E.P. Grondine epgrondine@hotmail.com


Hello Benny,

In my survey last year of impact events and the Native American peoples of South-East North America, I mentioned several items and then let them pass, as they laid outside of the scope of that survey proper. Nearly all of those items pertained to the coastal peoples of the region, and there were good reasons for this limitation of scope: due to both the maritime nature of these peoples’ cultures, as well as to the ecological niches in which they lived, it is impossible to consider these peoples outside of the wider context of the peoples who lived during the same period on the islands in the Caribbean Sea and along the coasts of Central America.

This essay is a first attempt to extend that earlier survey into those coastal areas.  Unlike last year’s survey, where site visits were followed up with an extensive literature search, this survey is limited solely to a literature search. My opinion is that the technique used for the first survey is much more efficient, as site visits allow for a familiarization with the pottery sequences, iconography, and technologies, those items which are really the key to population movements, and thus to a full understanding of the evolution of any oral or written records which remain. But sadly yet once again, as in preceding years, the folks at the MacArthur Foundation have failed to declare me a genius and send me a large amount of cash, so due to the costs involved in visiting sites over such a wide area, a literature search was the only technique available to me. Should someone wish to fund visits to sites in the Caribbean and Central America they would undoubtedly improve the survey to a considerable degree; the general consensus seems to be that site visits to the Caribbean and Central America which are taken in the middle of the North American winter are optimal.

Before starting any survey we might reasonably expect, given the data which has been recovered up to this time from other areas of the Earth, that over a suitably long period of time the peoples living in these coastal areas would also have been affected by impact events. Indeed, several Conference participants have been arguing for quite some time for the existence of a Holocene-start impact event which affected this area. The first part of this survey will be a limited review of some anthropological materials pertaining on this possible impact event, though this will not be a detailed work.  Also included in this first part of the survey will be a brief mention of a possible mega-tsunami produced geological structure, the Puuk Foothills of the Yucatan.

The bulk of this survey will focus on a mega-tsunami event ca. 1150-1050 BCE, which fairly well devastated those living along the coasts of this area.  In order, the second part of the survey will cover the peopling of the areas which the impact affected, and describe the lives of those who died in the event. The third part of the survey will cover the preservation of later historical records and folk memories of the catastrophe.  The fourth part will set out some of the historical and myth materials which have survived, including also some materials which appear to refer to the earlier Rio Cuarto impact event.

In closing this introduction, I want to state that this has been the survey from hell.  These peoples were completely warped by this impact, and had a world view which was both unified and completely distinct from that of western Europe.  While the world view of the South East Native American peoples resonated with me to a certain degree, as I am familiar with their lands, the world view of the peoples of the coastal regions never has.  Having worked through the material on them to the extent which I have, I suspect that anthropology would be better as a science if anthropologists were generally required to work on peoples with which they did not identify, so as to reduce the problem of identification.

Given this far far far different world view, it appears that it normally takes around 20 years for an anthropologist to master these materials to the point at which they can make substantial contributions to the field.  But in the case of these impacts events, the cultural points are gross, to put it succinctly, and my ambitions extend no further than that I may direct those trained in these cultures to that evidence, without committing too many blunders along the way.

Finally, it helps if one is not distracted by current events.  That said, here goes...


One of the key difficulties working with coastal data from any part of the world is its lack of completeness. This is due in part to the rise in sea level which has been occurring since the last ice age, a rise which the archaeologists at the United States’ National Park Service have estimated at being between 60 to 100 meters. The image here gives some idea of the effects of this rise in sea level on the area being surveyed here:

As many here might expect, this rise in sea level was not continuous, as may be seen at:

(I wish that I could show you these graphics, but The National Park Service computers are out at the moment due to a court order: it seems that since some of the Bureau Of Indian Affairs computers were not secure, a judge decided to shut done all of the Department of Interior’s computers. While it is clear that the judge exceeded his purvey, the problem is really more fundamental than that, and this decision more generally is somewhat indicative of the general political disfunction which US citizens are currently enjoying.)

The good news is that most ports from the time of European contact still remain well above water.  It would be nice if we had a much better idea exactly how long this is going to be true.

Another principle cause of lack of completeness of south-east North American and Caribbean coastal data may be ascribed to the effects of hurricanes, which regularly come in off the Atlantic Ocean and wash away large areas within this region. It is very difficult to differentiate the effects of impact produced mega-tsunami floods from the effects of hurricane, even when a large area is damaged, as this may be due a particularly severe hurricane season instead of a mega-tsunami.

Aside from scale, the only other means of the first differentiating the effects of smaller mega-tsunami from that of hurricane is human memory of impact, and this exists only if the people survived the impact, and then survived into the modern age when their memories could be recorded, and then those records survived to be circulated.  Fortunately for us, some materials did survive, and these can now be used to direct subsequent geological and archaeological fieldwork.


In my previous survey I mentioned some of the prevailing theories held generally by the anthropological community as to the peopling of North America, and went into some detail on the difficulties that community faced in moving that work forward. While the Paleo time period is outside the scope of this survey proper, again a few words on the Paleo and Archaic hunters are in order at this point. It is popularly believed that there was “the” ancient Siberian land bridge which allowed man to cross into the Americas ran down the Pacific coast. While some Pacific coastal sites are most certainly are now under water due to rising sea levels, it is certain that a main corridor ran inland of the coastal mountain ridge, a corridor which connected to the plains of North America.

