Chapter 12

The Long Journey: A Retrospective

            The civilization that died on the 13th of August, 1521, was the last in a long parade of Mesoamerican indigenous cultures. Indeed, apart from that of the Incas in the highlands of the Andes, the Aztec Empire represented the final flowering of native genius in the Americas. Within a decade or two following the European arrival, the toll taken by conquest, enslavement, and disease had all but erased the hard-won achievements of the Mesoamerican peoples during the past three millennia. Because so many of their written records had the calendars as their focus, and these were so intimately interlaced with their religion, the Spanish were especially assiduous in consigning as many such books to the flames as they could find.

            Ironically, it was precisely this interconnection between religion on the one hand and astronomy, mathematics, hieroglyphics, and architecture on the other that had stalled the forward progress of intellectual development within Mesoamerica. Despite their use of such sophisticated tools as the Long Count and the concept of zero, their presumed discovery of magnetism and of the celestial pole, their knowledge of the length of the Venusian cycle, their ability to predict eclipses, and their success in having located both the Tropic of Cancer and the parallel of latitude on which the sacred almanac was born, the priestly elite of Mesoamerica never apparently probed beyond the supernatural to find a rational explanation for, or a logical cause-and-effect relationship between, the phenomena they observed. For example, although the Mesoamericans recognized the planet Venus as being both the "morning star" and the "evening star" -- whereas the Greeks considered them two separate bodies, Hesperos and Vesperos -- the native American cultures found no other explanation for Venus and its strange "behavior" than that it represented the god Quetzalcóatl periodically visiting the underworld. Indeed, the Maya seem to have attempted to "massage" the measures of its various phases into such a structured pattern that, according to the calendar, it would always make its heliacal appearance on its "birthday" -- the day 1 Ahau. While this is but one illustration of their "bending the rules" or "fudging the results," there seems to have been enough of this kind of evidence of the Maya's employing the calendar to serve their religious needs to prompt Thompson to conclude that they were more astrologers than they were astronomers. In other words, their study of the heavens was not motivated by the desire to acquire knowledge for knowledge's sake, but rather to further an ideological agenda.

            In the preceding chapters, I have attempted to demonstrate how geography influenced the development of some of the key aspects of the intellectual life of pre-Columbian Mesoamerica. Our focus has been on the unique, interlocking pair of sacred and secular calendars which were devised in this region and which ultimately became the very hallmark of indigenous civilization on the North American continent. Insofar as it has been possible, I have traced the diffusion of these ingenious innovations from their birthplace on the southern margins of Mesoamerica through both time and space to embrace the whole of the region. Naturally, in a journey as encompassing in time and space as this has been, it was only inevitable that there would be changes and omissions, advances and retreats, triumphs and failures. Perhaps the most remarkable fact of all is that the Mesoamerican calendars could have touched the lives of so many people in so many places for so long a time, given that most of them were preliterate and that their only means of overland movement was by foot.

            We have seen how a convergence of clues --astronomical, historical, and geographical -- led to the identification of the calendars' cradle in Izapa and how the association of time with space was first recognized there in terms of a solsticial alignment. We likewise traced the calendars' diffusion both southward along the coastal plain of Guatemala as far as the western reaches of what today is the country of El Salvador and also northwestward along the Pacific shore of Chiapas into the Tehuantepec Gap. From the earliest Olmec ceremonial center at San Lorenzo, we watched the tide of civilization sweep through the Gulf coastal plain of Mexico, radiating toward the north and west onto the Mexican plateau, toward the south and west into the highlands of Oaxaca, and eastward into the Petén and Yucatán.

            The initial wave of calendar adoption and city building found its furthest limits in the moisture requirements of maize, and there, on the very edge of the Chichimec world, gave rise to the greatest urban agglomeration that the pre-Columbian Americas ever produced. Indeed, it was under the aegis of Teotihuacán that the two most "scientifically motivated" expeditions of the era were undertaken -- one into the northern desert to find the Tropic of Cancer and one into the southern jungles to locate the place "where time began."

