Sykes often liked to remind his readers that, "Empires fall and rise. Civilizations and cultures flourish, fade, and vanish." The Mayan civilization was a perfect example of this phenomenon.
In 1958 in New World Antiquity, Sykes stated that, with respect to the origins of the Mayan civilization, "...for nearly half a century I have been interested in American antiquities and that I should much like to see this particular mystery solved in my lifetime”.
Origins Of the Maya?
The Mayan people appeared in America complete with hieroglyphs, calendar, astronomy, and architecture, somewhere near Copan around 300 - 150 BC. Mayan astronomy had a basis comparable with that of Babylonia or Egypt, and evolved or diverged far from the original concept by an interest in Venus on a scale unknown in the Old World. There must have been at least one-thousand to two-thousand years of development before reaching Copan. The Popul Vuh stated that there was once an empire that crumbled owing to natural causes plus a full scale revolution, and the survivors had difficulty re-establishing the status quo.
In the 1920’s, Aloysius Horn wrote The Ivory Coast, in which he tells of an interesting fable of the M’pangwes, a central West Africa tribe,
"Long ago, they lived at the base of a chain of mountains, which suddenly began to emit fire and ashes and deadly smoke and, by the order of their great Chief, they were told to separate and flee at once. Then pointing North, South, East, and West, he bade them adieu, warning them never to return, but to conquer all whom they met. He gave them each a tobacco plant grown from one which grew from his own head when he was a boy."
M. Brendon Francklyn noted this remarkable link with the Mayan tradition of Central America, for, on the head of one of the High Priests or Gods standing before the Altar of the Temple of the Foliated Cross of Palenque, is seen growing a tobacco plant. Francklyn wrote Did Tobacco Originate In Africa? for the April 1949 issue of Atlantis. Francklyn noticed this decoration on more than one figure of Priest or God in the Mexican Codices. Mayan ancestors maintain that many thousands of years prior to their recorded history, they landed on the coast of what is now Florida, fleeing from some land in the east.
At the time of the Spanish conquest, the Maya occupied the whole peninsula of Yucatan, territory south of it including Chiapas, the highlands of Guatemala, and the western fringes of Honduras and El Salvador. The Maya did not constitute a homogeneous group, several dialects were spoken, and there were great divisions between the highland and lowland stock. The most advanced cultural achievements were those attained by the lowland Maya of the Peten and Usumacinta forest areas. It is in this region that the architectural/ceremonial complexes were situated including Palenque, Copan, Tikal, Uaxactum, Chich’en Itza, Uxmal, and Quirigua. They were deserted, approximately, by AD 900. The book, Cites Maya by Paul Rivet, was reviewed in the October 1957 issue of New World Antiquity by G. Kutscher.
Mayans and Time
The interest in the passage of time shown by the Maya is demonstrated by the fact that records relating to it were inscribed on stelae, stairways, cornices, friezes, and panels, and is so prominent in their iconography — possibly indicating an underlying motivation transcending that for merely agricultural purposes. An epoch of great significance to the Maya is 3114 BC, possibly due to the mythological significance of the number, as the Maya believed that the fifth and last recreation of the world took place at this time. Perhaps an event of astronomical, and possible terrestrial importance, was experienced or observed at this time?
In the May 1950 issue of Atlantis, George Hinzpeter wrote The Origin of the Mayan Calendar in which he stated,
"... the Mayan calendar was introduced in the June of 8498 BC (11,448 years ago) on the basis of an extraordinary, unique, and major natural occurrence... the figure of 8498 BC, the so-called zero date of the Mayas... a very important astronomical event, namely, the conjunction, or near-conjunction, of the Sun, Moon, and Venus... capture of the Moon was such a unique, exceptional, cosmic event to mankind..."
Both the Aztecs and Mayans have legends and codices showing people arriving over water to settle the land, presumably over the Caribbean Sea from the West Indies. By 3000 BC, the approximate time of the flooding of the Dogger Bank and North Sea, rising waters forced the Maya to the larger islands of Cuba, Haiti, Dominican, and Puerto Rico, and then eventually to the mainland.
Sykes’ alternative theory was that the Maya and their cousins, the Olmec and Zapotec, developed in the Amazon Basin. Sykes speculated in 1958 that famine, internal strife, or other reasons may have forced tribes in the Amazon Basin to flee northwards by sea.
