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Olmec skeletons African? No, just poor scholarship

This is a collection of back and forth arguments from sci.archaeology.mesoamerican, compiled by Peter van Rossum, which deconstructs the study of Wiercinski who claims to have found African skeletons.

In response to my post Mr. Winters congratulated me on
having performed a fine critique but even though he
didn't contradict my conclusions he said he still
wasn't willing to dismiss Wiercinski's study.

The final part is one of my last posts to Mr. Winters to
try to convince him that no matter what his position with
regard to Old-New World contacts, Wiercinski's study is
not useful - I guess he never got the message.

Feel free to e-mail me with anything in here that seems
ambiguous to you, I'll try to make them clearer.

Peter van Rossum

Data set
 The skeletons used by Wiercinski came from INAH 
 collections and from the Maya Museum in Merida.  
 The data used are summarized in the table below:

  | Site(s)           | Number|  Time Period |
  +-------------------+ ------+--------------+
  | Zacatenco &       |   6   |  Early       |
  | El Arborillo      |       |  Preclassic  |
  | Tlatilco          |  76   |  Preclassic  |
  |                   |       |              |
  | Cerro de las Mesas|  19   |  Late        |
  |                   |       |  Classic     |
  | Monte Alban &     |  41   |  Classic &   |
  | Monte Negro       |       |  Postclassic |
  | Teotihuacan       |  13   |  Classic     |
  |                   |       |              |
  | Maya              |  38   |  Classic &   |
  | various Maya sites|       |  Postclassic |

 Wiercinski characterizes the Tlatilco and Cerro de las
 Mesas samples as "Olmecoid" but its clear that he is
 using them as being genetically linked to Olmec populations
 at sites such as La Venta.

  Wiercinski measured the skulls for 48 traits, but focuses
  in on the following 10 traits: 
     1. Prominence of maxilla - degree of prognathis
     2. Height of nasal root
     3. Prominence of nose
     4. Prominence of nasal spine
     5. Position of nasal spine
     6. Profile of nasa
     7. Frontal shape of nasal bones
     8. Shape of orbits
     9. Depth of maxillary incisure
    10. Depth of canine fossa
  Wiercinski is most interested in the above 10 traits because
  he maintains that they are the best for discriminating between
  what he calls the 3 great races of man (white, black & yellow).

  Based on the above 10 traits he also calculates two distance
  measures which he calls Py-w and Py-b, where each of these
  characterizes how a skull compares between yellow-white and 
  yellow-black races.  For example a score of Py-w=0 means a skull 
  is completely white; whereas Py-w=100 means a skull is completely
  yellow.  Similarly, Py-b=0 is same as black and Py-b=100 is yellow.

  Note: Wiercinski was not able to measure all of the traits for
  each of the skulls.  This is due to post-depositional processes
  which have had a destructive impact on many of the skeletons.

  The first thing Wiercinski did was to compare the Py-w and Py-b
  scores of the 6 Mesoamerican cranial series with measures for 
  series from Poland (white), Mongolia (yellow) and Uganda (black).
  From this he produced two graphs (figs. 2&3) from Wiercinski 1970.
  I have summarized these frequency graphs in a rough tabular form 
  below. For simplicity I only include what Wiercinski calls the 
  "Olmecoid" series from Tlatilco and Cerro de las Mesas.

  In fig. 3 he compares the Mesoamerican series Pb-y scores with 
  series from Uganda (black race) and Mongolia (yellow race) [the
  results for the Ugandan, "Olmecoid", Mongolian series are 
  reproduced in rough tabular form below].  Similarly, in fig. 2, 
  he compares the Py-w scores of the Mesoamerican series with series 
  from Mongolia (yellow race) and Poland (white race).