The dates when people first crossed this land bridge are hotly contested, and there is little consensus. Some anthropologists argue that there were multiple crossings, some very very early, with very different racial types coming across each time, racial types as different as say Chinese, Korean, and Japanese. Others argue that a wave of very early people came first, and that then a wave of “oriental” Native Americans was followed by a wave of more “european” Native Americans. But problems arise with this, as the actual rate of human mutation in response to diet and environment is unknown. It is clear that the current generation of Japanese is much taller than their parents, in response to nothing more than a change in diet between one generation and the next.

The Paleo occupation sites that have been found and studied are widely scattered in time and space, and there are no less than 3 lithic traditions and 1 a-lithic tradition present. Whoever they were, the Paleo peoples hunted large game such as mammoth and ground sloths until their extinction, pursuing the vanishing herds to the south and east of the North American continent, and down through Central America on into South America.  Total game populations as well as the environments are pretty well unknown. It is known that in Africa large herds of elephant have converted forested areas to grassland, and that later Native Americans would intentionally set fires both as a way of hunting bison as well as to provide pasturage for deer.  Besides stampeding game off of cliffs, another hunting technique was the trapping of mammoth in bogs, and the digging of pit traps certainly seems to be another possible technique.


With regard to the coastal peoples of South East North America, two final migrations must also be noted. In my previous survey I mentioned that the Red Paint peoples showed up on Canada’s northern east coast at a very early time.  Their economy was ocean based and seems to have relied upon the harvesting of a flightless bird which is now extinct, possibly as a result of this harvesting, and it is possible that this also was true for mammoths, sloths, etc... Amazingly, these peoples’ culture shows affinities with contemporaneous northern European cultures.

Apart from this European passage, since last year’s survey new data have become available which show that large boats may have played a role in the initial movement of people into North America, and this at a time far earlier than suspected. At Quebrada Jaguay in Peru, a team led by Daniel H. Sandweiss of the University of Maine, Orono, recovered bits of knotted cordage, possibly the remains of fishing nets, abundant bones of fish, primarily drum, and shells of mollusks and crustaceans dated to between 11,924-10,774 BCE.  At Quebrada Tacahuay in Peru, researchers led by David K. Keefer of the U.S. Geological Survey found a hearth, tools and obsidian flakes, as well as the bones of numerous fish—mostly anchovy, whose small size implies the use of nets rather than hook and line—and seabirds, including cormorants, booby, and pelican, remains radio carbon dated to about 10,789 BCE.

It is suspected by some anthropologists that man had large watercraft at a very early period in time, roughly at about the time of the peopling of Australia, though here again the dates are hotly contested.  While the remains recovered from South America so far do not confirm the existence of large watercraft at this very early period in time, the remains from the Arlington Springs site on Santa Rosa Island off the coast of California most certainly do:


We have abundant documentation of the large ocean going water craft in use along the Pacific coast during the time of European contact, watercraft of a type whose use extended up to the 1900’s CE [that is CE, read correctly], and these watercraft will be discussed a little farther along in this survey.


My house here in Virginia lies on Mountain Run, a small stream which flows into the Rapidan “River” over at Claire Ducker’s place; the Rapidan River itself flows into the Rappahannock River just a little further downstream, over at the community college and the highway.  There archaeologists surveying the route for the widening of the highway stumbled across an ancient jasper quarry at Brook Run which was in use ca. 9500 BCE.

Little occupational debris has been found at the Brook Run site, and this is little surprise.  These Clovis hunters probably continued down the Rappahannock River to what would then have been the Chesapeake River, (instead of the Chesapeake Bay), on down stream to the land of easy living.  They then returned to Brook Run only to gather the stones they needed to make their tools. If you stop to consider it, it immediately seems reasonable that it would have been far easier to make a living by harvesting fish and shell fish and killing peaceful coastal browsing deer rather than by killing large angry mamoth and mastodon; and indeed, judging from the remains found to date, ancient man seems to have reached this very same conclusion rather quickly.

The earliest evidence found so far of ancient man in Virginia comes from the Cactus Hill site, which lies near the interior of southeastern Virginia’s coastal plain, on the floodplain of the Nottoway River, a small river that drains a relatively moist region before it joins with two other rivers to ultimately discharge into the Albemarle Sound in North Carolina.  Along the Nottoway blades made from the local quartzite have been found in pre-Clovis levels dating back to ca. 14,990 BCE.

Current faunal remains from the Cactus Hill site include deer bones and mud turtle shells.  Clovis technologies, usually thought to be some of the earliest lithic technologies, do not show up here until the relatively late date of 8,970 BCE.  It is currently impossible to know whether this change in tool types was simply the introduction of new technologies, or whether it represented a new migration into the area; in part this is due to lack of excavation, and in part it is due to the looting of the site by arrowhead hunters.


The switch in diet is more clearly seen at the Saltville River site located in the Shenandoah Valley, which lies to the west of the coastal area, between ridges of the Appalachian Mountains.  The animals were attracted here by the salt licks (it is after all called the “Saltriver”), and man in turn was attracted by the animals, particularly the ones who had become bogged down in the mud near the salt licks.  The remains of mastodon, mamoth, ground sloth, bison, musk ox, caribou (it was still cold), wild horses, and deer have been found here, including the worked bones of mastodon and musk ox dated to around 12,000 BCE. Nearby the excavators found large shell middens (mounds of fresh water shells) which incorporated the butchered remains of fish and amphibians and which dated to around the same time.  While the ages of both the Cactus Hill site and the Saltville site are hotly contested, it is extremely unlikely that these shells just piled themselves up, conveniently including butchered remains.


