Where Did the 'Americans' Come From?

Blair A. Moffett

Part One

The question of how and when man first arrived in the Americas is far from settled, for the whole Western Hemisphere is covered with startling traces of an enormous and exceedingly varied prehistoric cultural development and civilization of high degree, whose mute remains pose an unanswered riddle for contemporary science and raise questions of vital importance for our time. Are some or all of these ruins traces of former great cycles of human achievement which have been called the Lemurian and Atlantean? Just how old are they in reality? Who were those first 'Americans' who built them and what was the character of their life and times? What is the karma which sees us constructing a far-flung modern civilization atop these ancient remains of a former apogee of achievement? Could it be that many of us are their very builders, having returned to the scene through the majestic cyclic process of rebirth? If so, what of use now can they tell us?

It is in fact maintained that four great cycles or continental systems have existed prehistorically, each having been destroyed by natural cataclysms. The third of these is known as Lemuria, and the fourth, which preceded our system, as Atlantis. A good deal of rubbish has been printed about them both. What is little known, however, is that the concept of Lemuria originated with a scientist, P. L. Sclater, who between 1850-60 asserted on zoological grounds that such a landmass must have existed in prehistoric times. Sclater showed it to have included parts of eastern Africa and to have extended from Madagascar to Ceylon and Sumatra.( The Secret Doctrine, by H. P. Blavatsky, Vol. II, pp. 6-9, and passim) As for the later Atlantis, not only Plato among classical authors, but also Theopompus, Diodorus Siculus, and Aristotle, for example, spoke of such extensive lands lying considerably west of the Strait of Gibraltar where now the Atlantic Ocean rolls. This tradition has been so persistent that it cries for an explanations. (Fair Gods and Stone Faces, by Constance Irwin, ch. 17, N.Y., 1963)

We find almost as many theories about where the first Americans came from as there are investigators. But if there is one thing the scholars seem agreed upon it is that man did not evolve on this hemisphere. He came to the Americas from somewhere outside. The Bering Strait, as a late Pleistocene landbridge from Siberia, is the most frequent explanation offered. It was first proposed by a Spanish priest, Jose de Acosta, in 1590 A.D. In view of strong indications that the major routes were really far to the south, it seems incredible that our scientists have remained saddled almost 400 years with this quite inadequate theory.

To cite an example, in 1883 an Asian student of the problem said that the Indian peninsula was anciently connected by a belt of islands and continents to South America at the other end of the line:

The India of the prehistoric age was not only within the region at the sources of the Oxus and laxartes, but there was even in the days of history and within its memory, an upper, a lower, and a western India; and still earlier, it was doubly connected with the two Americas. . . . A pedestrian from the north might then have reached — hardly wetting his feet — the Alaskan Peninsula, through Manchuria, across the future gulf of Tartary, the Kurile and Aleutian Islands; while another traveler furnished with a canoe and starting from the south, could have walked over from Siam, crossed the Polynesian Islands and trudged into any part of the continent of South America. — "Leaflets From Esoteric History," The Theosophist, October 1883, p. 9

The earlier arrivers were of many and diverse races, to judge by contemporary aborigines. Anyone who has seen at first hand the native peoples of our own West, those of Central America, and those of the east and west coasts of South America, knows the absurdity of calling them all "Indians," as if they were all ethnically identical. While the red-skinned man of the West tends to resemble north Asian Mongol peoples, the various brown-skinned men of Central and South America are quite distinct. The Cuna 'indians' of Panama's San Blas islands and the Otavalo 'indians' of Ecuador's highlands in South America are Malaysian or Polynesian in physical type. And not all redmen bear the 'Mongol spot' at the base of the spine that is thought to show north Asian origins. Moreover in the Antilles of the Caribbean and northeastern seaboard of South America are peoples quite distinct even from these, who have noticeably Semitic appearance and customs. Thoughtful travelers familiar with Nepalese and Tibetans have remarked upon their inexplicable resemblance to the Quechua 'indians' of Peru and Bolivia. Even prehistoric stone and clay artifacts found in Central and South American ruins exhibit facial features of all known racial types.

