture, because at this time and   in this culture a number of definitive Mesoamerican traits presumably appear.   If Van Sertima and others are correct, Mesoamerican civilization owes a great   debt to Egypt.   If the idea of Egyptian contact with the Olmecs is invalid, then other claims   by Van Sertima and his colleagues are greatly weakened. For example, the   proposed A.D. 1311 expedition from Mali to Mexico, even if it were true,   would be less meaningful because the most significant Mesoamerican cultural   traits (worldview, calendars, deities, etc.) can clearly be shown to have   been present prior to that time, and this violates a cardinal rule in the   classic diffusionist argument - that the diffused traits must be present in   the donor culture and absent in the recipient culture prior to the presumed   contact.
  For the most part, our arguments will deal with this presumed earliest   contact, because only contact at this stage of development might have been   able to have a real impact on Mesoamerican cultures. There is still some   question whether Egyptian contact with the Gulf Olmecs would have been   sufficient to achieve this impact. Although some scholars (Diehl and Coe 1995)   still argue that the Gulf Olmecs represent the "mother culture" of   Mesoamerica, others, among them Flannery and Marcus (1994:389), prefer   the term "sister cultures" because it is clear that parallel   developments were taking place in other regions of Mesoamerica. Clark (1991; Clark and Blake 1994)   claims that the Mesoamerican tradition began among the Mokaya of the   Soconusco region of Chiapas, who by 1650 B.C. were the first to reach a   chiefdom level [15] and who   influenced the subsequent Gulf Olmecs. Flannery and Marcus (1994:385-90) show   that the 8°-west-of-true-north orientation of ceremonial buildings and the   use of stucco at La Venta and elsewhere appeared first in Oaxaca between 1650   and 1520 B.C. Grove (1989) has proposed   that much of the iconography of the Early Formative is merely the first   representation in ceramics of a body of beliefs shared by the common   ancestors of many Formative societies. Marcus (1991) claims that   the earliest dated stone monuments appeared not in the Gulf Olmec zone but in   the Zapotec region of Oaxaca.   [16] Nevertheless,   we will deal with the Gulf Olmecs because we agree with Tolstoy (1989:289) that by San Lorenzo times they "had reached a point on the   evolutionary scale that was beyond that at which San José (Oaxaca) or Tlatilco (Central    Mexico) can be placed." During the Early Formative   (1793-1011 B.C.) many of the definitive Mesoamerican traits were present both   in the Gulf Coast Olmec and in other contemporaneous cultures. Because   relatively little information is available about the Olmecs, Van Sertima is   able to make iconographic claims which, if made for the Aztecs, could be   unequivocally disproved on the basis of texts and codices gathered after the   conquest.
  The Colossal Olmec Heads
  The main pieces of evidence presented by Van Sertima are the monumental   carved basalt Olmec heads. To a lay observer, it seems at first glance that   these grey, "black"-looking heads, with their thick lips and flat   noses, must be images of Africans. This impression makes the   other claims appear to be support for an obvious conclusion. However, this is   a fundamental error. The people claimed by Van Sertima and other   Afrocentrists to have influenced the Olmecs (and to be the models for the   heads) are Nubians or Egyptians, that is, North and East Africans, whereas   the slave ancestors of African-Americans came primarily from tropical West Africa. These groups are very different and do not   look alike. [17] Flat noses are   particularly inappropriate as racial markers, because the shape of the nose   is primarily a function of climatic factors such as the ambient temperature   and the moisture content of the air.


    FIG. 1. Kpeda man from Benin.     (Photo West Africa Study Trip/Guerin Montilus.)


    FIG. 2. Adja men from Benin.     (Photo West Africa Study Trip/Guerin Montilus.)


  One of the functions of the nose is to moisten the air before it goes to the   lungs. In areas where the air is very dry, such as deserts, a larger mucous area   is required to moisten inspired air, and this necessitates a longer and   narrower nose (Molnar 1983:71-73).   Both the Olmecs and the West African ancestors of African-Americans have   short, flat noses because they lived in wet, tropical areas; Nubians and   Egyptians have longer, thinner noses because they have lived in a desert. [18] Comparison of   figures 1 and 2 with figures 3-5 reveals that although these two groups   differ in the shape of the nose and the lips, both are dolichocephalic and   prognathous. Most of the colossal Olmec heads are not; only 3 of the 17 Olmec   heads show a degree of prognathism.





FIG. 4. Nubian woman. (Photo Friedrich W. Hinkel.)

FIG. 3. Nubian from Koyekka. (Photo Friedrich W. Hinkel.)  


  FIG. 5. Nubian from the village    of Semna. (Photo   Friedrich W. Hinkel.)

  Figures 6-9 clearly show that these heads do not resemble Nubians (having   flat noses, thick lips, and epicanthic-folded eyelids and lacking   dolichocephaly or prognathism) or, for that matter, West Africans (having   epicanthic folds and lacking dolichocephaly or prognathism).


    FIG. 6. Monument 5, San Lorenzo, front     and rear views. (Drawing by Felipe Dávalos, reprinted from Coe and Diehl [1980], courtesy of     Michael D. Coe.)


    FIG. 7. Monument 5, San Lorenzo, side     views. (Drawing by Felipe Dávalos, reprinted from Coe and Diehl [1980], courtesy of     Michael D. Coe.)




    FIG. 8. Monument 17, San Lorenzo, front     and rear views. (Drawing by Felipe Dávalos, reprinted from Coe and Diehl [1980], courtesy of     Michael D. Coe.)


    FIG. 9. Monument 17, San Lorenzo, side     views. (Drawing by Felipe Dávalos, reprinted from Coe and Diehl [1980], courtesy of     Michael D. Coe.)


  The people represented in the Olmec sculptures had short, round, flat faces   with thick lips, flat noses, and epicanthic folds; that is, they resembled   people who still live m the tropical lowlands of Mexico (see figs. 10 and   11).


    FIG. 11. Tzotzil from Chiapas.     (Photo B Reyes, reprinted from Morley [1947].)


    FIG. 10. Woman from Olmec area. (Photo Donald Corddry, reprinted from     Bernal [1968].)