The range of the mega-fauna on which early man dined was not limited to northern regions.  As has been pointed out elsewhere repeatedly, elephants live today in Africa, India, and South East Asia, and they are not restricted to eating grass in grasslands, but will eat the bark off trees if necessary. Remains of early man have been found at the Coats-Hines site in Tennessee, at the Topper site in South Carolina, and more central to the area of this study, at the Little Salt Spring site and Page Ladson site in Florida.  In particular, worked bone and ivory from a number of extinct mammals have been found at a number of places in Florida.


Strangely, the quarry at Brooks Run was abandoned after what is estimated at only a few hundred years of use.  Strangely, at the Cactus Hill site, the early pre-Clovis and Clovis levels are separated by several meters of sterile sand from the occupation levels left there by the later Archaic peoples.  IT NEEDS TO BE NOTED that the date of these discontinuities is shortly before 8,000 BCE, a date much different than some of the dates currently being proposed by some for a Holocene-start impact event.

Anyone who wishes to work on the study of the hypothesized Holocene-start impact event will have to go through the every site report for every excavation east of the Appalachian Mountains of the remains of early man, and try to prove discontinuous habitation of them.  Further, they will have to go through every site report for the mid-section of the continent in order to locate exactly where man survived the event, and where the earlier tool forms show clear signs of evolution into the later archaic tool forms.

Good luck. Those who may wish to undertake such a task can find a list of sites compiled by National Park Service researchers at: http://www.cr.nps.gov/aad/EAM/SE1.HTM.

Another list, this one giving a list of Chesapeake region sites may be found at:



During the course of research for this survey I learned of the existence of a geological formation which may be the result of a mega-tsunami.  The Puuc Foothills lie in Northern Yucatan, and take their name from the Mayan word for hill, “puc”. They are composed of mounds of alluvial soil piled in a great set of hills which roughly outline the north coast of Yucatan.  While to my knowledge no effort has been made to date these structures, due to their layout I doubt if they are indicative of the hypothesized Holocene-start event; rather, they seem to indicate an impact event and mega-tsunami, which occurred in the Gulf of Mexico at date unknown.



@2001 E.P. Grondine  epgrondine@hotmail.com



Given the spread of sites over such a wide area of south east North America where pre-Clovis and Clovis tools are found, some may wonder why these peoples did not adopt the new archaic tool technologies, and why evidence of that evolution has not been found.  Of course, no Conference participant will have any such questions, as to most it will probably seem likely that the reason these peoples did not adopt archaic tool technologies was simply that they were dead, killed in the Holocene-start impact event.

Instead, Conference participants might expect what is found, which is the slow introduction of these archaic tools by the migrations of archaic tool users from other areas. Indeed, any Holocene-start impact which may have occurred would not only have killed all humans living in the area affected by it, but it would also have completely destroyed all the herds of game animals which lived in the area. With no game to hunt, there would have been no reason for man to move back into the area, until game herds had recovered.


In the Chesapeake Bay area we find evidence of new additions to the Archaic peoples’ diets of deer, bear, and small mammals: the remains of American oysters, hard clams, soft clams, Bay shad, and sturgeon. The sure signs of the maritime adaption of these archaic peoples are the appearance of fishing net weights along with axes and adzes. While nets can be cast from shore to catch some varieties of both birds and fish, they are more effective for fish if they are used from a canoe. And while dug out canoes can be manufactured by burning out the center of naturally downed trees, better watercraft can be had if a good tree is selected, ringed with an axe, coals set into this ring until the tree is downed, the tree trunk’s center burned out, and then the rough form finished into a hull with an adze.


The question now comes as to the spread of this technology, and its point of origin.  Clearly, if the proposed Holocene-start impact event occurred, nearly all peoples along both the American and European Atlantic coastal areas would have perished. An artic survival may have been possible, and then have been spread back across the north Atlantic by the Red Paint people. But as near as I know, the Red Paint People used watercraft constructed from animal hides, and not dug out canoes. Another problem with attributing these Mid-Atlantic developments to the Red Paint People is that they appear and disappear around 5,200 BCE, a date much earlier than those being discussed here, dates which lie around 2980 BCE.

(As Conference participant Worth Crouch is better informed about the Red Paint people than I am, I am most interested in hearing his views on their possible role in the appearance in the late Archaic of this dugout watercraft technology.)


Another problem with attributing this marine technology to the Red Paint People is that at these middle Atlantic sites the remains of cultivated hickory nuts and walnuts appear, along with the stone tools for working the nuts, at the same time that these watercraft construction technologies do. This seems to indicate contact with those cultures who had already developed arboriculture, those peoples who I discussed in last year’s survey. (The maypop fruit was also cultivated by these peoples. Further, soapstone cooking bowls and soapstone baking tools also appear at the same time.)

While it is possible that these technologies could have spread by inland contact, the Chesapeake Bay peoples’ source for the arboriculture technology appears to have been the riverine peoples whose remains have been found at the Sara’s Ridge site, the Paris Island, South Carolina site, and the Rocky River, North Carolina site. These peoples did not live along the coast, and at these river sites there is no indication of LARGE watercraft construction.


But then these river dwelling peoples later adopted an entirely new technology, and this may be clearly seen at Stallings Island, Georgia, where the Mill Branch riverine culture existed for several hundred years before being replaced by a Shell Ring culture around 1700 BCE.  Here have been found levels containing soapstone artifacts overlain by levels containing fiber tempered pottery.  This is an entirely new technology.


Given the area and time period being surveyed here, the problems of when these watercraft were developed, how they were used, and how they spread become central.

