Kukulkan and Serpent’s Teeth

TAS “How Sharper than a Serpent’s Tooth” presents a bit of a historical problem. Russell Bates, the first Native American to write for “Star Trek” pitched a pretty good idea. Instead of Enterprise meeting a Greek god, as in TOS “Who Mourns for Adonais?” they’d encounter a god from another mythology, providing fun and a broadening of perspective, all in one. Mesoamerican mythology presented just the right figure, a benign and wise educator who protected people and gave them the benefits of civilisation. The feathered serpent became a real extraterrestrial being whoʼd visited the Maya, the Aztecs and Egyptians; giving them gifts of knowledge, and the chance to move to a whole new level if they all cooperated. This is challenging stuff for a Saturday morning cartoon. Alas, as soon as you start trying to fit the story to a specific time, it becomes plain that the pyramid-building Egyptians, Maya and Aztecs are separated by centuries, not just the Atlantic Ocean. The story implied that Kukulkan spent hundreds of years on Earth, but even so, the pyramid-building era in Egypt begins in around -2600, and came to a final stop before -600 (although the main phase of pyramid building finished around -1750). It is not until the -1st century that the Maya culture arose and constructed pyramids. The Aztecs are even worse, in that the culture referred to as “Aztec” really started around 1300, and came to an abrupt end as far as pyramid-building goes with the Spanish conquest in the 1520s. The very earliest pyramids in Central America discovered so far date back to about -700.

Worse still, the latest archaeological evidence suggests that the earliest American pyramids were in South America (in Brazil, to be precise), and are older than the Egyptian ones (dating back to about -3000), although constructed in a completely different way. However you slice it, the evidence is that pyramids have been “invented” by nearly every culture that has ceremonial architecture, and they’re scattered all over the globe. Each culture came up with their own construction methods and materials, meaning that although pyramids look superficially the same, they are very definitely not linked in terms of the way they were made. Equally varied are the ceremonial uses that pyramids were put to. Although many of them are tombs, others are temple platforms. Some seem to be both.

One problem is that only pyramids constructed out of durable materials tend to survive. If Kukulkan promoted the use of mud-bricks, then his efforts could simply have disintegrated over time, and vanished from human knowledge. I wonder why Kukulkan didn’t put more effort into promoting ship-building and navigation, since any collaboration across the Atlantic had to depend on it, and there’s no evidence at all that there was any large-scale contact between civilisations in the Old and New Worlds before Columbus. Indeed, all the archaeological and even epidemiological evidence we have argues against it.

There’s an outside chance that Kukulkan visited Earth sometime about -3000 and -2500. He’d then be able to push Imhotep and King Djoser into building something a bit bigger and pointier for a tomb, and could have visited Brazil, although the people would have had absolutely nothing to do with the Maya, and certainly not the Aztecs. Again, it’s not totally impossible that these people might have upped sticks and migrated to become the Maya, but what evidence there is suggests most waves of colonisation and settlement in the Americas was from north to south, rather than vice-versa. It just all seems very unlikely.

In the end, I’ve rather vaguely tied Kukulkan to the Olmec (or “rubber”) culture, which seems to have had a feathered serpent god, and pyramids. It flourished between about -1500 and -400. Alas, it still leaves around 1,000 years between the African and American phases of Kukulkan’s little project, but it also links to VOY “Tattoo” and the (as far as I’m concerned, risible) “Rubber Tree People” that were supposedly “genetically-modified” by Sky Spirit aliens. Presumably they would have no trouble coping with helpful beings from outer space. It can’t be that surprising that some alien interventions “cross over,” especially when they all seem to need to hang around for hundreds of years, if not thousands. (The “Gods” in TOS “Who Mourns for Adonais?” are apparently on Earth from around -2500 to -1150, and that’s the shortest I can make it.) Why wouldn’t their paths cross? If theyʼre so keen for Humans to develop, why don’t they cooperate? Making sense of this just isn’t really worth it, as far as I can see. Genuine human history that isn’t driven by extraterrestrial tinkering is a lot more interesting.

by StrauchiusStrauchius on 07 Dec 2010 18:31, last updated on 16 Jan 2015 13:56