Copán excavation in Honduras reveals similarities between Chinese and Maya civilizations

Updated 2018-04-17 15:29:58

A sculpture of the Maya feathered serpent god Kukulkan assisting in the rebirth of the god of maize unearthed at the Copán excavation site in Honduras (Photo/Courtesy of Li Xinwei)

Though sitting on separate ends of the ocean, the cultures of ancient China and the Maya civilization might bear more similarities than we originally thought, according to the findings of Chinese archaeologists working at the Maya site of Copán in western Honduras over the past three years.

Some of the sculptures unearthed at the site possess similar designs and decorations to those made by China's Neolithic Liangzhu Culture, notably sculptures of the Maya feathered god serpent Kukulkan found at the Copán excavation site have a strong resemblance to dragon images in China.

Shared cultural genes

These discoveries has drawn public attention to the concept of the "China-Maya continuum" proposed by late Chinese American archeologist Kwang-chih Chang in the 1980s, which suggests a link between the Chinese and Central American cultures based on their shamanistic roots.

Other similarities include parallels between the ancient Mayan calendar and the portion of the traditional Chinese calendar known as the 10 Heavenly Stems and 12 Earthly Branches.

"Even though similarities do exist between the two cultures, there is no historical evidence that direct communication occurred between them," Li Xinwei, head of the Chinese archaeological team from the China Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) Institute of Archaeology working at the Copán excavation site, told the Global Times in an e-mail interview on April 8.

"Central American culture took shape around 15,000 years ago when northern and eastern Asian humans migrated to the Americas through the Bering Strait, but since then it developed quite independently with little interaction with other civilizations," Li explained.

Li noted that the similarities between the two ancient cultures may stem from the fact that they share the same Paleolithic ancestors and cultural genes.

'Athens of the Maya world'

Though the Copán excavation is not China's first overseas archaeological project, it is the first time that Chinese archaeologists have ever conducted an excavation at a world-class archaeological site.

One of the most important remains of Maya civilization, Copán was once a central Maya city and a major maize producer in the region. For this reason, archeologists sometimes refer to it as the "Athens of the Maya world."

The site entered the limelight during the mid-19th century after U.S. explorer John Lloyd Stephens and British painter Fredrick Catherwood published an illustrated journal of their expedition to the site in 1841. In 1891, a U.S.-led archaeological exploration of the site started after Yale University's Peabody Museum signed a 10-year agreement with the Honduran government. Current, archaeologists from the U.S., Japan and Guatemala are working along with Chinese experts.

Chinese team's excavation work at the site officially kicked off in 2015 after the CASS Institute of Archaeology and the Honduras Institute of Anthropology and History signed an agreement in 2014.

Li and his team's task is to explore the remains of a residential building complex designated as 8N-11.

Covering an area of some 4,000 square meters, the complex was once the home of local aristocrats more than 1,000 years ago.

So far, Chinese archaeologists have determined the original structure of the northern side of the building complex as well as identified the symbols and decorations found on its walls.

"The 13 groups of designs featuring crossed torches are exactly the same as those found in the No.29 building in the site's royal court area," Li said. "Crossed torches were a major royal symbol."

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