2,000-Year-Old Carving and 16th Century Manuscript Reveal Some Maya Came from Across the Sea

2,000-Year-Old Carving and 16th Century Manuscript Reveal Some Maya Came from Across the Sea


The Popol Vuh, a corpus of mythological and historical narratives according to the Quiché-Maya people, and Izapa Stela 5, a carved stela found at the ancient Mesoamerican site of Izapa in Mexico, provide a fascinating insight into Mexican history. In fact, together, they may reveal that some of the ancestors of the Quiché-Maya came from across the sea.

Popol Vuh Reveals Foreign Origins

In the English translation of the Popol Vuh, it reads: “We shall write about this now amid the preaching of God, in Christendom now. We shall bring it out because there is no longer a place to see it, a Council Book, a place to see “The Light That Came from Beside the Sea”, the account of “Our Place in the Shadows”, a place to see “The Dawn of Life” …… (Tedlock, 1992, p.63).

The Popol Vuh refers to their ancestors coming from the East, which is a significant statement.  East of the Maya would be the Gulf Region.

The Popol Vuh continues: “They didn’t know where they were going. They did this for a long time, when they were there in the grasslands: the black people, the white people, people of many faces, people of many languages, uncertain there at the edge of the sky” (Tedlock, 1992, pp.149-150).

An 18th century translation of the Popol Vuh

An 18th century translation of the Popol Vuh. ( Public Domain )


Izapa Stela 5 is Consistent with the Popol Vuh

Izapa-style art is characterized by upright stone stelae found at the site of Izapa, situated near Tapachula, Chiapas. Izapa is located on the Pacific coastal plain in an area known as Soconusco.

The Izapa stela no.5 is one of many carved stelae found at Izapa which date from roughly 300 BC to 50 BC. This monument has interesting iconographic representations that support some of the migration stories handed down from generation to generation by the Mexicans.

Night photography of stela 5 at Izapa ruins, Tapachula, Mexico.

Night photography of stela 5 at Izapa ruins, Tapachula, Mexico. ( CC by SA 3.0 )

The research of the New World Archaeological Foundation indicates that this site has been continuously occupied since 1500 BC. Much of what we know about the art from Izapa comes from the work of Virginia Smith's Izapa Relief Carving (1984), Garth Norman's Izapa Sculpture (1976) and Jacinto Quirarte's Izapan-Style Art (1973). Garth Norman of the New World Archaeological Foundation has published many of the stone stelae and altars found at Izapa and has discussed much of their probable religious significance.

Symbology of Stela 5

The stela no.5 records many glyphic elements common to other pre-classic artifacts including the jaguar, falling water, mountain, bird, dragon tree, serpent, and fish motifs. This stela also provides many elements that relate to Mexican and Maya traditions, as accurately analyzed by Norman (pages 165-236). Some ideological factors not fully discussed in regards to this stela are elements linked to the Olmec religion and the migration traditions of the Mexicans.

Ancient Migration Stories of Mexico

The Maya were not the first to occupy the Yucatan and Gulf regions of Mexico. It is evident from Maya traditions and the artifacts recovered from many ancient Mexican sites that a different race lived in the area before the Mayan speakers settled this region. The linguistic evidence suggests that a new linguistic group arrived in the Gulf region of Mexico at around 1200 BC.

M. Swadesh (1953) has presented evidence that at least 3,200 years ago, a non-Maya speaking group wedged itself between the Huastecs and the Maya.

Ruins at Izapa, Chiapas, Mexico.

Ruins at Izapa, Chiapas, Mexico. ( Eduardo Robles Pacheco / flickr )

Traditions mentioned by Bernardino Sahagun, a missionary priest who participated in the Catholic evangelization of Mexico, record Mexico’s settlement story. Sahagun says that these "Eastern settlers of Mexico landed at Panotha, on the Mexican Gulf. Here they remained for a time until they moved south in search of mountains”.

Friar Diego de Landa, in Yucatan Before and After the Conquest , wrote that "some old men of Yucatan say that they have heard from their ancestors that this country was peopled by a certain race who came from the East, whom God delivered by opening for them twelve roads through the sea" (p.28).

This tradition is most interesting because it probably refers to the twelve migrations to Mexico. This view is also supported by Stela 5 from Izapa. In Izapa Stela 5 we see a group of men on a boat riding the waves.

