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Evidence for global cultural diffusion
Or, why are there Seven Sisters?
In this post, I’d like to show that societies like Australian Aboriginals and the Navajo are similar in ways that require cultural diffusion. That is, central elements of their culture hail back to the same people deep in the past. This is dangerous territory. The Wikipedia page on hyperdiffusion speedruns how often one can use “pseudoscience” to introduce a topic. In its heyday, advocates proposed that all culture diffused from one of the early greats—Egypt, Sumer, or Atlantis. Graham Hancock recycles some of these ideas in his Netflix hit Ancient Apocalypse, though he stays mum on whether he currently believes we owe civilization to psychic Atlanteans or Ancient Aliens. The Society of American Archeology responded with an open letter stating his theory “has a long-standing association with racist, white supremacist ideologies; does injustice to Indigenous peoples; and emboldens extremists.”
Even so, many academics argue for global diffusion, though of a different sort. I have already covered the strange similarity of pronouns worldwide, which some linguists explain by a posited Proto-Sapiens spoken in Africa 100,000 years ago. Some have even proposed a few dozen global cognates. In that reconstruction Proto-Sapiens “to think” is mena, surviving today in forms such as man (one who thinks), Minerva (Goddess of wisdom), or mantra. Or in other languages as munak for “brains” (Basque), mèn for “to understand” (Malinke), and mena preserved as “to think” among the Lake Miwok Native Americans. It’s a romantic notion that modern culture is steeped in the Mother Tongue, that the words of our first ancestors still flow from our lips.
If that sounds implausible, comparative mythologists also explain the global occurrence of myths like the primordial matriarchy or the rainbow serpent with a primordial cultural root. Diffusion is on the table in the academy as long as it goes back to Africa 100,000 years ago.
100,000 years is a long time, and the experts that propose diffusion are acutely aware of how sounds and stories change over even 1,000 years. Try reading Beowulf. What could cause thinking people to break all the rules of their field and posit a single primordial root? Well, global culture is similar in ways that are nigh-impossible to explain without diffusion. Some ideas seem only to be invented once. What follows is a list of the most compelling examples. Though unsure about the answer, I want to amplify this as a mystery that demands explaining. For in it lies the answer to who we are and where we came from.
The evidence is presented in order of most to least compelling, which can be thought of in three tiers:
Tier 1 (Seven Sisters): Straightforward statistical reason it can’t be chance. Hard to explain via psychic unity. Many experts agree it is diffusion.
Tier 2 (Snakes | Matriarchy | Bull-roarers | Hellhounds): Well-studied phenomena many experts explain via diffusion.
Tier 3 (Circumcision | Finger removal | Hook swinging): curious similarities that form a plausible memeplex involving male initiation, sacred knowledge from women, serpents, and bull-roarers.
Why are there Seven Sisters?
There are two puzzles surrounding the Pleiades, or Seven Sisters. First, why are the mythological stories surrounding them, typically involving seven young girls being chased by a man associated with the constellation Orion, so similar in vastly separated cultures, such as the Australian Aboriginal cultures and Greek mythology? Second, why do most cultures call them “Seven Sisters” even though most people with good eyesight see only six stars? ~ Norris & Norris
The Pleiades star cluster is said to represent Seven Sisters in cultures as distant as Australia and Greece. There aren’t many constellations of sisters in the sky, so it would be surprising for this to happen by chance. What about the Pleiades suggests sisterhood to the human mind? But the situation is stranger still. “Similar “lost Pleiad” stories are found in European, African, Asian, Indonesian, Native American and Aboriginal Australian cultures. Many cultures regard the cluster as having seven stars, but acknowledge only six are normally visible, and then have a story to explain why the seventh is invisible1.” What are the odds that independent cultures counted an extra star, retained it, and then explained the discrepancy in the story? It must either be that 6 vs 7 is inherently meaningful to our psyche, or this detail has been propagated in a game of telephone.
There are other shared themes in Pleiades stories. You can likely pick out Orion’s belt in the night sky and may remember he’s a hunter. In many cultures, the Orion constellation is a male chasing the Seven Sisters. Julien d’Huy (of snake myth fame) has mapped this theme worldwide:
All of this has been noted for years by anthropologists. Norris and Norris are actually astronomers, and point out that 100,000 years ago the seventh star could have been more visible. Therefore, they suggest that if the myth goes back before the Out of Africa migration one can kill two birds with one explanatory stone. When the story was first told there were Seven Sisters. Cultures since then have independently explained the discrepancy with the currently visible cluster of six.