  Variable Py-b
  | P-y-b | Uganda  | Olmecoid | Mongolia |
  | Score | (black) |          | (yellow) |
  |    0  |    0    |    0     |     0    |
  |    5  |    2    |    0     |     0    |
  |   15  |    6    |    0     |     0    |
  |   25  |   20    |    0     |     0    |
  |   35  |   34    |    3     |     0    |
  |   45  |   20    |   20     |     6    |
  |   55  |    8    |   42     |    22    |
  |   65  |    2    |   18     |    35    |
  |   75  |    0    |   12     |    32    |
  |   85  |    0    |    2     |     4    |
  |   95  |    0    |    2     |     0    |
  |  100  |    0    |    0     |     0    |

  In both figs. 2&3 the Mesoamerican series fall in an intermediate 
  position, but overlap at the extremes with the Mongolian, Polish 
  and Ugandan series.  It should also be noted that there is also 
  overlap between his Ugandan (black), Mongolian (yellow) and Polish 
  (white) pops.  
  For Wiercinski this indicates that those Mesoamerican individuals 
  who overlapped with the Ugandan series were black (African), those 
  that overlap with the Mongolian series were yellow (Asian), and 
  those that overlap with the Polish were white (European).
  To me, this only serves to point out what other racial studies have
  found - racial identification of an individual is problematic at best 
  because there is more variability within members of the same race 
  than there is between members of different races [see any 
  introductory anthro. text or book on race for examples].

  Finally Wiercinski classifies the skulls into various
  racial types based on what he calls the procedure of "the
  Comparative-Morphological Trend of the Polish Anthropological
  School."  Don't ask me what that means, he doesn't describe
  it in this article but says it is described in an article
  published in the 38th Congress of Americanists held in 
  Stuttgart in 1968.  I couldn't find this article but here's
  what he reports:

  Racial              Zac.  Tlat.  Cerro  Monte  Teot.  Maya
  Type                             Mesas  Alban
  Ainuid                      1.9
  Armenoid                    3.9           5.6          2.7
  Laponoid                                  2.8          5.4
  Mongoloid                                 2.8    8.3
  Pacific                     7.7           2.8
  Ainuid-Armenoid                           8.3           2.7
  Subainuid                  13.5   27.3   11.1   25.0
  Ainuid-Arctic               1.9           2.8
  Ainuid-Equatorial                         2.8
  Alpine                      1.9           8.3    8.3    2.7
  Turanian                                 16.7           8.1
  Anatolian                   3.9           2.8   25.0   10.8
  Armenoid-Bushmenoid         3.9     9.1
  Dongolian                  19.2           2.8           2.7
  Central-Asiatic     16.7                  2.8    8.3    8.1
  Subpacific          66.7   38.5    63.6  22.2   16.7   43.2
  Baikalian                                 2.8
  Laponoid-Equatorial         1.9
  Lowland             16.7                         8.3   10.8
  Pacific-Equatorial          1.9           2.8
  Ainuid-Mongoloid                                        2.7

  No. Diagnosed         6     52      11    36     12     37


In article <4rmm25$> (Clyde A. Winters) writes:

>Cameron Wesson ( wrote:
>: 1. The claim is made that Tlatilco and Monte Alban are Olmec sites.  
>: This is untrue. This fact alone would lead me to believe that the person 
>: [deletions]
>   This is highly misleading granted these sites may have been occupied 
>in preClassic times but there is a clear Olmec period at Tlatilco and 
>Monte Alban as discussed by Bernal in , and Coe in Jill 
>Guthrie .

As has been pointed out to you by other posters, there is currently a
debate as to what the best definition of Olmec is.  Many archaeologists
now think there is an "Olmec style" found throughout most of Mesoamerica
which is an amalgamation of traits from different regions.  These
archaeologists reserve the term Olmec to refer to a cultural group living
in the Gulf Coast of Mexico during the time period 1500-500 B.C.  Bernal's
reference is now woefully dated and more recent work in the Valley of
Oaxaca shows that certain "Olmec" traits actually appear here earlier
than they do in the Olmec Gulf Coast heartland.  This is true for other
regions of Mesoamerica as well.  While Coe might still be sticking to the
notion of the diffusion of an Olmec style from a single source, many others
have abandoned this notion in favor of one that sees the origin of traits in
various areas and its diffusion associated with cultural contacts by multiple
societies at a roughly equivalent stage of cultural evolution.