Complementing the ethnic diversity, linguists find more puzzles in American indigenous languages than in those of any other area. The Americas have more than 120 distinct aboriginal stocks or families of languages — a picture of dizzying complexity. Yet among them is a unity that the Old World never had while conversely they display infinite heterogeneity or differentiation of structure and forms of expression. Some show no kinship whatsoever with others. Linguists are still uncertain into what large groups the American world of languages should be divided . (The Story of Language, by Mario Pei, pp. 390-92; see also The Discovery of Language, by Holger Pedersen, pp. 136-37) This points to an enormous variety of original types immigrating and mirrors a probable immense age for some of them.

There seems little doubt that the first migrations came in over both seaboards of the Americas and that they were multiple in number, probably spanning many thousands of years. But the evidences for arrivals from the Pacific side are if anything stronger than the other. The same Asian student noted that —

Until the appearance of a map published in Basle in 1522, wherein the name of America appears for the first time, the latter was believed to be part of India; and strange to him who does not follow the mysterious workings of the human mind and its unconscious approximations to hidden truths — even the aborigines of the new continent, the Red-skinned tribes, the "Mongoloids" of Mr. Huxley, were named Indians. Names now attributed to chance: elastic word that! Strange coincidence, indeed, to him, who does not know . . . — "Leaflets From Esoteric History," The Theosophist, October 1883, p. 9

Miles Poindexter, a former U.S. senator then American ambassador to Peru, in 1930 assembled a wealth of source material showing the Asian and Pacific origins of the Ayar-Incas, the ruling caste of the Incan peoples . (The Ayar-Incas, N.Y., 1930) Poindexter noted that "Ayar" is a variant of Arya, the Sanskrit word meaning 'worthy' or 'holy' used by the ancestors of present Hindu peoples to designate themselves as distinct from older races they conquered as they invaded the Indian subcontinent from the north. These Aryans emerged as the ruling castes of the subcontinent. The word Iran, designating the former Persia, is also derived from Arya, scholars recognizing the historic Persians as offshoots from prehistoric north Asian Aryans. Poindexter carefully traced the evidences of the slow passage across the Pacific to the west coast of South America of elements of this ancient race or caste-group, describing the remarkable resemblances between the customs of the Peruvian Ayar-Incas and those of the old high caste Aryans of India.

Statements about their origins made by American aborigines themselves give full credence to this perspective. About 1948, for example, a Hindu from Dutch Guiana who was then a university student in the United States reported to an American investigator that the aborigines of Dutch Guiana identify the Hindus as their 'uncles.' (From a personal letter received from Allan J. Stover, January 1962) Analyzing this picturesque way of describing a racial relationship, we see that apparently the 'uncle' peoples of Hindu stock remained in their Asian homeland while their 'brother' or 'nephew' — another Hindu or related people — emigrated into the Americas to become the ancestors of these South American natives.

With publication in 1963 of portions of the sacred history of some of the southwest pueblo Indian societies an even fuller statement was obtained. The Book of the Hopi by Frank Waters (Cf. "The Mystery-Tradition of the Hopis," Sunrise, September 1965.) sets out the hitherto secret Hopi tradition that a former world continental system was destroyed; only some of the peoples then living were saved from extinction by traveling eastward from their original homelands into what is now Central America. This trek was accomplished, say the Hopis, by island-hopping in stepping-stone fashion — using rafts between islands — until the American continent was reached by their remote ancestors. The Hopis understand those islands to have been remaining mountaintops of lands of the former, or "third" world; the new world they arrived upon being known to them as the "fourth" world. This eastward migration across what is now the Pacific Ocean appears to have taken considerable time — probably many years and many generations — to accomplish.

