17

On a holiday in Mexico, we were told about Chac, the Mayan rain deity. The tour guide said that Chac's snout was that of an elephant, indicating that the Maya originally came from India.

While humans have migrated over long distances, this story seemed somehow unlikely to me.

Is there support for the theory that Chac represents an elephant? Or, if not, can we rule this theory out, given what we know about the migrations in the ancient past?

  • 2
    Hm. It seems implausible but not utterly inconceivable - after all, the woolly mammoth inhabited North America (through which the Maya's ancestors would have had to pass on their way down to South America) not too long in the past. Anyway, interesting question, +1. – senshin Apr 28 '15 at 20:42
13

It's not likely.

I shall approach the question from two sides:

Was it likely that Mayans knew about elephants?

There are no modern elephants that were ever native to the Americas, including Mexico. However, there were Woolly mammoths, which have the same long snouts. The very last known living Woolly Mammoths were alive 6500 years ago; the very earliest Mayans were alive closer to 4000 years ago, in the Early Preclassic period. So, while it's technically possible that the Mayans either knew about the Elephant snouts from when their ancestors travelled over the Beringa Land Bridge 20000 years ago or from Woolly Mammoth snout fossils, it seems unlikely.

Well, if not elephants or mammoths, why a snout?

The first thing to note is that Chaac did not always appear with a snout. In Mythology: Myths, Legends and Fantasies, page 481 it says:

Chaac appears in many faces and guises. Some images show him with a curled, snoutlike nose, and sometimes he is seen with scales or catfish whiskers, or with tears flowing from his eyes. Often he is seen painted blue and weilding an axe, which he uses to create lightning and thunder.

So why did he have a snout? The same source says:

The Codz Poop building at Kabah in the Yucatan region of Mexico features 250 masks of Chaac. One of the many beliefs about Chaac is that he uses his hooked nose to penetrate the clouds, causing rain to fall.

This is an alternate reasoning for him to have the hooked nose - to part the clouds, not because he's elephant-like.

As you can see, Chaac's long nose doesn't always really remind of Elephants:

Chaac urn Chaac drawing Chaac statue

4

It's probably a snood-- what turkeys grow just above their beaks. Compare this to a (female) Guatemalan Ocellated Turkey. https://www.alamy.com/stock-photo-male-tom-turkey-meleagris-gallopavo-head-showing-coloration-and-snood-38939509.html

The weird little balls around the eyes could also be a (male) turkey trait.
https://19mvmv3yn2qc2bdb912o1t2n-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/science/files/2013/11/MG_1546_XLCropped.jpg

His headdress and collar could be based on turkey tail feathers. Ocellated turkey tails are squared off at the top. http://www.thetaxidermystore.com/media/catalog/product/cache/1/image/9df78eab33525d08d6e5fb8d27136e95/o/c/ocellated_turkey_fan_mount_for_sale_19524_the_taxidermy_store.jpg

Ocellated turkeys don't gobble, they sort of rumble in a long grunt. Early recordings didn't do it justice- it's a lot like thunder; you feel it in your chest from a LONG ways away whenever they do it. They do it in February, just before the spring rains.

The "tusks" are probably nutria incisors, one on each side, held in the mouth. Nutrias are water animals. Why nutria teeth? Nutria and pocket mouth teeth are amazingly tough-- rat incisors are Mohs Hardness of 5.5 but nutria and pocket mouse are a 6. They make good pocket-tools-- they're strong enough to carve turquoise and even some jade. Nutria teeth look like enormous versions of the pocket mouth teeth.

I guess the gods kept rain around in pots, but then Chaaq, being a benevolent hovering turkey-rodent guy, bit holes in them?

Compare the underside of a pocket mouse skull to the glyph affix translated as "Rodent Bone", perhaps representing the sound "Koh". Ch'o means pocket mouse. Chaac is sometimes "written" mouse-head + rodent bone. http://www.mesoweb.com/palenque/monuments/PT/single/media2/K13_MV2417.jpg

It's the incisors and the central ridge of the inside of a mouse or rat's mouth. https://www.flickr.com/photos/richardlsphotos/15556186005

They also tied the two halves of the lower mandible together. That's why some versions of this item show wrapping around the middle. CEH and ZIP have it. https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/af/Maya_Hieroglyphs_Fig_19.jpg

(Sometimes a glyph for Chaac uses that version, and sometimes it is a kind of C-shape, depicted asseen from the side, not top view)

Chaac's mouth is sometimes the lower jaw of a rodent, turned upside down, and tied in place. https://www.c-spot.com/wp-content/uploads/guat-chaac.jpg

0

Many gomphothere fossils have been discovered throughout north and south America. It's entirely possible that some of these were still alive at the time the Mayans we're creating these glyphs and carvings.

https://dochermes.livejournal.com/1951246.html

  • 1
    Could you elaborate what is being said on this site? – Tom Apr 4 at 16:48

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