An illustration of Izapa Stela 5.

An illustration of Izapa Stela 5. ( CC by SA 3.0 )

It is clear that Stela No.5 is not only symbolic of the tree of life, it also supports the traditional accounts recorded by Friar Diego de Landa that people made twelve migrations to the New World. In the center of the boat on Stela No.5, we find a large tree. This tree has seven branches and twelve roots. The seven branches probably represent the seven major clans of the immigrants, while the twelve roots of the tree extending into the water from the boat probably signify the "twelve roads through the sea", mentioned by Friar Diego Landa.

This stela also supports the tradition recorded by the famous Maya historian Ixtlixochitl, that some people came to Mexico in "ships of barks " and landed at Potonchán, which they commenced to populate.

The Mexican migration accounts and the depictions on Izapa stela 5, probably relate to a segment of the ancient Mexicans who landed in boats in Panotha or Pantla (the Huasteca) and moved along the coast as far as Guatemala. This would correspond to the non-Maya speaking group detected by Morris Swadesh that separated the Maya and Huasteca speakers 2000 years ago.

Top image:   The Third creation of the Universe by Toniná Divine Lords, Garra of Jaguar (left) amd Kinich Baknal Chaal (right). National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City. ( CC BY SA 4.0 )

By Dr. Clyde Winters


Friar Diego de Landa, Yucatan Before and After the Conquest . Translated by William Gates (1937),

Garth Norman, Izapa Sculpture, 1976.

Jacinto Quorate, Izapan -Style Art , 1973.

Virginia Smith, Izapa Relief Carving, Studies in Pre-Columbian Art and Archaeology , No. 27, 1984.

Morris Swadesh. The Language of the Archaeological Haustecs. 1953.

Clyde Winters, Atlantis in Mexico: The Mande Discovery of America .

Clyde Winters, African Empires in Ancient America .


Clyde Winters's picture

You don’t know what you’re ta;king about the relationship between Melanesians and Africans is not due to Muslim contact. Granted, the Swahili Muslims and Ethiopians from Axum played an important role in trading in the Pacific the genetic evidence indicates the relationsip between Melanesians and Africans is much older .because ,while the merchants from these countries lived in East Africa. the African place names in the Pacific are from WEST AFRICA..

Due to the Dravido-African origin of the MRCA of the Melanesian, there are genetic markers which pointto a relationship between the Fijians and Africans. In Table 1, we see the shared Afro-Dravido y-Chromosomes. Merriwether et al., (n.d, 2005) for example noted that haplogroup E-M78 appears in NewGuinea, while haplogroup E-M2 has been found in New Guinea, Near Oceania and Northwestern mostMicronesia.Cordaux et al., (2003) found E-M35 in Africa and the Pacific. In addition, Merriwether (1994) observedthat Africans and Asians share the T-->C transition at nt position 16189 and the D-loop sequence ofnts 15975 to 00048.Africans and Fijians share the Y-Chromosome K-M9.The K haplogroup is found in Africa and Oceania.See

The common Fijian Y-chromosome is M-M4; it exist as derived subgroup M-P34 of Melanesians. Both of these genes are found among Africans as noted by Wood et al., (2005). Table 1: Shared Y-Chromosome Ocenia and Africa  See: .The mtDNA M clade is the best genetic marker of the connection between Africans and Melanesians. TheM1 haplogroup is a member of the M macrohaplogroup. M1 is a sister haplogroup to Haplogroup D, one of the major Asian subgroups in Macrohaplogroup M.

In Table 2, we see the defining control region mutations for African Dravidian and Oceanian haplotypes.The shared haplotypes correspond to the L3(M/Q) haplogroups. These haplotypes are predominately the pan-African haplotypes: 16129,16223,16189 and 16311. See


The M, N, and R macrohaplogroups are found throughout East and South and Southeast Asia, theAndaman Islands and Africa (Cabrera et al.,2004).
Haplotypes with HVSI transitions defining 16129-16223-16249-16278-16311-16362; and 16129-16223-16234-16249-16211-16362 have been found in Thailand and among the Han Chinese (Fucharon et al. 2001), these haplotypes were originally thought to be members of Haplogroup M1. However, on the basisof currently available FGS sequences, carriers of these markers have been found to be in the D4a branchof Haplogroup D, the most widespread branch of M1 in East Asia (Fucharon et al., 2001; Gondor et al., 2006; Yao et al., 2002). The transitions 16129, 16189, 16249 and 16311 are known to be recurrent invarious branches of Haplogroup M, especially M1 and D4. Gonder et al.,(2006) for example, noted thatthe mtDNAs of Tanzanians belonging to haplogroup M1 cluster with peoples from Oceania.