In the middle of last century the American archaeologist E. G. Squier called attention to the remarkable likenesses between prehistoric pyramid-temples of Central America and those of southern India and the islands of the Indian archipelago. Cf. American Archaeological Researches, 1851. More recently the Norwegian scholar-explorer Thor Heyerdahl has reported upon the extensive megalithic remains, of types closely similar to those found in South America's west coast, scattered among many of the major Polynesian, Micronesian and other islands in the Pacific. (American Indians in the Pacific, Part VI, London, 1952.) A "Mexican-looking shrine" atop Mount Lawu in Java caught the eye of the British anthropologist A. H. Brodrick about 1960.( In Man and His Ancestry, p. 130; N.Y., 1964.) Some years later Dr. Douglas Fraser, a professor of art history and archaeology at Columbia University, found in a just examined ancient Chinese silk manuscript, antlered 'gods' which he said bore a marked resemblance to supernatural creatures pictured in early South American art. (Time Magazine, September 1, 1967.) He believes this to be evidence of a similarity of development between early Chinese and some of South America's high prehistoric cultures. Reviving Squiers' earlier comparisons Betty Meggers, currently a staff archaeologist of the Smithsonian Institution, has just added a common architectural use of 'atlantean' figures as supporting pillars and of the famed corbelled arch; the appearance of a highly stylized, jawless figure on ancient Chinese Shang dynasty bronze vases and on decorative wall stones at Chiche'n ItzA in Yucatan; and complex similarities between archaic Japanese shrine-houses and pottery models of houses found in pre-Columbian cultural sites in coastal Ecuador. (In her article "Contacts from Asia," in The Quest for America, N.Y., 1971.)

Such convergences between the implements, artifacts, architecture, agriculture, and customs and beliefs of southeast Asian and aboriginal American peoples are so numerous and strikingly impressive that one wonders how the theory of 'independent invention' can continue to be accorded much credence. Comparable resemblances between ancient American and Oceanic cultures also exist, the Americanist Kenneth Macgowan having in 1950 reported as many as fifty important similarities. The very plenitude of such materials has continued to goad scholars to come up with adequate, convincing explanations because the convergences fly in the face of accepted theories. In particular, they show the Bering Strait hypothesis to be fraught with weaknesses.

Archaeological work on the Siberian side of the Strait has turned up no early sites of peoples who are supposed to have moved eastward across it to Alaska. Even allowing for certain ice-free corridors through Alaska to the northern edge of the western plateau during melt-periods (interstadials) between the several glacial maxima of the Pleistocene (Wisconsin) ice age, immigrants would still have had to cross from 1-2,000 miles of ice on their way southward. If, as averred, they were hunters they would find little or no animal food on the ice. The distance from the Strait south along the continental west coast to Tierra del Fuego is more than 12,000 miles of mainly difficult terrain. Within the relatively short time allowed for man to have been in the New World (10-15,000 years), how then to account for such a thorough dispersion of so many human types over such vast expanses of terrain, to say nothing of the time required for the development of the mighty stone cities and other highly sophisticated works found in the southern regions? But the most basic question of all is why men in Asia would have moved northward in such great numbers into frigid, inhospitable Siberia in the first place.

The facts obviously demand a better hypothesis, one that will allow for much longer periods of time for the extensive movements of prehistoric peoples onto the New World that the record of their great diversity and development requires, and that will show how it was possible for them to move across wide expanses of what are now oceans. This really is not possible unless we posit one or more great serial waves of human civilization that began, rose to a culmination, and then disappeared in very ancient geological times; and associate with these, corresponding transformations of lands and seas that both spurred great secular movements of peoples and also caused the disappearance of all but fragmentary traces of their world civilizations as our present geological era took shape. The concept of a former Atlantean and an even earlier Lemurian era, properly considered, would help in the construction of such a theory. The second part of this article will discuss the geological and related considerations that could aid in accomplishing this.

