Chinese Votive Sword Found in Georgia suggests Pre-Columbian Chinese travel to North America
In July 2014, an avocational surface collector chanced across a partially exposed Chinese votive sword behind roots in an eroded bank of a small stream in Georgia. The 30 cm artifact is possibly a one-of-a kind find in North America and is another example in the growing list of seemingly out-of-place Chinese artifacts suggesting Chinese travel to North America in Pre-Columbian times.
The exquisite sword has preliminarily been identified as being fashioned in Lizardite and has surface features indicating it is very old. It is hoped that future testing will confirm the type of stone, and determine the source, since Lizardite deposits exist in both eastern and western hemispheres.
Answers to the when, who, and how questions remain uncertain. An attempt to determine when the soil at the extraction site was last exposed to sunlight with thermoluminescence testing procedures, was thwarted because it was determined the soil had been disturbed. There remains a small section of an unknown stranded material still attached to the sword which may be suitable for radiocarbon dating, and also select areas of surface accretions that may produce helpful information.
Less uncertain are the many symbols and the shape of the sword, both of which are found on jade objects from the Xia (2070-1600 BC), Shang (1600-1046 BC) and Zhou Dynasty (1046-256 BC). The dragon figure spanning a portion of the top of the blade is typical to the Shang Dynasty, as is the feathered crown. The grotesque face mask of the Taotie on the guard and handle of the sword, first appears during the Liangzhu culture (3400-2250 BC) but it is more commonly found during the Shang and Zhou periods. (Siu-Leung Lee, PhD, personal conversation, and soon to be published paper.)
Left: Close up of dragon Right: Close up of Taotie in this general area. Photo courtesy of the Indigenous Peoples Research Foundation.
The dominant presence of Shang period diagnostics and the similarity of the Taotie to depictions of the Mesoamerican Olmec w ere-jaguar, provide clues as to when the sword was made and a general time frame for when it may have arrived in Georgia.
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Chinese – Olmec connection?
The similarity of Chinese-Olmec mythology and symbolism has been the subject of scholarly debate for over one hundred years. It is perhaps no coincidence that the Olmec culture appears around 1500 BC during the beginning of the Shang Dynasty, and the first written history of China begins. It was the start of the Bronze Age resulting in ornate bronze works of art, bronze chariots and weaponry. The first Chinese script appears at this time along with extensive irrigation systems and other public works projects, all indicators of a sophisticated and advanced culture.
It was also a time in Chinese culture when Jade was more valuable than gold, and likewise with the Olmec elite who had Jade deposits located in now Honduras and Guatemala. It may not be coincidental the Olmec, during their Middle Formative period (900-300 BC), mastered the difficulties of shaping and drilling Jade (a stone so hard that it cannot be worked with steel tools), with abrasive materials into small ornamental and votive pieces. The similarities of Chinese-Olmec art is quite telling and for those interested, an excellent comparison is presented in Art and Ritual in Early Chinese and Mesoamerican Cultures , Santiago Gonzalez Villajos, 2009.
The likely introduction of Chinese concepts of rulership and a stratified society, along with their religion and symbolism no doubt altered the Olmec and later Mesoamerican groups. It was an event that would be repeated in the 16 th century when Spanish Friars waded ashore carrying the cross of Christianity.
Reverse side of the votive sword. Photo courtesy of the Indigenous Peoples Research Foundation.
How did the sword get to Georgia?...some possibilities
Around 900 BC, these new Olmec cultural attributes started to spread throughout the region. There is considerable literature indicating that they served as a foundation for other contemporaneous and subsequent cultural groups, such as the Maya. Though modified by other groups to meet local needs and with changes over time, the basic concepts of the Olmecs persisted into the 16 th century conquest period. Interestingly, some of these ancient concepts, such as those relating to the planting of maize, are still practiced today within certain Mesoamerican indigenous groups. It is generally believed this dispersal was a by-product of the Olmec land and coastal maritime trade routes transporting basic and exotic trade goods.