One of the most intriguing archeological sites in the Americas is Taima-taima and associated sites in northwest Venezuela. The site, discovered before Monte Verde, Chile, was the first definitive proof that the Clovis culture was not the first in the Americas. The Taima-taima site was dated to 12,000 BCE, two thousand years earlier than the Clovis culture, with human habitation continuing until about 8,000 BCE.
Taima-taima and other nearby sites included the activity of mastadon butchering. Based on skeletal remains, this was a place where many mastadons were killed. This is the southernmost find of mastadons. They were more commonly found in southern Northamerica and Central America. In fact no other mastadon fossils have been found between Honduras and Venezuela. Mastadons are about the same size as elephants or woolly mammoths but are not very closely related. The mastadon's tusks could be as long as five meters. The tusks curved up but not so much as the mammoth. When a mastadon reared its head the tusks would be pointing nearly straight out. Imagine how intimidating!
Based on an analysis of the meaning of the place name of Taima-taima and associated sites, we can now determine who settled here. It was likely not the same people who butchered mastadons in Northamerica and eventually developed the Clovis points.
The Taima-taima people are the same as the Monte Verde culture in southern Chile. In both cases the place names are proto-Ch'orti' words. Looking at the map to the left [click to enlarge], shows that the only feasible way for a group from Monte Verde to reach Taima-taima, nearly from one tip of the continent to the other, was by boat (sail-raft) around the continent. Both sites are a few miles from navigable ocean water.
This means that the Monte Verde culture sailed through the Magellan straits about 13,000 years before Magellan. Perhaps they should be renamed the Mapuche straits. They sailed up and around the Atlantic side of South America. Likely they also sailed up the Pacific side to Baja California and California's Channel Islands.
We will look at seven place names around Taima-taima. Four are within a few miles of Taima-taima while the other three are spread out somewhat but also have evidence of habitation at about the same time as Taima-taima or just later. El Jobo appears to date almost as early as Taima-taima, about 11,000 BCE. It is located about 120 kilometers southwest of Taima-taima. A famous projectile point has been named after El Jobo. The Jobo and nearby Pedregal valleys have many points and cherts which date from this period.
Cucuruchú is a site about 170 km south-southwest of Taima-taima. A fossil of the Panamerican Ground Sloth (Eremotherium), which went extinct in about 9,000 BCE, was found there. There are also man-made tools of the same period there.
To the northwest of Taima-taima about 75 kilometers is another important site of Cayude. It is located on the Paraguaná peninsula. Cayude appears to be from a slightly later period, about 9,000 to 8,000 BCE. It is unique among the sites in having some points that are similar to Northamerican Clovis points.
Around Taima-taima are three other related sites that all date from the same time: Mauco, Taratara, and Mataruca. All of the sites are located within three miles of the Atlantic Ocean. Mauco, like Taima-taima, is a site of mastadon remains. Taratara and Mataruca are current-day villages which have names that date back to the time of Taima-taima in 12,000 BCE.
Let's take a look at all of these seven site names and their meanings in Ch'orti', proto-Chorti was the ancient language of the First Peoples in the Americas.
Taima-taima - An early village and butchering site of mastadons within a mile of the Atlantic coast of Venezuela
Ta': excretion or remains of plants or animals
Mah: fault, false, evil
Or "remains of the evil animal", which would mean mastadon remains.
Mauco - Another village and early butchering site of mastadons, also about a mile of the Atlantic coast
Mauh: evil, wicked, unsocial
Or "evil tooth" (evil-toothed), which describes the mastadon.
Taratara - A village about two miles southeast of Taima-taima.
Or "arrival arrival". Clearly this is the area of the coast where the First Peoples first landed. The name Taratara is essentially equivalent to Taltal in Chile. (The l's and r's were one sound to the First Peoples.)
Mataruca - A village about two miles southeast of Mauco.
Mah: false, evil
Ta': plant or animal remains
Or "remains of hooked evil one". This may refer to a speared mastadon rather than a hooked mastadon.
Jobo - A village in the Pedregal valley 120 km southwest of Taimataima.
Hop(b): jump, leap
Po': deep hole (also could be spelled bo')
Or "jump in deep hole". This most likely refers to a deep hole that was made to trap mastadons. Note that the 'j' is the Spanish letter that would correspond to the ch'orti' 'h'. Also that the p and b are somewhat interchangeable for the ch'orti'.
Cucuruchú - A village about 170 km southeast of Taima-taima
Kurkur: pronged, pointed
Ruch: gourd, gourd container
Or "pronged gourd". In Spanish cucurucho means 'cone', no doubt coming from ch'orti'. Some other powerful words are embedded in Cucuruchú, including kuhr - vagina, kur - penis or pointed object, and uchur - spirit. This helps explain a Mexican slang for cucurucho of a couple that displays a lot of tenderness.
Cayude - A village 75 northwest of Taima-taima on the Paraguaná peninsula.
Ut: any round fruit or ute: tree
Or "begin fruit" or "begin tree", which appear to be a reference to the first use of a certain kind of fruit/fruit tree.
Cayude, with its Clovis-type points dating to 8,500 or 8,000 BCE, likely point to contact with Central American cultures. This contact was likely by a combination of boat and overland. The Central Americans also descended from the proto-Ch'orti' speakers and may have settled in Central America from Venezuela. However, it appears more likely that they move from Chile or Peru to Central America. These Central Americans may have learned the Clovis technique from the Xibalba culture which was already present before the proto-Ch'orti'-speaking culture arrived.
Finally, looking at the location of modern day indigenous languages we can gain a clue about which languages descended from the ch'orti' root present at Taima-taima and Jobo. Taima-taima, Cayude, and Cucuruchú all are in the Equatorial linguistic area. This includes the language sub-groups of Macro-Arawakan, Jibaro-Kandoshi, Kariri-tupi, and others. The Jobo area seems to correspond to the Macro-Carib linguistic area, which includes the language sub-groups Andoke, Bora-Uitoto, Carib, Kukura, and Yagua.
All of the languages of Central and South America can be traced back to these early migrations of proto-Ch'orti' speakers. From Venezuela we go next to Colombia. Eventually the proto-Ch'orti' speakers settled in El Salvador and their descendants became the great Maya and Lenca nations.
[Post script, Nov 27, 2012: A later post describes the confrontation between two neolithic groups of humans at the Corinto cave, El Salvador: the Mayan ancestors and the Clovis point hunters. Following that encounter it appears that the Mayan ancestors brought Clovis points they obtained at Corinto to their cousins at Cayuda, Venezuela.]