Note: This article has been published on Graham Hancock's website.

The Olmec Yogis 

A few years back, in course of a long trip through Mexico, I had visited the La Venta Museum in Villahermosa. The open-air museum has an enticing collection of Olmec sculpture, including three colossal Olmec stone heads. The artifacts had been moved here from the Olmec settlement of La Venta in western Tabasco when petroleum exploration in La Venta threatened the safety of these rare archaeological specimens.

While the giant Olmec stone heads are certainly the most eye-catching objects on display, what caught my attention was a stone sculpture of an Olmec man seated in cross-legged posture. His hands were resting on his thighs, with the tip of the thumb touching the index finger forming a mudra known as Gyana Mudra. This is a simple yogic posture called Sukhasana, which is primarily meant for meditation.
An Olmec stone statue depicting a man seated in a yogic posture called Sukhasana with his fingers in the Gyana Mudra position
Fig 1: An Olmec stone statue depicting a man seated in a yogic posture called Sukhasana with his fingers in the Gyana Mudra position. Credit: Bibhu Dev Misra
The Sukhasana posture with fingers in Gyana Mudra position
Fig 2: The Sukhasana posture with fingers in Gyana Mudra position. Source:
I was intrigued by the depiction of yoga in Olmec culture. It is well-known that yoga had been developed in India thousands of years ago. The earliest archaeological evidence for yoga is the Pashupati seal dated to c.2300 BCE, found at Mohenjo-Daro in the Indus Valley. The seal shows a male deity (identified by Sir John Marshall as an early prototype of the Hindu deity Shiva) with three faces, a horned head-dress with plumes, seated on a throne in a very difficult yogic asana called Mulabandhasana, in which the legs are bent below the body such that the heels are pressed together below the groin, with the toes pointing downwards.
The Pashupati Seal from Mohenjo-Daro c.2300 BCE, depicting the Hindu deity Shiva seated in a yogic posture called Mulabandhasana.
Fig 3:  The Pashupati Seal from Mohenjo-Daro c.2300 BCE, depicting the Hindu deity Shiva seated in a yogic posture called Mulabandhasana. Source: Wikipedia
The depiction of Shiva in a yogic posture on an Indus seal is quite appropriate, for it is Lord Shiva - also called Yogeshwara (The Lord of Yoga) - who is credited with revealing the 84 classic asanas of hatha yoga. Each asana has many variations, which significantly increases the total number of possible postures. In 2008, with the intention of demonstrating that all asanas are public knowledge and therefore not patentable, a team of experts brought together by the Government of India published a database of 900 asanas from 35 ancient texts.[1]

I wondered from where the Olmecs could have learnt about yogic asanas. Did they have some kind of contact with the ancient Indians? It is well-known that the Olmecs were the first major civilization of Mesoamerica, flourishing between c.1500 BCE – 400 BCE in the tropical lowlands of the Mexican states of Veracruz and Tabasco, with their primary city-temple complexes at San Lorenzo, La Venta and Tres Zapotes. They are often called the “mother culture” of Mesoamerica, for they laid many of the foundations for the subsequent civilizations of the region. Intriguingly, they sprang up as a fully developed, sophisticated civilization, sometime around 1500 BCE, with no sign of a period of cultural evolution anywhere in Mexico.[2] This raises the very pertinent question if the Olmecs may have been migrants from somewhere else.

After my initial curiosity about the statue seated in the Sukhasana posture at La Venta, I did not give much thought to this matter for a long time, until recently, when I was looking at some images of Olmec clay figurines and stone statues and realized that many of them depict yogic asanas. Going by the large number of figurines depicted in yogic asanas, it appears that the Olmecs were very serious yoga practitioners! Academics tend to interpret these Olmec figurines as “shamans taking postures reflecting the agility of jaguars.”[3]  But that is not the case at all. The figurines depict well-defined yoga poses, as shown in the following images.
Olmecs figurines in yogic postures - Vajrasana, Simhasana, Virasana, Uttan Mandukasana
Fig 4:  Olmecs figurines in yogic postures - Vajrasana, Simhasana, Virasana, Uttan Mandukasana. 

Olmecs figurines in yogic postures - Sukhasana, Upavistha Konasana, Bhumisparsha Mudra, Baddha Konasana.
 Fig 5:  Olmecs figurines in yogic postures - Sukhasana, Upavistha Konasana, Bhumisparsha Mudra, Baddha Konasana.
Olmecs figurines in reclining yogic postures - Anantasana, Dwi-pada-Anantasana.
Fig 6:  Olmecs figurines in reclining yogic postures - Anantasana, Dwi-pada-Anantasana.
Olmec figurines in complex yogic postures - Supta Vajrasana, Viparita Shalabhasana
Fig 7:  Olmec figurines in complex yogic postures - Supta Vajrasana, Viparita Shalabhasana.
I could identify 12 asanas practiced by the Olmecs, by looking at some online collections of clay figurines and stone statues. By no means does this represent the complete list of asanas known to the Olmecs. I do not have access to a complete inventory of Olmec artifacts, and even amongst the ones that I saw, I may not have recognized some postures due to my lack of familiarity with the humungous number of asanas and their variations – close to a thousand – that have now been documented.[4] If a team of yoga gurus were to take a look at a comprehensive catalog of Olmec figurines and sculptures they would, without a doubt, come up with a much longer list.