>: 2.  Cranial measurements from Tlatilco indicate an African presence.
>: Wrong again.  I presented a paper on the burials of Tlatilco at 
>: the Midwest Mesoamerican meetings in 1993, _Patterns of Association in 
>: the Burials of San Luis Tlatilco, Mexico_, and I can tell you that many of 
>: the remains were NOT in the best condition. They were also negatively 
>: impacted due to the fact that the site was initially discovered by heavy 
>: excavation by a brick company, rather than through archaeological 
>: investigation (although subsequent salvage excavations were undertaken).  
>: Such impacts often destroy fragile human remains, and this was often 
>: been the case at Tlatilco.  Cranial measures are *AT BEST* correct about 
>: 85% of the time, and that is when ALL of the cranium is available to be 
>: measured, and the measurements are made by an expert.  Remove one or two 
>: key cranial features and the confidence interval of racial 
>: classification drops to 70%.  Remove three or more cranial features from 
>: your measurements and you are about as accurate as simply guessing!  
>: Since the Tlatilco assemblage was not in great shape to begin with, 
>: there is a *strong* possibility that the initial racial categorization is 
>: dubious.  STRIKE ONE!
>These statements contradict themselves. How can you claim that there are 
>many Tlatilco skeletal remains that you have not examined that are spread 
>throughout Mexico, and say that the findings of Wiercinski are incorrect. 
>You have not examined all the skeletons so you only "know" what YOU found.

Whether Mr. Wasson was able to examine all of the same Tlatilco skulls
or not I can't answer, however, Wiercinski himself only worked with a
very fragmentary data set.  Wiercinski was only able to analyze 76 of the
approx. 500 burials from Tlatilco.  As Mr. Wasson points out, many of 
the skulls are not in the best of shape and therefore, Wiercinski was not
able to get readings on all his attributes from many of the skulls
(Wiercinski 1970).  

While you (and Wiercinski) seem to constantly stress the fact that he
identified some 13+% of the skulls as being "black" and therefore
suggestive of African contacts; you fail to mention some of the other
features of his study.  

1. Not only did Wiercinski identify "black" skulls he was able to identify 
   the members of no less than 12 different races among the 52 Tlatilco 
   skulls he identified and 15 races among the 36 Monte Alban/Monte Negro 
   skulls he identified (Wiercinski 1970:247)

2. On page 238 Wiercinski mentions that racial types are not necessarily
   equivalent to populational descent.  This means that just because his 
   classification identifies a skull as "black" it doesn't necessarily 
   the person is from Africa.  Many studies have demonstrated that there   is 
   more variability between members of the same race than there is  between 
   members of different races (for example see Lewontin 1972).     For 
   example,  there are many people who the U.S. gov. classifies as black who 
   nonetheless have many "white" physical characteristics.  Similarly,   if 
   you look at  Wiercinski's fig. 3 you can see that there are some  members 
   of his Mongolian (yellow race) sample who have a racial index  that is 
   more black   than almost half of his Ugandan (black race) sample and vice 
   versa.    Racial classification schemes have been shown to be more social 
   than biological constructs (see Shanklin 1994) yet Wiercinski goes on 
   to use it as a good indicator of physical contact.

3. All the "races" he compares the Mesoamerican series to are present day 
   Old World populations.  This ignores the possibility that new "racial" 
   types have developed in the New World after colonization.  If this is 
   true then its like devising a classification scheme based on 10 breeds 
   of dogs and then taking the skeletons of a new breed and classifying them
   using the existing scheme.  By necessity you will classify them with
   pre-existing breeds even if they have their own unique set of identifying
   Interestingly on p. 236-237 Wiercinski does a quick comparison between 
   the Tlatilco series and a native "Hybrid Nahuan type" living in present 
   day Jalapa and Vera Cruz.  Surprise, surprise, he says they are 
   "indistinguishable."  He claims this is the result of convergent 
   evolution rather than the simpler explanation that they are a genetic 

4. In another article, Wiercinski talked about how his study demonstrated
   a social & genetic contribution from Shang Chinese and Mediterranean
   whites as well as blacks (Wiercinski 1969).  If this conclusion is
   correct (and I don't believe it is) why should anyone believe that it
   was the Africans, not the whites or Chinese, that brought about major
   cultural shifts.  Seems like Wiercinski's study can be used by just about
   anyone to support any conclusion, except of course the sensible one that
   new World pops. were able to develop their own culture without outside

