An avocational surface collector discovered a partially exposed Chinese votive sword behind roots on an eroded bank of a small stream in Georgia in July 2014. The 30-centimeter relic is probably a one-of-a-kind find in North America and adds to the increasing list of seemingly out-of-place Chinese artifacts indicating Chinese transit to North America during the Pre-Columbian period.
The magnificent sword has been identified as being made of Lizardite and has surface traits that indicate it is quite ancient. Future testing will hopefully establish the type of stone and pinpoint the source, as Lizardite deposits exist in both the eastern and western hemispheres.
The answers to the when who, and how questions are still unknown. An effort to employ thermoluminescence testing protocols to identify when the soil at the extraction location was last exposed to sunlight was hindered since it was discovered that the soil had been disturbed.
There is still a tiny part of an unknown stranded substance clinging to the blade that may be acceptable for radiocarbon dating, as well as select sections of surface accretions that may yield useful information.
The various symbols and the form of the sword, both of which are found on jade artifacts from the Xia (2070-1600 BC), Shang (1600-1046 BC), and Zhou Dynasties, are less ambiguous (1046-256 BC). The Shang Dynasty is represented by the dragon motif spanning a section of the top of the blade, as is the feathered crown.
The hideous Taotie face mask on the sword guard and handle initially occurs during the Liangzhu civilization (3400-2250 BC), although it is most typically discovered during the Shang and Zhou periods. (Personal chat with Siu-Leung Lee, Ph.D., and soon-to-be-published work.)
The existence of Shang period diagnostics, as well as the Taotie’s resemblance to images of the Mesoamerican Olmec w ere-jaguar, give indications as to when the sword was manufactured and a rough time range for when it may have arrived in Georgia.
Chinese – Olmec connection?
For nearly a century, scholars have debated the similarities between Chinese and Olmec mythology and iconography. Perhaps it is no accident that the Olmec civilization debuts about 1500 BC, at the start of the Shang Dynasty, and that the first recorded history of China begins.
It marked the beginning of the Bronze Age, which resulted in beautiful bronze works of art, bronze chariots, and weaponry. During this period, the earliest Chinese character appeared, along with large irrigation systems and other public works projects, all of which indicate a sophisticated and evolved society.
It was also a moment in Chinese culture when jade was more precious than gold, and the Olmec aristocracy, who possessed jade mines in what is now Honduras and Guatemala, felt the same way.
It is possible that the Olmec, during their Middle Formative period (900-300 BC), conquered the problems of shaping and drilling Jade (a stone so hard that it cannot be handled with steel tools) into little decorative and votive pieces with abrasive materials.
The parallels between Chinese and Olmec art are striking, and an excellent comparison can be found in Art and Ritual in Early Chinese and Mesoamerican Cultures, Santiago Gonzalez Villajos, 2009.
The potential introduction of Chinese conceptions of rulership and stratification, as well as their religion and symbols, impacted the Olmec and succeeding Mesoamerican tribes. It was a scene that would be replicated in the 16th century when Spanish friars waded ashore with the Christian cross.
How did the sword get to Georgia? Some possibilities:
These new Olmec cultural traits began to spread over the region from 900 BC. There is substantial evidence that they served as a basis for other contemporaneous and future cultural groups, such as the Maya.
The essential beliefs of the Olmecs lasted throughout the 16th-century conquering era, however, adapted by different cultures to satisfy local requirements and with modifications over time. Surprisingly, some of these old principles, such as maize cultivation, are being practiced today by certain Mesoamerican indigenous communities.
This spread is thought to have occurred as a result of the Olmec land and coastal marine trade networks delivering basic and exotic trade products.
A fascinating aspect of this cultural phenomenon, and why it is highlighted, is that it begins approximately 900 BC when the Olmec began manufacturing Jade ceremonial artifacts, as previously stated.
The dispersion of flat and cylindrical printing seals, a technology that first occurs in the Mesoamerica artifact record with the Olmec, is an illustration of the geographic scope of this cultural diffusion. Printing seals first emerge in China during the Shang Dynasty.
Olmec traditions spread north
By 800 BC, seals were in use in northern South America, some 1700 miles south of the Olmec heartland, and an equivalent distance north of the Adena Culture (800 BC-1 AD) in North America’s upper Ohio River Valley. Not only did printing technology make its way to Ohio, but so did Olmec art.
This author discovered stylistic counterparts of the distinctive center vertical piece depicting the World Tree in the Lake Chalco region south of modern Mexico City and at Veracruz on the Gulf coast in an unpublished study endeavor on the Adena tablet pictured below.