In addition to yoga asanas, the Olmecs also appear to have been familiar with specific hand gestures called yoga mudras, which aid in healing the body and in meditation. I could see two specific yoga mudras - the gyan mudra and the bhumisparsha mudra - being depicted by the Olmecs. Interestingly, yoga mudras also appear in profusion in Orthodox Christian religious icons, a point that I have explored in detail in a subsequent article titled, "Yoga Mudras in Orthodox Christian Art: Does it indicate a Hindu-Buddhist Influence?"

There is sufficient information, therefore, to conclude that the Olmecs were familiar with yogic asanas, and practiced it zealously. Going by their apparent mastery of the discipline, it seems that the Olmec culture was seeded by yogis! The figurines have been found in large numbers, which suggests that they may have served as visual aids for their yoga regimen.

Another culture in Western Mexico, generally termed as the “shaft tomb culture” flourished between 300 BCE – 400 CE, soon after the Olmec civilization had collapsed.[5] Even though the shaft tomb culture does not show any obvious signs of Olmec influence in its art, the people of this culture were also advanced yogis. A number of ceramic figurines recovered from the Mexican state of Colima depict people in complex yoga poses.
Ceramic figurines from Colima, Western Mexico, depict advanced yogic postures - Chakrasana, Purna Dhanurasana, Vrschikasana, Ganda Bherundasana
Fig 8:  Ceramic figurines from Colima, Western Mexico, depict advanced yogic postures - Chakrasana, Purna Dhanurasana, Vrschikasana, Ganda Bherundasana.
And so we really need to ask: from where did the Olmecs, or the shaft-tomb culture of Western Mexico that came soon after, acquire their extensive knowledge of yoga. As I mulled over a possible contact between India and Mesoamerica during the time of the Olmecs, I noticed a few more connections between the Olmec and Hindu-Buddhist culture that took me by surprise.

Olmec Shiva 
A few hundred miles from the Olmec heartland is the cave and archaeological site of Juxtlahuaca, which contains the earliest sophisticated cave art in Mesoamerica. The most well-known of the cave art is Painting 1, which has been dated by archaeologist Michael Coe to the Olmec period (c.1200 – 900 BCE) and contains Olmec motifs.[6] The painting shows a tall bearded person, holding a long snake or snake-like object in one hand, and a trident in the other, intimidating a small figure crouched in front of him. The man has long black hair reaching up to his ankles, and his arms and legs are covered with jaguar fur. He is wearing an elaborate headpiece, with wavy lines coming out of it.

I was amazed to note the extent to which this painting corresponds to the Hindu depiction of Shiva. Shiva has elaborate matted locks and long hair. A stream of water comes out of his matted locks, which depicts the mythological narrative where-in Shiva captured the celestial river Ganges in his locks, as she came down from heaven at a terrific speed, and allowed her to flow down to earth gently. Snakes coil around Shiva’s neck (he is sometimes shown holding a snake in his hand), and he carries the trident (trishula), which is the symbol of his power over the three worlds. He is clothed in leopard skin.
Olmec cave art from Juxtlahuaca depicts a deity or priest resembling the Hindu deity Shiva
Fig 9:  Shiva in Olmec iconography.
The association with Shiva is further strengthened by the fact that this painting was found in a cave. Caves are important places of Shiva worship. Naturally formed stalactites inside caves are often worshipped as manifestations of Shiva. Caves were sacred to the Olmecs and their successors in Mesoamerica as well. Olmec sculptures show deities seated at a cave entrance. The Mayans believed that caves contained a pathway to the underworld. This is why caves acted as places of burial, religious ceremonies, and ancestor worship. The Juxtlahuaca cave was also used for burial purposes; a dozen skeletons have been unearthed here. Incidentally, Shiva is also the “Lord of the Cremation Ground” (Shmashana Adhipati), where he roams in his fiery Bhairava form. As Bhairava, Shiva is a protector of the eight cardinal directions, and keeps intruders out of sacred places (Kshetra Palaka). In this Olmec painting, Shiva appears to be performing his Bhairava role, threatening an intruder with his trident and serpent.

There are far too many correlations, both iconographical and contextual, between this cave painting and the traditional iconography of Shiva – the trident, snake, jaguar skin, long hair, headdress with wavy lines, cave, burial ground – to assign this to mere coincidence. Besides, as we have already discussed, the Olmecs were serious yoga practitioners, and yogic asanas were revealed by Lord Shiva. One would expect that a culture that was so much into yoga would have been aware of the deity who is credited with founding the discipline. 

Olmec Ganesha 
Let us turn our attention to a curious Olmec clay figurine, which Zecharia Sitchin described as a “toy elephant”. It was spotted by Sitchin, when he had visited the Anthropology Museum in Jalapa, Veracruz.[7] However, when he had returned to the museum in 1999, the toy elephants were nowhere to be seen. Apparently, they had been removed for an “overseas exhibit”, never to be seen again. An elephant figurine in Mesoamerica raises uncomfortable questions, since elephants had disappeared from the Americas at the end of the last Ice Age at around 10,000 BCE.[8] How would the Olmecs, who flourished between c.1500 – 400 BCE, model a figure in its likeness?