5. Among the racial groups that Wiercinski identified are a group of
   "blacks" of the Dongolian race and a group of "whites" of the Armemoid
   race (Wiercinski 1970:247).  Another study of the 78 Tlatilco skulls
   was able to identify 2 types, one which they classified as typical and
   the other as different (Vargas G. 1974).  When he compared his groups 
   to Wiercinski's he said that Wiercinski's examples of the Dongolan
   and the Armenoid (remember these are black and white) both belonged
   to his normal group.  Further he says that Wiercinski's finding of
   12 races in the Tlatilco series and its implications for the racial
   makeup of the population is hard to support (Vargas G. 1974:319).  So
   it looks like Wiercinski's findings were not supported by an independent
   researcher who appears to have worked with the same data set as

Criticizing Wasson's study as inadequate while praising Wiercinski's own 
fragmentary data set using questionable assumptions about the nature of 
human races and typology is ridiculous.

>Moreover you claim that Cyphers excavated the first Olmec skeletons in 
>1993. This is wrong, Drucker found Olmec skeletons at Veracruz in 1943. 
>Please refer to M. Pailles "Pampa el Pajon an early Estuarine site 
>Chiapas Mexico", , 
>no.44 (1980). Your comments about the lack of skeletons from Olmec sites 
>prove YOUR significant reading of the literature on the Olmecs 

Other posts by myself as well as Mr. Baker demonstrate to you that the 
Drucker skulls and other skeletons referred to in Pailles are *not* Olmec.  
You shouldn't be so quick to slight someone else's research when your own 
is so clearly false on a given topic.

>: 3.  Linguistic evidence supports African contacts with the Olmec.
>: Several people have written to the group about the "translation" of Olmec 
>: celts and their supposed "Mande" connection.  Such assertions are similar 
>: to the translation of Ogum, Pheonecian, and Ruinic writing systems 
>: throughout the Americas.  They are the efforts of an over-productive 
>: imagination in an attempt to support someone's strongly held ideas (i.e. 
>: Madjegorie, Book of Mormon).  Unfortunately, no one other than the 
>: original researcher is able to "read" these celts, and the method and 
>: evidence haven't been shared with other scholars.  Science doesn't work 
>: this way.  We don't accept YOUR word that a study indicates "so-and-so", 
>: when your method and results cannot be replicated without your presence, 
>: and your evidence is not shared completely with the community of 
>: scholars.  STRIKE ONE!
>I have shared my readings of the Olmec celts to scholars, they have been 
>ignored. This is to the loss of these scholars who to this day can not 
>read the entire Mayan script . 
>(But I can read every Olmec inscription I 
>have ever attempted to read. And if you will refer to J. Guthrie's : Cameron Wesson.
>C.A. Winters

Lewontin, R.C.
  1972  "The Apportionment of Human Diversity" in Evolutionary Biology
    vol. 6, T. Dobzhansky et al. eds. New York: Plenum.  Pp. 381-398.

Shanklin, Eugenia
  1994  Anthropology and Race. Belmont: Wadsworth.

Vargas G., Luis Alberto
  1974  "Caracteres Craneanos Discontinuos en la Poblacion de Tlatilco,
    Mexico" Anales de Antropologia vol. 11, pp. 307-328.

Wiercinski, Andrzcj
  1969  "Afinidades Raciales de Algunas Poblaciones Antiguas de Mexico."
    Anales de INAH, 7a epoca, tomo II, pp. 123-143.
  1970  "Inter and Intrapopulational Racial Differentiation of Tlatilco,
    Cerro de las Mesas, Teotihuacan, Monte Alban and Yucatan Maya."
    Proceedings of the 39th International Congress of Americanists.


Mr. Winter writes:
>Doug Weller ( wrote:
>: But you haven't done that. Perhaps you haven't seen the posts
>: rebutting your argument. I certainly haven't seen any replies from
>: you to them.
>: Doug Weller  Moderator,  sci.archaeology.moderated
>I have read the post, they have not rebutted my arguments. Both Nancy 
>McNelly and Peter van Rossum, acknowledge their disagreement with the 
>findings of Wiercinski, yet they show that he is a well respected scientist 
>and provide more references to his work. We can all disagree over a matter
>and never really change our views. 