  Van Sertima (1992b, 1995) places great   emphasis on Tres Zapotes head 2 (also known as the Nestepe or Tuxtla head) [19] because it has   seven braids dangling from the back, which he claims (1992c:57; 1994:296, fig. 1c),   citing no supporting evidence, to be a characteristically Ethiopian   hairstyle. [20] He also asserts   that the braids are "probably the best hidden secret in Mesoamerican   archaeology" (1992b:37),   that the "head was never published outside of Mexico" (1992a:7), and   that "this photograph was kept in the dark (and I think the blackout was   deliberate)" (1992b:38; 1995:74). [21] To support his   claim (1992c:37; 1995:74) he quotes   the Mexican Olmec scholar Beatriz de la Fuente, who states, "If at any   time, one could imagine that there were Negroes in Mesoamerica, it would be   after seeing Head 2 of Tres Zapotes, the one that is most removed from the   physiognomy of our Indian ancestors" (de la Fuente 1971:58,   our translation). [22] However, he   overlooks her comment on the next page that "certainly the colossal   heads do not represent individuals of the Negro or Ethiopian race as José   Melgar, the first Westerner to see one more than a hundred years ago,   supposed. We have to agree that in them are recorded, on a heroic scale, the ethnic   characteristics of the ancient inhabitants of Mesoamerica,   characteristics that are still preserved in some contemporaneous   natives" (de la Fuente 1971:59,   our translation). [23]
  Archaeological Evidence
  Some Olmec heads are dark not because they represent black people but because   they were made of dark stone. [24] If Luckert (1976:41-49, 70-76,   90-107) is correct and the Olmecs associated volcanoes with rain and   fertility, then volcanic rocks (basalt, jade, and serpentine) would have had   symbolic importance and would have been appropriate for important sculptures.   These heads represent an enormous amount of work, having been transported   from quarries as much as 70 kilometers away without the use of wheels or   beasts of burden and then carved with stone tools, bronze and iron being   unknown. The implication that Afrocentrists draw from this is that the   Egyptian civilization was so superior that the Olmecs regarded its   "black" representatives almost as gods and dropped whatever they   were doing to devote enormous effort over many years to quarrying, transporting,   and carving their likenesses.
  Van Sertima's description of the contact between the Nubian-Egyptians and the   Olmecs makes it appear as if the Olmec civilization arose suddenly after the   period in question. However, the civilization of the Olmecs had a long period   of gestation in situ. San Lorenzo was occupied from the beginning of the   Formative, 1793 B.C. (Coe and Diehl 1980),   and La Venta was occupied from 1658 B.C. onward (Rust and Sharer 1988),   San Lorenzo flourished from 1428 to 1011 B.C. (1200-900 b.c.), a period   characterized by three-dimensional monumental sculptures including the   colossal heads (Coe and Diehl 1980,   vol.1:395-96). There was also a San Lorenzo   phase at La Venta, 1150-800 B.C., during which monumental sculpture was   produced. La Venta rose to prominence during the Middle Formative, 905-400   B.C., a period characterized by low-relief sculptures.
  Although the exact dating of the colossal heads is a complex matter, they   pose a serious chronological problem for Van Sertima's hypothesis. To date,   17 heads have been found, 10 in San Lorenzo,   4 in La Venta, 2 in Tres Zapotes, and 1 in Cobata (Cyphers 1995:16). The   majority of the heads in San Lorenzo were   found in a ravine where they were deposited by erosion, have no clear   stratigraphic association, and were dated by iconographic cross-ties.   However, 16 other monuments had stratigraphic associations placing them in   the final stages of the San Lorenzo B phase (1011 B.C.), and therefore Coe   and Diehl (1980, vol. 1:294-95;   Coe, Diehl, and Struiver 1967)   conclude that these heads cannot be younger than 1011 B.C. [25] However, San   Lorenzo heads 6, 7, and 8 have original placements. Ann Cyphers has   radiocarbon-dated the undisturbed context of head 7 and found it to be older   than 1011 B.C. She concludes on the basis of the uniformity of sculpting   technique and style that all these heads fall within the Early Formative   (personal communication, 1995). A number of Olmec heads may be even older   than they seem. Porter (1989) has good   evidence that many were made by recarving massive thrones and speculates that   a ruler's throne was recarved into his image after his death.
  The excavators of La Venta also considered the heads to belong to the Early   Formative, that is, earlier than 1011 B.C. (Holleman, Ambro, and O'Connell   1968), although this cannot be proven because they were relocated   to a Middle Formative context. Lowe (1989:43) states that   many Olmec specialists consider most or all of the colossal heads (at San   Lorenzo, La Venta, Tres Zapotes, Cobata) to have been made in the Early   Formative. De la Fuente (1971:11, our   translation) speaks of "a point that everyone who has dealt with the   problem agrees on: all the heads were carved during a relatively short period   that varies between one hundred and, at the most, two hundred years." [26] Because it is   impossible to date all the heads unequivocally, one cannot prove that the San Lorenzo, La Venta, and Tres Zapotes heads were   contemporaneous. They might have been sequential, and carving might have   extended into the Middle Formative. However, Cypher's definitive dating of   San Lorenzo head 7 proves that "Negroid-looking" heads were being   carved, mutilated, and buried between 1428 and 1011 B.C., that is, prior to   1200 B.C. and centuries before the alleged arrival of Van Sertima's Nubian   voyagers.
  Van Sertima's postulated crew included Phoenicians because of their sailing   expertise and because he had identified a carved portrait of a   "Phoenician merchant captain" on a stela at La Venta (Van Sertima 1976:   pl. 22). Unfortunately, this "Phoenician" could not have been a   shipmate of the Nubians (in 1200 or 700 B.C.), because sculpted stela were   produced during the Middle Formative period, several hundred years later than   the colossal heads (Lowe 1989:63-67).
  In addition to seeing "Negroid" traits in the Olmec stone heads,   Van Sertima tries to establish parallels between the pyramid complexes of the   Nile Valley and the mounds or platform   structures at La Venta. References are made to the "north-south"   orientation of "pyramids," to "step pyramids," to their   astronomical alignment, to the dual function of "pyramids" as both   "tomb and temple," to a system of drains, moats, and "sacred   pools," to the complex of walls which surrounded the ceremonial   precincts, and to the "fact" that the Olmec "pyramid"   complexes appear for the first time during the alleged contact period (Van Sertima 1976:32,   33, 155, 156; 1992a:12-13,   15; 1992b:48; 1992c:60,   76-79; 1995:87-89). In   drawing these parallels Van Sertima is suggesting that the Olmecs were   influenced by Egyptian and Nubian architecture, but the evidence from the   archaeological sites themselves fails to support this assertion in several   important ways.