I won’t belabor serpent mythology, having already written about it at length. Many scholars see profound similarities in snake myths worldwide, particularly in creation stories. This doesn’t seem like academics being too cute by half, seeing symbolic faces in clouds. The theme leaps out at you, and it has been noted by anthropologists from many schools of thought for 150 years.
Like the Seven Sisters, this is usually explained by the myth originating in Africa 100,000 years ago. That is the view of comparative mythologist Julien d’Huy and philologist Michael Witzel. Anthropologist Jeremy Narby offers a more radical theory. In Cosmic Serpent: DNA and the Origins of Knowledge, he suggests shamans can access molecular knowledge, and the serpent is a worldwide symbol of this ability2. I guess DNA does kind of resemble intertwined snakes?
The rainbow serpent
The Berezkin database is a collection of 37,500 myths from around the world organized by themes within these myths. The Rainbow Serpent theme is found in 238 cultures spanning every continent. Like other data points on this list, in isolation, it’s not something to keep one up at night. Snakes are long and skinny and totally rad, as are rainbows. Maybe our brains are wired to connect them.
Berezkin’s database also includes theme F38: Women were possessors of the sacred knowledge, sanctuaries or ritual objects which are now taboo for them. He uses this and related myths to correlate different cultural groups with genetic structure in the New World. From the paper:
“Another group includes a number of motifs centered around F38. Women Lose their High Position: in the beginning of times or during a certain period in the past, women's social and/or ritual position was higher than that of the men; women played the role of intermediaries between men and spirits…Why are women subservient to men?”
These include theme F41: First ancestor men kill women who behave against social norms. Some samples:
Bougainville Island: woman found a whistle while chopping firewood, showed to other women; men killed all women except little girls, began to use whistles for ceremonies
Papua New Guinea: the twins killed the ogre, bamboo grew on his grave; the women heard the wind buzzing in him, made flutes; the men heard, killed women, took flutes for secret rituals
See the footnote for longer examples in Taiwan and the Amazon3. Other themes in this group include In the community of first ancestors, women kill, try to kill, or transform men (F43A) and Men deprive women of their leading position in the ancestral community (F39). You get the idea. The world started with gender wars, and the guys won. In another paper, Berezkin examines a related subset of myths found globally:
“There are similar rituals/myths in Africa, Australia, Melanesia and South America that are associated with institutionalised opposition of the sexes, and typically include stories about the past domination of women, not only in the social sphere (the story of “a woman’s realm” sometime in the past, or in a distant land, is a motif known all over the world), but also in cult and ritual.”
This would not be so interesting without archeological support. Professor John Vervaeke made the popular series Awakening from the Meaning Crisis. Much like the author of Genesis, he holds that we must understand where it all went wrong before answering the meaning question. As such, the first course discusses the changes in Europe 40,000 years ago, when humans start to distinguish between the spiritual and material worlds. Art, shamanism, and a new relationship with an imagined future emerge. Amazingly, the gods of this era are almost exclusively female (or at least those depicted in art). According to Joseph Campbell:
There is an extremely perplexing question connected with the history of that series [the Venus figurines]; for it has been observed that, although their cult seems to have extended all the way from the Pyrenes to Lake Baikal in Sibera, the period of their florescence was comparatively brief. As the art of painting developed and the beautiful animal forms took posession of the walls of the great caves, the carving of the figurines was discontinued. Furthermore, whenever human forms do appear among the painted animals, they are of masculine shamans, the representation of the human female having practically ceased. ~Flight of the wild gander (1991), p 146
Now, there are a lot of questions about what anyone believed 40,000 years ago, including what Venus figurines represent. But they are precisely the sort of questions that ought to be answerable if myths can last for 100,000 years preserving details like 6 vs 7 Pleiades stars.
All dogs go to heaven (or hell)
Theme I27: dog and/or (rarely) a domestic cat is the owner, guardian of the land of the dead, a guide on the way there, dogs live on their way to the land of the dead.
