African Origin of Olmecs: Science and Myth


 African Origin of Olmecs: 

Science and Myth 



Research is the foundation of good science, or knowing in general. There are four methods of knowing 1) Method of tenacity (one holds firmly to the truth, because “they know it” to be true); 2) method of authority (the method of established belief, i.e., the Bible or the “experts” says it, it is so); 3) method of intuition (the method where a proposition agrees with reason, but not necessarily with experience); and 4) the method of science (the method of attaining 

knowledge which calls for self-correction). To explain Africans in ancient America, I use the scientific method which calls for hypothesis testing, not only supported by experimentation, but also that of alternative plausible hypotheses that, may place doubt on the original hypothesis. 

The aim of science is theory construction (F.N. Kirlinger, Foundations of behavior research, (1986) pp.6-10; R. Braithwaite, Scientific explanation, (1955) pp.1-10). A theory is a set of interrelated constructs, propositions and definitions, that provide a systematic understanding of phenomena by outlining relations among a group of variables that explain and predict phenomena. 

Scientific inquiry involves issues of theory construction, control and experimentation. Scientific knowledge must rest on testing, rather than mere induction which can be defined as inferences of laws and generalizations, derived from observation. This falsity of logical possibility is evident in the rejection of the African origin of the Olmecs hypothesis. Just because these people may live in the Olmec heartland today, says very little about the inhabitants of this area 3000 years ago. 

Karl Popper in The Logic of Scientific Discovery, rejects this form of logical validity based solely on inference and conjecture (pp. 33-65). 

Popper maintains that confirmation in science, is arrived at through falsification. 

Therefore to confirm a theory in science one test the theory through rigorous attempts at falsification. In falsification the researcher uses cultural, linguistic, anthropological and historical knowledge to invalidate a proposed theory. If a theory can not be falsified through yes of the variables associated with the theory it is confirmed. It can only be disconfirmed when new generalizations associated with the original theory fail to survive attempts at falsification. 

In short, science centers on conjecture and refutations. Many commentators maintain that the Olmecs weren’t Africans. In support of this conjecture they maintain: 1) Africans first came to America with Columbus; 2) Amerindians live in Mesoamerica; 3) the Olmec look like the Maya; 4) linguistic groups found in the Olmec heartland have always lived in areas they presently inhabit. These are all logical deduction, but they are mainly nonfalsifiable and therefore unscientific. 

Granted we see Zoquean and Maya speakers in Olmecland today. But the linguistic evidence of Swadesh indicate that they were not in this area 3000 years ago when a new linguistic group appears to have entered the area. 

Secondly, any comparison of Mayans depicted in Mayan art, and the Olmec people depicted in Olmec art especially the giant heads, indicate that these people did not look alike 

Some people claim that they have seen Olmec figures that look like contemporary native Americans. This may be true but practically all of the Olmec figures look African. At the following site I compare the Mayan type and the African type: 

Many contemporary Mexicans look like Africans or Blacks because of the slave trade, which brought hundreds of thousands of Africans to Mexico to work in the mines and perform other task for their masters. A Cursory examination of these pictures of the Maya show that the ancient Maya look nothing like the Olmecs. How do they explain the fact that the Olmec look nothing like the Mayan people, if the Olmec were “indigenous” people they talk about. 

Comparison of Olmec and Mayan Figures 

Moreover, just because Africans may have come to America with Columbus, does not prove that they were not here before Columbus. 

Yet, subscription to these theories is logical, but logical assurance alone, is not good science. 

Logically we could say that because Amerindians live in the Olmec heartland today, they may have lived in these areas 3000 years ago. But, the evidence found by Swadesh, an expert on the Mayan languages, of a new linguistic group invading the Olmec heartland 3000 years ago; and the lack of congruence between Olmec and Mayan art completely falsifies the conjectures of the Amerindian origin of the Olmec theorists. The opposite theory, an African origin for the Olmecs, deserves testing. 

Some researchers claim that there is no scientific basis for the ability of African people to have remained unabsorbed in America. This is totally false there are many reports of Black tribes living in America when Europeans arrived in the New World. 

The scientific evidence supports the African origin and perpetuation of an Olmec civilization in Mesoamerica from 1200 BC, up to around 400 AD. Let’s examine this theory. My hypothesis is that the Olmec people were Africans. There are five variables that support this theorem. They are: the following variables: 1) African scripts found during archaeological excavation; 2) the Malinke-Bambara origin of the Mayan term for writing; 3) cognate iconographic representations of African and Olmec personages; 4) the influence of Malinke-Bambara 

cultural and linguistic features on historic Mesoamerican populations; and 5) the presence of African skeletal material excavated from Olmec graves in addition to many other variables. The relation between these five variables or a combination of these variables explains the African origin of the Olmecs. 