  For example, large pyramids were not being built in Egypt or in Nubia at the   end of the 13th century B.C.; the great age of pyramid building had ended   much earlier. The last step pyramid was built in 2680 B.C., and the last   large regular pyramid was Khenjefer's (ca. 1777 B.C.). In 1200 B.C. the   Egyptians either buried their dead in secret, as was the case with all the   pharaohs of this period, or constructed small tombs that might incorporate   small, pointed pyramids into their overall design. All of these tombs, such   as those at Deir el Medina, were quite small, and none of them were more than   about 20 ft. in height (Edwards 1985 [1947]:225-30,   232-34; see also Fakhry 1961:251-53; Lepre 1990). [27]
  The evidence for Van Sertima's other presumed contact period (the late 8th   and early 7th century B.C.) is likewise problematical or nonexistent. The   Egyptians continued to bury their dead in secret or constructed the same   kinds of diminutive tombs with small pointed pyramids that they had built in   the 13th century B.C. In Nubia pyramids were built for the first time at El   Kurru in 751 B.C. (Fakhry 1961:251-53),   but these structures were also quite small and bore no resemblance to the   rectangular, oval, or conical mounds or platform structures built by the   Olmecs. Like their Egyptian counterparts of the same period, the Nubian   pyramids were generally tall and pointed, with an average slope of 60-70° and   an average base of 30-40 sq. ft. The Nubian pyramids were also connected to   small Egyptian-style mortuary temples, which faced southeast, in   contradiction to Van Sertima's claim that all such structures had a   "north-south" orientation. The Nubian pyramids were also built with   "gravel," "sandstone," and "solid stone   masonry" and contained burial chambers in which were found figurines, painted   mortuary scenes, written texts, and other artifacts in the Egyptian and   Egypto-Nubian style (Edwards 1985:235,   236-39; Adams 1984:256-57,   266-67, 278-85; Dunham 1950). In   contrast, the Olmec structures were built of different layers of carefully   selected earth and clay in various colors and were apparently used primarily   for ceremonial and religious rituals rather than for the burial of the dead.   They also lack any evidence of figurines, painted mortuary scenes, written   texts, or any other artifact in the Egyptian or Egypto-Nubian style.
  The Olmec mounds or platform structures of the Middle Formative were   relatively large compared with the Nubian pyramids of the same period. At La   Venta they were mostly 200-400-sq. ft. rectangular structures with sloping   sides and flat tops, which apparently served as platforms for temples and   other structures made of thatch or some other perishable material. There were   also courtyards, plazas with palisades, and circular, oval, or pentagonal   mounds, but none of these structures resembled the Nubian pyramids and their   affiliated buildings. The La Venta stepped pyramid, although deeply eroded   and conelike, is 120 ft. high and has a base diameter of 420 ft. (Heizer 1968; Soustelle 1985[1979]:33).   Van Sertima continues to use an old photograph of an outdated reconstruction   of this edifice to insist that it was a four-sided pyramid comparable to   those built by the ancient Egyptians and Nubians (Van Sertima 1995:88,   fig. 3-16; Diehl 1981:76-78,   79-80; see also Lowe 1989). [28]
  Hyperdiffusionists often complain that Establishment scholars dogmatically   refuse to admit that pre-Columbian contacts occurred at all, but this is not   the case. It is now generally accepted that Vikings came to the New World   about A.D. 1044 (Davies 1979:229-30; Morison 1971; Stiebing 1984:159-62;   Wilson 1992). This   acceptance is based on several genuine Scandinavian artifacts found by   Ingstad in a well-conducted archaeological dig at L'Anse aux Meadows,   Newfoundland, and dated to approximately A.D. 1044 (Ingstad 1964, 1969), The   archaeological discoveries at L'Anse aux Meadows validated the sagas of Leif   Eriksson and Bjarni Herjolfsson describing their round-trip expeditions to   the New World, which scholars had regarded skeptically prior to   archaeological corroboration (Morison 1971). There   are no such written records of the return of any expedition from Africa to the New World.   Van Sertima (1976:77) dismisses   the Viking contact: "The Vikings brought no new plant, influenced no   act, introduced no ritual, left no identifiable trace of their blood in the   Native Americans. Like waves, they broke for a moment on alien sands and then   receded." What must be remembered is that not a single authentic African   artifact has ever been found in a controlled archaeological context, and   therefore the evidence for a Viking presence in pre-Columbian America is   much stronger than all the supposed claims for a Nubian or African influence.   Furthermore, if in fact all we had was an African site comparable to L'Anse   aux Meadows, there would be little interest in Afrocentric circles for   writing books about it. Their political agenda is not just to show that   Africans arrived in the New World sometime   in the past [29] but that, being   a superior civilization, they deeply influenced the native cultures. When two   cultures meet there is a reciprocal exchange of words, foods, and customs, [30] but one   searches in vain for examples in Van Sertima of Nahuatl words or Mesoamerican   beliefs in African cultures. He does argue for a pre-Columbian introduction   of maize into Africa (Van Sertima 1976:240-50;   1995), but given the   speed with which maize and cassava became staples after the Portuguese   introduced them into Africa, a pre-Columbian introduction should have   produced a much wider distribution and importance than what Van Sertima   claims.
  Botanical Evidence
