Not long ago I mentioned in passing that Ignatius Donnelly, in writing Atlantis: The Antediluvian World, had misquoted John T. Short’s North Americans of Antiquity (1880) in support of Atlantis. Short, who was open to diffusionist ideas, concluded, however, that Native Americans came from northeastern Asia and developed their civilization largely on their own. But it’s interesting to see that those who reviewed Short’s book had some ideas just as bizarre as Donnelly but from different perspectives. Today I’d like to share part of a review of Short published anonymously in the Methodist Quarterly Review in January 1880, which is both fascinating in its anticipation of Donnelly and surprising in its creationist take on the same theme.
Our author begins by explaining that North American prehistory is of singularly little interest, and the Native American “a very uninteresting specimen,” especially when compared with the Middle East and Europe and their inhabitants. He (and I assume it is a man writing, though I do not know for sure) writes that Native American civilization might have lasted two thousand years or more, but this would hardly place it in Biblical times, so it is of no interest to the study of God, though he concedes that “pre-Adamic man,” meaning pre-human ancestral species, might have occupied America, but they, being before the Biblical time period, are also irrelevant. Besides, the Native Americans were from Asia, so they aren’t of any special interest.
This leads the author to contemplate the civilization of Central America, and he find it, too, wanting. It could not be older than Adam, he says, and concludes therefore that it must post-date the Flood. Here he begins to harness the same evidence that would shortly become Donnelly’s own, though from a creationist perspective that Donnelly secularized. In determining that the continent was populated after the Flood, it stood to reason that the people of Central America must have come from the Old World sons of Noah. Here he introduces Plato’s Atlantis, which he believes to be located on an underwater plateau in the Atlantic (the mid-Atlantic ridge), and Mayan myths that their civilization emerged from travelers who came from the east, beyond the sea. You will immediately recognize this as the same evidence from Donnelly’s Atlantis claims, as indeed it had been taken as evidence of diffusionism for many years prior.
But look at what our author does with the basic building blocks, moving the center of action to the Pacific and anticipating (just a bit) James Churchward and Mu:
The civilization of Central America is unmistakably Hamitic. Shem was no colonizer by sea, and no architect. Japheth did not develop early on the Mediterranean or Atlantic. But Ham had three great descendants—Nimrod, or Assyria, (or Chaldea;) Mizraim, or Egypt; and Sidon, or Phoenicia; and each one of these has had share in setting an impress upon the American civilization. Ham was a sea-rover and a colonizer, and would easily cross to Chiapa; he was a builder, especially in pyramids, and could readily have founded Palenque and Cholula. He was, like the Mayas, a sun-worshiper, a Molochian offerer of human victims. He bore the deluge tradition and the crux ansata to America. His Egyptian orientation and terracing of the pyramids are there. Thither Phoenicia has sent her serpent and her cosmogonical egg. Assyria has sent thither her “sun symbol,” her bearded tree-worshipers, and her outspread sun-wings. Yet it is not so much from Egypt that America has imported her pyramids, which in fact are hardly true pyramids. Her truncated structures came from Babel and Babylon; are partially derived from the Jupiter Bel or Baal temples. In fact, these architectures almost seem to have traveled from Shinar eastward, and to have come round to America across the Pacific. So great a master of comparative architecture as Ferguson affirms that Burmah borrowed her architecture from Babylon; that farther east than Burmah the ruined cities of Cambodia show teocallis (pyramidal sanctuaries) like those of Mexico and Yucatan. Ferguson (as quoted by M’Causland) says, “As we advance eastward from the Valley of the Euphrates, at every step we meet with forms of art becoming more and more like those of Central America;” adding that but for the geographical difficulty no doubt would exist of the derivation of the American architecture from that origin—a difficulty amply solved by Mr. Short. One record of the Mosaic deluge tradition Mr. Short finds so deeply imbedded in the native history that it cannot be rejected as an appropriation from the Christian missionaries without invalidating all existing Central American history.
We really have a little of everything in there: Baalbek, Moloch, transoceanic diffusion, etc.! It is almost a laundry list of the greatest hits of alternative archaeology.
Both our author and Donnelly then draw from Short the same pieces of evidence that Short dismissed as contamination from missionaries: close parallels to the Mosaic Flood and a retelling of the Tower of Babel story centered on the Cholula pyramid in Mexico. Both Donnelly and our author take these to be proof of a connection to the Biblical account, but they differ in that Donnelly sees the Biblical account as connected to Atlantis, home of the antediluvians, while our author sees Atlantis as a Greek corruption of the Mosaic account.
It's interesting that the Victorians were so thoroughly convinced that the Americas could not have invented art and architecture on their own that they proposed a bewildering array of explanations for it. It’s sad that so many of them are still popular today, despite the continuing lack of evidence over the last 150 years to support such hypotheses of cultural diffusion.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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