Let’s begin with the skeletal evidence. Some researchers maintain that the African was not indigenous to America. Although you make this claim you fail to acknowledge that in addition to Wiercinski’ analysis of the Olmec skeletons, many other researchers including C.C. Marquez, Estudios arqueologicos y ethnografico (Madrid,1920), Roland B. Dixon, The racial history of Man (N.Y.,1923) and Ernest Hooton, Up from the Ape (N.Y.,1931) and the Luzia remains make it clear that Africans were in the Americas before the native Americans crossed the Bearing Sea. 

Supporters of the Native American origin of the Olmecs speak of people being absorbed by the Native Americans. Yet we know from the expansion of the Europeans in the Western Hemisphere, Eventhough the Native Americans outnumbered these people, they are in decline while the Europeans have prospered and multiplied. 

There is skeletal evidence of Africans in Olmecland. The evidence of Wiercinski craniometrics have not been dissected and disputed.

Dr. Wiercinski (1972) claims that the some of the Olmecs were of African origin. He supports this claim with skeletal evidence from several Olmec sites where he found skeletons that were analogous to the West African type black. Wiercinski discovered that 13.5 percent of the skeletons from Tlatilco and 4.5 percent of the skeletons from Cerro de las Mesas were Africoid (Rensberger,1988; Wiercinski, 1972; Wiercinski & Jairazbhoy 1975). 

Diehl and Coe (1995, 12) of Harvard University have made it clear that until a skeleton of an African is found on an Olmec site he will not accept the art evidence that the were Africans among the Olmecs. This is rather surprising because Constance Irwin and Dr. Wiercinski (1972) have both reported that skeletal remains of Africans have been found in Mexico. Constance Irwin, in Fair Gods and Stone Faces, says that anthropologist see “distinct signs of Negroid ancestry in many a New World skull….” 

Dr. Wiercinski (1972) claims that some of the Olmecs were of African origin. He supports this claim with skeletal evidence from several Olmec sites where he found skeletons that were analogous to the West African type black. Many Olmec skulls show cranial deformations (Pailles, 1980), yet Wiercinski (1972b) was able to determine the ethnic origins of the Olmecs. Marquez (1956, 179-80) made it clear that a common trait of the African skulls found in Mexico 

include marked prognathousness ,prominent cheek bones are also mentioned. Fronto-occipital deformation among the Olmec is not surprising because cranial deformations was common among the Mande speaking people until fairly recently (Desplanges, 1906). 

Many African skeletons have been found in Mexico. Carlo Marquez (1956, pp.179-180) claimed that these skeletons indicated marked pronathousness and prominent cheek bones. 

Wiercinski found African skeletons at the Olmec sites of Monte Alban, Cerro de las Mesas and Tlatilco. Morley, Brainerd and Sharer (1989) said that Monte Alban was a colonial Olmec center (p.12). 

Diehl and Coe (1996) admitted that the inspiration of Olmec Horizon A, common to San Lorenzo’s iniitial phase has been found at Tlatilco. Moreover, the pottery from this site is engraved with Olmec signs. 

According to Wiercinski (1972b) Africans represented more than 13.5 percent of the skeletal remains found at Tlatilco and 4.5 percent of the Cerro remains (see Table 2). Wiercinski (1972b) studied a total of 125 crania from Tlatilco and Cerro. 

There were 38 males and 62 female crania in the study from Tlatilco and 18 males and 7 females from Cerro. Whereas 36 percent of the skeletal remains were of males, 64 percent were women (Wiercinski, 1972b). 

To determine the racial heritage of the ancient Olmecs, Dr. Wiercinski (1972b) used classic diagnostic traits determined by craniometric and cranioscopic methods. These measurements were then compared to a series of three crania sets from Poland, Mongolia and Uganda to represent the three racial categories of mankind. 

In Table 1, we have the racial composition of the Olmec skulls. The only European type recorded in this table is the Alpine group which represents only 1.9 percent of the crania from Tlatilco. Table 1.Olmec Races 

Racial Type 


Norm Percent 

Cerro de Mesas 

Norm Percent 













20 38.5 

10 19.2 


7 13.5 

4 7.7 

2 3.9 

2 3.9 

2 3.9 

1 1.9 

1 1.9 

1 1.9 

1 1.9 


7 63.6 

— —- 


3 27.3 

— —- 

— —- 

1 9.1 

— — 

— — 

— — 

— — 

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