            From its "high water mark," or golden age, in the sixth century A.D., Mesoamerican civilization began an inexorable decline -- precipit-ous on occasion, slow and faltering at other times. More than anything, it was the Chichimecs of the north --the Nahuatl-speaking nomads -- who were responsible for its collapse, for with their advance we see the retreat of intellectualism back toward the south and east. At the same time that the Toltecs were substituting warriors for priests at the top of their social and political hierarchy and institutionalizing increasingly innovative forms of human sacrifice as part of the calendrical rituals they had "inherited" by virtue of their conquest of Teotihuacán, the Maya were putting the finishing touches on their centuries-long effort to predict eclipses and define the cycle of Venus. Yet, within little more than a century they, too, had been swept away -- no doubt by a combination of circumstances, but among which military pressures from the uncivilized north must certainly have played a substantial part. It may have been fitting that the Toltecs were themselves overrun and put to flight by yet another sweep of Nahuatl-speaking nomads out of the north, the Aztecs, but in the process Mesoamerican civilization was set back even further. Now, as militarism and war were elevated to instruments of statecraft and human sacrifice reached the scale of mass murder, the calendar was largely reduced to a timetable for execution and the numerical hieroglyphs became mere tools for tribute extraction. With the notable exception of persons like Nezahualcóyotl, whose contributions to poetry and engineering made him probably the closest thing to the Renaissance man in Aztec times, the intellectual apogee of Mesoamerican civilization had already long since been reached and passed before the Spanish arrived. Tragic as their fanatical siege of book burning was, it simply marked the final chapter in a story which the Aztecs themselves had undertaken for reasons of "historical legitimacy" and which the Toltecs had, perhaps unwittingly, launched when they put the priests of Teotihuacin to flight nearly a millennium earlier.

Figure 58.

This map summarizes the diffusion of the Mesoamerican calendrical system from its hearth in Soconusco by using isochrones of 300-400 years. Once through the Tehuantepec Gap, the calendars spread both westward onto the Mexican plateau and eastward into the Maya region. Though both dots and bars were initially used to record numerals everywhere, on the Mexican plateau and southward into the Mixtec and Zapotec country, Nahua (i.e., Toltec and later Aztec) influence resulted in the abandonment of the practice of using a bar for "5" and in the substitution of dots for all numerical notations.

 

SOCONUSCO: HEARTH OR BRIDGEHEAD?

            Among the many questions which remain unanswered despite our lengthy inquiry is at least one which goes back to the very origins of the calendar and civilization itself. If, as we have hypothesized, the region of Soconusco was indeed the cradle of these developments within Mesoamerica, was it because these innovations arose out of the response of local people to local environmental needs or stimuli or did they simply represent the transmission onto the North American continent of ideas born elsewhere? In other words, we are confronting the classic dichotomy of "independent invention" versus "diffusion": Was Soconusco a true hearth of innovative genius in its own right, or was it merely a bridgehead where the calendars first "came ashore" on the Middle American mainland from some other birthplace overseas?

            In our exposition up to now, we have tacitly assumed that Soconusco was a "hearth" and not a "bridgehead," but is this assumption justified? After all, no less a scientist than Alexander von Humboldt -- one of the fathers of modern geography -- commented as early as the beginning of the nineteenth century on the amazing similarity between the "Tibetan" and "Tartar" calendars of the Old World and the Aztec calendar of the New. He pointed out not only that both calendars were based on cycles that combined numbers and animal names, but also that there was a striking correspondence in the very names of the animals that appeared in each of the calendars. He was also impressed by the commonalities between the 28 "lunar mansions," or nakshatras, used by the Hindus and what he called the "Mexican zodiac" (Humboldt, 1810). Subsequent writers have drawn numerous parallels between the Chinese and Mesoamerican time-counts; several have gone so far as to strongly suggest, if not openly state, that the former was undoubtedly the forerunner of the latter.