  If no genuine artifacts are found, the next most credible evidences for contacts   between peoples are plants, but, as in all these diffusionist arguments, the   temporal sequence must be correct; the plant in question must be shown to   have been used or domesticated earlier in the proposed place of origin than   in the proposed destination. This is not the case for African plants. Baker (1970:62) summarizes   his discussion of possible contacts thus: "On present evidence it can   hardly be said that cultivated plants of the New World   provide a foundation for the belief that there were important cultural   exchanges between the Americas   and the Old World in pre-Columbian   days." A volume devoted specifically to the question of pre-Columbian   contacts, in which a number of proponents of contact (including several upon   whom Van Sertima relied for botanical evidence) participated, concludes as   follows: "The consensus of botanical evidence given in the symposium   seems to be that there is no hard and fast evidence for any   pre-Columbian introduction of any single plant or animal across the   ocean from the Old World to the New World or vice-versa. This is emphatically   not to say that it could not have occurred" (Riley et al. 1971:452-53).
  The situation with regard to the evidence has not changed since 1971. By A.D.   1400, Africans were growing five sets of domesticated crops: (1) plants first   domesticated in the Near East, which were grown in North Africa, including   Egypt (wheat, barley, peas, and beans), (2) plants domesticated in the Sahel   zone of North Africa (cotton, sesame, watermelon, sorghum, and pearl millet),   which became staples in sub-Saharan Africa, (3) plants domesticated in the   wet, tropical climate of West Africa (African yam, rice, oil palm, kola nut),   (4) plants domesticated and found only in Ethiopia (finger millet, noog,   teff), and, finally, plants imported to Madagascar by the Southeast Asians   who first settled that island (bananas, Asian yam, taro, Asian rice) (Diamond 1994). We   will not discuss the last two groups.
  Plants were first domesticated in the Near East   (7600-7000 B.C.) and spread from there to other areas (Zohary and Hopf 1993:228-34).   Farming villages first appeared in the Nile Valley of Egypt between 5000 and   4500 B.C. (Burenhult 1993:42-43;   Hassan 1988). The   earliest-known wheat and barley in Africa   were found in the Fayum and are dated about 4400 B.C. (Wendorf et al. 1992).   In the Sudan,   a site dated about 4800 B.C. showed evidence of the use of wild plants but   not of cultivated forms (Krzyzaniak 1991). In   the Sahara, the herding of cattle, sheep, and goats as well as the intensive   use of wild sorghum and millet was seen at the earliest by 6000 B.C., with   domestication taking place sometime after that (Wendorf et al. 1992;   Burenhult 1993:42-43).   Zohary and Hopf (1993:234) point out   that the time and place of origin of rice, sorghum, common millet, and cotton   are only partially understood but that agriculture came much later to   sub-Saharan Africa. Domesticated plants are   well documented in West Africa only from   1200 B.C. (the date of the earliest millet) onward (Burenhult 1993:44-46).   Burenhult summarizes (p. 46): "Whenever various African plants were   domesticated, plant cultivation was largely, if not entirely, restricted to   the northwestern and southeastern parts of sub-Saharan Africa   until between 500 B.C. and 300 B.C." After the first century A.D., the   great Bantu expansion spread the sub-Saharan domesticated plants across the   continent (Diamond 1994). Since   plant domestication in the New World began   in 7000 B.C., it is clear that only Egypt and the Sahel   are areas in which domestication preceded or was contemporaneous with that in   the New World and that sub-Saharan African   agriculture is too recent to have been a source of domesticated plants in the   New World. The only plants that really   require discussion are cotton, the bottle gourd, and maize.
  The bottle gourd (Lagenaria siceraria), although not a food plant, was   domesticated early because of its usefulness as a container. The wild gourd   is endemic to tropical Africa and originated   there (Whitaker 1971, Whitaker and Bemis 1976).   However, cultivated bottle gourds earlier than 7000 B.C. were recovered in   the Ocampo caves in Mexico (Whitaker, Cutler, and MacNeish   1957, Whitaker and Bemis 1976),   while the oldest cultivated forms in South America date to about 3000 B.C. (Whitaker 1971).   Lanning (1963) reported a   much earlier site, but the gourds there were probably gathered rather than   cultivated. Remains of L. siceraria were found in Egyptian tombs dated   about 3300-3500 B.C. (Whitaker and Bemis 1976).   Thus gourds were cultivated in the New World   much earlier than in Egypt.   Whitaker and Carter (1954, 1961) have shown   that gourds can float for as long as a year without the seeds' losing the   capacity to germinate. If a gourd on its arrival in the New    World was tossed up on the beach by a storm and broken so that   the seeds could escape or picked up by a curious person and transported   inland, the gourd would spread. There is no need to posit human transport to   the New World for this plant. Additionally,   it makes little sense for persons accidentally making a sea voyage to load up   the boat with these bulky, nearly inedible fruits (Baker 1970:49-50).   The presence of the gourd in the New World   predates any domestication in West Africa.
  Cotton presents a number of problems. There are four species of cultivated   cotton: African cotton (Gossypium herbaceum) and Asian cotton (G.   arboreum) have 13 large chromosomes (AA), and the New    World species G. hirsutum, of Central American origin,   and G. barbadense, originating in South America,   have 26 (13 large and 13 small) chromosomes (AADD). Since no cotton with 13   large chromosomes is found in the New World and no cotton with only 13 small   chromosomes is native to the Old World, the New World tetraploid cottons must   have arisen from a hybridization of a New World species (DD) with an Old   World species (AA) leading to a doubling of the chromosome number (Baker 1970:57-61).   The question is how and when this hybridization took place. Van Sertima (1976:180-91; 1992) argues,   following Stephens (1966), that cotton   seeds would not have floated and retained their viability long enough to   cross the Atlantic or the Pacific, although they could have made journeys of   up to 1,000 miles. He then argues that the "seeds of the African diploid   cotton could not have drifted by themselves across the ocean but had   to come to the New World in the hands of   African men. . . . African man, bearing cottons, made the drift journey to   the Americas   in the fourth millennium B.C." (Van Sertima 1976:191).   [31]