I27 is found in 101 cultures, spanning every continent but Australia. Variants include Anubis, the Egyptian jackal god who judges souls of the departed, Cerberus, the underworld guard defeated by Herakles, and the Aztec psychopomp now known as the Xoloitzcuintle breed (pictured below):
Weird coincidence, right? For further reading, Wikipedia lists many other Hellhounds in Eurasia and the Americas, and Dan Davis narrates research suggesting these myths go back to the Mal’ta Buret culture. (The same that carved Venus statues and cobras into mammoth tusks.) These ancient Siberians are among the candidates for the people that first domesticated dogs. Because dogs are worldwide, this shows that at least dogs have diffused the world over, possibly along with their character backstory as guides for the soul. Other global myths could have been part of that cultural package. In fact, the Rainbow Serpent is first evidenced shortly after the dingo is introduced to Australia, and then both spread over the whole continent. There is no need to find a root older than dog domestication.
Sirius, the scorching one
The “dog days of summer” refer to when Sirius, the dog star, is in conjunction with the rise and fall of the sun in late summer. Greeks, Sumerians, Egyptians, Chinese, and Native Americans recognized the Sirius-dog connection5. This is less impressive than the Seven Sisters, as Sirius is the brightest star, and dogs are possibly the most psychologically important animal. Chance isn’t hard to imagine; it’s only in the context of other diffused dog myths, such as Hellhounds, that Sirius becomes interesting.
“Perhaps the most ancient, widely-spread, and sacred religious symbol in the world” ~Alfred C. Haddon (1898)
A bull-roarer is a ritual musical instrument consisting of a piece of wood attached to a string swung in circles to produce a roaring vibration sound. Anthropologist Thomas Gregor wrote in 1973:
“The puzzling link between the bullroarer and men's cults was first noted by the anthropologist Robert Lowie more than sixty years ago. He, as well as anthropologists of the so-called diffusionist school, such as Otto Zerries, maintained that the wide distribution of the bullroarer was evidence of an ancient common culture based on the separation of the sexes. The bullroarer, according to Zerries, has "its roots in an early cultural stratum of hunting and gathering tribes" (1942,304). And according to Lowie, the associated pattern of men's cults is "an ethnographical feature originating in a single center, and thence transmitted to other regions" (1920,313). Interest has long since waned in "diffusionist” anthropology, but recent evidence is very much in accord with its predictions. Today we know that the bullroarer is a very ancient object, specimens from France (13,000 B.C.) and the Ukraine (17,000 B.C.) dating back well into the Paleolithic period. Moreover, some archeologists-notably, Gordon Willey (1971, 20)-now admit the bullroarer to the kit-bag of artifacts brought by the very earliest migrants to the Americas. Nevertheless, modern anthropology has all but ignored the broad historical implication of the wide distribution and ancient lineage of the bullroarer.” ~Anxious Pleasures: The Sexual Lives of an Amazonian People (1973)
You may think this is an anthropologist blowing wind, but it is the case that the bull-roarer has since been ignored, and the diffusionist school scrapped. The only systematic treatment of the instrument since then introduces itself: “The present psychoanalytic essay draws attention to the possible anal components of male initiation arguing that the bullroarer is a flatulent phallus.”
Compare that to the reasoning in 1920, when diffusion was still discussed. The bull-roarer is a relatively simple instrument and could have been invented independently. Robert Lowie addressed this:
“But this is to mistake the problem. The question is not whether the bull-roarer has been invented once or a dozen times, nor even whether this simple toy has once or frequently entered ceremonial associations. I have myself seen priests of the Hopi Flute fraternity whirl bull-roarers on extremely solemn occasions, but the thought of a connection with Australian or African mysteries never obtruded itself because there was no suggestion that women must be excluded from the range of the instrument. There lies the crux of the matter. Why do Brazilians and Central Australians deem it death for a woman to see the bull-roarer? Why this punctilious insistence on keeping her in the dark on the subject in West and East Africa and Oceania? I know of no psychological principle that would urge the Ekoi and the Bororo mind to bar women from knowledge about bull-roarers and until such a principle is brought to light I do not hesitate to accept diffusion from a common center as the more probably assumption. This would involve historical connection between the rituals of initiation into the male tribal societies of Australia, New Guinea, Melanesia, and Africa.” ~Primitive Society, p313 (1920)
This is consistent with EM Loeb’s theory that initiation ceremonies of Native Americans from California to Tierra del Fuego share a common root based partly on the function of the bull-roarer6. If myths can last 100,000 years, we should expect many such cases between cultures “only” separated by 15,000. What follows are a few more elements common to male initiation rituals.
