A Brief History
On January 31, 2022, we take a look at one of many persistent conspiracy theory type allegations that seem to permeate our society at the present time, this time going back to the ancient origins of the Olmec civilization of what is now modern Mexico. Despite ample evidence to support the conventional academic view of Olmec origins, as well as other Native American peoples’ origins, these wild theories include Nordic, African, Chinese, and Jaredite sources of the population that became the Olmecs.
Current serious academic scientists date the Olmec civilization from about 1500 BC and lasting until about 400 BC, the people of which are the descendants of East Asian people that migrated to North America and subsequently South America between 15,000 and 20,000 years ago. These migrants from Asia may have crossed the Bering Land Bridge by simply walking to North America and eventually populated North and South America as the indigenous Native American peoples. Modern DNA analysis confirms the East Asian origin of Native American people.
One of the questionable self-appointed experts that freely opine about their theory of Olmec origins is a fellow named Graham Hancock. Hancock is a British/Scotsman with a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Durham University that works as a journalist and writer, known for his seemingly outrageous conspiracy theories and wacky beliefs about ancient people and their origins, not just the Olmecs.
Regarding the Olmecs, in a 2019 interview with pod caster Joe Rogan, Hancock says he has little to say about the Olmec civilization, then goes on to say plenty about them! Hancock refers to the “20 to 25 ton” carved stone heads made by the Olmecs and offers the idea that the Olmecs were a “high” civilization, and although he admits that he is a heavy smoker of marijuana, by “high” he means an “advanced” civilization that left considerable construction evidence behind. Hancock claims that Native American racial types are based on Polynesian and African influence as well as the standard explanation that Asians travelled to North America via a land bridge that existed from Northeast Asia to Northwest North America (Alaska) during the last Ice Age. Hancock cites the facial features of the stone heads as evidence of African racial heritage, although he offers no particular explanation for the apparent helmets on those famous stone heads. Hancock seems less willing to make up other “facts” about the Olmecs and admits they are largely a mystery to modern science.
Another unconventional statement about the origins of the Olmec civilization comes from the Book of Mormon (1830), a scriptural text that provides much of the foundation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and other branches of the Latter-day Saints Movement, more commonly known as Mormons. Within the Book of Mormon in the Book of Ether is an account of a people known as “Jaredites” led by a man named Jared who fled the ancient Middle Eastern region in the time of the Tower of Babel and then traveled to North America along with 3 other groups that collectively provided the origins of the Native American people. The Jaredites were the group that became the Olmecs as well as other North American pre-Columbian civilizations. Of course, absolutely no archaeological or written evidence of such an event has ever been found other than the account in the Book of Mormon.
American archaeologist and anthropologist Michael D. Coe extensively studied and wrote upon the subject of Meso-Americans, especially the Mayans, but also the Olmecs, and offers the opinion that one of the sources of these people was of Nordic origin. A major work of Coe is Mexico: From the Olmecs to the Aztecs (1962). Famed explorer and author Thor Heyerdahl of Kon-Tiki fame backs up Coe’s claim. For “evidence,” Coe cites a stone carving of a face that is bearded and exhibits an “aquiline” nose giving the figure the appearance of what could be a person of Nordic origins. Again, DNA evidence fails to support this conclusion.
Another American, Betty Meggers, employed by the esteemed Smithsonian Institution, has posited that the Olmecs are descended from Chinese immigrants (or refugees) that came to North America during the Second Millennium BC, perhaps around 1200 BC. Other not-academically supported researchers agree with Meggers and further cite similarities between markings on Olmec pottery with ancient Chinese written characters. Mainstream academics do not agree with these assertions.
Our next theory of Olmec origins comes to us from Poland, where Dr. Andrzej Wiercinski, a Catholic priest, philosopher and theologian that specializes in the interpretation of texts and other evidence, a specialty known as hermeneutics, claims that the Olmecs originated at least in part from sub-Saharan Black Africans that traveled to the Americas. As evidence, Wierciński cites ancient skulls of Olmec descendants that allegedly bear “African” traits to claim that between 4.5% and 14% of Olmecs were of Black African “Bushman” origin. Wierciński, born in 1961, also attributes Chinese, “Arctic,” and Pacific Islander ethnic heritage to the Olmecs. Perhaps most startlingly, he also claims “Laponoid” ethnic influences of Olmecs, that being from people of the Baltic region of Europe. Apparently convinced the Olmecs were truly a melding pot of many races, Wierciński also includes Armenoid ethnic racial influence. (Please note that the “Armenoid” subracial group of “Aryan” Europeans is not academically recognized today.)
The methodology of using only Caucasoid, Negroid, and Mongoloid skull types by Wiercinski is not approved by mainstream modern academics as this approach limits the researcher into an extremely confined set of criteria, forcing the conclusion of the Olmec skulls into one or a combination of only 3 categories. Other researchers have failed to confirm the analysis offered by Dr. Wiercinski.
On the one hand, we have the standard academic theory that all Native Americans, including the Olmecs, were descended from East Asians that trekked to North America from Siberia around 13,000 years ago, and on the other hand we have a potpourri of theories about exotic origins of Olmecs from Israel, Babylon, China, the Pacific Islands, Scandinavia, the Baltic region, and Sub-Saharan Africa. We are not surprised that people before the advent of modern research tools such as DNA evidence would come up with various outlandish ideas about the origins of Native American people, but we have to admit that contemporary researchers or shall we say “pseudo-researchers” can come up with such novel interpretations of ethnic origins is somewhat startling. What do you think?
Question for students (and subscribers): Which theory of Olmec origins do you subscribe to? Why? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
Your readership is much appreciated!
For more information, please see…
Main, AK. African Origin of Olmecs: Science and Myth. CreateSpace, 2014.
Xu, H. Mike. Origin of the Olmec civilization. University of Central Oklahoma Press, 1996.
The featured image in this article, a photograph by Maribel Ponce Ixba (frida27ponce) of Olmec Head No. 3 from San Lorenzo-Tenochtitlán; 1200–900 BCE; basalt; height: 1.8 m, length: 1.28 m, width: 0.83 m; Xalapa Museum of Anthropology (Xalapa, Mexico), is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.