Part Two

The four great serial waves of prehistoric humanity that flourished before our own were, in truth, "geological" races. Each, that is, occupied its own system of continents and landmasses, and enjoyed its own distinctive flora and fauna, for a long period until widespread earth cataclysms brought an end to one race and a beginning of a successor. Interestingly enough, the 18th century pioneers of modern geology also saw the main periods of earth's time scale as four: the Primary, Secondary, Tertiary, and Quaternary. These periods are, however, now divided somewhat differently and are called by other names. Because they most immediately preceded our age, and their humanities contributed most directly to our own, we are mainly interested in the third and fourth of those races, known respectively as the Lemurian and the Atlantean. ( H. P. Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine, Vol. 11, pp. 6-8, 690, 710-14.) The Lemurian peoples lived during what geologists call the Mesozoic era, while those of Atlantis correspond generally with the Cenozoic era. Thus, our own humanity, which by this reckoning is the fifth, of course occupies the earth's present continents and archipelagos with their animal and vegetable life. It would correspond generally with the most recent (or Pleistocene) epoch calculated to have taken shape one or two million years ago. (Allan J. Stover, Cycles of Earth History and the Ice Ages, 1945, pp. 2, 13-17.) So it isn't surprising that all but the most fragmentary traces of those former civilizations have utterly disappeared. Something of a record remains nevertheless in the myths and sacred histories handed down over the millennia, in the enigmatic cyclopean stone works scattered about the earth, and in the fossilized life of the geological strata themselves. Tradition has it that the final peoples of the Lemurian era built the first cities, composed of cyclopean buildings, out of stone and lava.

In Part I some ethnical evidences for the Pacific origins of American aborigines were offered, and it was suggested that only a larger theory capable of handling the wealth of data in the hands of contemporary scholars about such origins can bring a truly useful understanding of New World prehistory. In this Part it is proposed to discuss some of the geological and related data complementing the ethnical material which could aid our understanding of the matter, and to examine several assumptions held by present-day specialists which have impeded a full and unfettered consideration of all the facts. They cannot see any possibility that the Pacific Ocean could have had enough lands and islands above water to allow for eastward treks of early peoples onto New World lands at temperate and tropical latitudes, as related in the sacred records of the aborigines themselves. This, largely because geology relegates all major earth-sea changes of continental or comparable magnitude to times so remote from the present that man is not believed to have existed when they occurred. A closely related assumption, based on unproved Darwinian theories, is that intelligent man is a quite recent development — having existed for some thirty or forty thousand years at most. Ergo, prehistoric man (read: supposedly primitive man) must have been incapable of attempting or effecting deliberate mass movements, especially by water.

Modern geology still conforms largely to a theory, known as "uniformity," proposed in the early 19th century by Charles Lyell. Lyell asserted that once the lands had been heaved above the seas, and the mountains formed, many millions of years ago, no later changes took place in their positions because "present continuity implies the improbability of past catastrophism and violence of change." Yet when the first oceanographic research vessel, the H.M.S. Challenger, began in 1872 to traverse and probe the great ocean basins on an extended voyage, it discovered that a very high, submerged north-south mountain range divided the floor of the Atlantic Ocean. Later soundings and samplings by coring tubes made in this century have shown this mid-Atlantic Ridge to have once been a landmass, i.e., above water. (Cf. Collier's Encyclopedia, (1967), Vol. XI, p. 128.) Only then did Western scientists dream that presently submerged land might once have stood above the waters. Fossilized marine creatures were also found during this period on high mountain slopes of the Himalayas and the Andes, proving that these heights had been submerged. Various proposals were made, after the Challenger's findings were published, to account for these 'surprising' facts of nature, but the grip of Lyell's "unchanging" lands and seas remained strong. Not until the far-ranging earth studies of the International Geophysical Year in 1957-58 revealed the full extent of the globe's dynamism did scientists come to realize that lands and seas are in continual and often cataclysmic change. A fresh theory — that of plate tectonics — has since been devised to try to account for some of those findings. This theory sees the crust as formed of gigantic 'plates' of rock floating on the earth's mantle, whose movements against each other have produced the continents as they now are and, incidentally, account for seismic disturbances. (Nigel Calder, Restless Earth, BBC, London, 1972, ch. 1 and 2.) But it has still not adequately explained the phenomena of cataclysmic land submergences or sudden great uplifts of landmasses.