            Implicit in such claims and conjectures, of course, is some form of transpacific contact. Indeed, if the dates we have assigned to the origins of the Mesoamerican calendars are correct, then such voyages would have to have been undertaken at least as early as the fourteenth century B.C. -- a possibility to which almost no reputable archaeologist or anthropologist is willing to subscribe. On the other hand, as we have seen, there is bountiful evidence of early and repeated seaborne contacts with South America through a long span of pre-Columbian history, at least some of which are known to have been with Soconusco as far back as the middle of the second millennium before Christ. Is it conceivable that the calendar might have been one of the innovations which accompanied the introduction of Ocós pottery, for instance?

            Mention of ceramics in the same breath as conjectures regarding transpacific voyaging raises the spectre of a yet more ominous debate for most archaeologists, however. Some of the earliest known pottery to have been found in South America comes from the tiny fishing port of Valdivia on the desert coast of Ecuador (ca. 3800-3300 B.C.), and because it is consummately made and ornately decorated, it is obvious that it does not represent the bungling first attempts of some indigenous potter. It definitely has the appearance of an "import" with a long tradition of craftsmanship behind it. Moreover, and perhaps most unsettling of all, its design motifs bear a strong resemblance to those of Jornon pottery from southern Japan, whose antecedents go back to the sixth millennium B.C. But for any archaeologist to pose a geographic diffusion of the magnitude of a sea voyage from Japan to Ecuador -- i.e., 8000 nautical miles -- and especially in a time frame around 3500 B.C., would almost guarantee his or her being drummed out of the fraternity at the very least and perhaps committed to a mental institution at the very worst. Indeed, any "foreign intervention" in the cultural evolution of the Americas prior to the arrival of Columbus is considered by most anthropologists to have been highly unlikely, if not totally impossible.

            Ironically, at the very time when modern geography is increasingly developing mathematical models and simulations to replicate the processes of diffusion, current anthropological thinking has virtually turned its back on it as an operating principle. Almost no effort is spared to substitute some other explanation -- the gist of which inevitably revolves around some form of "independent invention" -- to take its place. (For example, some of the most imaginative alternatives have been concocted to account for the spread of agriculture, that is, the introduction of various types of crops and livestock, across Europe -- without the movement of human beings!) The idea of diffusion has become anathema, and anyone who attempts to apply it risks being labeled "out-dated" or "obsolete" in his or her research. In short, diffusion has become a "dirty word."

            For the moment, we will put the "amazing coincidences" which von Humboldt noted between Old and New World calendars aside and concentrate instead on a possible South American origin. Although there is a noticeable reluctance on the part of many archaeologists to acknowledge even such linkages within the New World, the evidence is so overwhelming in favor of an early and sustained contact between the Andean countries of South America and western Mexico that there seems little reason to question the point any farther. What remains to be established is whether or not any real antecedents of the Mesoamerican calendars can be traced to Colombia, Ecuador, or Peru prior to 1400 B.C.

            Here the facts of geography are fully of as much importance in helping us to reach a sound conclusion as are any fragments of archaeological evidence. Like the Aztecs in Mesoamerica, the Incas in South America represented the final manifestation of indigenous civilization on their respective continents. This does not mean that either of them marked the culmination of native American achievement, because there is some reason to believe that the Tiahuanaco culture in the Lake Titicaca basin may have surpassed the Incas in intellectual creativity in the same way that the Olmecs had so far outshown the Aztecs; thus, in both regions, civilization may have reached its highest point long before its final chapter was written.