Many in the anthropological community decry any suggestion of trans-Pacific or trans-Atlantic contact, as though the adoption by Native Americans of “foreign” technology would somehow take something away from them. The plain fact is that due to natural currents, both trans-Pacific and trans-Atlantic contacts were inevitable, if not by design, with certainty by accident. In the one century from 1775 to 1875 at least 20 Japanese junks were involuntarily driven by storms and currents to landing points from the Aleutian Islands to Mexico, an average of 1 watercraft every 5 years. (Robert Heine-Geldern, The Problem of Transpacific Influences in Mesoamerica, The Handbook of Middle American Indians, Volume 4, University of Texas Press, citing Brooks, 1875.)   Further, in the last century some 600 African craft have washed up on the coast of South America, a rough average of 1 watercraft every 2 months.  (John L. Sorenson and Martin H. Raish, Pre-Columbian Contact with the Americas Across the Oceans: An Annotated Bibliography, Vol II, p. 106, entry M-143)

Given these rates of accidental trans-oceanic crossing, it is a slur on the Native American peoples to insist that either 1) they were so cruel that they immediately dispatched every ship-wrecked mariner who had the misfortune to be ship-wrecked and then the good luck to be stranded on their shores alive, or 2) they were too stupid to take advantage of the new technologies which these mariners or their crew-less watercraft would have held. Those who blindly dismiss trans-oceanic contact also fail completely to consider that technologies may have spread from Native Americans in the other direction - and this is well evidenced as well. Plants with trans-oceanic distribution includes cocoanut, various edible palm, pineapple, banana, cotton, the grain amaranth, and hennequin, a type of hemp.  But without site visits it is simply impossible to trace the spread of these plants, so at this point I will remain focused on the key items of large dugout canoes and pottery.

(Those who are more interested in trans-oceanic contact than in the peopling of the coastal areas of South-East North America, the Caribbean, and coastal Central America, and the effect of cometary and asteroidal impact on these peoples, I direct to:Robert Heine-Geldern, The Problem of Transpacific Influences in Mesoamerica; and Philip Philips, The Role of TransPacific Contact in the Development of New World Pre-Columbian Cultures, both in The Handbook of Middle American Indians, Volume 4, University of Texas Press; Geoffrey Ashe, Thor Heyerdahl, Helge Ingstad, J.V. Luce, Betty Meggars and Brigitta Wallace, The Quest for America, Pall Mall Press, London, 1971; and Andrew Collins, Gateway to Atlantis, Carroll and Graff, New York, 2000)


When we think of dugout watercraft, the first image that comes to mind is that of the dugout canoes used today on the rivers of many parts of the world. This smallness in size reflects not only the uses for which these craft were and are constructed, which are those of production and trade on rivers, but also reflects the current scarcity of large diameter trees. It must be remembered that during the times of the first migrations into North America, and indeed even up to the time of European contact, trees with diameters of 3 meters and more were common. Indeed, satisfying the need for timbers for the British Navy was one of the first reasons that that government had for placing its settlers in North America. I don’t think it can be excluded that this need for large trees may also have played a role in much earlier trans-Atlantic contacts, those contacts which may have occurred as Europe was deforested, while the peoples of coastal Europe still depended on large watercraft built from large single trees.

Fernando Colon, Columbus’s second son, provides us with an account of one ocean going large dugout which his father encountered during his fourth voyage, and it is worth repeating part of it in full here: “Having come to the island of Guanaja, the Admiral sent ashore his brother Bartholomew with two boats. They encountered people who resembled those of the other islands, but had narrower foreheads. They also saw many pine trees and pieces of earth called calcide which the Indians use to cast copper; some of the sailors thought it was gold....by good fortune there arrived at that time A CANOE AS LONG AS A GALLEY AND EIGHT FEET WIDE, MADE OF A SINGLE TREE TRUNK like the other Indian canoes; it was freighted with merchandise from the western regions around New Spain. Amidships it had a palm-leaf awning like that on Venetian gondolas; this gave complete protection against the rain and waves. Underneath were women and children, and all the baggage and merchandise. There were twenty-five paddlers aboard, but they offered no resistance when our boats drew up to them.”

The “other Indian canoes” which Fernando refers to were those that Columbus and his men had seen earlier, those of the Taino (Arawak) and Carib of the islands, and these dugouts were probably not as large as those of the Choton traders of Central America. Orvieda (Historia general y natural de las Indias, Gonzalo Fernandez de Orvieda Y Valdez, 1535)  recorded the use of sail by the Taino, but not by the Carib, who relied on paddles for propulsion. Given the trade which existed along the east coasts of Central America and South America, the Taino (Arawak) likely used sails at a much earlier period. Orvieda also recorded the Choton’s use of sails on their watercraft, and the Choton’s conduct of regular trade along the east coast of Central America for a long period of time is fairly well evidenced by the distribution of the remains of trade goods.

It seems likely that all of the Caribbean watercraft did not use centerboards or sideboards, and thus the prevailing winds and currents must have played a large role in determining the movements of peoples and goods through the region. Seasonal current and wind charts for the Caribbean may be found in Art and Archaeology of Pre-Columbian Cuba, Ramon Dacal Moure and Manual Riviero de la Calle, University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, 1996. As might reasonably be expected, and as will be seen, these watercraft played a significant role in the spread of peoples and the conduct of trade.


In his book “Pyramids of Tucume”, Thor Heyerdahl describes the watercraft used by Native Americans along the Pacfic Coast, and these were ocean going rafts equipped with sails and a superstructure to keep their goods and passengers dry. Called “balsa”s, a term connected with the balsa wood logs which the Native Americans tied together to construct them, these watercraft had capacities of up to 60 to 70 European tons. The bindings which tied the logs together were of hennequin, a type of hemp, and the distribution of this plant is important.