  In considering this argument, temporal relationships must again be examined.   The earliest G. herbaceum in Africa   (2500 B.C.) was found in Afyea, Egyptian Nubia, where cotton seed and lint   hairs intermediate between those of wild forms and those of cultivated   species were obtained, but there was no sign of weaving at that time (Zohary and Hopf 1993:128).   Cloth fragments (G. arboreum) dated to 3000 B.C. have been found in   the Indus Valley (Hutchison 1962; Baker 1970:60; Phillips 1976).   These dates are later than the dates for New    World cottons and violate the temporal-sequence rule for   diffusion. Junius Bird found evidence for the long use of cotton textiles (G.   barbadense) at Huaca Prieta,    Peru, dated   at 2500 B.C. (Hutchison 1962, Phillips 1976). The   oldest archaeological remains containing cotton cloth fibers and boll   fragments of G. hirsutum come from Tehuacan, Mexico, dated about 3500   B.C. (Smith 1968).   Phillips (1976) and Wendel,   Brubaker, and Percival (1992) point out that   this cotton was fully domesticated and does not represent the earliest   domestication of G. hirsutum. Baker (1970:61) points out   that wild G. hirsutum has been found on islands in the Caribbean and in Yucatan   and that G. barbadense is found on the coasts of Ecuador and Peru and the   wild form on the Galapagos Islands. Baker   concludes that "all of this evidence suggests that man had nothing to do   with the origins of tetraploid cotton, but that he domesticated hirsutum   and barbadensis separately in the New World."   The time involved in forming hybrids and subsequently diffusing these   tetraploid species as widely as they are found means that the time of initial   hybridization was thousands of years prior to Van Sertima's postulated 4th-millennium-B.C.   drift voyage (Phillips 1976).   Cytogenetic studies by Phillips (1963) do not support   the theory of a recent origin of New World   cottons. Even Stephens (1971:406-7), upon   whom Van Sertima relies, argued that cotton seed would have been transported   by some form of natural raft and points out that an exclusively wild   tetraploid species G. tomentosum, probably derived from an ancestor in   Mexico, had somehow become established in Hawaii (a much longer distance than   the one involved in a trans-Atlantic crossing). [32] DeJoode and   Wendel (1992) cite studies   by Fryxell (1979) on the seed   and capsule buoyancy and salt-water tolerance of Gossypium and a   number of wild populations separated by salt water in concluding that oceanic   dispersion of this genus has been important. Stephens (1971:406-7) also   mentions research by Vernon Proctor, who fed wild cotton seeds to killdeers   and showed that the seeds were retained in their guts for days without loss   of viability. Van Sertima does not quote Stephens's (1971:407)   conclusion: "Because of the possibilities of natural and accidental   dispersal, one is forced to the conclusion that the geographical distribution   of the 'wild' forms of cotton per se cannot be used critically as   supporting evidence for early transoceanic cultural contacts. Archaeological   evidence of spindle whorls, cordage, fabrics, or any other artifact   indicating the use would be far more satisfactory." As we have noted,   this is precisely the point. No such artifact has ever been found. Citing   Stephens (1971), Van Sertima (1994) argues that   feral cotton found in the Cape     Verde Islands   is derived from New World cotton introduced   by the Portuguese from Guinea   in A.D. 1462. This proves according to Van Sertima that round trips to the New World took place before Columbus. Stephens (1971:413) points   out, however, that the Portuguese introduced many New    World crops into the Cape     Verde Islands   in the 16th century and that New World   cotton could also have been introduced after Columbus's voyage.
  Van Sertima relies extensively on Jeffreys (1953, 1963, 1971), who claims   that the Arabs had made a round trip to the New World and introduced maize to   Africa prior to A.D. 1492. Jeffreys's arguments are primarily linguistic and   mythological with little archaeological support and have been severely   criticized because of this (Willet 1962 and 9 of   11 commentators on Jeffreys 1971). He   concludes, on the basis of an article by Li (1961) that Van   Sertima also cites, that Arabs had crossed the Atlantic well before A.D. 1100   and also described maize. Li identified the destination described in. two   Chinese texts dated A.D. 1175 and 1225 as Maracaibo, Venezuela.   He also identified melons described as "six feet round . . . enough for   a meal for twenty or thirty men" as pumpkins and "grains of   wheat... three inches long" as kernels of large-seeded Andean flour   maize (Li 1961, quoted by Van Sertima 1976:238-39;   see also Fritze 1993:179-80).   How anyone could take as fact rather than as fanciful invention pumpkins 6   ft. in diameter is beyond us. Mangelsdorf (1974:205) points out   that the proposed Andean maize is in fact post-Columbian and is not found in   plant remains in archaeological sites or depicted in prehistoric ceramics.   Although corn is particularly well suited to be preserved archaeologically   and has been found in abundance throughout its range in the New    World, including the wet tropics, "not a single   corncob, unmistakably pre-Columbian, has yet been found in any part of the Old World" (Mangelsdorf 1974:206).   Corn was grown in Spain   by 1498. Giovanni Ramusio saw it growing in Venice in 1554, and by 1560 the Portuguese   were growing it in the Congo   (S. Coe 1994:15-16).   Mauny (1971), citing an   A.D. 1605 report by Pieter de Marees that he considers to be the first true   reference to maize in Africa, argues that maize was brought by the Portuguese   from the West Indies to São Tomé and then transmitted to the coast (where it   had been unknown) and to other parts of Africa after A.D. 1550. In   considering the rapidity with which the cultivation of corn was diffused   throughout Africa after its introduction by the Portuguese, Miracle's (1966:196)   observation that "regardless of how long maize may have been established   in eastern Africa, it was little observed before the end of the sixteenth   century" is quite revealing.
  Van Sertima (1976:156-62; 1995:86-87)   continues to claim that the Egyptians brought mummification to the New World. His only sources for this claim are the   discredited hyperdiffusionist authors of the early 20th century, whom he   quotes from Mackenzie (1923). All of his   citations except for those that refer to Palenque ultimately derive from Grafton   Elliot Smith, a prolific hyperdiffusionist who believed that all civilization   derived from Egypt,   or his disciple W.J. Perry (see n. 7). Elliot Smith   proposed that this "Heliolithic" culture had first spread to Asia and was taken from there to America. The   diffusion of mummification from Egypt to the rest of the world   was central to his thesis. This thesis was thoroughly demolished in 1928 by Roland B.   Dixon's The Building of Cultures (Wauchope 1962:21-25;   Davies 1979:159-60)   - a problem that Van Sertima ignores.
  Citing no original sources, Van Sertima (1976:157) claims:


