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Clockwise from top left - Koh Ker, Cambodia (thomaswanhoff/CC BY SA 2.0), Pyramid of Khafre, Egypt (MusikAnimal/CC BY SA 3.0), El Castillo, Chichén Itzá, Mexico (Grand Velas Riviera Maya/CC BY SA 2.0), Pyramid of Cestius, Italy (Nicholas Laughlin/CC BY NC SA 2.0) Center: Replica of a wind rose from the chart of Jorge de Aguiar, 1492. (Alvesgaspar/CC BY SA 3.0)

The Pyramids Route: Was Knowledge of the Pyramids Spread by Ancient Castaways?

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Jose Salvador Alvarenga was fishing off the coast of Mexico in late 2012 when a powerful storm sent his boat adrift. Marshall Islanders found the battered vessel nearly 16 months later, stuck on a reef—with Alvarenga still alive inside. He had crossed almost the whole length of the Pacific Ocean. Rainwater and a diet of fish and turtle sustained him.

At that latitude, the prevailing ocean currents - the powerful North Equatorial current, assisted by the westerly trade winds, could carry any stranded boatmen out and far west across the Pacific and eventually into south west Asia. Those that survive the journey, that is.

Had he reached the Asian continent, Alvarenga may have come across a sight that closely resembles the ruins of his home country - an ancient stepped pyramid, hidden in the jungles of Cambodia. But, he didn't. And neither did many others that were swept out to sea drifting westwards, away from the American continent. But perhaps some reached that far. Way before the pyramids were there.

This is Their Story

Those ancient sailors that were misfortunate enough to be swept out to sea away from their homeland with no way to return would have been stranded at sea for months and had to survive storms, hunger, and thirst. Eventually, (if they made it) they would reach distant shores and meet cultures profoundly alien to their own. This is the story of their legacy. It tells of sporadic contact between ancient cultures that spread ideas to the new world and beyond. This article presents the global sea route that links the furthest civilizations - The Pyramids route.

Ocean Currents and Sea Ice from Atlas of World Maps, United States Army Service Forces, Army Specialized Training Division.

Ocean Currents and Sea Ice from Atlas of World Maps , United States Army Service Forces, Army Specialized Training Division. ( Public Domain ) Pyramids and Pyramid Route – Author provided.

The Ancient Egyptians - Architectural Influences

2600 BC: Egypt builds its first pyramids. A few centuries later they reach such height and sophistication that the whole Mediterranean world learns about the spectacular technological achievements. For the next 4000 years they are the tallest and most enigmatic structures in the world. The pride and glory of Earth's earliest sophisticated civilization.

When Ancient Greece learns about the grandeur of Egypt's construction, they borrow the megalithic building technology to build their temples and even attempt to build their own pyramids. The Greeks learned from Egypt, and the Romans learned from the Greeks. Architecture evolved, but every later civilization would emulate Greco-Roman architecture to this very day. The influence of the ancient builders has spread far and wide.

There are pyramids in Paris and Las Vegas, Roman Arches of triumph in Berlin, Paris, London, and even Pyongyang. There are Egyptian obelisks in Rome, London, Washington, and beyond. And the classical colonnades that the Ancient Greeks borrowed from the temples of Luxor are now adopted by almost every culture - The one of the White House fronts an Egyptian obelisk.

The White House, Northside, Washington DC.

The White House, Northside, Washington DC. ( GlynLowe.com/CC BY 2.0 )

Every new civilization would like to be seen as if it has inherited the sophistication and grandeur of its world renowned predecessor.

Ancient Egypt at Sea - Sailing Challenges and the Canary Current

It has been the consensus of the scientific community that Egyptian triremes weren't as ocean worthy as even a basic sailing boat today. And rightly so. The heavy bows and square rigs weren't designed for long passages or to sail close to the wind. And so they didn't.

The furthest they would've ventured is just a little outside the strait of Gibraltar, while hugging the coast of modern Spain or Africa but not too far as to run out of fresh water and supplies. Had they ventured too far south, the prevailing sea currents and trade winds would force them to row their boats back to Gibraltar against the prevailing winds and currents - a tiring process.

Routes (red), winds (green), and currents (blue) around the Strait of Gibraltar.

Routes (red), winds (green), and currents (blue) around the Strait of Gibraltar. ( Walrasiad/CC BY SA 3.0 )

Millenniums later, the fleets of Spain, Portugal, and Britain would discover that following the prevailing winds can be exploited. Slave ships would leave the coast of Europe, load up in Africa and cross the Atlantic to deliver the human cargo in the Caribbean. There they would fill up with sugar cane and other crops and return to Europe. It became a triangular journey that used the North Equatorial current, the trade winds, and the gulf stream to their advantage.

The trade triangle.

The trade triangle. ( SimonP/CC BY SA 2.0 )

But the Ancient Egyptians hadn't discovered this trick. So they rowed back to Gibraltar and didn't venture out far from the coast. Not willingly.

But every once in a while ,a storm damaged vessel, a weakened crew, or an old fisherman would inevitably end up being swept south west into the Atlantic ocean...

Corioliss effect, Hadley cells, Trade winds, North Equatorial current.

Corioliss effect, Hadley cells, Trade winds, North Equatorial current. ( Dennis Nullet/Kapiolani Community College Geography )

Steven Callahan sailed from the Canary Islands in 1982 when a week into his journey a collision damaged and flooded his boat. He drifted westwards in a life raft across the Atlantic for months before ending up in the Caribbean.