Although Sitchin describes the artifact as a “toy elephant”, it is unusual for an elephant to stand upright comfortably on its hind legs. The artifact looks surprisingly similar to the portly, elephant-headed Hindu deity Ganesha. Ganesha is a pan-Asian deity, and one of the most popular gods of Hinduism. As the remover of obstacles and the patron of arts and sciences, he is honored at the beginning of any religious ceremony. Ganesha is also the son of Shiva. If the Olmecs were aware of Shiva, they could have been acquainted with Ganesha as well.
Olmec clay figurine depicting an elephant standing on its hind legs resembling the Hindu deity Ganesha
Fig 10:  Ganesha in Olmec iconography
The presence of Ganesha in Mesoamerica is borne out by yet another figurine which was found in Campeche, Mexico, dated to c.600 – 900 CE.[9] It is that of a portly, elephant-headed person, dressed in ornaments and a crown, with his left hand raised in blessing, and holding a mace in his right hand. The figurine is certainly that of Ganesha, which establishes beyond doubt that the Mesoamericans were familiar with the deity by 600 – 900 CE. This makes it more likely that the Olmec figurine of the elephant-headed person is that of Ganesha.
A Ganesha figurine found in Campeche, Mexico, c.600-900 CE
Fig 11: Ganesha figurine found in Campeche, Mexico, c.600-900 CE. Source:
The Ganas 
Another Olmec sculpture suggestive of Hindu influence in Olmec culture is on display at the Museum of Anthropology in Jalapa, Mexico. It is an Olmec altar supported by a pair of dwarves with upraised hands. Scholars speculate that the altar may have been used for religious ceremonies, or it could have been a throne on which the ruler sat.

Exactly the same type of dwarf figures called “ganas” are often depicted below the cornices in Hindu-Buddhist temples! They are a portly bunch of merrymaking dwarves, who hold up and protect the temple. They are depicted with upraised hands supporting the temple, as well as in a variety of poses – singing, dancing, playing musical instruments, clapping etc. The ganas are dressed in loincloths, ornaments, and sometimes a head-dress as well. It is astonishing to see how much they resemble the dwarves on the Olmec altar. There is no doubt that the same concept was being put into execution by both cultures.
An Olmec altar supported by two dwarves resembling the dwarf figures called "ganas" in Hindu-Buddhist temples
Fig 12:  Ganas in Olmec and Hindu iconography.
Interestingly, the ganas are regarded as attendants of Shiva and the leader of the ganas is Ganesha (who is called ganapati i.e. “Lord of the Ganas”). Thus, a set of closely linked religious constructs of Hinduism – Shiva (the Lord of Yoga), Ganesha (the son of Shiva), and the ganas, who are the attendants of Shiva and the followers of Ganesha – appear to have been known to the Olmecs.

The ancient Egyptians also worshipped a dwarf deity called Bes, who was the protector of the household and of childbirth. He is depicted below a cornice at the Denderah Temple complex, which suggests that he played a similar function of supporting the temple in Egypt. However, stylistically the dwarf figures in the Olmec altar most closely resemble those seen in Hindu-Buddhist temples.
he dwarf deity Bes depicted below a cornice in the Denderah Temple complex
Fig 13:  The dwarf deity Bes depicted below a cornice in the Denderah Temple complex. Source: Wikimedia Commons
Kalamukha: The Face of Time 
One of the most significant pieces of monumental Olmec sculpture is the Altar 4 at La Venta. The altar shows a figure seated at the entrance of a central niche which symbolizes a cave. The Olmecs and other Mesoamerica cultures regarded caves as sacred places. Human beings were fashioned inside a cave at the center of the world from where they emerged to serve their patron deities. Caves also provided a pathway to the underworld – the land of the ancestors. Given the sacred connotations associated with a cave, it appears that the figure seated at the entrance is that of a deity or a revered ancestor (although some scholars think of it as a ruler).

On the cornice above the deity is a depiction of a fearsome face with sharp fangs. The deity appears to be seated in the mouth of this monster. All around the cave entrance there is a serpentine foliage pattern terminating in what appear to be “flower buds”. The same design motif can be seen carved on the lintel stone above the entrance to many Hindu-Buddhist temples of India and South-east Asia, where it is called Kalamukha (Face of Time) or Kirtimukha (Face of Glory).
Altar 4 at La Venta depicts a fearsome face carved on the cornice which resembles the Kalamukha (Face of Time) in Hindu-Buddhist temples
Fig 14:  Kalamukha (the Face of Time) in Olmec and Hindu-Buddhist architecture
The Kalamukha is a fearsome monster face, with large bulging eyes, and a gaping mouth with huge fangs. From its mouth, it spews forth a serpent body, wreathed in foliage, which runs downward to frame the entrance on either side. Generally, the lower jaw of the monster is absent, which creates the impression of being devoured by the Kalamukha as one enters the temple. The Kalamukha is also used as a decorative motif above niches on the temple walls.[10]

In the Indian tradition, Time is synonymous with Death, so the Face of Time is also the Face of Death or the Face of Yama - the God of Death and the Lord of the Underworld. The jaws reject what is toxic and undesirable, and allows only the pure soul to come in the presence of the Great Spirit. It controls the passage from the multiform world of senses to the state of primordial unity, from the cycle of birth and death to the realm beyond time and death. In Buddhist art, the Kalamukha represents Shinje (the Tibetan equivalent of Yama), who holds the Wheel of Life in his mouth and devours all beings figured there, signaling his control over the cycles of birth and death.