Bull-roarers were also incorporated into the heart of the Western world in the death and rebirth ceremonies of the Dionysian Mysteries. During the festivities, women would swing from trees, recalling how his consort Ariadne hung herself. Though this echoes violence and is sometimes classified with other swinging festivals, no hooks are involved. At the end of the day, it is a child’s swing and a ghost story. The Sun Dance of the Plains Indians is a far more literal re-enactment of death and rebirth. (Notably, it also features the bull-roarer).
In the Sun Dance, ropes are strung through the flesh of initiates, who are then hung from the ceiling. Weights—buffalo skulls—are likewise attached to their flesh. The young men are then spun around until they faint, crying out in a ritual language to the Great Spirit. This is described in an illustrated account from 1874, summarized by the excellent Traditions of Conflict.
As Gregor noted in 1973, “Interest has long since waned in ‘diffusionist’ anthropology, but recent evidence is very much in accord with its predictions.” To get a global account of this ritual, one must go back to 1931 in the paper Hook-swinging in the Old World and in America. It notes parallels among Hindus, three separate North American societies, Aztecs, Ancient Koreans, the Moari, inhabitants of the Cook Archipelago, and Europeans (with the May Pole). YouTube hosts footage of the festive practice in India, though I must warn you that hooks go through flesh from which men swing.
This is the weakest example of diffusion thus far, though incorporating the bull-roarer in Greece and America is fascinating. I include it because it is so far from my own experience with ritual. If psychic unity tends towards this act, it would certainly expand my view of culture. If curious, you can also check how anthropologists explain the psychic function of these rituals7.
Traditions of Conflict describes what happens after initiates faint from the hook swinging:
Once the young man had the strength to walk away, the ordeal was generally not over. The young man would go to another masked man wielding a hatchet. The young man would place his left-hand on the nearby bison skull, and thank the Great Spirit for listening to his prayers and protecting his life during the ordeal. The masked man would then strike off the little finger of the young man’s hand with the hatchet.
As it so happens, the earliest cave art is dominated by hand stencils. Curiously, many of these are missing little fingers on the left hand.
Whether this is due to frostbite, bending fingers to stencil a hand-sign code, or ritual mutilation is debated. To understand the latter, anthropologists collected evidence of finger removal in 121 societies worldwide. As this was written in 2018, the varied purposes are emphasized (e.g., sacrifice, mourning, or marriage), and diffusion is not mentioned. Not to be a broken record, but if serpent myths consistently last 100,000 years, then we should expect cultural elements from 27 kya to be preserved as well. Descendants of Paleolithic practice may well exist among those 121.
Or, if one is persuaded by psychoanalytic anthropology, perhaps there is a connection between the subconscious idiom “pull my finger” and the flatulent phallus of the initiate.
“A newly circumcised Aboriginal may wander alone swinging a small bullroarer to ease the pain of the cut, but he is also tacitly sending a signal that females must avoid him and under no circumstances look at him.” The Bullroarer and the Magic Wheel
Given the psychological importance of the penis, I suppose it is conceivable that gods the world over would demand just the tip. The best overview of this practice I could find was chatGPT, so all of the (now) usual caveats. It lists practices in dozens of societies spread across every continent8. Wikipedia also has a good page.
Where is humanity’s cultural root?
Though there is debate, many anthropologists, comparative mythologists, and linguists have looked at this evidence and concluded there must be a memetic root for humanity. This is commonly theorized to go back 100,000 years in Africa. However, this creates four problems:
That is a long time for a myth, cognate, or ritual to last
100 kya does not go back to humanity’s genetic root; cultural diffusion is still required.
The date is before Behavioral Modernity.
The practices are first evidenced in Eurasia
The first point is self-explanatory, what follows is a brief treatment of the other points.
Deep genetic roots
The 100 kya root is commonly chosen to align genetic and memetic diffusion, avoiding uncomfortable questions such as who invented worldwide creation myths. However, it fails even this; genetic forks within Africa far precede the Out of Africa migrations. For example, d’Huy notes that the Khoisan hunter gatherers in South Africa share the same snake mythology as Australian Aboriginals, Eurasians, and Native Americans. Because the story is central to each culture, he reasons that it has not been culturally imported and must go back to before the Out of Africa expansion to the genetic root of humanity. But it is estimated the Khoisan split from the rest of the family tree 100-150 kya, or even 260 kya. Has the story survived that long? If not, then it must have entered Khoisan culture via diffusion. And if it could spread within Africa, it could spread into Africa. No need for such a distant root to get global coverage.