            The Andean region of South America is characterized by three markedly different climatic aspects: First, on the east, in the montaña, we find a region of selva, or rain forest. Along the eastern slopes of Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru, the updrafts of warm moist air are almost unceasing, but are obviously much more vigorous during the warmer part of the day. The cloud forests of the montaña are constantly dripping with moisture and in many areas the total annual precipitation exceeds 5 m (200 in.). Second, in the high mountains of the center, the sierra, we find a cool, semiarid climate whose most striking vegetation association is the puna, or alpine tundra. Precipitation is decidedly modest, seldom totaling more than about 750 mm (30 in.), and it likewise varies from a maximum in the high-sun season (December, January, and February) to a minimum in the Andean winter. Finally, bordering the Pacific coast over a distance of nearly 3000 km (1800 mi) is the Atacama Desert -- the driest desert in the world. Cut off from the trade winds blowing across the Amazon basin and up the eastern front of the Andes by lofty ranges higher than 6000 m (22,000 ft) in elevation, the Pacific slope of South America is likewise paralleled by the intensely cold Humboldt, or Peru, Current. This combination of circumstances -- a rain-shadow location exacerbated by offshore water so cold that almost no moisture is evaporated into the air above it -- makes it virtually impossible for precipitation to occur. As a result, a place like Lima, the capital of Peru, a scant 20 km (12 mi) from the coast, receives an average of 25 mm. (1 in.) of rain a year. To be sure, an occasional surge of Pacific air may drift the low-hanging fog onto the coastal sand dunes long enough to give rise to a brief and spectacular flowering of small plants whose seeds have lain dormant for perhaps a decade or more, but such garuas are not frequent. Perhaps somewhat more frequent but certainly more devastating are the periodic invasions of warm surface waters pushed into the coasts of Ecuador and Peru by the El Niño ("Christ Child") current, so named because it usually puts in its appearance around Christmas. When these "backwashes" occur, which is about every 7-8 years, the plankton in the cold fresh water of the Peru Current die back as the El Niño spreads a blanket of warm, saline waters over the sea surface. Cut off from their food supply, the fish move to deeper levels of the ocean or retreat southward with the colder water. And as the fish disappear, the hordes of seabirds that depend on them for food and that colonize the coastal cliffs die back, and in turn, the deposits of their excrement (guano) -- a much prized fertilizer -- also grow thin. Finally, culminating this ecological disaster are the rain storms which are spawned by the high evaporation of the now-warm coastal waters. During an El Niño episode, as much rain can fall in the Atacama during a single storm as over an average 20-year period. Indeed, in the one month of October 1967 as much rain fell at a station in northern Chile as the place would normally have received in the entire time since the Spanish conquest!

            Thus, each of the Andean regions has its distinctive climatic hallmark. In the Amazon basin, it is almost always raining. In the Atacama, it almost never rains. And in the mountains between them it seldom rains much, but it tends to rain a little more in "summer" than in "winter."

            The point to be made here is that only the latter region, the sierra, has an environment which would have seriously motivated anyone to develop a calendar. Indeed, elsewhere there would really have been no necessity for one. In the montaña there is sufficient warmth and moisture at all times of the year to grow virtually any crop imaginable. There is, in fact, good evidence that the people in southern Colombia, for example, around San Agustín, were already growing coca -- possibly for export to Mesoamerica -- as early as 500 B.C. Similarly, Chavín, the site of the classic Andean counterpart to the Olmec civilization, also on the east side of the Andes, was probably involved in the coca trade even 500 years earlier. In neither place was a means of timekeeping a prerequisite to agricultural success.

            In the Atacama Desert, on the other hand, agriculture was impossible everywhere but in the 40-odd little exotic river valleys that cut their way down from the Andes to the shore of the Pacific. Here, amidst an otherwise waterless desert of sand and rock, the presence of these short, violent streams flowing out of the mountains presented the only opportunity for secure and continuing human settlement along the entire coast of Peru. To be sure, the coastal waters themselves could be counted on for some measure of subsistence, thanks both to the rich schools of fish and the aquatic birds that preyed on them -- at least so long as El Niño did not put in an appearance. Indeed, these maritime resources were most likely the magnet that drew the early Ecuadorians and Peruvians out to sea and that gradually encouraged the coastal inhabitants to school themselves in the arts of raft building and navigation, and ultimately of exploration. But it was the narrow ribbons of green, irrigated cropland along the exotic rivers that made agriculture and ultimately town building possible. Although the cold offshore current keeps temperatures along coastal Peru relatively cool for being so near to the equator, there is more than adequate warmth for growing a variety of both tropical and subtropical crops. In the lowland oases these include maize, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, peanuts, and cotton, whereas in the mountains a greater dependence was placed on potatoes and quinoa, a hardy grain. Domesticated animals included the guinea pig in the coastal areas and the llama, alpaca, and vicuña at higher elevations.