It is likely that the symbol carried an analogous meaning amongst the Olmecs. The face above the La Venta altar resembles the Kalamukha, and even the “foliage pattern with flower buds” depicted on either side of the seated deity looks similar to that seen in Hindu-Buddhist temples. So, not only is there an overlap of a complex religious concept, but even the stylistic execution is similar. 
The subsequent cultures of Mesoamerica, including the Mayans, adopted the Kalamukha motif, which was depicted above the entrances to their temples and cave sanctuaries. Mayan deities were depicted seated below the Kalamukha with the serpentine foliage coming out of the mouth and framing the sculpture.
The depictions of the fearsome face called Kalamukha in Mayan and Hindu-Buddhist temples
Fig 15:  Kalamukha in Mayan and Hindu-Buddhist Temples and cave sanctuaries.
Fig 16: The Kalamukha in Mayan and Hindu-Buddhist art
The Lion Guardians 
While the Kalamukha protects the temple entrance, a pair of “lion guardian” statues flanks the temple gate of most Hindu-Buddhist temples. Sometimes multiple lion statues are positioned along the access road or stairway leading to the temple entrance, and all around the temple walls. The lions are typically in a seated position, having bulging eyes and a gaping mouth exposing sharp fangs. In Olmec art, and that of the subsequent cultures of Mesoamerica, it was the jaguar that was depicted in a very similar pose.
Olmec jaguars perform the same function as the lion guardians of Hindu-Buddhist temples
Fig 17: Olmec Jaguars and Lion Guardians of Hindu-Buddhist Temples
At San Lorenzo, a pair of jaguar statues was found at the entrance to the southern plateau, which suggests that they may have served a protective function. “The two felines (at San Lorenzo) are of different sizes but fairly similar in shape. They sit so that their front and rear legs are nearly on the same plane…The cats display their upper fangs and central front teeth but without any tension that would convincingly indicate a threatening movement.”[11]

Like the lion of Asia, the jaguar was revered by the Mesoamericans. Mayan deities such as God L who is “the primary lord of the underworld” is often shown with jaguar ear or jaguar attire, and atop a jaguar throne.[12] Maya kings also donned jaguar pelts, and adopted the jaguar as part of their ruling name. One such ruling family is known as Jaguar Paw, who ruled the Maya city of Tikal in the fourth century.[13]  

Similarly, all over the Hindu-Buddhist kingdoms of South Asia, we find deities such as Buddha, Ganesha and others depicted seated on lion thrones. “The lion as the king of the beasts has long been the symbol of royalty; the throne on which Indian kings sat was called simhasan, “the seat of a lion” (or “lion-throne”), and had representations of lions on the base of the throne.”[14]  The surname “Singh” (meaning “lion”) was used by a long line of Rajput kings such as Jai Singh, Uday Singh etc.

A double-headed jaguar therone at Uxmal, Mexico, resembles the double-lion throne in Hindu art
Fig 18: Mayan Jaguar throne and Hindu Lion throne
The concept of lion guardians was prevalent all over West Asia, Greece and Egypt. In Mesopotamia, lions were the symbol of kingship. The Processional Way from the Ishtar Gate (in Babylon) to the temple of Marduk, was adorned with lion reliefs. In Assyria, Persia, and Anatolia, winged lions with the head of a man called lamassu (meaning “protective spirit”) were placed at the entrances to palaces and cities. A set of twelve squatting, snarling “guardian lions” were placed along the Sacred Way in Delos, Greece, reminiscent of the Avenue of Sphinxes in Egypt. 

Interestingly, in Egypt, the pharaoh sometimes sat on a “lion throne”, having images of lions sculpted into the throne. The Egyptian god Aker, who guarded the gates to the netherworld through which the sun entered the underworld at sunset and again emerged at dawn, was depicted in the form of two lions sitting back to back, supporting the horizon containing the sun-disk. Twin lion statues representing Aker were placed at the doors of palaces and tombs to protect against evil spirits.

Therefore, the ideas associated with the jaguar in Mesoamerica were not unique or unusual, but were widely prevalent in many Old World cultures. Stylistically, however, the Mesoamerican jaguars are most similar to those found in the Hindu-Buddhist temples. 
Lion guardians are a common theme in sacred architecture across cultures
Fig 19: Guardian Lions in West Asia and Greece

Double lion throne in Egypt. The God Aker was depicted in the form of a pair of lions seated back-to-back
Fig 20: Egypt – Lion Throne and Aker
The Olmecs, therefore, were not only earnest practitioners of yoga, but they appear to have been acquainted with the Hindu deities Shiva and Ganesha, and had adopted many elements of Hindu temple architecture such as the ganas, Kalamukha and the lion guardians. Their sudden appearance in Mesoamerica sometime around 1500 BCE, with all the evolved elements of their culture, can be most easily explained by a migration from the other side of the Pacific.