It seems completely natural to tell stories about an imagined future, but this is unique to humans. Psychologists note that the cognitive machinery to do so also allows existential questions like “What’s it all about?” When that question was first asked is a fairly good definition for when we became us, which anthropologists call Behavioral Modernity.
There is a lot of debate about when that change happened, but a common answer is 40-50 kya. This is when narrative art is first produced and humans started counting time. It’s not clear if any stories were told before then, much less of the Seven Sisters or creation myths which answer existential questions.
But the problem is deeper still. The story-telling ability of humans 50 kya is impossible to to know, but we are confident that there was an enormous shift towards more complex culture. If 6 vs 7 Pleiades can be preserved in myths around the world for 100,000 years, then details about that transition would survive as well.
Writing in 1973, the anthropologist Gregor noticed the myths of a primordial matriarchy. Over and over, the tell of a time long ago, or in a distant land, when the initiation rituals of men belonged to women. He assures us that “myths are not history” and merely serve a social function. But, I’m not so sure. There are reasons to believe women would have looked inward and asked existential questions first. If those questions sparked Behavioral Modernity, then after thousands of years all that would remain may be Venus statues and myths of women convincing men to leave the proverbial Garden of innocence. I flesh that out that idea elsewhere; it doesn’t flow from what is presented here. However I want to point out in regards to the Seven Sisters: accepting an ancient root implies the past should be much less mysterious, including the transition to Behavioral Modernity.
One tactic to find the cultural root is to look for the earliest evidence of each highly-diffused theme, and see if a pattern emerges. A priori, we should not be too hopeful in this approach; if a man was circumcised 30,000 years ago, or someone told a story about a dog, how would we know? Amazingly, many of these practices were the object of the first art, and we have earlier and stronger evidence than one would expect.
Matriarchy (as possibly indicated by Venus figurines)
Mal’ta Buret, 23 kya, Siberia (canine genetics paper)
Ukraine 19 kya
Gravettian, 22-27 kya, Europe (though it is hard to date cave art, and there is debate whether the handprints there go back 40 kya)
Caves in Altamira, Chauvet, and Pech-Merle (among many others)9
Mummies in Egypt 6-8 kya
Rock art in Northern Africa, possibly back 9 kya
A Gravettian Root?
I tried to be inclusive in the evidence for diffusion and welcome others to add to the list. Remarkably, most elements are first evidenced in the culturally connected Gravettian and Mal’ta Buret peoples 20-30 kya, including dog domestication. Dogs, and perhaps myths about their spiritual nature, spread to the rest of the world. That dispersal could have included a larger ritual package. If they made advances in how to teach a man who he is and where he came from that could spread. This model can explain everything except hand stencils of removed fingers, first evidenced in Indonesia 40 kya. Those may be part of an earlier package from the tribe that left Africa 45 kya, but no need to go back further.
In another piece, I discussed pronoun similarities across the world. This culminated in the late Morris Swadesh’s grand theory for the origins of language in Proto-Basque-Dennean 27 kya. The Basque-Dennean super-family is named for the languages at its extremes: Basque and Dene (Navajo). Swadesh thought that all full language stemmed from that proto language, which diffused across the whole world10.
Like the Seven Sisters or cave art, it’s suggestive. What surprises me is that so many lines of evidence suggest the same time and place.
There is, at least, a mystery to explain. Why are certain elements of language and culture so widespread? Many academics posit that words and memes can be preserved for 100,000 years in recognizable form. Others speculate it was Atlanteans or aliens seeding human culture 10,000 years ago. My theory is that our memetic ancestors made cultural progress identifiable in the archeological record. Their rituals addressed cosmological questions and spread. We know this happened with the domesticated dog; why not bull-roarers and initiation rites too? (Note: I have developed this question in a subsequent piece.)