            From about 2300 B.C. onward -- beginning with the Chavín culture at places like Cerro Sechín and continuing with such cultures as the Mochica, Nazca, and ultimately the Inca -- an advanced civilization with imposing pyramids, planned cities, and elaborate irrigation works flourished in the coastal oases of Peru and in the highlands surrounding Lake Titicaca. As early as eight or nine centuries before Christ, Andean artisans had developed metalworking and not long afterward they were producing exquisite double-weave textiles. There is no question but that the South American "cultural hearth" had a very impressive lead over Mesoamerica in material goods, technology, and social organization for possibly as long as a millennium.

            Such evidence as there is of contact between the South American "hearth" and Mesoamerica seems to have been traced more to Ecuador, and to a lesser degree, Colombia, than to Peru. How might this be explained? Once again, geography may hold the key. The total absence of suitable building materials for waterborne craft along the desert coast of Peru largely rules out the development of balsa rafts or reed boats in that area. Only along the estuary of the Guayas River in Ecuador and from northern Ecuador into Colombia do tropical forests come down to the Pacific shore. The totora reed, on the other hand, grows almost exclusively in freshwater lakes such as Titicaca.

            However, Peru's lack of raw materials for raft or boat building was not its only impediment to contact with Mesoamerica; it also had the Humboldt Current to contend with. As Thor Heyerdahl's Kon-Tiki expedition vividly illustrated, any vessel swept along in this current's broad and forceful flow would be drifted far out into the Pacific, for it turns westward into the ocean just to the south of the equator. Its cold waters continue to depress temperatures and discourage the formation of rain clouds out past the Galápagos Islands and well beyond the Marquesas. Any early navigator caught in this giant vortex of water would find that, once out of sight of the South American coast, his plight would worsen, because soon he would find himself pushed along by the trade winds as well. With both current and easterly winds against him, there would be little chance of his seeing the American mainland again.

            To the north of Ecuador's westernmost promontory, both the ocean currents and the weather conditions are very different. The warm waters of the main branch of the Equatorial Countercurrent sweep northward along the coast of Colombia into the Gulf of Panama, and for part of the year the flow is strong enough to reach even as far as Soconusco and the south coast of Mexico. Thus, it woudn't have taken much knowledge of navigation to drift northward along the coast of Central America in the summer months and to return again when the California Current intensifies its southward flow during the winter months. That Pacific Mesoamerica, then, should have had its earliest and most frequent contacts with Ecuador and Colombia, rather than Peru, is very largely a matter of the geography of timber resources and ocean currents. That both Ecuador and Colombia were themselves somewhat peripheral to the principal Andean cultural hearth in no way detracts from their importance as potential springboards of diffusion because even though they may have developed somewhat later than the Peruvian core area, they were still in close enough geographic proximity to the "center" to have been much more advanced than Mesoamerica.