Any castaways, modern or ancient, if they survived the months at sea, would be swept adrift into the Caribbean and beyond. Riding the North Equatorial current and assisted by the trade winds, some could end up as far as Guatemala or the Yucatan peninsula.

There would be thousands of years of time for at least one of such unfortunate journeys to occur. Here, at the 15-degree latitude the winds and currents flow westward so they create an invisible trap for any adventurous seamen to be swept westwards away from the old world.

Of course, such sporadic contact wouldn't have ended up in trade, settlement, or leave much physical evidence of the strange travels other than the odd and controversial OOPART - Out-of-place artifact. A return journey would also be unthinkable - besides the challenge of finding a way out of the Gulf of Mexico, one has to battle the cold high seas of the North Atlantic. They would then be blown into the rocky west coast of Europe - a very slim chance for many to get back to their Mediterranean home.

An example of a proposed OOPART - the Tecaxic-Calixtlahuaca head.

An example of a proposed OOPART - the Tecaxic-Calixtlahuaca head. ( Fair Use )

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?

They too would have a prosperous agricultural society that could feed large numbers of workers - the extra available workforce for massive architectural projects, and the new idea that they can be as impressive as the greatest civilization of an unknown world would be very appealing.

Mayan Pyramids in SE Asia?

Of course, there are many Pre-Columbian trans-oceanic contact theories but here we are examining a specific route that traces the sea currents, prevailing winds and follows a timeline of the emergence of pyramidal architecture.

Fast forward a thousand or so years in the future when Mayan civilization have already developed.  Now, by the same seaward route, this time through the Pacific, thousands of miles to the west, in SE Asia, stranded Mayan castaway survivors may be telling stories of their home civilization. Would the descriptions of immense constructions inspire the emerging Khmer culture to build their own pyramids? Or perhaps a new status symbol for an emerging empire?

And how would the castaways drift all the way there? Perhaps in the same way as Jose Salvador Alvarenga did in 2012. And in the same way as those Mediterranean sailors of an earlier age would've drifted across the Atlantic. Same winds, same currents, same latitude, same less-than-seaworthy vessels, just a different ocean.

A map showing the prevailing winds on earth. The image was made based on an image in the book "Het handboek voor de zeiler" by H.C. Herreshoff.

A map showing the prevailing winds on earth. The image was made based on an image in the book "Het handboek voor de zeiler" by H.C. Herreshoff. ( Public Domain )

So today, after millennia, the boats have rotted away, the few surviving castaways have been assimilated into the host cultures, and the only remaining pieces of their legacy - a trail of pyramids. The idea that they carried was immortalized in stone along their sea route, built consecutively with the timeline of each concurrent civilization.

And some are of remarkably similar style despite the vast distances between them:

Pyramid of Djoser, Saqqara, Egypt. El Castillo or temple of Kukulkan, Chichén Itzá, Mexico. Pyramid of Koh Ker, Cambodia.

Pyramid of Djoser, Saqqara, Egypt. ( Maveric149/CC BY SA 3.0 ) El Castillo or temple of Kukulkan, Chichén Itzá, Mexico. ( Manuel de Corselas/CC BY SA 3.0 ) Pyramid of Koh Ker, Cambodia. (Author provided)

The Route Today

In the modern era, junior yachtsmen who plan a global circumnavigation will follow a very similar sea route - where currents and prevailing winds assist one’s journey. It's the easiest route, with the calmest waters and consistent winds, and it is called the Coconut Milk Run.

Ocean Currents and Sea Ice from Atlas of World Maps, United States Army Service Forces, Army Specialized Training Division. (Public Domain) Alvarenga and Callahan’s Routes

Ocean Currents and Sea Ice from Atlas of World Maps , United States Army Service Forces, Army Specialized Training Division. ( Public Domain ) Alvarenga and Callahan’s Routes – Author provided.

Top Image: Clockwise from top left - Koh Ker, Cambodia ( thomaswanhoff/CC BY SA 2.0 ), Pyramid of Khafre, Egypt ( MusikAnimal/CC BY SA 3.0 ), El Castillo, Chichén Itzá, Mexico ( Grand Velas Riviera Maya/CC BY SA 2.0 ), Pyramid of Cestius, Italy ( Nicholas Laughlin/CC BY NC SA 2.0 ) Center: Replica of a wind rose from the chart of Jorge de Aguiar, 1492. ( Alvesgaspar/CC BY SA 3.0 )

By Kirk Kirchev

Comments

Kirk Kirchev's picture

An ancient Egyptian castaway telling the host community about the greatness of his home country  would very likely mention the pyramids. Isn't this obvious?

What are the chances the castaways would talk about pyramids? Do you talk about what kind of buildings you have back home when you're traveling? Doesn't seem like much of a conversation topic to me...

Kirk Kirchev's picture

The host civilization would’ve already had their own architects. They likely didnt need help with this as they already had their large construction project before the appearance of their first pyramids.

The timeline is contained in the first image of the article. There were periods of over a thousand years for such contact to occur.

It's a good point of view but in this case every castaway's ship would had at least an architect, a very good one, in his crew. I think it's much more probable in a normal, and maybe stable, world wide web of relations. How many years ago? Difficult to say but probably before the conventional history account.

An idea once formed exists in consciousness and will be accessible to other minds.

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