These balsa’s used masts of two types, with one type of mast mounted along the center line, and the other type constructed of two poles attached to the raft’s sides and joined over its center to form an upside down V shape. The balsa’s had two types of sails, both square and lateen (triangular), which when combined with the use of centerboards gave them the ability to travel against the wind.

These craft ranged up and down the Pacific Coast of both South America and Central America, and special note should be made of the circular stone anchors which these watercraft used. Anchors of this type have been recovered at several west coast Central American sites, and not identified as anchors. (So much for the mysterious “stone rings” found in some excavations.)  Another artifact which must be associated with the use of these rafts are large jars for the storage of fresh water, jars which most likely replaced earlier wooden vessels used for the same purpose. A final artifact indicative of the use of balsa watercraft are non-native stones  used for ballast.

These craft not only carried merchandise for trade, but also served as “mother-ships” for fishing expeditions. The general method of fishing was not line fishing, that is fishing with hooks and lines, where the hooks would have been preserved as artifacts. Net fishing was used instead, sometimes from the shore, or sometimes two fishermen would mount small three log craft and drag a net between them, returning their catch to either the shore or to a large balsa “mother-ship”.

While the designs of these watercraft reflect the lack of large trees in the areas on the west coast of South America, based on the evidence of trans-Pacific contacts there is good reason to suspect that the first ocean going watercraft in this area were large dugout boats.


The Stallings Island complex is preceded by shell rings from Florida which appear to have been built almost 1,000 years earlier. There is little doubt that this was an ocean going maritime technology, with very large dugout watercraft, as shell ring sties also earlier existed on Cuba.


As near as I am aware, some of the earliest evidence of large boat building comes from Franchti cave in Greece, and is dated to around 7,000 BCE. The idea presents itself that dug out technology may have survived the Holocene-start impact event in this area, and then spread from Mediterranean survivals back into coastal Europe. It is possible that from here the technology for building dug out boats may have spread back into North America.


Further, even more ancient coastal shell sites have been found along the Pacific Coast of both Central America and South America. Betty Meggars has thoroughly documented contacts between Jomon Japan and coastal South America at Valdivia by around 3300 BCE.


The following list started with a list given in The Art and Archaeology of Pre-Columbian Cuba, Ramon Dacal Moure and Manuel Rivero de la Calle, 1996 translation, and this was then added to. The list must be used with caution, as the dates those authors gave for both Stallings Island and Poverty Point are wrong, further, I have not verified myself that all sites are maritime culture sites, and the National Park Service list was unavailable at the time of composition.


It is generally held that there were two early migrations into the Caribbean Islands: the Casimiroid, which is “hypothesized” to have crossed a land bridge or island chain from Central America around 4,000 BCE, and the Ortoiroid, which is believed to spread from the north east coast of South America after 2,000 BCE. Despite the pottery found at Puerto Hormiga, these later are generally held to have been aceramic.

Banwari Trace, Trinidad            5,500 BCE
Gulf of Paria, Venezeula           3,650 BCE
Levisa, Cuba                       3,190 BCE
Puerto Hormiga, Coastal Columbia   2,925 BCE  Pottery
Canimar Abajo, Cuba                2,750 BCE
22 sites, Aruba                    2,500 BCE-ca 1,000 BCE   shells, no pottery
Cubagua, Venezeula                 2,200 BCE
Sapelo, Georgia                    2,150 BCE  shell ring
Ossabaw Island, Georgia                       2 sheel rings? - 
                                              late archaic ends ca 1,000BCE
Cueva Funche, Cuba                 2,050 BCE
Canapote, Coastal Columbia         2,050 BCE
Madrigales, Hispaniola             2,030 BCE
St. John's River, Florida       ca 2,000 BCE  East Coast, Orange Pottery, 
                                              incised decoration 
Gulf Coast, Florida             ca 2,000 BCE  West Coast, Norwood Pottery, 
                                              paddle decoration
Hilton Head Island, S. Carolina ca 2,000 BCE  3 shell ring sites of 17 in US
Hoyo Del Todo, Hispaniola          1,940 BCE
Stallings Island, Georgia          1,850 BCE  Pottery, up Savannah R. from coast
Jolly Beach, Antigua               1,775 BCE  no pottery
Manicuare, Aruba, Off Venezeula    1,620 BCE  
Barlovento, Coastal Columbia       1,550 BCE
Damajayabo, Cuba                   1,300 BCE
El Povenir, Hispaniola             1,185 BCE
Cueva el Purial, Cuba              1,110 BCE

(The United States Naional Park Service maintains a list of shell ring sites, but due to the judge’s shutdown, it was impossible to retrieve information on them and their dating.)


Cerro Mangote, West Coast Panama  4,860 BCE 
Rio Chiriqui, West Coast Panama   4,610 BCE
Siches, Peru                  ca. 5,000 BCE
Valdivia, Ecuador (pottery)       3,300 BCE  influenced by Jomon Culture, Japan
Xoconocho, West Coast Mexico      3,000 - 2,000 BCE shells middens, no pottery
Barra, Mexico                     1,800 BCE  pottery, riverine, 
                                             early species of maize
Machalilla, Ecuador               1,600 BCE  from Columbia, 
                                             practiced headbinding
Chorrera, Ecuador                 1,200 BCE  from Central America


As was discussed in last year’s survey, while in the eastern hemisphere early large scale societies depended on cultagens, in North America the early societies depended on arboriculture. Indeed, the cultivation of trees began very early in the western hemisphere, and while the evidence recovered to date is sparse, the North American shell ring cultures almost certainly depended on the cultivation of various palm trees. Ramon nut is seen in Caribbean sites, while plantain (banana variant) and cocoanut trees show up in differing limited Pacific coastal regions.