If you learned something, please share the article! I’d like to have more eyes on the problem. The standard of discussion is currently, well… check out the arguments I had to wade through:
Quoted from Ray Norris’s popular article “The world’s oldest story? Astronomers say global myths about ‘seven sisters’ stars may reach back 100,000 years”
Narby spent two years living with the Ashaninka people in the Peruvian Amazon, where he observed the role of ayahuasca, a powerful hallucinogenic brew, in their cultural and spiritual practices. His experiences led him to theorize that the Ashaninka shamans could access information at a molecular level through their hallucinogenic visions, specifically about the structure and function of DNA.
He further hypothesizes that this access to molecular-level knowledge is not limited to the Ashaninka or other Amazonian cultures but is a universal phenomenon. The serpent, he suggests, is a symbolic representation of this knowledge passed down through generations in cultures around the world.
Theme F41: First ancestor men kill women who behave against social norms
Taiwan: was a village of women; when they conceived children, they put their vaginas in the wind, always gave birth to girls; looking for the missing dog, the hunter came to these women; they wonder what was between his legs; he explains, they ask to show in practice; he copulates with everyone; because of the abundance of partners, he was not completely satisfied with anyone, although they liked it; the latter was called an old chief; by this time the man completely lost his erection; the old woman was offended, cut off his penis, he died; men came to take revenge on women; but wasps, bees, ants, hornets and other insects flew out of their homes, clung to clothes men, this is how they came to us (the origin of insects); the next time men burned the village along with insects and women; one girl escaped in the pig pen; a man from the village of Tahayakan married her; their son founded a line of sorcerers; he's gone now, everyone was killed.
Outside the database, I found a longer example in Anxious Pleasures: The Sexual Lives of an Amazonian People (1973)
It [the patriarchal order of society] was not always so, at least not in myth. We are told that the women of ancient times (ekwimyatipalu) were matriarchs, the founders of what is now the men's house and creators of Mehinaku culture. Ketepe is our narrator for this legend of Xingu "Amazons."
THE WOMEN DISCOVER THE SONGS OF THE FLUTE. In ancient times, a long time ago, the men lived by themselves, a long way off. The women had left the men. The men had no women at all. Alas for the men, they had sex with their hands. The men were not happy at all in their village; they had no bows, no arrows, no cotton arm bands. They walked about without even belts. They had no hammocks, so they slept on the ground, like animals. They hunted fish by diving in the water and catching them with their teeth, like otters. To cook the fish, they heated them under their arms. They had nothing-no possessions at all. The women's village was very different; it was a real village. The women had built the village for their chief, Iripyulakumaneju. They made houses; they wore belts and arm bands, knee ligatures and feather headdresses, just like the men. They made kauka, the first kauka: "Tak . .. tak . .. tak," they cut it from wood. They built the house for Kauka, the first place for the spirit. Oh, they were smart, those round-headed women of ancient times. The men saw what the women were doing. They saw them playing kauka in the spirit house. "Ah, said the men, "this is not good. The women have stolen our lives!" The next day, the chief addressed the men: "The women are not good. Let's go to them." From far off, the men heard the women, singing and dancing with Kauka. The men made bullroarers outside the women's village. Oh, they would have sex with their wives very soon.
The men came close to the village, "Wait, wait," they whispered. And then: "Now!" They leaped up at the women like wild Indians: "Hu waaaaaa!" they whooped. They swung the bullroarers until they sounded like a plane. They raced into the village and chased the women until they had caught every one, until there was not one left. The women were furious: "Stop, stop," they cried. But the men said, "No good, no good. Your leg bands are no good. Your belts and headdresses are no good. You have stolen our designs and paints." The men ripped off the belts and clothes and rubbed the women's bodies with earth and soapy leaves to wash off the designs. The men lectured the women: "You don't wear the shell yamaquimpi belt. Here, you wear a twine belt. We paint up, not you. We stand up and make speeches, not you. You don't play the sacred flutes. We do that. We are men." The women ran to hide in their houses. All of them were hidden. The men shut the doors: This door, that door, this door, that door. "You are just women," they shouted. "You make cotton. You weave hammocks. You weave them in the morning, as soon as the cock crows. Play Kauka's flutes? Not you!" Later that night, when it was dark, the men came to the women and raped them. The next morning, the men went to get fish. The women could not go into the men's house. In that men's house, in ancient times. The first one.