Mr. Winter,

You seem to have missed the full import of the posts which have been 
written so I will make one last attempt to explain them to you.  You 
say you're a seeker of the truth, so I bring you these ten truths:

1. I was the only one (yourself included) who actually made an attempt 
   to ascertain the credentials of Wiercinski.  I found that he has 
   published other material in peer-reviewed physical anthropological 
   journals.  Based on this I concluded that he shouldn't be dismissed 
   out of hand as a crank since at least some of his research has 
   scientific merit. Whether or not he is "well-respected" by his peers 
   I cannot say.

2. At present there is *no* evidence of the use of metal by *any* 
   Preclassic culture in Mesoamerica.  This tends to argue against 
   the idea of significant contacts between Mesoamerican Preclassic 
   cultures and any culture which had developed metallurgy by this time.

3. The burials cited by yourself in Pailles' 1980 publication are *not*
   Olmec burials.  Your assertion that Dr. Diehl lied is incorrect.

4. Many Mesoamerican archaeologists today believe the Olmec style and the 
   Olmec people who lived in the Gulf Coast of Mexico 1500-500 B.C. are 
   *not* equivalent.  Therefore just because "Olmec style" objects are 
   found at a site, it is not conclusive evidence of direct contact with 
   the people living in the Gulf Coast region.  Therefore, it is 
   controversial to conclude that Tlatilco is an Olmec site.  Here it 
   becomes a matter of definition as to what the term Olmec means - see 
   Grove's and Diehl's papers in "Regional Perspectives on the Olmec"
5. As stated by Mr. Baker, Monte Alban is *not* an Olmec site.  Bernal's
   book is excellent but now somewhat dated.  On this matter, further 
   research showed him to be incorrect.  Joyce Marcus and Kent Flannery's
   1996 book "Zapotec Civilization" is an excellent summary of current 
   archaeological knowledge on the Prehispanic Valley of Oaxaca.

6. The term race as applied to humans has *no* genetic/biological basis.
   To better understand this, do yourself a favor and pick up any recent 
   Intro to Anthropology text to read the section on race - its very 

7. Because of point 6, it is *never* possible to use cranial measurements, 
   skeletal measurements, hair samples, blood samples, the "look" of 
   colossal heads, etc., to "prove for certain" that African peoples 
   traveled to the New World.  True scientists use many lines of 
   evidence to decide which of competing arguments is best supported
   by the data - they *never* prove anything for certain.

8. In our posts, Ms. McNelly and I did not "acknowledge" our disagreement 
   with Wiercinski. Based on points 6 & 7, we *demonstrated* that his 
   study is methodologically and theoretically flawed.  This directly 
   rebuts your use of it as evidence supporting your position.

9. The flaws in Wiercinski's research are so profound that it *cannot* 
   be used to support the conclusion that there were skeletons of 
   recent African descent in the burials of Tlatilco, Oaxaca or Cerro 
   de las Mesas.

10. Mesoamerican archaeologists are *not* using their position to 
    "maintain the status quo" or "hide the truth".  The reason virtually 
    all of them reject the idea of significant Old World-New World 
    contacts is because they don't see any evidence for it.

>   All I have tried to due in this matter is present evidence from the 
>finding of scholars relative to skeletons in ancient America. I believe I 
>accomplished this goal and in the process we all had a good discussion. I 
>have learned much from this posting and I hope other readers have had 
>similar results. 

I hope you demonstrate what you've learned by acknowledging the truth 
of the points listed above (or explain why they are wrong).  If you 
wish to continue studying the Olmec, more power to you.  But please 
keep an open mind to the idea that Native American populations 
independently produced complex civilizations by their own efforts - 
just as African peoples produced wonders by theirs.  

If you truly are a truth seeker, you will abandon the statement that 
Wiercinski's research "proves there were Africans in Olmec sites."  
Please pass this info on to any other Afrocentrists you know.

I would also suggest that in the future when you read a secondary 
account of an article which claims to "prove" anything, you go back
to the original source and read it with a critical eye - even if it
supports your position.

>A discussion on the internet is not a war. It is an 
>exchange of information. We will disagree, get over excited, and look 
>silly at times. But we must all remember that knowledge can only advance 
>if we all attempt to be civil in all matters. Take Care.

On this point we are in total agreement. I think that everyone in this 
group has behaved in a very civil manner.  At the very least we've all
learned who Wiercinski is and why his study is flawed.

>C. A. Winters

Best of luck,
Peter van Rossum