When we look at the various Olmec figurines in yogic poses, it becomes obvious that the Olmecs had distinct mongoloid features. Interestingly, some of the ceramic figurines of the yoga-practicing Western Mexico shaft tomb culture were named “Chinesco” by art dealers due to their Chinese-like appearance. For quite some time there have been talks of a Chinese presence in the Americas. In 1882, thirty ancient Chinese coins were discovered by a miner in British Columbia, in the auriferous sand twenty five feet below the surface.[15] The coins depicted the Chinese chronological cycle of sixty years, invented by the Emperor Huungti in 2637 BCE. In 1975, large numbers of Chinese stone anchors were discovered in 12 to 25 feet of water off the Palos Verdes peninsula south of Los Angeles. In an article titled Stone Anchors: Asiatic Shipwrecks Off the California Coast published in the Anthropological Journal of Canada, Prof. Moriarity and Prof. Pearson said that geological studies showed the stone anchors were not of Californian origin and cited this as evidence that Asiatic vessels reached the New World in pre-Columbian times.[16] 

Further fuel was added to the trans-pacific diffusion theory in 1996, when Dr. Michael Xu of the Texas Christian University put forward the hypothesis that the Olmecs may have emigrated from the Shang dynasty of ancient China.[17]

Migrations from Asia
Michael Xu had spent many years analyzing the inscriptions on a large number of Olmec jade, stone, and pottery artifacts, in particular the inscriptions on the six jade celts in Offering No.4 at La Venta. He was struck by how closely the symbols on these artifacts resembled Chinese bone inscriptions from the Shang dynasty (c. 1600 - 1046 BCE) who ruled in the Yellow River valley. “When I first brought my artifacts from the Americas to China, scholars there thought that I just had more samples of Shang writing” Xu says, “…The similarities are that striking.”[18] 

An emerging view amongst researchers is that the migration from China may have taken place during the Xia dynasty (c.2070 – 1600 BCE), which preceded the Shang dynasty.[19] The Olmecs called themselves “Xi” which could be derived from “Xia”. In addition, since the Olmecs did not have knowledge of metallurgy, the emigration should have taken place prior to the emergence of bronze metallurgy in China at around 1800 BCE during the Xia dynasty.

In 1975, Betty Meggers, a research archaeologist at the Smithsonian Institution, proposed a Shang dynasty influence in the Olmec culture. She thinks that Asian contact goes back even further, to around 3000 BCE. In 1965, she had observed striking similarities in the techniques and decoration motifs of the Jomon pottery of Japan and those excavated in Valdivia, Equador, and proposed a migration from Japan’s Jomon culture to Equador – an idea which was roundly criticized by archaeologists at that time - but has now found genetic corroboration.[20] 

Both Betty Meggers and Mike Xu believe that natural Pacific water flows, such as the Kuroshio Current from Japan and the Black Current from China, transported boats to the New World.[21] From the 1600s to the mid 1800s, several dozen Japanese ships were carried from Asia to North America along the powerful Kuroshio Currents.[22] It is improbable that such contact would have started only after the Europeans landed in America.

Mike Xu has pointed out that the Olmecs, like the Chinese, viewed jade as a precious and pure stone, which they carved into a variety of artifacts, including jade masks. A particular design called “Taotie” appears on Chinese jade artifacts and bronze vessels from the Shang dynasty. It is a gluttonous ogre mask, with large eyes, sharp fangs, and sometimes with no lower jaw. Scholars of religious symbolism regard it as the Chinese version of the “Kalamukha” depicted above the entrances to Hindu-Buddhist temples. The same design is depicted on the Olmec altar 4 at La Venta.

The Olmecs and the Chinese made jade masks
Fig 21: Jade Masks -  Chinese and Olmec

The Taotie motif on Chinese jade artifacts resembles the Kalamukha found in Olmec and Hindu art, while Chinese spiral design motifs on Shang Dynasty artifacts resembles the spiral designs at Mayan sites such as Uxmal, Mexico
Fig 22: Taotie and Spiral motifs in China and Mesoamerica
The presence of the Kalamukha motif in Shang dynasty China is not surprising since there had always been a great deal of overlap between Chinese and Hindu religion, culture, philosophy, astronomy, and architecture. The Taoist philosophy is barely different from that of the Upanishads; the concept of energy meridians and chakras was known to both cultures; the Chinese concept of 28 lunar asterisms is same as the Indian Nakshatra system; and the Chinese calendric system, with its 12 year and 60 year cycles, is also prevalent in India.
Mike Xu mentions that both the Chinese and the Olmecs used a red pigment called cinnabar to decorate ceremonial objects.[23] I want to add that the custom of anointing ceremonial objects with red vermillion powder (which is obtained from cinnabar) continues to this day in India. Mike Xu also writes that the Olmecs and the Chinese have the practice of placing a few jade beads inside the mouth of the deceased.[24] An analogous practice in India is to place a few gold pieces on or inside the mouth (for gold carries the same sense of preciousness and purity in Indian culture as jade does in China).  Throughout Mesoamerica, right since the time of the Olmecs, conch-shell trumpets were used in a ritual context to announce the presence of the gods [25] - a practice that is still followed in Hindu and Buddhist religious ceremonies. Aztec kings signaled their troops to attack with conch shell trumpets [26], reminiscent of the Hindu mythological heroes in the epics such as the Mahabharata, who blew their conch-shells at the beginning of the battle. 