Interesting but, ultimately useless information. Of course there are African names and words in the Pacific region and throughout the Indian Ocean basin. Muslims, including Africans, have traded with and occupied areas of Indonesia, Fiji and India since at least the 16th century (much earlier in India). I'd be very surprised if we DIDN'T find evidence of them in words, family and place names! Hell, Indonesia is a Muslim majority nation of 250,000,000 people that bridges the Indo-Pacific divide. What we CAN'T say however, is that those names and words predate the coming of Muslim traders or that the aboriginal people of the religion are direct descendants of Africans who migrated there directly from Africa. As to Hawaii, To find a single word has the same meaning in two disparate regions is no more than a coincidence. There is absolutely no genetic evidence that connects Hawaiians with Africans other than the Malagasy people of Madagascar who are themselves the southwestern most representatives of the Malayopolynesian people.

Clyde Winters's picture

What you call coincidence may be reality. You believed that when the girl you dated, found a relationship between Hawaiian and Ethiopian words it had to be a coincidence, yet, some people on the Pacific Islands, like Fiji,  claim their ancestors came from Africa. This tradition of an African origin for some Pacific Island residents is supported by archaeological, toponymic and linguistic evidence.

Before I retired from teaching, I was responsible for teaching students research methods when they were preparing to write their Master’s thesis. I always taught them that the important thing they need to develop is their knowledge base, i.e., the literature base you have acquired in your chosen field of study. Sometimes what we assume to be coincidence, may simply result from our limited literature base.   

It appears that at sometime, long ago, Africans settled some of the Pacific Islands, the Fijians claim their ancestors came from Tanzania.

Researchers have found African place names from India to Japan. There are also many West African placenames in India and the Pacific.       Page (1988) noted the numerous African placenames in the Pacific, see:  . And  Nigerian placenames and surnames  have been found in Japan , see: Nigerian placenames and surnames in Japan See:

 A recent article on Nigerian place names found in India was published by Dr. R. Balakrishnan (2005 ). Dr. Balakrishnan found almost 500 Nigerian placenames, and 46 tribal names in Koraput, India; and 110 ethnonyms of Koyas in Nigeria. This led Dr. Balakrishnan (2005) to declare that :"However, the overwhelming evidence available from the toponymic corpuses of Koraput and Nigeria, and ethnonyms, surnames and personal names of Koyas seem more adequate to propose an African origin to the Koyas, the Dravidian speakers" (p.177).

The discovery of African placenames in the Pacific means that the analogy your date found between words in her language and Hawaiian may not be a coincidence.  This shows a direct spread of West African place names from Africa, across the Indian Ocean into the Pacific. The discovery of common placenames in three different regions can not be accounted by coincidence.



Balakrishnan, R. (2005). "African roots of the Dravidian-speaking Tribes: A case in Onomastics", International Journal of Dravidian Linguistics, 34(1) (2005),pp.153-202.

Page, W J.(1988)."The Lakota Hypothesis:on the Origin of Melanesian People of the Fijian Islands", West African Journal of  Archaeology 18: 31-72.

Winters,Clyde. (2014). AFRICAN AND DRAVIDIAN ORIGINS OF THE MELANESIANS . Indian Journal of Fundamental and Applied Life Sciences, Vol. 4 (3) July-September, pp. 694-704.


It happens. I once had a girlfriend from the Danakil region of Ethiopia. While discussing what to do one night I suggested "We go kalalau". This is a Hawaiian word meaning to wander with no destination in mind. She replied by asking me how I knew an Afar word. Turns out that kalalau has the same meaning and pronunciation in both Hawaiian and Afar. Just a coincidence.

Years ago (late 1970s) I was researching Atlantic voyaging and came across a reference in a Conference proceedings - I think - in which a linguist pointed out that the Mayan? word for calendar "lamed" or "lamet" was identical to the Jewish word. He said he had no idea why this should be the case.


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