            We have already mentioned how the South American cultural hearth was responsible for the introduction of such items and ideas as ceramics, shaft tombs, and metallurgy into Mesoamerica and of human migrants like the Purépecha as well. On the other hand, we have also demonstrated that the climatic environments of the Andean region were such that the early civilizations which developed there had only the most rudimentary interest in or need for a calendar or timekeeping system. The Incas, for example, had a self-correcting calendar which began on the summer solstice (in the southern hemisphere, December 22). For this purpose, they had constructed four towers on the horizon above Cuzco to mark both the rising and setting positions of the sun on that date and on the winter solstice (June 22). They divided the intervals between the solstices into two periods of six 30-day months, allocating the remaining 5 days of the solar year to solsticial celebrations at each end of the annual cycle. Although they probably used certain key asterisms like the Pleiades and the Southern Cross as seasonal "mileposts" of the solar year, the Andean peoples do not appear to have been intellectually concerned with matters such as the eclipse cycle or the phases of Venus in the same way that the Mesoamerican cultures were. Impressive though their achievements in engineering, social organization, and statecraft may have been, the fact that they were preliterate societies and had not progressed beyond keeping numerical tallies on other than knotted, colored strings (called quipus) severely limited the development of the kind of mathematical sophistication which the Long Count had engendered. For all the Andean region's many cultural contributions to Mesoamerica, the calendar certainly was not among them.

THE CALENDARS OF ASIA AND THE MIDDLE EAST

            With South America safely dismissed as a possible source of inspiration for the Mesoamerican calendars, we can now turn our attention westward across the Pacific to Asia to see whether their antecedents might be found there instead. For the moment we will lay aside all questions regarding transpacific diffusion and concentrate on (1) what kind of calendars existed on the peripheries of Asia and (2) when they had come into being. Only if they shared enough common traits to have been conceivable prototypes of the Mesoamerican models and had been developed before the middle of the fourteenth century B.C. would it even be germane to broach the subject of how they got from "there" to "here."

            Lying on the western edge of the Pacific rim, China is known to have had "an embryonic form of a lunisolar calendar" as far back as the fourteenth century B.C. (Xi Zezong, 1987, 34). It differed from that of Babylon and Greece by (a) fixing the beginning of a month at the moment when the sun and the moon are at the same longitude (shuo), (b) fixing the beginning of the year at the winter solstice, and (c) dividing the year into 24 periods -- 12 jie and 12 qi. Twenty of the latter had names connected with the seasons, showing that the calendar was primarily designed for agricultural purposes (35). In addition to shuo and jie, and qi the next basic element of the Chinese calendar was the "run" -- an

intercalary month used to calibrate the lunar and solar counts. Because the moon cannot be seen at the moment when the sun and the moon are at the same longitude (unless there is a solar eclipse), the "observation and calculation of eclipses became an inseparable part of Chinese calendar-making" (35). Beyond serving as an agricultural almanac, the Chinese calendar played an important role in statecraft, because astronomers were used by the emperor "to observe the heavens so as to investigate the change in human affairs on the earth" (34). Through the observation of celestial phenomena they were expected to divine such events as victory or defeat in a war, the rise and fall of a nation, the success or failure of the year's crop, and the actions of key members of the emperor's court.

            For all of the many similarities that von Humboldt (and subsequently, others) claim to have discovered in the names of the Aztec days, months, and lunar mansions and those of their "Tibetan" or "Tartar" counterparts, the intrinsic character of the Chinese calendar was so different from that in Mesoamerica that it seems very unlikely that the one could have served as the model for the other. As we have seen, even though the Olmecs may have been recording eclipses by the time of the birth of Christ, their successors, the Maya, seem not to have discovered a surefire way of predicting them until as late as the eighth century, whereas calculating eclipses had been an integral mechanism of fixing the Chinese calendar from the very outset. Moreover, the Chinese system of using a duodecimal system for dividing their years had no counterpart in Mesoamerica, nor did the use of an intercalary month between their lunar and solar counts. And finally, whereas Xi Zezong mentions the establishment of an astronomical observatory in China as early as 2000 B.C. (38), he lays claim to only an "embryonic form of calendar" at the very time that the two Mesoamerican counts were coming into existence. Thus, a Chinese origin is all but ruled out for temporal reasons alone.