Conch shell trumpets were used in Mesoamerica and in Hindu-Buddhist cultures in rituals and for announcing the beginnings of battles
Fig 23: Conch shell trumpets were used extensively on either side of the Pacific for ritualistic purposes and announcing the beginning of battles.
It occurred to me that, because of the immense cultural overlaps between India and China, the Hindu-Buddhist influence in Olmec culture can be effectively explained by a migration from the Xia or Shang dynasty of China. Even yogic asanas, which the Olmecs practiced ardently, were known to the Chinese in the pre-Buddhist period. A number of jade statues from the Shang dynasty show people seated in the “Vajrasana” posture.
A Shang Dynasty jade statue seated in the “Vajrasana” posture
Fig 24: Shang Dynasty jade statue seated in the “Vajrasana” posture. Source: Wikimedia Commons
A pair of protective guardian lions stood outside Chinese temples, imperial palaces, and tombs from the Han dynasty onwards (206 BCE - CE 220) predating the arrival of Buddhist influence in China. The pair would consist of a male, leaning his paw upon an embroidered ball, possibly representing supremacy over the world, and a female with a cub under its paw, representing the cycle of life.[27] The stylistic representation is similar to that seen in the Hindu-Buddhist temples of India and South-east Asia, and the jaguar status of the Olmecs and other Mesoamerican cultures.
Stone statue of a guardian lion at Mount Emei in China
Fig 25: Stone statue of a guardian lion at Mount Emei in China. Source: Wikipedia
I could not find any Chinese version of the ganas – the dwarf figures that support the Hindu-Buddhist temple. But, what I did find is that both Shiva and Ganesha were a part of the Chinese religious tradition as early as the 4th century CE. A painting of the elephant-headed Ganesha, seated next to a four-armed, trishula-wielding Shiva, is found in Cave 285 at Dunhuang’s Mogao caves. The chamber was excavated in the Northern Wei dynasty (c.386-534 CE).[28] Thus, the knowledge of Ganesha and Shiva could have also passed on to the Olmecs through a migration from ancient China.
Ganesha and Shiva depicted in Cave 285 at Duanhuang's Mogao caves, China
Fig 26: Ganesha and Shiva in Cave 285 at Duanhuang's Mogao caves. Source:
The remarkable similarity between stepped pyramids on either side of the Pacific – which has already been pointed out by many researchers – is also very important indication of ancient contact between Asia and the Americas. The Olmec pyramid at La Venta, made of earth-fill, presently has a conical shape due to 2500 years of erosion. Originally, however, it was a rectangular pyramid with stepped sides.[29] It resembles the stepped pyramids of China, which were built as tombs for the elite, and the temple pyramids dedicated to Hindu gods in South-east Asia.
Stepped Pyramids are found on either side of the Pacific in China, Indonesia and Mexico
Fig 27: Stepped Pyramids on either side of the Pacific.
Undeniably, there is significant evidence suggesting that the Olmec civilization, which appeared in a fully formed state in Mexico sometime around 1500 BCE, adopted many elements of Hindu temple architecture, yogic practices and deities, as well as Chinese artistic styles, traditions, and the Shang script. 

These striking correlations can be effectively explained by migrations from Asia, most likely from the Xia or Shang dynasty of China. This was by no means the first wave of migration from Asia, or the last. Research archaeologist Betty Meggers theorizes that Asians have traveled to and from the Americas for thousands of years.  According to her, “Ancient man saw the ocean as a superhighway and not as a barrier”.[30] I have discussed further evidences for these trans-pacific contacts in a subsequent article titled "The Turtle supporting Mount Meru in Asian and Mesoamerican Art".

Although trans-pacific diffusion theories were widely discussed in academic circles in the first half of the 20th century, since the 1970s American archaeologists have treated the subject with disdain, which has brought about a virtual moratorium on contact studies. “While European and Pacific archaeologists were still willing to consider diffusion, American archaeologists tended to see necessity as the mother of all inventions…With a few key exceptions, there was no serious discussion of transoceanic influences on the Americas between 1980 and 2005 in mainstream American journals.”[31] 

The volume of evidence in support of transoceanic contact between Asia and the Americas has been steadily growing, however, and the nature of the connections is so complex and precise that it cannot be explained away as an in-situ development.  One can only hope that a new generation of historians and archaeologists will shake off the rigid dogmas that seem to guide the mainstream version of history,  and take due account of the plethora of archaeological and cultural evidence that indicates deep connections between the ancient civilizations of Asia and the Americas.

PS: In my next article, I have explored the mystery of the colossal Olmec stone heads, and have proposed that they might have been inspired by the "dvarapalas" or door-guardians depicted on either side of the entrance to a Hindu-Buddhist temple. Here is the link to that article: "The Olmec Heads: Did they serve as the door-guardians of the Olmec shrines?"