We have indisputable proof of Mexican mummification. . . . one     of the best examples is the mummified figure in the sarcophagus at Palenque. Three     features of this Palenque     burial indicate an Egyptian influence. The jade mask on the face of the     dead, the fact of mummification itself, and the flared base of the     sarcophagus. . . . Egyptians made sarcophagi with a flared base to enable     them to stand it up because their burials were vertical. . . . The     Mexicans, like the Nubians, buried in a horizontal position, yet at Palenque the flared     base is retained, although it serves no function. The retention of such a     nonfunctional element ... is among the clearest indications of an     influence. A borrowed artifact often goes through an initial period of     "slavish imitation" before it is restructured to suit local     needs.


  Van Sertima is wrong on all counts. Every basic text on the Maya states that   the sarcophagus contained a skeleton not a mummy (Benson 1967:92; Thompson 1954:77-80).   Any interested party can verify this by looking at the photograph of Pacal's [33] skeleton in the   sarcophagus (Morley, Brainerd, and Sharer   1983:125, fig. 4.22; the photograph has been published in this   text since 1956). From this or any other picture of the open sarcophagus one   can also verify that the "flared base" is, in fact, a widening of   the open interior of the slab, not the bottom of the sarcophagus or a   "slavish imitation" of an Egyptian prototype. For Van Sertima's   claim to be true, it would have required the Mesoamericans to imitate the   Egyptians from 800 B.C. until A.D. 683 (almost 1,500 years) without any   evidence of an intervening culture transmitting any trait. It should also be   noted that jade death masks were never used by the ancient Egyptians.
  Finally, if the source of diffusion is the oldest place where the practice is   found, perhaps travelers from the New World   went to Egypt   and taught them how to mummify the deceased. The oldest mummies in the world   are those associated with the Chinchorro culture of Chile (Arriaza 1995a).   The oldest mummy there is dated 5050 ± 135 B.C. (Arriaza 1995b:42,   57; Allison 1985 ). This   is 2,000 to 3,000 years earlier than in Egypt, where artificial   preservation of corpses began in the Old Kingdom   (ca. 2686-2181 B.C.) (Davis 1993).
  There is hardly a claim in any of Van Sertima's writings that can be   supported by the evidence found in the archaeological, botanical, linguistic,   or historical record. He employs a number of tactics commonly used by   pseudoscientists (Cole 1980; Radner and Radner 1982:27-52;   Ortiz de Montellano 1995;   Williams 1988),   including an almost exclusive use of outdated secondary sources and a   reliance on the pseudoscientific writing of others. One finds very few   references to primary sources, to archaeological site reports, or to   up-to-date publications by scholars who have actually done original research   or who have dug in the field. One might get the impression that there had   been no research in Mesoamerica since 1920.   He claims linguistic and cultural influences between peoples and cultures   that existed thousands of years apart without any evidence of an intermediate   transmitting culture. Chronologies and sequences are completely disregarded;   for example, the use of purple in Mixtec codices of the 15th century A.D. is   said to prove that Egyptians brought Tyrian purple to the Olmecs in 800 B.C.   (Van Sertima 1995:80).   The chronology offered produces contradictions to the arguments he advances.   If Egyptians contacted the Olmecs around 1200 B.C. in accordance with   Jairazbhoy's chronology and with the carving of the colossal heads, there is   a problem with claiming that pyramids were imported, since none had been   built in Egypt   for years. If instead the time of contact is said to be 700 B.C., in   agreement with the renewal of pyramid building in Nubia, there is the problem   of the colossal "portrait" heads' having been carved hundreds of   years prior to the supposed contact. Van Sertima uses photographs to support   racial stereotypes in the portrayal of sculptured heads and other types of   figurative art, and his work substitutes assertion and scenarios for   evidence.
  For the most part, the Afrocentrists and the other cultural nationalists have   heartily endorsed Van Sertima's thesis despite its obvious weaknesses in   methodology and evidence. Although they have called for an Afrocentric   history that is accurate and well-intentioned, they seem to be more concerned   with the need to raise the "self-esteem" of African-Americans,   regardless of the impact on other groups. [34] By endorsing   Van Sertima's writings, the Afrocentrists and cultural nationalists have   accepted a hegemonic and racialist view of pre-Columbian America that   is completely lacking in historical accuracy. They have also accepted a   theory and a methodological approach that grossly distort the historical   record at the expense of Native Americans. Despite vehement protestations to   the contrary, Van Sertima has, in effect, trampled on the self-respect or   self-esteem of Native Americans by minimizing their role as actors in their own   history, denigrating their cultures, [35] and usurping   their contributions to the development of world civilizations.