This Mehinaku myth of Amazons is similar to those told by many other tribal societies with men's cults (see Bamberger 1974). In these stories, the women are the first owners of men's sacred objects, such as flutes, bullroarers, or trumpets. Often, however, the women are unable to care for the objects or feed the spirits they represent. The men band together and trick or force the women to give up their control of the men's cult and accept a subordinate role in society. What are we to make of the striking parallels in these myths? Anthropologists are in agreement that the myths are not history. The peoples who tell them were likely to have been as patriarchal in the past as they are today. Rather than windows to the past, the tales are living stories that reflect ideas and concerns that are central to a people's concept of sexual identity. The Mehinaku legend opens in ancient times with the men in a precultural state, living "like animals." In conflict with many other myths and the received Mehinaku opinion about female intellect, the women were the culture creators, the inventors of architecture, clothes, and religion: "They were smart, those round-headed women of ancient times." The men's ascendance is achieved through brute force. Attacking "like wild Indians," they terrorize the women with the bullroarer, strip them of their masculine adornment, herd them into the houses, rape them, and lecture them on the rudiments of appropriate sex-role behavior.
I live in Mexico where a Xolo will set you back at least $2,000. Recently I spent a month in Peru and was shocked to find Veringos wandering the street. There were more impressive specimens but I did manage to get a shot of this one:
Sources on this claim are not super solid. Ancient Origins and Wikipedia are in agreement (not by accident, I’m sure). ChatGPT adds Polynesia and with caveats Inuits (who came in another wave from other Native Americans), Brazilian, and Australian indigenous cultures. Not worth spending more time on though, as it’s not a particularly strong point anyway.
The Religious Organizations of North Central California and Tierra Del Fuego (1931) Available on Sci-hub. Useful summary here.
“The feminine world takes revenge because of unavoidable intrusive acts such as ploughing the soil and sexual intercourse. This is done through symbolic ritual acts that men dramatically represent as pacification efforts. In order to expiate their ancestral guiltiness, sannyas (male ascetic devotees) must become female, a process accomplished by going through ‘penetration’ (piercing acts), ‘delivery’ (hook-swinging), ‘conception’ (ordeal of confinement) and, eventually, the total psychic identification with the female world.”
Egypt (Historical records suggest circumcision practice in Ancient Egypt)
Ethiopia (Amhara, Tigray, Oromo)
Sudan (Dinka, Nuer)
Nigeria (Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa, Fulani)
Madagascar (Malagasy people, including Merina, Betsileo, Tsimihety, Sakalava, and other sub-groups)
South Africa (Zulu, Xhosa, Sotho, Ndebele)
Zimbabwe (Shona, Ndebele)
Kenya (Kikuyu, Meru)
Tanzania (Chaga, Sukuma)
Ghana (Akan, Ga, Ewe, Krobo)
Cameroon (Bamileke, Bamum)
Namibia (Ovambo, Herero)
Rwanda and Burundi (Hutu)
Indigenous Australian groups (Aranda, Luritja, Tiwi, Yolngu, Pitjantjatjara)
Fiji (Indigenous iTaukei population)
Polynesia (Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu, Cook Islands, Maori of New Zealand)
Native American tribe (Winnebago)
Maya (Mexico and Guatemala)
Sami of Northern Scandinavia (Historically)
A Cross-cultural Perspective on Upper Palaeolithic Hand Images with Missing Phalanges. Journal of Paleolithic Archaeology, 2018
“Over 200 of the hand images that have been found at UP rock art sites in Europe have missing finger segments.1 Currently, it is thought that all these images date to the Gravettian (ca. 22–27 Ka BP) (Jaubert 2008). The caves that contain the UP incomplete hand images are located in France and Spain. Numerous hand images with missing phalanges are present at Grotte de Gargas in Hautes-Pyrénées, France (Barrière 1976). In total, 231 hand images have been recorded at this site (Hooper 1980). It has been estimated that their production involved 40–50 individuals (Barrière 1976). Based on the size of the images, these individuals are thought to have included men, women, adolescents, and infants (Barrière 1976). Of the 231 images, 114 have at least one finger segment missing, ten are complete, and 107 are insufficiently well preserved to determine whether they originally were complete (Hooper 1980).”
He worked before the Out of Africa theory was accepted and decades before the Mal'ta Buret people had been genotyped. It turns out these ancient Siberians have cultural and genetic ties to both Europeans and the Navajo. They (or the Gravettians) are a viable root for Swadesh’s theory. Maybe we can add full syntactic language and pronouns to the basket of ideas they spread.