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The Flow of Ideas

People coming, people going, people talking, always talking- the idea of cultural transference is complex, and not easily condensed into brief Internet format. Culture is spread by people, and people love to travel, then and now. The spread of culture is not a simple one way flow; ideas have moved in one direction or in both directions, or in one direction at one time and another direction at another time, or in almost any combination that you can think up.....

Of course, cultural ideas traveled along with trade goods. One theory gaining wider acceptance is that of mesoamerican cultural connection to the American Southwest. In this model, the origin of many Southwestern myths and cultural icons occurred through cultural diffusion, primarily brought about by the Toltec Pochteca and earlier traders from Mexico and Central America, laden with burden baskets of trade goods. There are obvious similarities between Mayan and Aztec pyramid temples, and the structures of the Mississippian Culture (known as the "Mound Builders". Another comparison can be made to the little known and less complex ceremonial "Summit Paths" ascending steep hills along the Lower Colorado and Gila  Rivers. Researchers find many of the symbols from rock art, textiles and pottery of the Southwest are identical to Mesoamerican symbols from murals, pottery, codices and statues.

One of the best examples of the exchange of cultural concepts is demonstrated in the symbol of the Serpent. Forget what you learned in Sunday School as a kid about the “Evil Serpent” who led Adam and Eve astray………it’s not that way in Native American culture! The ancient Serpent of the Southwest is a good guy, and is a representation of Quetzalcoatl (Kukulcan to the Maya) a pale faced, bearded hero who arrived in Mesoamerica from the East in a boat, taught the people culture, calendar and record keeping. and agriculture, and then left. He promised to return again from the East when needed. He is often depicted as a feathered and/or horned serpent. You will see his portrait all over the rocks in the Southwest, especially in Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. The long-lived legend of Quetzalcoatl was one of the factors that allowed the quick and easy overthrow of the mighty Aztec Empire by a handful of Spanish invaders. By the time that the Aztec realized that Cortez was certainly no Quetzalcoatl, the god-like hero returning as the Shining Star of the Morning, it was too late!

The hero Qutzalcoatl is also often represented by the Morning Star, while his twin brother Xolotl is represented by the Evening Star. Together, they symbolize the passage of Venus into the underworld in evening, as in death, and then the emergence, or rebirth again into the Eastern sky in the morning. This symbol is usually depicted as an outlined cross.

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It would be difficult to find clearer, more graphic evidence of the Mesoamerican Quetzalcoatl’s influence here in the American Southwest, than the Ancient Puebloan rock art from Arizona shown above. The left hand panel has the outlined cross, symbol of Venus and by association also Quetzalcoatl, plus two other symbols usually associated with the sacred ballcourt of the Maya, Toltec and Aztec. On the right, this dramatic panel has it all! You have the Serpent changing into Venus (being re-born), a pregnant (earthly/physical) lizard symbolizing both emergence from the prior world and fertility, and a human wearing “New Fire Ceremony” headgear. This headgear represents the Cross (Venus star symbol) of Quetzalcoatl, and appears in drawings of the New Fire Ceremony in the Codex Borbonicus.

If you would like to learn more about ancient Native American rock art symbols, please visit our "sister site" at  Archaeology Plus  Some good references on the story of Quetzalcoatl follow below.

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