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Comment by Miguel Sague Jr on October 15, 2012 at 8:19am
These are the notes and citations for the above article
Abstract Article Notes Comments Reply References Cited

[1] We thank David Grove, Jaime Litvak-King, Luis Vargas, Carlos Viesca Trevino, Ann Cyphers, Michael Coe, Frank Yurco, and Mark Weiss for their assistance. We also thank the anonymous referees for comments and suggestions that materially improved the paper. None of them should be held responsible for any errors or omissions. [2] See Daniel's reply to the letters written in defense of Van Sertima and Fell in the New York Times Book Review, May 1, 1977, pp. 60-62. For other critiques of They Came Before Columbus and the Van Sertima thesis, see Sabloff (1989:144-46) and Feder (1990:78-79). Despite acknowledged errors (Van Sertima 1992b:53-54; Jordan 1992) including the consistent misspelling of the name of his primary source, Leo Wiener (1920-22), it remains unchanged and is still being sold in bookstores as the latest word on the subject. [3] "Afrocentrism" has been defined in various ways by artists, educators, scholars, political activists, and other interested persons. According to Molefi Asante, its leading theoretician, Afrocentrism is simply a "philosophy," a "worldview," a guide for "personal and social transformation," and "a theoretical instrument for the examination of phenomena" which places African people at the "center" of inquiry as "subjects" rather than as "objects" on the margins of the European experience (see Asante 1988:vii, 2, and passim; 1991:270; 1992:20 and passim). On the complexity of the Afrocentric movement, see also Wiley (1991:1, 20-21), Karenga (Karenga 1993:35), and Marable (1993:120-22 and passim). [4] Despite his recent attempt to distance himself from the Afrocentrists (Van Sertima 1995:68, 73), Van Sertima has been an enthusiastic supporter of the Afrocentric view of human development. He is the editor of and a contributor to a series of books (also known as the Journal of African Civilizations) which include essays that consistently promote a racialist and hegemonic view of the role allegedly played by "black peoples" in the formation of civilizations throughout the world (see, for example, Van Sertima 1985, 1989, 1992; Van Sertima and Rashidi 1988). [5] In addition to those listed, other important precursors of the Afrocentric movement include Blyden (1869), Delaney (1878), DuBois (1965), Houston (1985), Rogers (1936, 1972), and Ben-Jochannan (1970, 1972). [6] The common view that "one drop of black blood makes you black" is the extreme variant of this definition. In response to Coon's claim that the ancient Egyptians were a varied or mixed population, Diop states that "Coon's work contributes nothing new. If all the specimens of races and sub-races described by him lived in New York City today, they would reside in Harlem, including those whose heads and faces 'are those of a smoothly contoured fine Mediterranean form'" (Diop 1974:238; see also 241). [7] This is a revised version of the old "Heliolithic hypothesis" that was so popular among racialist scholars in Western society during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In essence, its proponents believed that civilization arose only once, in a "white" ancient Egypt, and diffused from there to the other parts of the world. They also believed that the "non-Caucasian" peoples of the world were incapable of creating their own "advanced civilizations" because of their alleged biological inferiority (Elliot Smith 1915, 1916, 1923, 1929; Perry 1923, 1937; Massey 1907; Churchward 1913, 1921). It is curious that this hypothesis has resurfaced in the late 20th century in revised form, with the biologically superior people now being identified as "blacks" (see Ortiz de Montellano 1993). For examples of the Afrocentric variant of this type of literature, see Van Sertima (1985, 1989, 1992) and Van Sertima and Rashidi (1988), among other works. [8] Van Sertima was not the first to articulate the hypothesis that "black" Africans came to the Americas before Columbus. Among African-American writers, see, for example, Lawrence (1962) and Clegg (1969, 1972). [9] On "black warrior dynasts" and other references to the alleged Nubian-Egyptian rule over the Olmecs, see Van Sertima (1976:261, 264, 267-69 and pls. 23, 29). [10] An example of this more extreme position with regard to "black" hegemonism in pre-Columbian America is that of Clyde Ahmad Winters (1982:78-84), who says that "the first civilization to appear in America, called the Olmec culture, was founded by Africans. The Olmecs spoke one of the Mande languages.... The Olmecs' script had its origin in the Western Sahara. ... In addition to teaching the Indians how to grow crops, the Olmecs also taught them how to make calendars and built step pyramids, .. . The original Maya were probably Africans. . . . The Aztecs, Zapotecs, Toltecs, and Maya usually occupied urban centers built by Africans or Afro-Indians. Once the Indians were bound to African colonists for trade goods which they themselves could not produce, they settled in the urban centers where they learned architecture, writing, science, and technology from African technicians. As a result, the technology being brought to the Amerindians was of African origin." [11] Van Sertima (1992c) is a reprint of a 1983 article that originally appeared in Dollars & Sense (vol. 8, no. 6). On the actual relationship between the Egyptians and the Nubians in this period, see Kitchen (1973). [12] Van Sertima has not defined "blackness" with any kind of clarity in any of his writings. This is particularly troublesome when the term "black" is applied to the ancient Egyptians. However, in his 1976 book Van Sertima distinguished between the Egyptian, the "Negro-Egyptian," and "the overwhelming 'Negro-ness' of the Nubians" as follows: "The use of 'Negro-Egyptian' is even more necessary in the light of the mixed and confused racial situation in the North during certain dynasties. These racial distinctions would not need to be so heavily emphasized were it not for the attempt, deliberate and sustained over the centuries, to deny the contribution of the black African to ancient Egyptian civilization" (1976:xvii). [13] At the present time, there are other groups of cultural nationalists, such as the Nation of Islam, and the Black Israelites, who can be separated from the Afrocentrism of a Molefi Asante or a Leonard Jeffries [14] For example, see any of the works listed in n. 5. [15] Coe and Diehl (1980, vol. 1:395-96) point out that whenever radiocarbon dates are to be compared with dates obtained by a different procedure, such as the historical dynasties used to determine Egyptian chronology, they should be corrected. The international radiocarbon dating community has recommended the use of the tables published by Pearson and Stuiver (1986) as the standard (Bowman 1990:43-44). The recommended convention is to denote real years as "B.C." and radiocarbon years as "b.c," Here we will use corrected dates in sections where Egyptian dates are being compared with radiocarbon dates. In sections where only radiocarbon dates are being compared, those dates will be cited. The corrected date for the Early Formative in Mesoamerica is 1793-1011 B.C. (1500-900 b.c.). The Middle Formative extends from 905 to 400 B.C. (800 to 400 b.c.). [16] Cahn and Winter (1993) have disputed this claim. [17] Anthropologists have labored long and hard to refute the existence of biological races. We are all Homo sapiens sapiens. Latter (1980) compared the variation in 18 polymorphic gene loci in 180 populations representing the major racial groups. Eighty-four percent of the total genetic diversity of humankind is due to differences between individuals belonging to the same tribe or nation, while only 10 percent occurs between "racial" groups. The difference between East African populations and West African populations, which is more than 6 percent, is almost as much as the differences between the various "races." Lewontin (1972) came to the same conclusions, "Social races" do exist, and the public considers them biological. If, however, one is going to use a "Negroid" racial stereotype to claim an African identity for Olmec iconography, why should thick lips and flat noses be privileged over other equally characteristic traits such as dolichocephaly and prognathism? Brace et al. (1993), using a number