The final foodstuff important to early coastal man in the area under survey was manioc, and for this one must turn to its native range, what is now the jungles of South American. Given the dense vegetation that exists in this region today, it is hard to imagine this area to turned into plains by foraging megafauna. It is harder still to imagine that the hunters of those megafauna turned to agriculture when that megafauna died off.

Fortunately for us, someone already has imagined this:


As Dr. Hoopes points out, “The earliest evidence for New World pottery comes from the central Amazon, with dates around 7000 BC (Roosevelt et al. 1991, Roosevelt 1995). It is present in northern Colombia by 4000 BC (Oyuela 1995), coastal Ecuador by 3500 BC (Damp and Vargas 1995), and central Panama by 3000 BC (Cooke 1995).” By Hoope’s account there is no need to look for the introduction of pottery technology via trans-oceanic contacts, as Native Americans had already developed the technology quite independently. And as the Amazon dwellers were riverine peoples, it is likely that they had developed dugout canoes as well.

One thing which Hoopes could not visualize, but which we can, is that nearly the whole of Amazonia was set on fire sometime before 2,000 BCE by the entry and explosion of the Rio Cuarto impactor, and that this led to the jungles which we know today. As for the irrigation agriculturalists, what appears to me to have happened after the Rio Cuarto impact event is that gradually, over time, those few manioc cultivators who survived it, those living in the far north west of Amazonia, gradually managed to re-establish themselves:


Verifying this would involve ground survey and excavations on the headwaters of the Orinoco River, an area which today is largely under the control of cocaine traffickers.


In the mountains of South America, around 2,600 BCE the arboriculture of the coastal peoples was supplemented by the cultivation of beans, lima beans, and squash:


One of the most distinctive items of this culture is their construction of large mounds in the center of their urban complexes. In as much as their cultivation appears to have been based on networks of channels for irrigation, this implies some measure of organization of labor, and thus of a hierarchical organization to their societies, a hierarchy demonstrated very convincingly by the existence of these large mounds. These cultures aquatics roots may be seen in their heavy use of sea-food, and besides the use of irrigation, it is more than likely that they may also have used some forms of aquaculture.


While the Rio Cuarto impact event appears to have put an end to the South American mound builders of the Amazon headwaters and the mountains, mound building cultures survived on the west coast of South America, and enjoyed dominance there until the rise of the Inca. More to the focus of this survey, the mound building culture appears to have spread north, with these arboreal, raised field, and aquaculture technologies forming the basis for the coastal Zoque (Olmec) societies and other societies both along the eastern coast of Central America as well as along the shores of the highland lakes of the region.

That this technology transfer was water borne is indicated by the existence of large mounds in Cuba(no longer exsiting, but reported by Daniel G. Brinton, in The Archaeology of Cuba, American Anthropologist, Vol 10, 1898), as well as the appearance of a large mound culture first seen in North America at the mouth of the Mississippi River, particularly at Baton Rounge, Louisianna. (For a discussion of these, see last year’s survey.) Whether this technology transfer was done by paddle powered dugouts or by sail powered craft is unknown, but the cultivation of both cotton (possibly used for sails) and hennequin (possibly used for ropes for rigging) spread.


Sometime between 1150-1050 BCE nearly all of the Atlantic cultures suffered a tremendous setback. In Atlantic North America, the Late Archaic comes to an end, and shell ring cultures pretty much disappear from the Atlantic Coast, while survivors appear to have hanged on in Western Florida.

In the Caribbean Islands, the early shell cultures come to a stop, as does inter-island trade. Peoples immigrating into the islands a 1,000 years later would find a few technically primitive survivors who told tales of their ancestors surviving a great flood from the east by hiding out in caves.

Along the Gulf Coast of Central America, there are site discontinuities over a large area, centered around a date of about 1150 BCE.


The Zoque (Olmec) did recover, and what I believe to have happened is that survivors moved from their in-land locations into the newly depopulated area and founded new cities.

Some researchers are arguing today that the Zoque (Olmec) were influenced by contacts from Africa; other researchers argue that they were influenced by contacts with Asia. Letting these hypothesis pass without comment, I need to outline briefly here some of the early key cultural characteristics of Zoque (Olmec) culture, aspects which were shared with the Maya who later occupied the Zoque (Olmec) areas.

First of these cultural elements is the construction of large mounds.

Second of these cultural elements is the head deformation of leaders. This appears to have been helped along by the use of a small axe, known to the Maya as k’awil, and images of Zoque (do I really need to write the Nahua identification “Olmec” again?) leaders commonly feature a cleft head. Combined with a city totem, this indicated rulership over a city. This cranial deformation was also practiced by the Machalilla, who moved from Colombia into Ecuador around 1,600 BCE.

The third of these cultural elements is an annual ceremony of the raising of a pole (later a stone) to keep the heavens and sky separate, in other words to prevent impact events. The symbol of this ceremony is a rectangle crossed by diagonal linear bands, where the diagonals lead to the four gods which hold up the heavens. (This ceremony will be described in detail in Part 4 of this survey.) Among the Maya this ceremony is the “seating” of the “tun” and “katun” periods of time, and similar practices are also attested at a later date by the people living along Lake Nicarauga. This rite is conducted timed to a count of days.