In September 1960 in New World Antiquity, Sykes wrote The Other Alternative Source For the Maya in which he stated,
"... there is always the remaining alternative of assuming that the cultural development of the Maya, and of their cousins the Olmec and the Zapotec, may have taken place in what is now the jungle of the Amazon Basin. For centuries, we have been regaled with stories of mysterious cities hidden away in the Amazon area... Olmec monuments have been found dating back to the 10th and 9th centuries BC and Zapotec ones 300 years later... they do not appear to have any particular relationship of form with the Maya scripts, although they used bar and dot numerals."
In August 1960 in New World Antiquity, Sykes wrote Where Did the Maya Originate? in which he stated,
"If the Maya did not come from the Caribbean, then why is it that no earlier dates have been found anywhere on the mainland? Moreover, if, as some imply, they came up from the Andes, why is it that the culture in that area seems to have taken a completely different slant? It is hard to find any instances where the Andean and the Meso American cultures had the same ideas except on very minor points..."
In March 1978 in New World Antiquity, based on further rumination of the available evidence, Sykes wrote The Maya And Their Antecedents in which he stated,
"My own theory is that they lived on Cuba and Haiti... Early classical sources... refer to the Meropic Empire, consisting of two islands: Machimos (Cuba) inhabited by warlike people, probably Caribs, who moved in after the Maya left. The other island was Eusebia, known to Columbus as Quisqueia, and to the Egyptians as Haiti — Isle of the Weeping Sisters: Isis and Nephthys. The later inhabitants were probably Arawaks... I have a photo of a Maya Petroglyph showing a man in a canoe fleeing from the flood waters... I have managed to build up a reasonable case for assuming that the Maya group took refuge in the Lykontian Plain about 10,000 BC; that they moved to Cuba, Haiti, and adjacent islands between 3500 and 3100 BC, and that about 2500 BC they began to move to the mainland, taking with them their arts and skills. From their crossing the Gulf of Mexico until the arrival of the Spaniards their standards of scientific and general knowledge steadily regressed."
Bishop de Landa’s translation of the Maya alphabet, which he compiled during his tenure of office, had lain neglected in the archives of the Royal Library at Madrid until discovered by Brasseur de Bourbourg and published in 1864.
In 1961 in New World Antiquity, Sykes wrote an editorial The Breaking of the Maya Codices in which he stated, “Now that the Soviets have managed to break the Maya Codices, as reported elsewhere in this issue, we should have moved one stage nearer to the elucidation of their origin and background.”
The summary of an article in Izvestia for January 28, 1961 by S. Ssobolev, a member of the Russian Academy, dealing with the breaking of the Maya script, was provided to Sykes by Dr. Zhirov. It appeared that the Siberian department of the Academy of the USSR employed electronic computers and managed to decipher 40% of the texts of the Dresden and the Madrid (Troano) Codices within two days. Using Landa’s manuscript as his starting point, Y. V. Knorozov claimed to have worked out the key of the Mayan glyphs. No details were given of the subject matter of the texts. They “will presumably be published at a later date”. The experiment was made by E.S. Evreinov, Yu. G. Kossarev, the Maya language expert, and V.A. Yustinov.
Later in 1961; however, in New World Antiquity, Cottie A. Burland wrote These Maya Codices and the Calculating Machine in which he was disappointed that 9/10 of the glyphs deciphered by the machine had already been published. The machine was not a great advantage.
In 1963, Knorozov and the Academy of Sciences of the USSR published The Mayan Codices in Moscow and Leningrad. The volume summarized the complete results of the Russian investigation into Mayan hieroglyphic writing using computers. There was no translation into English, Spanish, or German at the time. The texts were to appear in three volumes that also included a systematic catalogue of glyphs and their combinations.
In September 1976 in New World Antiquity, Sykes wrote Breaking The Maya Codices in which he commented on Khorozov’s translations of the codices, “One of them contains data on the movements and transits of Venus, known as the ‘Great Star’, whilst another was concerned with Mars; this being a meteor of considerable interest as it is the first reference I have come across linking Maya religion with that planet. Apart from astronomical information, which is most important, the texts also gave detailed instructions, modeled on the behavior of the gods, on agriculture, apiculture, and fishing.”