As to the passage of time, although geology can by stratigraphy tell with fair accuracy what geological stratum preceded or succeeded another, it can only guess at their respective ages in terms of years before the present. Until about 1950 none of the most authoritative statements of the geologic time scale attempted to equate the rock strata with definite periods of past time. Computations of this nature prepared by individual scientists were always clearly labeled as estimates. And such estimates, being no more than educated guesses, naturally varied considerably among themselves. Scientists have since, however, relied heavily on isotopic technique to assign definite ages to the rocks as well as to artifacts. This technique assumes that one of the products of disintegration of a radioactive element is a constant. Thus, the true age of a sample may, it is affirmed, be known from the rate of isotopic disintegration reflected in it. The major flaw in such radiogenic techniques is their assumption of a constant rate of element decay over time. A second weakness is the factor of contamination of the samples used. These inevitably have been subject over long ages to all manner of pressure and temperature changes, to say nothing of other kinds of influences not readily known. So many discrepancies have shown up when assigned isotopic dates have been checked against known dates of samples, that many investigators have grown cautious about accepting results of radiogenic methods as being conclusive. (Cf. J. Alden Mason, The Ancient Civilizations of Peru, 1957, p. 14. For more recent criticisms of radiogenic dating reliability and problems, see the article "Science and Archaeology," by Froelich Rainey, Archaeology, Vol. 27, No. 1, January 1974, pp. 10-21.) There is no real assurance that these techniques will prove to have the unquestionable accuracy in dating strata or artifacts that some contemporary specialists appear confidently to believe. Where there is convincing evidence from other sources contradictory of radiogenic findings, we are certainly justified in continuing to draw our own conclusions about the probable timing of earth events in relation to human prehistory.

The fossil record of life displays groups of new, more evolved forms in the strata of each of the four prehistoric geological eras. But it has produced no evidence that man's physical structure ever evolved from some primitive mammalian form, and the specifies of Darwinism (such as the supposed transformation of species) have still to be proved correct. In fact, there is no real evidence supporting the assumption that intelligent man actually evolved from former primitive cave dwellers. Many of the most ancient civilizations (such as the Egyptian and Mayan) when traced to their dawn periods are found to be more advanced or sophisticated than when examined at a later point in the cycle. This in itself suggests rather the final flowering of some great former period of human achievement than it does the sort of quick, straight-line development of man from an animal progenitor that many present-day anthropologists offer us as correct theory. If anything, it tends to support a universal tradition that man — as a self-conscious entity — has a divine pedigree, being descended from the "gods," or older, more highly-evolved conscious beings. This tradition is, for example, incorporated in the Tirukkanda Pafichanga, an exceedingly ancient Tamil calendar-history still maintained by Brahmins in southern India. According to it, Homo sapiens or thinking man had his true beginnings about 18,600,000 years ago and thus has lived through and survived several former geological eras (The Secret Doctrine, Vol. II, pp. 66-71.)

It is most suggestive that the earliest human skulls found in the Americas are practically exclusively "long-headed" or what anthropologists term Australoid-Melanesian (i.e., Pacific) in type. ( According to tradition some at least of the Lemurian peoples were "narrow-headed" or "long-headed," and it is said that some of the Australian aborigines represent the last sub-race types of that humanity. Later "round-headed" skulls found in America are more representative of ancestors of the misnamed "Indians"; and seemingly the Atlantean peoples of the later era were more characteristically "round-headed," though the data is so fragmentary that it isn't possible to make unequivocal assertions about this. The Papuans of New Guinea, among the most primitive peoples known, are said to represent mixed Lemurian-Atlantean stocks, and are generally long-headed . (Kenneth Macgowan, Early Man in the New World, 1950, pp. 157-74.) Today as a rule human skulls exhibit a mixture of the two types. Thus several waves of peoples, enormously separated in time, may have reached what were then the Americas from the Pacific. Apparently not all of Lemuria's lands, to say nothing of those which later formed Atlantis, were submerged during the geological disturbances separating the two periods, some present lands doubtless having belonged to both of them. Some little-known Far Eastern commentaries state, for example, that Easter Island was a part of the Lemurian geology which later rose again above the waters and was occupied for a time by Atlantean peoples who erected the gigantic stone statues still found there.

