Ancient Mayan and Chinese calendar systems share so many similarities, it is unlikely they developed independently, according to the late David H. Kelley, whose paper on the subject was published posthumously in August.
Kelley was a Harvard-educated archaeologist and epigrapher at the University of Calgary in Canada. He earned fame in the 1960s for major contributions toward deciphering the Mayan script. His article, titled “Asian Components in the Invention of the Mayan Calendar,” was written 30 years ago, but was only recently unearthed and published for the first time in the journal Pre-Columbiana.
In 1980, a major science journal had solicited the article, said Pre-Columbiana’s editor Dr. Stephen Jett. But, Jett said, “the editors rejected it as being overly documented for the journal’s spare format; understandably for so revolutionary an effort, Dave did not wish to weaken the documentation, and he never published the piece elsewhere.” Jett obtained Kelley’s permission to publish it before he died.
They hypothesis Kelly presented is controversial. He said that the calendars indicate contact between Eurasia and Mesoamerica more than 1,000 years ago, contradicting mainstream archaeology’s understanding that such contact occurred for the first time only a few hundred years ago.
Kelley supported the controversial theory of early transoceanic contact in general. It is a theory that has many other academic proponents and that Pre-Columbiana specializes in exploring. The similarities in the calendar systems is only part of a growing body of evidence for early contact.
Kelley also isn’t the only one to have noticed the similarities between the calendar systems. But given his authority as an expert on Mayan history, his analysis is a pillar on which to base further study.
Another researcher, who coincidentally has the same name but with a different middle initial, David B. Kelley (his whole name will be used to avoid confusion throughout the article; “Kelley” will only be used to refer to David H. Kelley), has used a computer program to further analyze the similarities between the two calendar systems.
David B. Kelley is an East Asian linguist at Showa Women’s University in Tokyo. His paper, titled “Comparing Chinese and Mesoamerican Calendar Dates,” was also published in the recent issue of Pre-Columbiana.
In both calendar systems, the days are associated with various elements (water, fire, earth, and so on) and animals. While the various associations don’t line up perfectly between the two systems, they do frequently correspond.
Some of the differences may be accounted for by changes over time; the same root calendar system may have been tweaked by each culture in different ways.
We’ll explore only a couple of the similarities mentioned by Kelley and David B. Kelley as examples.