End Notes
 [1] "India Documents 900 Yoga Poses to Block Patents", Voice of America News 11 Jun 2010 <>
[2] Nigel Davies, The Ancient Civilizations of Mexico (Penguin Books, 1982) 55.
[3] Andrei A. Znamensk, The Beauty of the Primitive: Shamanism and Western Imagination (Oxford University Press, 2007)182.
[4] Refer Note 1
[5] Western Mexico shaft tomb tradition, Wikipedia.
[6] Michael D.Coe,"Image of an Olmec ruler at Juxtlahuaca, Mexico", Antiquity Vol. 79 No. 305, September 2005.
[7] "THE CASE OF THE MISSING ELEPHANT", The Official Website of Zecharia Sitchin 2000 <>
[8] <>
[9] Strange Figurines <>
[10] Adrian Snodgrass, The Symbolism of the Stupa (Motilal Banarsidass, 1992) 306.
[11] Carolyn E. Tate, Reconsidering Olmec Visual Culture: The Unborn, Women, and Creation (University of Texas Press, 2012)126.
[12] Benson 1998: 64-65 taken from Wikipedia (Jaguars in Mesoamerican cultures)
[13] Coe 1999: 90 taken from Wikipedia (Jaguars in Mesoamerican cultures)
[14] Sehdev Kumar, A Thousand Petalled Lotus: Jain Temples of Rajasthan : Architecture & Iconography (Abhinav Publications, 2001)155.
[15] James Dean, "Anthropology", The American Naturalist, University of Chicago Press for The American Society of Naturalists, January 1884, 18 (1): 98–99 taken from Wikipedia (Pre-Columbian trans-oceanic contact theories)
[16] Larry J.Pierson and James R. Moriarty, "Stone Anchors: Asiatic Shipwrecks off the California Coast," Anthropological Journal of Canada, 18:17, 1980
[17] Jennifer Viegas, "Early Crossings: Scientists Debate Who Sailed to the New World First " <>
[18] ibid.
[19] Christian Lemoy, Across the Pacific: From Ancient Asia to Precolombian America (2011) 45
[20] Brad Lepper, "JAPANESE FISHERMEN DISCOVER AMERICA 5,000 YEARS AGO?" Ohio History Connection 19 May. 2013 <>
[21] Jennifer Viegas, "Early Crossings: Scientists Debate Who Sailed to the New World First " <>
[22] James  Wickersham, "Origin of the Indians--The Polynesian Route" American Antiquarian(1892)16:323-335 taken from Wikipedia (Pre-Columbian trans-oceanic contact theories)
[23] Jocelyn Selim, "Chinatown, 1000 B.C." DISCOVER Vol. 21 No. 2 (February 2000) <>
[24] Ibid
[25] Bernardino de Sahagún, Florentine Codex: General History of the Things of New Spain, trans. Charles E. Dibble and Arthur J. O Anderson (University of Utah Press, 1950-1982)I:29
[26] Ross Hassig, Aztec Warfare: Imperial Expansion and Political Control (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1988) 96
[27] Wikipedia (Chinese Guardian Lions)
[28] Ganesh: Studies of an Asian God, ed. Robert L. Brown, (SUNY Press, 1991)271.
[29] Walter Robert Thurmond Witschey, Clifford T. Brown, Historical Dictionary of Mesoamerica (Scarecrow Press, 2012)180.
[30] Jennifer Viegas, "Early Crossings: Scientists Debate Who Sailed to the New World First " <>
[31] Terry L. Jones, Alice A. Storey, Elizabeth A. Matisoo-Smith, José Miguel Ramírez-Aliaga
Rowman Altamira, Polynesians in America: Pre-Columbian Contacts with the New World (2011) 63
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Bibhu Dev Misra

Independent researcher and writer on ancient mysteries, cultural connections, cosmic wisdom, religion and science. Graduate of IIT and IIM with two decades of work experience in different fields

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26 comments so far,Add yours

  1. Nice research, congrats : )
    I studied archaeology in various places for several years, you are right: academia is not interested in alternate versions.
    Thanks to the internet, many now know that orthodox models are completely obsolete. Consequently, the dates you base your research on are misleading. But you are clearly onto something.
    For now, only outsiders can formulate arguments such as yours. Things are changing rapidly. As soon as this congested western mindset collapses, there will be room for new models.
    keep it up friend.

    1. Thank you for being appreciative of the article. It's great to receive the feedback of someone who has studied archaeology. The internet is certainly a great leveller, and I agree that as more people become aware of the alternate versions there will be pressure on orthodox archaeologists to change their mindsets.

  2. This is a very interesting work of research. You have done an excellent job on equating Olmecs to Asian civilizations like India and China.

    It is generally felt that the South American civilizations are the descendants of Bali Chakravarty and South America is equated with the Patala as mentioned in Indian mythology. If the theory is correct, then the Olmecs will fit nicely into the model of being the descendants of Bali and one of the seven races supposed to have been the descendants of Bali. Toltecs of South Amercia are supposed to be Tatlatalas or people who are residents of Talatala, which is interpreted to be Antarctic.
    As conventional archeology will not support these possibilities, it is imperative that a new narrative such as the one done by you is necessary to bring to light, the other possibilities and connect the dots.
    Vasudhaiva kutumbikam, the whole world is one family will be truly applicable when we connect the dots and show that all the races in the world have one origin and perhaps Asia is the cradle of civilizations

    1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and the kind commenst about the article. I am aware of the theories which link South America with patala, but as you mentioned, such ideas are not acceptable to mainstream historians. We need to present valid archaeological evidence to make the case that the ancient civilizations of Asia and Americas were connected, and that ideas, philosophies and traditions were passed from Asia to America in many waves of migrations.

  3. Extremely interesting and highly credible research work. Compliments.

    1. Thank you. Very happy to receive your kind comments.

  4. Fascinating. When I was studying for my master's degree in anthropology in the early 1980s, I noticed a strong resemblance between decorations on pottery found on the west coast of Mexico and contemporaneous pottery decorations in Japan. I knew of Betty Meggers, of course, but hadn't been taught about her theory. I didn't have the courage to say anything, but of course much later, the genetic evidence was found connecting Japan and Mexico.

    One of the reasons scientists (in general) have a hard time being open to new ideas is that it means they have to admit that perhaps they were wrong. Another is that some anthropologists believe that similar cultural ideas sprang up in isolation from other cultures (because they don't believe people traveled much). I think that idea is becoming less popular, but it's still a thing.

