12.23.2011

mayan ruins in georgia are "wild and unsubstantiated guess" that "no archaeologists will defend"

Have you heard that 1,100-year-old Maya ruins have been uncovered in the US state of Georgia? Did it seem a bit hard to believe? There's a reason for that.

If you haven't heard this, try Googling "Mayan ruins found in Georgia". You will find copious blogs, forums and tweets, all agog at this unlikely revelation.

Reading and re-reading the original article posted on Examiner.com, I thought the evidence seemed a bit thin, to put it mildly. Things like this:
the earliest maps show the name Itsate... Itsate is what the Itza Mayas called themselves
make little sense. Itza is a Maya language, now almost entirely extinct. A soundalike word on a map written in English is not evidence of anything. Another tidbit:
Also, among all indigenous peoples of the Americas, only the Itza Mayas and the ancestors of the Creek Indians in Georgia built five-side earthen pyramids as their principal mounds. It was commonplace for the Itza Maya to sculpt a hill into a pentagonal mound. There are dozens of such structures in Central America.
I don't know if the Creek and the Maya were the only people to construct pentagonal structures. But if both of those peoples did build five-sided structures, and the Creek lived in Georgia, and pentagonal earthen structures are found in Georgia, does that then point to the Maya? (I have brown eyes. African people have brown eyes. I must be African!)

Not a single archaeological journal or website, or a single science reporter for any news organization, has reported on this, to my knowledge. But I did find this:
According to the report, picked up from a fly-by-night Web pub called the Examiner, a small group of archeologists led by University of Georgia scholar Mark Williams discovered the 1,100-year-old city “on the southeast side of Brasstown Bald in the Nacoochee Valley.” Only, the report “is not true,” according to Williams, reached by email. “I have been driven crazy by this.”

The original story was written by one Richard Thornton — who claims that “like most Georgia and South Carolina Creeks, I carry a trace of Maya DNA,” and that his ancestors came to North America fleeing “volcanic eruptions, wars, and drought” — and it has certainly caught fire across the Twitter/blogosphere thanks to the general obsession with the 2012 Mayan prophecies. (Even the venerable Washington Post interrupted its regularly-scheduled news rapportage to alert readers that “a second brick found at a Mayan ruin also contained the Dec. 21, 2012, date.”)

But, as Williams says, “The Maya connection to legitimate Georgia archaeology is a wild and unsubstantiated guess on the part of the Thornton fellow. No archaeologists will defend this flight of fancy.”
To put it mildly, we need more evidence.

14 comments:

James said...

But if both of those peoples did build five-sided structures, and the Creek lived in Georgia, and pentagonal earthen structures are found in Georgia, does that then point to the Maya?

This is classic pseudoarcheological reasoning. The basic idea is that it's impossible for two groups to come up with the same idea independently. So if two groups do the same thing, they must actually be a single group.

The same reasoning is behind the "Ancient Egyptians visited the Americas" notion -- there are pyramids in Egypt and there are pyramids in the Americas, therefore, Egyptians must have been in the Americas. (For some reason, no-one ever claims that Aztecs must have been in Egypt.)

Speaking of pseudoscience and Mayans, Lori and I are going to be doing this next December. Should be fun!

laura k said...

The same reasoning is behind the "Ancient Egyptians visited the Americas" notion -- there are pyramids in Egypt and there are pyramids in the Americas, therefore, Egyptians must have been in the Americas.

I was going to use that very example.

A pseudohistorian has built a whole cottage industry for himself based on Chinese explorers coming to South America before the Spanish. After all, roosters in China sound the same as roosters in South America! What more do you need?

(He does have a little more, but it's all equally flimsy.)

laura k said...

Speaking of pseudoscience and Mayans, Lori and I are going to be doing this next December.

Get out! Hilarious.

laura k said...

Well, not hilarious. Sounds great, but the title is hilarious.

James said...

A pseudohistorian has built a whole cottage industry for himself based on Chinese explorers coming to South America before the Spanish.

Gavin Menzies, with his "1421" book. It's actually one of the more plausible such -- at least it doesn't invoke Atlantis or Ancient Astronauts.

Georgia seems to be a popular place for this sort of thing. There are also the Georgia Guidestones (not archaeological, but a favourite among mystery mongers) and claims of Viking settlements found.

James said...

Get out! Hilarious. [...] Well, not hilarious. Sounds great, but the title is hilarious.

I fully expect that there will be hilarity involved.

The best part is that we'll be at the Mayan ruins at Tulum on the solstice, the day of the alleged event.

We've never done a cruise before. This should be fun.

Hey, you wouldn't be interested in boarding a couple of dogs and a couple of cats for a week, would you? ;)

allan said...

This should be fun.

Or a supposedly fun thing you'll never do again.

laura k said...

Yeah, Menzies. Plausible... but not true. Or at least not based on available evidence.

We would love to host Cobalt and Denim for a week! I don't know if it would be good for Tala, though. Cats, of course, are out of the question...

I've never wanted to go on a cruise, but soemthing with cultural and intellectual interest sounds cool.

Tulum is so beautiful. We have incredible memories of our time there. We were there before it was developed or built up at all. We snorkled for the first time, stayed in a little cabana on the beach... just a magical few days, the end of our great Mexican trip.

laura k said...

This should be fun.

Or a supposedly fun thing you'll never do again.


Oh, do NOT go on a cruise without reading that first! I'm sure your cruise will be nothing like that, but still, it's a must.

James said...

Or a supposedly fun thing you'll never do again.

Even if the cruise part isn't fun, the hanging out with astronomers, astronauts, physicists, and David Brin part should be enjoyable.

9 years ago Lori & I did a resort vacation in the Dominican. Lori loved it, I was a bit bored by lounging after the second day. This way, Lori can lounge all she likes, and I can sit in on lectures. Best of both worlds!

laura k said...

Best of both worlds!

Absolutely. The cruise of the DFW essay will bear little relation to this, I'm sure. But it's a must-read anyway - a superb piece of nonfiction.

James said...

Boing Boing on the Examiner on the ruins:

1. Nobody found Mayan ruins in the U.S. state of Georgia. An article posted on The Examiner claimed this was the case. That article is full of it. So full of it that even the scientist cited in the article is (in a more polite way) publicly calling out The Examiner for being full of it. Mark Williams of the University of Georgia does do research on North American archaeology. He has spent 20 years excavating sites in Georgia's Oconee River valley. But these sites are not Mayan. Instead, they're part of what are broadly known as "Mississippian cultures," a conglomeration of ancient North American peoples who built a lot of earth mound structures and whose cultures are distinct from those of the Mayans and other Central Americans.

laura k said...

I assumed (but of course couldn't know) that what was found was earth mounds, the same kind that dot the US south. We climbed up an Indian mound (as they are called) in Mississippi. I've since learned about giant earthworks in Ohio that I would love to see, maybe on a baseball road trip.

Glad to see the debunking is beginning to make the rounds. Although of course, many people will persist in believing that Maya ruins were found in Georgia.

James said...

I expect I'll be seeing a lot of responses to this story in the blogs I follow over the next week or so.

I wonder when the History Channel special will air...