of trivially adaptive cranial measurements, concluded that Nubian and Egyptian populations differ significantly from sub-Saharan Africans, and Cavalli-Sforza, Menotti, and Piazza (1993) reached the same conclusion using DNA analysis and linguistics. These results support our point that West African morphological characteristics are inappropriate to support claims of Egyptian contact. [18] Some Afrocentrists have argued that modern populations of Egyptians and Nubians look different from those of antiquity, but both Trigger (1978) and Berry, Berry, and Ucko (1967) point to a "remarkable degree of homogeneity" in this area for 5,000 years. [19] Ironically, Soustelle (1985[1979]:56) finds this face, with its "relatively narrow nose and prominent cheekbones," more "Mongoloid" and less "Negroid" in appearance than the other colossal heads, in particular its neighbor Tres Zapotes 1. It should also be noted that all such stereotypes are rooted in the old Anglo-American and European concepts that linked certain "races" with specific physiognomic traits. Thus, for Van Sertima, the colossal stone heads are "portraits" of "Negro-Africans" or the descendants of unions between Africans and Native Americans because they allegedly exhibit the somatic traits of "Negroids " There is no discussion of the fact that so-called Negroid features are commonly seen in combination in East Asian and Pacific populations. For example, broad noses, prognathism, and full or everted lips with "Mongoloid" eyes are quite commonplace among the Burmese, Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Thais, Malays, Filipinos, and Polynesians (see Davies 1979:90-92). [20] Argument by assertion is common in Van Sertima's work. People from all over the world (including Europeans) have been braiding their hair for thousands of years. Is he arguing that an Ethiopian was included in the ship that reached America and provided the model for the Olmec head? Why would the Olmecs not have used an Egyptian hairstyle? Frank Yurco (personal communication, 1995), an Egyptologist at the Field Museum in Chicago, points out that the Olmec braids do not look like either Egyptian or Nubian ones. What evidence is there that a seven-braided hairdo was characteristic of Ethiopia in the period 1200-700 B.C.? If Van Sertima's evidence comes from colonial or modern Ethiopia, why should we believe that this hairstyle has prevailed unchanged for thousands of years? Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. None is provided. [21] The Afrocentrists share with cult archaeologists what Cole (1980) calls "intimations of persecution." They allege a conspiracy by the Establishment to conceal the truth, which they claim that they are trying to reveal. A full description of Tres Zapotes head 2 was published, as one would expect, in the reports of the archaeological expedition (Clewlow et al. 1967) and in the literature (Heizer, Smith, and Williams 1965) ten years before Van Sertima's first book. [22] "Si en algún momento se pudiera pensar que existieron negros en Mesoamérica, es después de haber visto la cara de la Cabeza 2 de Tres Zapotes, la más alejada de la fisionomia de nuestros antepasados indigenas " [23] "Ciertamente las cabezas colosales no representan individuos de la raza negra o etiópica, como dio por supesto hace más de cien años aquel José Melgar, primer hombre del mundo occidental que tuvo la oportunidad de ver una. Hemos de convenir que en ellos estan plasmados, a escala heroica, Los razgos étnicos propios del antiguo habitante de Mesoamérica, mismos que todavia conservan. algunas indigenas contemporaneos." [24] The six heads from La Venta and Tres Zapotes are made from a basalt that darkens over time with exposure to the elements. The ten San Lorenzo heads are made from lighter-colored basalt (de la Fuente 1971:11), The last two San Lorenzo heads discovered (Monument 61, Head 10) were buried for a long time and are practically white (D. C. Grove, personal communication, 1991; Cyphers 1995). [25] Van Sertima doggedly continues to argue that, despite San Lorenzo's greater antiquity, the heads at La Venta were carved first and tries to use Michael Coe's authority far support Despite Coe's numerous articles clearly pointing out the priority of the heads at San Lorenzo, Van Sertima (1992a:15, 1992b:61, 1992d:n. 14, 1994:292, 1995:74, 77) continues to cite as authoritative a letter from Coe to Ignacio Bernal first published in 1968 (Bernal 1968). He argues that the San Lorenzo carbon dates relate to the initial occupation of the site and not to the dating of the sculptures (an error) and that these dates are not determinative. He states that "the reason why archaeologists were able to establish a relative dating of the stone heads at La Venta was because they were rooted in a wooden platform which went through at least three phases of construction. Elsewhere (1995:74) he again refers to the "carbon-dated" and "wooden [our italics] platform at La Venta (capital of the Olmec)." There is no wooden platform at La Venta. What the site reports refer to is the ceremonial colored-clay platform of Complex A, which indeed underwent several construction phases Only head 1 was buried on that platform. The other three heads were buried on an east-west line north of the platform. The dates came from charcoal samples from different levels of the clay platform (Drucker, Heizer, and Squier 1967). [26] "un aspecto en que la mayoria de quienes han abordado el pro-blema parece coincidir: se han considerado que todas las cabezas fueron talladas en un plazo relativamente breve, que oscila entre cien y, cuanto más, doscientos años." [27] Van Sertima does not explain why Egyptian visitors to the New World would have taught the natives to build pyramids that had not been built in Egypt for hundreds if not thousands of years. [28] Van Sertima makes hardly any reference to the Nubian pyramids that should be the principal focus of his analysis. [29] If, perchance, some Africans had landed in the New World, rather than being regarded as gods they would probably have been sacrificed and eaten. All but the first Viking expeditions were planned, but they were repelled and driven off by the natives. The fate of unplanned expeditions would have been even worse. Davies (1979:248) points to a known instance in which "a Spanish boat with sixteen men and two women on board was wrecked on the coast of Yucatan six years before Cortés arrived; the crew were all sacrificed and ritually eaten, with the exception of Gonzalo Guerrero and Jerónimo de Aguilar who were instead enslaved by two local chieftains. Of these survivors, Guerrero had gone so far native that he adorned himself with the accoutrements of his adopted tribe, including elaborate nose plugs and earrings, and refused on any account to abandon his new life to join Cortés; even Aguilar, when first found by the Spaniards, had become indistinguishable from an Indian. Survivors of accidental landings are much more likely to adopt the local culture than to spread their own." [30] Appiah (1994) points out that both Afrocentrists and Eurocentrists are biased against cultures without writing. Why assume that a civilization, such as Egypt is automatically superior to a tribal society led by chiefs? [31] It is hard to see how a purely conjectural cotton-bearing voyage (from where, on what conceivable vessel?) in the 4th millennium B.C. supports or proves Egypto-Nubian contact in 700 B.C. [32] Subsequent research (DeJoode and Wendel 1992) shows that G. tomentosum diverged early from G. hirsutum in Mesoamerica and dispersed by floating to the Hawaiian Islands. Seeds of this species retain viability even after three years of salt-water immersion. [33] We now know this ruler's name, the dates of his birth (A.D. 603) and death (A.D. 683), and other biographical details. [34] On the call for an accurate history and the need to raise the self-esteem of African-Americans, see Asante and Ravitch (1991:270, 274) and The Washington Post, December 14, 1989. [35] Van Sertima claims that the alleged precontact "structures" at San Lorenzo are "slipshod, poorly planned, irregular, and uneven" and fail to "observe any axial orientation" whatsoever (1995:89). For a description of the San Lorenzo site, a large-scale modification of a natural landform by several levels of planned terraces, see Coe (1981:118-119), Coe and Diehl (1980, vol. 1:25-32), and Coe


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