The fourth of these cultural elements is a detailed astronomy, and it is symbolized by a tri-lobe E with circles between the lobes. This symbol is the later Mayan “star” sign.

The fifth cultural element is the use of a celestial jaguar symbol by the priesthood, who it may be safely assumed oversaw the detailed work of items three and four above, and by the king, whose divine intercession with the sky gods was needed.

The sixth cultural element is the use of celestial dragon imagery.

The seventh cultural element is a ball game. Ritual stone spheres have a wide distirbution throughout Central America and the Caribbean.

The eighth cultural element is the use of hallucinogens from water lilies and toads.

The ninth cultural element is a ceremonial cylinder, an implement of office carried by kings.

The tenth cultural element is the use of writing.


Pollen from a maize variety has been recovered at the very early date of 5100 BCE from a coastal site in Veracruz near the Zoque site of La Venta, and a more advanced version of maize shows up there only 100 years later. (http://www.famsi.org/reports/pohl/pohl.htm) My own belief is that this maize was used by these early formative people simply to provide pasturage and fodder for deer herds which were then harvested. This is borne out to some extent by the continued cultivation of the smaller variety of maize down to 2,500 BCE, and by the practice of keeping game reserves in later times.

More amazingly, manioc, the principle cultagen of the irrigation societies, shows up at La Venta at the very early date of 4,600 BCE, some 500 years after maize. Tracing this spread from the Amazon jungle is difficult, and once again, in dealing with these early coastal cultures, one must remember that their remains may lie under the rising level of the waters of the oceans, or simply have been washed away by the late Archaic mega-tsunami.

This same maize technology seen at La Venta seems to have spread elsewhere, as maize in the highlands of Mexico undergo a marked change from 4,300 BCE to 3,500 BCE. Again, I am of the opinion that this may simply have been the development of animal forage. Why? Because the artifacts required to process the maize for human consumption have not been found.

If one is looking for the development of maize as a human foodstuff, I think one must look to the Mayan homeland in the area around Kaminaljuyu, Guatemala. The Zoque had control of the Atlantic to Pacific trade route which ran up the Grijalva River and then down the Izapa River to the Pacific, and they also controlled trans-oceanic land routes which ran up the Usumacinta River, its tributary the Salinas, and then down to the Pacific. But while the Zoque controlled the lower Montagu River from their base in Copan, the Maya at Kaminaljuyu blocked access via this route to the Pacific.

If maize is to release its nutrients and be made sufficient to sustain human life, it requires that it be ground and soaked in lime water and then cooked, the “nixtamal” process. My guess is that this what the Maya discovered how to do; this technology allowed the growth in their population, and their subsequent movement down the Salinas and the Belize Rivers. This brought them into conflict with the Zoque, and this conflict would end with the Maya in control of nearly all of the former Zoque territory. Another factor to remember in this process is that it is entirely too likely that the Zoque population had been severely reduced around 1150 BCE by the mega-tsunami.

Besides their reliance on maize, the most distinctive thing about the Maya is their extensive use of a number of hallucinogens. This hallucinogen use is usually mentioned in passing in the literature, but it is quite central to Mayan life. The Mayan glyph for the investiture of a Lord, an Ahau, features him presenting his buttocks to the reader for a hallucinogenic enema, and scenes of this enema usage have been preserved on Mayan painted vases, with enema tubes themselves recovered from royal tombs. Even more to the point, one of the central symbols of Mayan religion, the ceiba tree, is a source for an MAO inhibitor used to amplify the effects of ayahuasca, a source of DMT. And DMT itself is described by those who have experimented with it as being like LSD, but much stronger. It’s but little wonder then that some pieces of Mayan art feature scenes of self decapitation.


There are abundant non-Mayan materials which preserve memory of the mega-tsunami event, but they have been ignored for the purposes of this survey, and a few words of explanation are in order to explain this decision.

At about the same time as the Maya moved from their home area around Kanminaljuyu into the Zoque lands, another group appeared to the north in the region of the Valley of Mexico and established their control over the areas which the Formative peoples had previously held. These peoples established their major city at Teotihuaca, and the cultural complex evidenced there is quite different from that of the either the Zoque or the Maya.

These peoples appeared on the scene without nearby antecdent, and their language family Otto-Manguean (Otomi/Mixtec/Zapotec), is different from that of Maya. As for the origin of these peoples, I hope that Conference participants will forgive me for not definitively solving a problem which has vexed researchers for over a century. My guess, and let me emphasize that this is merely a guess, is that these people may have emigrated via large watercraft from the west coast of South America, and that their appearance in Mexico may be related to the disappearance of the Cupisnique people from South America around 200 BCE.

These Teotihaucans, for lack of a better word, would go on to establish political dominance over both over most of the highlands as well as over the adjacent Mayan cities of Usumacinta River, beginning at Tikal in 378 CE. Wars between the group of Mayan cities under Teotihuacan influence and the group of cities not under Teotihaucan influence would continue until some 300 years later, to around the year 650 CE, when another people arrive, conquer Teotihuaca, and establish their control there and begin their own raids into the Mayan lands.

The new rulers of the Valley of Mexico were the Toltec, and once again their cultural traditions are quite distinct, this time both from those of the Maya and from those of the Teotihaucans. Once again, these people’s language is different (Nonoalca), and they appear without nearby cultural antecedent. Once again I hope that conference members will forgive me for not definitively solving another problem which has vexed researchers for over a century. My guess, and let me emphasize that this is merely a guess, is that these people may have emigrated via large watercraft from the west coast of South America, and that their appearance in Mexico may be related to the disappearance of the Moche people from the coastal region of South America around 650 CE.

