Justenson and Kaufman (1985) popularized the idea that the Olmec spoke a Mixe-Zoque language. This is false the Olmec spoke Malinke-Bambara, a Mande language spoken in West Africa today.
There are four problems with Justenson and Kaufman decipherments of Epi-Olmec: 1) there is no clear evidence of Zoque speakers in Olmec areas 3200 years ago, 2) there is no such thing as a "pre-Proto-Soquean/Zoquean language, 3)there is an absence of a Zoque substratum in the Mayan languages , and 4) the lexical items associated with Justenson and Kaufman’s decipherment can not be used to read the all the Epi-Olmec inscriptions.
First of all ,Justenson and Kaufman in their 1997 article claim that they read the Epi-Olmec inscriptions using "pre-Proto-Zoquean". This is impossible ,a "Pre-Proto" language refers to the internal reconstruction of vowel patterns, not entire words. Linguists can reconstruct a pre-proto language , but this language is only related to internal developments within the target language.
Secondly, Justenson and Kaufman base their claim of a Zoque origin for the Olmec language on the presence of a few Zoque speakers around mount Tuxtla.
Justeson and Kaufman maintain that the Olmec people spoke a Otomanguean language. The Otomanguean family include Zapotec, Mixtec and Otomi to name a few. The hypothesis that the Olmec spoke an Otomanguean language is not supported by the contemporary spatial distribution of the languages spoken in the Tabasco/Veracruz area.
As mentioned earlier Thomas Lee in R.J. Sharer and D. C. Grove (Eds.), Regional Perspectives on the Olmecs, New York: Cambridge University Press (1989, 223) noted that "...closely Mixe, Zoque and Popoluca languages are spoken in numerous villages in a mixed manner having little or no apparent semblance of linguistic or spatial unity. The general assumption made by the few investigators who have considered the situation, is that the modern linguistic pattern is a result of the disruption of an Old homogeneous language group by more powerful neighbors or invaders...."
If this linguistic evidence is correct, many of the languages in the Otomanguean family are spoken by people who may have only recently settled in the Olmec heartland, and may not reflect the people that invented the culture we call Olmecs today.
In a recent article in by S.D. Houston and M.D. Coe, asked the question “Has Isthmian writing been deciphered”, in the journal Mexicon .In this article Houston and Coe attempted to use Justenson and Kaufman’s Epi-Olmec vocabulary to read the inscriptions on the Teo Mask and found that they were not helpful at all. They note that “The text does not provide much assurance that Justeson and Kaufman are on the mark….Would not persuasive decipherment have led, as did Michael Ventris’ brilliant work on Linear B or Tatiana Proskouriakoff’s on Maya, to compelling references to the context at hand , in this case a mask, or to its owner?”( Houston & Coe, 2003, p.159).
The Justenson and Kaufman hypothesis is not supported by the evidence for the origin of the Mayan term for writing. The Mayan term for writing is not related to Zoque.
Soren Wichmann (2018a,2018b) has spent much of his time researching the Mixe-Zoque languages, confirming Justenson and Kaufman’s hypothesis that the Mixe-Zoque speakers were Olmecs, and the Olmec originated on the Pacific coast, where he situates speakers of Proto-Mixe-Zoque (Wichmann, 2018b).
Wichmann (2018b) speculates that there were multiple Mixe and Zoque languages spoken in Chiapas between 1800-1600BC. He suggest that the speakers of Mixe-Zoque probably belonged to the Mokaya, Bara or Ocos cultures.
There are several problems with Wichmann’s theory. First, there is no archaeological evidence linking the Mokaya, Bara and Ocos cultures on the Gulf Coast where the Olmec civilization began. Secondly, the Olmec appear 600-400 years after the decline of these cultures. Thirdly, the Olmec spoke Malinke-Bambara, which is a substratum language of the Mayan and Mixe-Zoque language families.
Mayan tradition make it clear that they got writing from another Meso-American group. Landa noted that the Yucatec Maya claimed that they got writing from a group of foreigners called Tutul Xiu from Nonoulco (Tozzer, 1941). Xiu is not the name for the Zoque. But Xi, is the name for the Olmec people.
Brown has suggested that the Mayan term c'ib' diffused from the Cholan and Yucatecan Maya to the other Mayan speakers. This term is not derived from Mixe-Zoque. If the Maya had got writing from the Mixe-Zoque, the term for writing would be found in a Mixe-Zoque language.