The presence of seals at the start of the transformative mound-building Adena civilization, together with other evidence too numerous to describe in this little essay, suggests that an influential Mesoamerican group reached the region and altered the cultural destiny of the local population.
Returning to Georgia. In 1685, Charles de Rochefort in his chronicles regarding the Apalachites who occupied the lands in southeastern America in the 17 th century, writes, “Thefe Apalachites boaft, that they had propagated certain Colonies a great way into Mexico: And they fhow to this day a great Road by land, by which they affirm that their Forces march’d into thofe parts… When they arrived, the inhabitants of the country gave them the name Tlatuici, which means mountaineers or highlanders.”
“This people [Apalachites] have a communication with the Sea of the Great Gulf of Mexico or New Spain, by means of a River says Rochefort,” …the Spaniards have called this River Riu del Spirito Santo” [The Mississippi River].
While Rochefort’s findings date from after the Conquest Period, they emphasize a geographical aspect that is sometimes disregarded or underestimated in North American history.
The many civilizations that occupied what is now Georgia and other states bordering the Gulf of Mexico, as well as the Caribbean Islands, Mexico, and South America, were part of a circum-Caribbean zone where everyone knew their neighbors.
As a result, it is reasonable to conclude that this is why ball courts and rubber balls may be found in both mainland Mesoamerica and the Caribbean Islands.
Furthermore, the Olmec and Maya possessed a fleet of enormous ocean-going canoes cruising the Gulf region’s coastal waterways, as well as the logistical structure to serve the basic necessities of big metropolitan centers with population densities comparable to today’s major cities.
For example, salt, a basic essential for existence in the tropics, was carried in tens of thousands of tons per month from salt-producing facilities in the Yucatan to well-known river ports ranging from the Honduran Moskito Coast to Tampico, Mexico.
Aside from being a wet and dangerous experience in heavy waves off the Moskito Coast with no life preservers, I can confirm from repeated journeys that the dugout log design works quite well.
With the exception of Yamaha outboard motors, these vessels, which have not altered in manufacturing or design since the Maya, continue to deliver tons of stacked 50-gallon drums of fuel, food, and people into the Honduran interior.
The magnificent Taino civilization, which migrated from Venezuela approximately 400 BC, and the Caribes were equally proficient at navigating the seas of the Gulf of Mexico in the Greater Antilles.
Christopher Columbus records multiple entries in his log of enormous Taino boats packed with trade goods and passengers, ranging in length from 40 to 79 feet. More importantly, his log entries show that the Taino were aware of the Calusa in Florida and the Maya in the Yucatan.
All of this suggests that the cultures of the circum-Caribbean region, even in more ancient times, were linked by water and land routes, which provides a probable explanation for how the sword and two Olmec-style pendants arrived in Georgia.
So, were the Chinese in Georgia?
The item itself is part of the solution. You have to wonder why someone would carry a Votive sword, which is defined as an object “expressing a religious vow, wish, or desire: offered or performed as an expression of thanks or devotion to God”, if they weren’t Chinese.
Second, the sword is not the only identifying Chinese artifact discovered there. Dr. Lee, a Chinese expert, said that two more ancient Chinese relics were recently discovered within a two-hour drive of the sword location. He plans to include these items in a future publication. There have also been a surprising amount of additional Chinese artifacts, rock art calligraphy, and symbols discovered in southern America.
Unfortunately, there never appears to be enough facts to achieve a definitive and non-debatable conclusion that everyone can agree on when it comes to historical and archeological matters. So, at this time, the question “were the Chinese in Georgia?” may only be answered yes when there is sufficient proof to exceed an individual’s “Threshold of Believability.”
A final thought
Approximately 90 years before Columbus first sailed into the Caribbean seas, the Ming Chinese sent flotillas headed by Admiral Zheng He on several expeditions to the regions surrounding the Indian Ocean to obtain exotic commodities and minerals.
The Admiral’s first expedition consisted of approximately 185 vessels:
62 or 63 baoshan or “treasure ships” were constructed for the first expedition, 440′-538′ long by 210′ wide, four decks, nine masts, displacing an estimated 20-30,000 tons, approximately 1/3 to 1/2 the displacement of a current large aircraft carrier.
Machuan or “horse ships”, 340′ long by 138′ wide, 8 masts, carrying horses, timber for repairs, and tribute goods.
Liangchuan or “grain ships”. 257′ long by 115′ wide, 7 masts, carrying grain for crew and soldiers.
Zuochuan or “troopships, 220′ long by 84′ wide, six masts.
Zhanchuan warships, 165′ long, 5 masts.
27-28,000 estimated sailors, soldiers, translators, and crew members.