            Turning yet farther westward, let us look to the Indian subcontinent next to see what that region's earliest astronomers had produced in the way of a calendar. Already during the so-called Vedic period (beginning with the arrival of the Indo-Aryan peoples from Central Asia, ca. 2000 B.C.), the sun had been identified as the "sole lightgiver of the universe," the moon was known to have shown by reflected sunlight, the five larger planets had been observed and named, and the celestial path of the sun and moon (the zodiac) had been divided into 27 or 28 asterisms called nakshatras, or "mansions of heaven" (Shukla, 1987, 9). The day was reckoned from sunrise to sunrise and the variability of its length was known. Six days formed a "week," five "weeks" constituted a month, and 12 months made up a year (10). The latter was composed of 366 days and was measured from one winter solstice to another. It was likewise divided into six seasons, each composed of two months, or 61 days. Twelve lunar months constituted a lunar year, and in order to keep the lunar and solar years in harmony, intercalary months were inserted at regular intervals (11).

            Despite the antiquity of the Vedic calendars of the Indian subcontinent, it should be clear from the brief outline of their structure given above that they differed substantially from the Mesoamerican time counts. Indeed, it is probably safe to say that the only similarities which the two calendrical systems had with one another were those which von Humboldt himself pointed out -- i.e., some of the names of the animals used to identify the "mansions of heaven." That two early peoples, both inhabiting tropical environments, but in widely separated parts of the world, should "see" the same kinds of "animals" mirrored in the patterns of the stars is not too surprising. However, in view of all the critical differences between the two calendrical systems, this similarity is far too fragile a piece of "evidence" on which to base a claim for Hindu patrimony. Moreover, the "earliest work which exclusively deals with Vedic astronomy is the Vedanga-jyautisa," and although its date is controversial, the situation it describes can best be correlated either with 1150 B.C. or with 1370 B.C. (Shukla, 1987, 13). Thus, like that of China, the calendar of the Indian subcontinent was only coming into existence at the same time as our "New World Hipparchus" was at work in Soconusco, or perhaps even a couple of centuries later. Again, the very timing of its development rules it out as a model for the Mesoamerican calendar.

            The only potential calendrical "donors" still remaining are Mesopotamia and Egypt, both of which well predate the beginnings of Mesoamerican calendrical experimentation. Although no objection can be raised on temporal grounds, the spatial relationship now becomes increasingly dubious. Diffusion from the Middle East to Soconusco would have involved vaulting not only the entire Pacific Ocean, but the Indian Ocean as well -- and with no evidence of any intermediate stops underway, apart from those in India and China already discussed. Moreover, the very character of the Middle Eastern time-counts, based as they were on a sexagesimal system, is completely at odds with the Mesoamerican calendar. That they were the antecedents of the Indian and Chinese calendars, and likewise of the Greek and Roman, seems very likely, but surely not of those of the New World.

            We can, therefore, with all good conscience hail our "New World Hipparchus" as a creative genius in his own right, not beholden to the ideas or ideology of any other people or region in the world. Indeed, in the time frame in which he lived and worked, he was as much a pioneer as the Chinese and Vedic astronomers who were at the same juncture of history, half a world away, developing their own distinctive calendrical systems -- and at least a dozen centuries ahead of the great Greek astronomer to whom we are likening him. Soconusco may well have served as a bridgehead into Mesoamerica for a variety of South American cultural traits, but there seems little doubt that it constituted the very "hearth," or cradle, of the intellectual life of indigenous North America. The unique 260-day sacred almanac is the product of a convergence of time and space that may be traced directly to Izapa. All that we know of its creator was that he spoke the Zoque language, lived in the middle of the fourteenth century before Christ, and was intent on explaining the rhythms of the heavens. Never could he have imagined that the quest for understanding which he launched would set the stage for a calendar, a religion, and a civilization that would eventually become the very hallmarks of the cultural region which we know today as Mesoamerica, nor that they would touch the lives of so many people through such an immense span of time. It is perhaps only fitting that in the mountain fastnesses behind Izapa the 260-day count which he initiated continues to be tallied on wooden boards with sticks of charcoal to this very day.

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