The fact that there is no evidence that 1)the Zoque were in the ancient Olmec land 3200 years ago, 2)there is no Zoque substrate language in Mayan, 3) you can not read the Epi-Olmec inscriptions using the Justenson and Kaufman method, an 4) there is no such thing as "pre-Proto-Zoque" falsifies Justenson and Kaufman hypothesis.
Brown has suggested that the Mayan term c'ib' diffused from the Cholan and Yucatecan Maya to the other Mayan speakers. This term is probably not derived from Mixe-Zoque. If the Maya had got writing from the Mixe-Zoque, the term for writing would Probably be found in a Mixe-Zoque language. The research indicates that no word for writing exist in this language.
There are a number of Malinke-Bambara loans in Mixe. The Mixe discussed in this section is Qaxacan, and include words ITom Mazatec, Chinantec, Mixtec and Chatino.
The Mixe has surprising Malinke-Bambara loans. These loans presented in the Figure , include parts of the body, nouns for wind, house night and village, agricultural terms ( land of cultivation, maize, tomato) plus political terms such as lord, village and king.
As among the Mayans, the Mixe like the Malinke-Bambara prefix their pronouns. Mixe:
yi, y 'he, she, it, the' n' amido:y "I ask"
y pe tp "he will sweep it'
In Malinke-Bambara we would have a ba " his mother"; a be so " he is at horne', = 'she, he, it'.
Among the Malinke-Bambara loans in Mixe, there was full correspondence between the /t/,/m/ and /k/ in both languages. In other cases there was constrast between:
The constrast between the Mixe /c/ and Malinke-Bambara /t/ is most interesting because we have also observed this same pattern in the Mayan languages. It also interesting to note that many Malinke-Bambara loans in Mixe that begin with the /s/ consonant have been nativized by changing this /s/, just as the Yucatec speakers had done for their Olmec loans beginning with
It is interesting to note that the Mixe loan po' 'wind', is derived from Malinke¬Bambara fo/ po 'wind'. This is surprising because we find that in Mixe some words with an initial /f/ are pronounced with a /p/ sound, e.g., pishka d 'highest dignitary', a Nahuatl loan word.
The Olmec appear to have played an importatnt role in introducing agriculture to the Mixe. This is obvious not only in the large number of loans for plants in Mixe, but also the term they use for cultivation.
The Mixe make it clear that cultivation takes place on the humid bottom land they call ta : k kam . This Mixe word can not be explained in Mixe-Zoque. But when we look at this word from the perspective of the Olmec language we find that it comes from three Malinke-Bambara words ta ka ga 'this is the place of cultivation': ta 'place' , ka 'to be' ga 'terrain of cultivation, act of planting, to plant' . The loans in Mixe make it clear that they were probably hunter-gatherers when the Olmec (Malinke-Bambara) speaking people carne to Qaxaca in search of minerals to make their giant heads and jade for their many artifacts.
The Mixe appear to have used the loan ko 'head of something' , to construct many words in Mixe. For example:
ko ca'ny 'chief snake' kun-sa 'head snake'
kocu 'of the night' ku su 'head night'
kodung 'mayor ku(n)dugu 'head of land, chief
The Mixe term for calendar priest or kushi is probably also a loan from Olmec. The Olmec (Malinke-Bambara) term for 'time' is sinye and san means 'year, sky'. This suggest that the Mixe term kushi 'calendar priest, head priest', may come from the combination of Olmec ko 'head' and sinye 'time' or ko-sinye 'head time (keeper)'.
The Mixe nativization of ko-sinye > kushi , would not be too surprising, since the Mixe, if they were originally hunter-gatherers would have had no need for a person to record the seasons" a calendar priest', until they began the domestication of the crops introduced to Qaxaca by the Olmec people when they settled the region to exploit the rich mineral deposits found in this part of Mexico.
Finally, the widespread adoption of Olmec/ Malinke-Bambara lexical and grammatical features in the Mayan, Mixe and Otomi languages indicate a close relationship among the speakers of these languages in Pre-Classic Mexico. The shared diffused grammatical, lexical and phonological features discussed in this paper are probably the result from an extended period of bilingualism in ancient Mexico involving the Malinke-Bambara speaking Olmecs, and their Otomi, Mayan and Mixe neigbors.
The Olmecs came from Africa. There is no evidence that the Olmec existed in Mexico before 1200-1100 BC.