In 1930 Professor Gordon L. Wood of the University of Melbourne pointed out that the western Pacific contains "continental islands" partially submerged ridges and plateaus structurally part of an old parent continent closely associated geologically with the present east Asian landmass. (The Pacific Basin, Oxford at Clarendon Press, pp. 11-13.) The shelf of that old continent Wood calculated to have extended from New Guinea and Australia through the Marshall, Gilbert, Samoan, Fijian and Kermadec islands to and including the New Zealand group. The peaks and ridges of the Polynesian islands east of this had been formed, he said, by volcanic action not related to the building of the old continent, though they formed a zone distinct from the true Pacific depression lying between them and America's western seaboard.

In mid-1970 a joint U.S.-Soviet scientific team reported (in Science, June 5) that the ocean floor of the westernmost Pacific Ocean — corresponding in area to Wood's old continental location — is relatively young (Cenozoic). The most ancient part of the floor (Mesozoic) extends between the Japanese and Hawaiian islands. East of this it is again younger as it approaches the East Pacific Ridge — a major north-south undersea feature discovered during the International Geophysical Year. This ridge begins at Baja California, extends southward through the Easter Island group, then trends south-westward to join another undersea mountain range, the Pacific-Antarctic Ridge, at the bottom of the globe. The floor between the East Pacific Ridge and the Americas' seaboard is the same age (Cenozoic) as Wood's continental remains on the Asian side of the ocean.

If we ignore the problematical isotopic ages assigned these ocean floor rocks and stick to the simpler more reliable stratigraphic relationships found among the several Pacific zones; and if we suppose that some present seabottom was once landmass above water during the Lemurian or Atlantean eras, or both, a pattern emerges of how the Pacific expanse between Asia and the Americas might have looked to prehistoric travelers. Continental lands and archipelagos extended in close proximity from present Asia eastward as far as New Zealand and the Samoan and Fijian groups. Islands stood where now the Marquesas and Tuarnotos lie, and much larger land areas were present to the east where now is the submerged East Pacific range or ridge. The ridge, incidentally, is still represented by the Galapagos, Easter, and Sala y Gomez islands to the south, and the Clipperton and Revillagigedos to the north near Panama. At its northern terminus it joins the Mexican seaboard. Here it is useful to recall the recently-publicized secret Hopi tradition, discussed in Part I, that their remote ancestors entered the New World from the Pacific area at some point on what is now Middle America.

If such a reconstruction still leaves more water to cross than some may like, Betty Meggers rejoins that "it is significant that this point is never raised by persons who have visited the Pacific islands or who are amateur sailors, because it is only the landlubbers who view water as an obstacle rather than a convenience." (In her article "Contacts from Asia," in The Quest for America, N.Y., 1971.)

Be this as it may, the perspective of the ancient Americas offered here, based upon a wide range of evidences, contemplates a much grander and more diverse human prehistory than is allowed for by most current theories. It also makes use of basic geological data to show how it was possible for former men to reach and people the New World and helps explain the origin of the mysterious but immensely sophisticated remains of civilizations which cover this hemisphere. No short article can hope to make full use of all the material that is available about the matter. Nevertheless it is believed that the highlights presented can do much toward a fuller understanding of our past as well as the formulation of a better more up-to-date theory to explain who aboriginal "Americans" really were.

(From Sunrise magazine, February, March 1974; copyright © 1974 Theosophical University Press)

Theosophical University Press Online Edition