This time, we at least have materials relating to that movement, specifically The Annals of the Cakquichiquels, and what must be a very late pictographic version of the same, the Codex Borgia. These close parallels between these peoples and the Vikings in Europe appear quite striking to me, and so I note a few of them here.

Watercraft played a role in these peoples’ attacks, as may be seen at:
(The people in black are non-Toltec. All of these scenes are repeated in written form in The Annals of the Cakquichels.)

In much the same way that the Vikings used dogs in their attacks, these people heaved containers of bees at their opponents, as may be seen at:

While I have not spotted a clear scene of this in the late Codex Borgia version, The Annals of the Cakquichels also relate these peoples use of the bow and arrow, and his may be indicative of South American . The appearance of this new weapon would bear parallel with the Viking’s introduction of the battle axe.


Those Conference participants looking for catastrophic ecological reasons for the collapse of the “Classic” Maya would do well to examine Linda Schele’s work The Code of Kings, pages 199-201, (written with Peter Mathews), where she outlined the effects of the Toltec population movement. The conquest of Teotihuaca by the Toltecs touched off a final devastating round of wars between those Mayan city-states which had been under Teotihaucan influence and those city-states which had not.

But on the other hand perhaps those looking for a catastrophic reason for the Maya collapse should not abandon hope. If the Toltec were in fact Moche immigrants, then it appears likely that the original Moche immigration from South America had been touched off by a seismic event which destroyed their irrigation systems.


There were no victors in these wars between the Mayan city states, except, of course, for the Toltecs. Sometime around 1150 CE the Mexica (Aztec) appeared in the Valley of Mexico, and the Toltec left the area, immigrating en masse to the Yucatan, where they finally established dominance over the Mayan areas, and set up their capitol at Chichen Itza around 1150 CE.

Another parallel between the Viking and Toltec societies is their rule by “democratic” associations of nobles. This “democracy” allowed the establishment of political units larger than the city state, and the “mat” houses (meeting houses of nobles) played a greater and greater role in the governance of Mayan peoples from the time of the very first appearance of the Toltecs in the Valley of Mexico. Both of these processes, the Toltec migrations, and the “democratization” of Mayan society, were still ongoing at the time of Spanish contact.


Given all of these cultural overlays, the original Formative peoples’ flood stories were severely modified by each succeeding people. If the Mayan records themselves had not survived, it would be necessary to go through each of these stories, strip off each cultural layer, and try to arrive at something approaching an accurate memory of the mega-tsunami event.

These migrations have important consequences, particularly when working with the 20 some pictographic manuscripts which the Spanish conquistadors sent home from their base of conquest in the city of Texcoco. (This was a rival with the Mexica (Aztec) capitol city, Tenochtitlan). For any Conference participant who may wish to try working with these materials, I direct their attention to the Mexica (Aztec-Nahua) adaptation of the tale found in the Codex Rios, along with the translation there into Italian of the Spanish commentary to the text. My own Italian and 16th century cursive are not good enough to handle it. After they have established the text, including its time and date of transmission, all that it will be necessary for them to do will be to strip off the Mexica, Toltec, and Teotihaucan additions to the original Formative version of events. I wish them the best of luck.

Fortunately, to establish the original materials underlying this manuscript we do not need to do this, as as it will be seen in Part 3 of this survey, Mayan reports of this impact event survived fairly intact.


The same holds true for flood myths from the Caribbean Islands: if we lacked fairly clear and early Mayan reports of the impact and mega tsunami event, we would have to go through each of the numerous flood myths from the islands, examining closely the migrations of peoples from South America and Central America into each island, the exact time and place of the recording of each myth, and through labored analysis attempt to come up with something approaching a fact. Fortunately we don’t have to do any of this.


As was mentioned earlier, some shell peoples appear to have survived on the West coast of Florida, and these would re-emerge to dominate a large part of Florida by the time of Spanish contact. One of the most interesting sites which has been found so far is that of Key Marco, unusual because of the recovery there of a large number of wooden and organic artifacts. These have been dated to around 800 CE, though I understand this date is subject to debate.

What is quite interesting is the manner in which these perishable artifacts were preserved. The artifacts were found buried in the muck around a major urban complex, a complex which included ceremonial mounds, and the artifacts were accompanied by signs of fire. The hypothesis currently put forward is that a hurricane occurred, which started a fire, and then blew the burning artifacts into the muck. I don’t know what you think of a raging fire in a hurricane, but it seems entirely more likely to me that what occurred was a detonation at altitude of an impactor, with the thermal wave igniting the objects, only to have the blast wave arrive a few seconds later and blow the artifacts into the muck. This phenomena was seen at Tunguska, where trees were set on fire by the thermal wave from the detonation, only to have those fires extinguished a few seconds later by the arrival of the blast wave.


Given the cultural continuity of the shell peoples of Florida, and the prolonged interaction of both the Timucua and the Calusa with Spanish, French, and English colonists, it is likely that their myths were at least partially recorded. Unfortunately, I am unaware of any work consolidating surviving materials of the myths of either tribe. Of course, January and February are approaching, and should someone wish to provide me with an extraordinarily large sum of money, I would be perfectly delighted to hire my neighbor’s son to feed the cats and head off to Florida to talk with the experts in the field about the problem:


To gain some idea of the difficulties which they face, see for example:


Thus prepared, let us begin our examination of the surviving Mayan materials on the impact produced mega-tsunami event of 1150 BCE.