The archaeological evidence suggest that the Olmec "miraculously appear on American soil". Some researchers claim that I am wrongly ruling out an “indigenous revolution” for the origin of the Olmec civilization. This is their opinion—the archaeological evidence, not I, suggest that the founders of the Olmec civilization were not “indigenous” people.
In the Olmec World: Ritual and Rulership (1995), (ed.) by Carolyn Tate, on page 65, we find the following statement”Olmec culture as far as we know seems to have no antecedents; no material models remain for its monumental constructions and sculptures and the ritual acts captured in small objects”.
M. Coe, writing in Regional Perspective on the Olmecs (1989), (ed.) by Sharer and Grove, observed that “ on the contrary, the evidence although negative, is that the Olmec style of art, and Olmec engineering ability suddenly appeared full fledged from about 1200 BC”.
Mary E. Pye, writing in Olmec Archaeology in Mesoamerica (2000), (ed.) by J.E. Cark and M.E. Pye,makes it clear after a discussion of the pre-Olmec civilizations of the Mokaya tradition, that these cultures contributed nothing to the rise of the Olmec culture. Pye wrote “The Mokaya appear to have gradually come under Olmec influence during Cherla times and to have adopted Olmec ways. We use the term olmecization to describe the processes whereby independent groups tried to become Olmecs, or to become like the Olmecs” (p.234). Pye makes it clear that it was around 1200 BC that Olmec civilization rose in Mesoamerica. She continues “Much of the current debate about the Olmecs concerns the traditional mother culture view. For us this is still a primary issue. Our data from the Pacific coast show that the mother culture idea is still viable in terms of cultural practices. The early Olmecs created the first civilization in Mesoamerica; they had no peers, only contemporaries” (pp.245-46).
Richard A. Diehl The Olmecs:America’s first civilization (2005), wrote “ The identity of these first Olmecs remains a mystery. Some scholars believe they were Mokaya migrants from the Pacific coast of Chiapas who brought improved maize strains and incipient social stratification with them. Others propose that Olmec culture evolved among the local indigenous populations without significant external stimulus. I prefer the latter position, but freely admit that we lack sufficient information on the period before 1500 BC to resolve the issue” (p.25).
Pool , in Olmec Archaeology and early MesoAmerica (2007), argues that continuity exist between the Olmec and pre-Olmec cultures in Mexico “[even]though Coe now appears to favor an autochthonous origin for Olmec culture (Diehl & Coe 1995:150), he long held that the Olmec traits appeared at San Lorenzo rather suddenly during the Chicharras phase (ca 1450-1408 BC) (Coe 1970a:25,32; Coe and Diehl 1980a:150)”. Pool admits (p.95), that “this conclusion contrasts markedly with that of the excavators of San Lorenzo, who reported dramatic change in ceramic type and argued on this basis for a foreign incursion of Olmecs into Olman (Coe and Diehl 1980a, p.150).”
The evidence presented by these authors make it clear that the Olmec introduced a unique culture to Mesoamerica that was adopted by the Mesoamericans. As these statements make it clear that was no continuity between pre-Olmec cultures and the Olmec culture.
The Olmec came from Saharan Africa. They spoke a Mande language. Evidence of this connection comes from the fact:
1) both groups used jade (Amazonite) to make their tools. Amazonite was used in Saharan Africa. It was found at many sites in the ancient Sahara by archaeologists from the University of Chicago led by Soreno See: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2515196/pdf/pone.0002995.pdf .They made adzes and pendants to name a few items in amazonite.
2) both groups made large stone heads. Here is an African head dating back to the same period.
3) The Mande came to Mexico in boats from the Sahara down the ancient Niger River that formerly emptied in the Sahara or they could have made their way to the Atlantic Ocean down the Senegal River.
4) The Olmec writing points back to a Mande origin in Africa.
5) Olmec skeletons that are African.
6) Similar white, and red-and-black pottery.
7)The Mande speaking Olmec introduced of the 13 month 20 day calendar.
8) Mayan adoption of the Mande term for writing.
9)Mande religious and culture terms adopted by Mayan people.
The fact that 1) there is no archaeological evidence that the Zoque were in the ancient Olmec land on the Atlantic Gulf 3200 years ago, 2)there is no Zoque substrate language in Mayan, 3) there was no migration of Mokaya or Bara culture bearers from Chiapas to the Gulf, and 4) there is no such thing as "pre-Proto-Zoque" this falsifies Justenson, Kaufman and Wichmann hypotheses. The Olmec did not speak Mixe-Zoque.
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