    1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I always feel very happy when someone who has studied archaeology / anthropology responds to my posts.
      Its interesting that you too had noted the similarities between Mexican and Japanese pottery styles. I think one of the main reasons why many academics do not investigate alternate theories is because they are afraid of ridicule or being attacked by their peers. They dutifully toe the official line, inspite of evidence to the contrary. I sure hope that some young scholars will care less for academic brownie points and pursue the truth.

  5. Sir, I have a question that in Hindu Purana there are cycle of yugas. In each yugas a avatar is born. It is also said that all four yugas are in continuos cycle. Than every time same avatar with same name and with same life are born. Please reply to this.

    1. There may be multiple avatars during each yuga, and at least one avatar appears during the periods of transition between yugas. Each avatar has a different purpose and takes on a specific form. Although the yugas repeat continuously, just like the cycles of day and night, the events happening in each yuga are different, just like no two days are the same.

  6. Absolutely fascinating research. Thank you for this piece! Andre.

  7. Bibhu,
    direct influence of the ancient Indian culture (Hindu) is visible not only in Mexico but all over both the American continents.
    It is much more obvious in Central area between North and south America.
    Evidences of the similarity between the Native Aamerican Cultures and and that of Inidia have been brought out since Chamanlal wrote his book Hindu America published in 1950.the book has a foreword by dr. Rajendra Prasad. the same and my book Indo Aztec Cultural Affinity can give you many leads.Scholars opine that there were at least 7 layers of culture in central America, Olmecs Toltecs and Aztecs were perhaps the latest ones.
    Your article is very very interesting.also see if you can visit the parts of Peru and chile where the Inca ( Angadesh?) culture was dominant. Please continue. all the best.
    Lata Dani

    1. Dear Lata Dani,
      Thank you for leaving your comments. I have read some of your articles on Indo-Aztec connections, though I have not yet read your book. I have also come across excerpts / references to Chaman Lal's Hindu America, but yet to read the book. I will try to acquire and go through both of them, to broaden my scope of research.
      I agree that the Olmecs/Mayans/Aztecs were some of the latest migrants to Mesoamerica. Even Betty Meggers says that Asians had been traveling to the Americs for at least 5000 years, if not more. I had plans to visit Peru for a long time...let's see when it might materialize. Thank you for being appreciative of the article, and for the encouraging words.

  8. Sir, Your research is too wonderful . this article will throw open many eye-lids to reclaim America by India......!!!

    1. Thank you. Very happy to receive your comments.

    2. Thank you for sharing this information,it is fascinating and has helped my researches.
      best regards

    3. Thanks Rich for commenting. Glad to know that you found the information useful for your researches.

  9. The temples have been destroyed by britishers and spanish, and built churches atop of those temples in American continent while arabs destroyed temples and made mosque in Asian continent.
    The american baseball resembles the game people play in kerala,India during Onam festival. But it is unknown to most of common man that are both are same.
    The whole arab countries has huge cultural resources which are being wiped out by Americans and britishers.

  10. Kalaripayat and chinese martial art and cultural chinese lion dance is same as pulli kalli of kerala. But unfortunately kerala has lost the whole aspect of real cultural value behind it.
    One martial art from kerala has connection to chinese martial artists temple and has visited china and is still in touch with them in kerala.

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
      Kerala had trade relations with the Chinese and South-east Asia, which could explain certain cultural overlaps. Even the wooden pagoda-like temples of Kerala bear a strong resemblance to the temples of Nepal and China. I have read somewhere that the Nairs of Kerala may be a breakaway faction from the Newars of Nepal.

  11. Misra JI, This is the most astonishing finding. Not many people know about your website, and not enough people read. Please consider putting these article on you tube.

    1. Thank you for your kind comments. I do have plans to put some of the articles on You Tube but have not yet found the time to get to it. Thanks for your suggestion. I shall make an effort in this direction soon.

  12. Very accurate observation in your article about the Old World-influences in ancient Mesoamerica. Furthermore: I personally believe that this may just be the tip on the "iceberg", as I firmly believe that the Olmecs and Mayas (and others) may have had cultural- and trade-connections with China (mainly Tang-dynasty, I guess, even if the whole connection goes way back...check out the Qin-Emperor's (he who built the wall) attempts to get the "smoothie"/elixir of immortality by sending out expeditions to the East by ship(s)), and Phoenicia (during Olmec times, mainly, I guess), and, of course, with the Indian subcontinent. Just look at this Mayan (?) statue of a lady:

    She has one heck of a big tilak/bindi (?) on her forehead, maybe even made of jade, and her whole hairdo seems to be very derivate of women's hair-fashions in ancient India. There are so many more examples I could point at for further cross-cultural contacts, but I will leave it at that for now, and I look forward to reading other posts/articles by you, which touches (and elaborates) on this most interesting topic.

    Kind Regards
    /K. A.

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I did read about the journey of the Chinese Buddhist monk Hui Shan to the land of Fusang in c.450 BCE, which has been identified with the Americas.
      Thanks for sharing the image of the Maya lady. While I had noted the bindi before in some images, I was struck by the hairdo which resembles some of the Harappan terracotta images. There are, indeed, a great many connections, and I know of a few more which I shall write about in subsequent articles.