In the world of fringe history, bad arguments never die. It’s been almost 135 years since Ignatius Donnelly argued that the similarity between Egyptian and Mexican pyramids argued for a common source, and somehow that claim of a connection continues today despite the complete lack of evidence to support it. The pyramids are neither from the same time period, of the same shape, or served the same purpose. Indeed, the only thing they have in common is that they taper as they rise, an inevitable consequence of premodern construction techniques that prized stability and had to deal with gravity.
In a recent article published in Ancient Origins, Kirk Kirchev, the co-creator of a type of tree tent (a kind of glorified covered hammock) who proudly quotes a description of himself as having “the imagination of a 5 year old Indiana Jones,” proposes that ocean currents can explain the transmission of pyramid-building techniques westward from Egypt to Mexico to Cambodia.
Presumably the Egyptians and Maya educated their sailors better than later peoples if they were able to provide architectural advice.
According to the author, at some point after the Pyramid Age in Egypt, a Mediterranean sailor and his vessel were swept out to sea beyond Gibraltar and carried by the currents to the Caribbean, from which he ventured on to Mexico. The Natives, being awed by the grandeur of a Mediterranean visitor, immediately devoted their civilization to reproducing his:
However, one thing that would have likely occurred is the sporadic spread of knowledge. The odd stranded Mediterranean castaways that end up on the shores of Mesoamerica would tell incredible stories of grand civilizations with even grander megalithic constructions. An inspiring tale for any emerging culture. Wouldn't the Olmecs and Maya get inspired to build their own rocky grandeur? Why wouldn't they?
There are a number of answers to that question, starting with the basics of Mesoamerican pyramids: They didn’t start out as pyramids. Most Mesoamerican pyramids were formed from adding new layers atop older temples, gradually raising them higher and higher on larger platforms, with the original temples encased below. There is simply no need to suggest an Old World visitor tutored them in this art. Nor does it explain the fact that the pyramid-temples of Peru are not on this ocean highway and they are coeval with their Egyptian counterparts.
Kirchev adds that at the height of the Maya civilization, another group of sailors drifted all the way to Southeast Asia, prompting the Khmer and other peoples to start building Hindu and Buddhist temples in the shape of Maya step-pyramids, for, once again, everyone was so in awe of the visitor that they allegedly abandoned their own cultures to devote all their resources to reproducing that of an exhausted and waterlogged sailor. Somehow the similarities to Hindu and Buddhist architecture of the Indian subcontinent are unimportant. (Kirchev is apparently not up on the research into Polynesian voyages to Mexico and Peru, or else he might have made them the transmitters of knowledge.)
This is rather astonishing since Kirchev proposes that a single sailor in both instances, set adrift by chance, transmitted pyramid-building techniques and purposes around the world. Consider this, however: Egypt is known to have had trade relationships with the Levant, which in turn is known to have had trade relationships with India, which also had trade relationships with what used to be called Indochina. And yet despite these established connections, the supposedly overwhelming power of the pyramid idea never diffused across the Old World across thousands of years of documented interaction. But somehow, one guy (give or take) convinced an entire civilization to go Egyptian, practically overnight, and three thousand years after the Egyptians stopped building pyramids.
He must have been a heck of salesman, probably a better one than the guy who sells covered hammocks.
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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