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-centimeter-long (foot-long) 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 B.C.), Shang
(1600–1046 B.C.), and Zhou (1046–256 B.C.) dynasties. 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” (a Chinese ogre-like motif) on the guard and handle of
the sword first appears during the Liangzhu culture (3400–2250 B.C.)
but it is more commonly found during the Shang and Zhou periods,
according to Siu-Leung Lee, Ph.D., who will soon published a paper on
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 B.C.), Shang (1600–1046 B.C.), and
Zhou (1046–256 B.C.) dynasties.
The dominant presence of Shang period diagnostics and the similarity
of the Taotie to depictions of the Mesoamerican Olmec were-jaguar motif, provide clues as to when the sword was made and a general time frame for when it may have arrived in Georgia.
The similarities between Chinese and Olmec mythology and symbolism
have been the subject of scholarly debate for over a hundred years. It
is perhaps no coincidence that the Olmec culture appears around 1500
B.C., 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 what is now Honduras and Guatemala. It may not be
coincidental that the Olmec, during their Middle Formative period
(900–300 B.C.), 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 and Olmec art is quite telling and for those
interested, an excellent comparison is presented in "Art and Ritual in
Early Chinese and Mesoamerican Cultures,” by Santiago González Villajos.
The introduction of Chinese concepts of rulership and a stratified
society, along with Chinese religion and symbolism may have altered the
Olmec and later Mesoamerican groups. It was an event that would be
repeated in the 16th century when Spanish friars waded ashore carrying
the cross of Christianity.
How Did the Sword Get to Georgia?… Some Possibilities
Around 900 B.C., 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 16th 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 byproduct of the Olmec land and coastal maritime trade routes
transporting basic and exotic trade goods.
An intriguing element to this cultural phenomenon, and why it is
mentioned, is that it starts around 900 B.C., which as mentioned
previously, is when the Olmec started making jade ceremonial objects.
An example that illustrates the geographic extent of this cultural
diffusion is the distribution of flat and cylindrical printing seals, a
technology that first appears in the Mesoamerica artifact record with
the Olmec. In China, printing seals first appear during the Shang
Olmec Traditions Spread North
By 800 B.C., the seals were in use in northern South America some
1,700 miles south of the Olmec heartland, and an equal distance to the
north with the Adena Culture (800 B.C.–A.D.1 ) in what is now the upper
Ohio River Valley in North America. Not only did the printing technology
arrive in Ohio, but also Olmec art. In an unpublished research project
on the Adena tablet shown below, this author found stylistic duplicates
of the unique center vertical element representing the World Tree, at
the Lake Chalco region south of what is now Mexico City and at Veracruz
on the Gulf coast.
The arrival of seals at the beginning of the transformational
mound-building Adena culture, along with other evidence too plentiful to
include in this short article, indicates that an influential
Mesoamerican group entered the region and influenced the cultural
destiny of the local population.
Let’s return to Georgia. In 1685, Charles de Rochefort in his
chronicles regarding the Apalachites who occupied the lands in
southeastern America in the 17th century, wrote: "These Apalachites
boast, that they had propagated certain colonies a great way into Mexico. And
they show to this day a great road by land, by which they affirm that
their Forces marched into those parts. … The Inhabitants of the country,
upon their arrival gave them the name of Tlatuici, which signifies Mountaineers or High-Landers …”
From all of this,
it seems apparent that the circum-Caribbean region cultures, even in
more ancient times, were connected by water and land routes, and this
furnishes us with a possible explanation as to how the sword and two
Olmec-style pendants arrived in Georgia.
Rochefort also wrote, "This people [Apalachites] have a communication
with the Sea of the Great Gulf of Mexico or New Spain, by means of a
river … the Spaniards have called this river Riu del Spirito
Santo [today known as the Mississippi River].”
While Rochefort’s observations are from after the conquest period,
his observations highlight a geographic fact that is often overlooked or
minimized in North American history. The various cultures occupying the
lands of now Georgia and other states fronting on the Gulf of Mexico,
along with the Caribbean Islands, Mexico, and South America, were in a
circum-Caribbean region where everyone knew his neighbors. One can
therefore reasonably assume that this is the reason is why ball courts
and rubber balls are found in both mainland Mesoamerica and the
Also, one cannot overlook that the Olmec and Maya had a fleet of
large ocean-going canoes plying the coastal waters of the Gulf region,
and the logistical organization to supply the basic needs of major urban
areas with population densities equal to today’s major cities. For
example, salt, a basic requirement for survival in the tropics, needed
in countless tons per month, was shipped from salt-producing facilities
in the Yucatán to known river ports stretching from the Honduran Moskito
Coast to Tampico, Mexico.
Other than being a wet and scary experience with no life preservers
in rough seas off the Moskito Coast, I can attest based on multiple
trips, the dugout log design works very well. Even today, with the
exception of Yamaha outboard motors, these vessels, which have not
changed in manufacture or design since the Mayans, still transport tons
of stacked 50-gallon barrels of gasoline, food stuffs, and people into
the Honduran interior.
In the Greater Antilles, the impressive Taino culture, which migrated
from Venezuela starting around 400 B.C., and the Caribes, were equally
adept at traversing the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Christopher
Columbus makes numerous entries in his log of large Taino canoes,
measuring approximately 40 to 79 feet in length, laden with trade goods
and people. More noteworthy is that his log entries indicate that the
Taino knew of the Calusa in Florida and the Maya on the Yucatán.
From all of this, it seems apparent that the circum-Caribbean region
cultures, even in more ancient times, were connected by water and land
routes, and this furnishes us with a possible explanation as to how the
sword and two Olmec-style pendants arrived in Georgia.
So, Were the Chinese in Georgia?
Part of the answer is the artifact itself. You have to ask why a
person would tote around a votive sword, which by definition is an
object "expressing a religious vow, wish, or desire: offered or
performed as an expression of thanks or devotion to God,” if they were
Secondly, the sword is not the only diagnostic Chinese artifact found
nearby. Lee disclosed that two other ancient Chinese artifacts have
been recently found within a two-hour drive of the sword site. He will
feature these artifacts in a forthcoming paper. Also, there has been a
remarkable number of other Chinese artifacts, rock art script, and
symbolism located in southwestern America.
Unfortunately, in the quest for accuracy in historical and
archaeological topics, there never seems to be enough data to reach an
absolute and nondebatable answer that all can agree with. So the
question, "Were the Chinese in Georgia?” can only be answered
affirmatively when there is a sufficient amount of evidence to rise
above an individual’s threshold of believability.
A Closing Comment
About 90 years before Columbus first sailed into Caribbean waters,
the Ming Chinese dispatched flotillas under the command of Adm. Zheng He
on multiple voyages to the lands around the Indian Ocean to acquire
exotic items and materials.