First of three blog entries on the tsunami of ~7280 BCE
Just as the Maya suffered through a terrible tsunami at Lago Güija in about 7835 BCE, all the Maya lineages, especially the Ik’ lineage, suffered tremendously due to an ocean tsunami more than 500 years later, in about 7280 BCE. But they weren’t the only ones to suffer – place names on both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts throughout the Americas indicate being hit by a terrible tsunami too. The Maya determined the cause of the tsunami, which is revealed by the name of the mythological figure Sihuehuet: the Great Lakes region of the present-day U.S. and Canada. This chapter will look somewhat briefly at the cause of the disaster in the Great Lakes area, then examine the impact on Maya communities, especially the displacement of the leaders of the Ik’ lineage from the Rio Lempa to Oaxaca.
 This will be documented in a separate publication.
The most likely cause of the tsunami was the draining of Lake Agassiz, a huge lake on the North American continent – mostly in Canada – which emptied much of its huge volume of glacial melt into the oceans. But it wasn’t that simple. The lake shore had many communities along its rim. The draining of the lake was a very violent thing.
The lake was likely somewhat smaller at the time of the tsunami than what is portrayed above. Place names around Fargo indicate that the lake may have been 15 to 20 miles wide by Fargo rather than the roughly 50 miles indicated on the map. Scientists estimate that Lake Agassiz began to form in about 10875 BCE when the ice sheets began to melt. It lasted until about 6480 BCE, leaving behind remnant lakes like Lake Winnipeg. Scientists have determined that it reached its largest size during the fourth of its five stages, the Nipigon, from about 8630 BCE until about 7160 BCE, when a large amount of water drained from the Lake.
 Source Upham, Warren. "The Glacial Lake Agassiz". Plate III. Monographs of the en:United States Geological Survey: Volume XXV. Washington Government Printing Office: Washington, 1895.
The 7160 BCE date comes quite close to the date in the Maya Mars retrograde calendar that seems to correspond with the tsunami (7280 BCE). The name Nipigon comes from Lake Nipigon, a large lake north of Lake Superior. During the fourth stage of Lake Agassiz, it reached Lake Nipigon, which has an elevation of 260 meters (850 feet), 14 meters below Fargo. Nipigon is a name in Mi which comes from the time of the tsunami. In Mi it is ni pi ik’ k’o on and means “companions in the biting wind from the knob of the previous age.” The biting knob was the ice slab which slammed into Lake Agassiz near Fargo, making it clear that Lake Nipigon was named after the source of the wind was learned. The “previous age” was the ice age.
The Algonquin peoples that lived around Lake Agassiz at the time still spoke Mi at the time of the tsunami. Place names around the lake spell out the cause of the tsunami. Cass County, where Fargo, North Dakota, is located, is k’as in Mi, meaning “broke open” or “broke away.” Fifty kilometers west of Fargo are the towns of Absaraka and Buffalo. Absaraka is ab sar ak’ ka and means “beginning of the swinging wall of the covering,” where covering refers to a piece of the ice sheet which may have been centered around Devils Lake. Buffalo is buh bah al lo in Mi and means “time of cut up bodies from the loose one.” The name Fargo likely was named after a European, but it also could be indigenous: bah ar k’o means “time of the bodies in the teeth,” with teeth referring to the sliding ice sheet.
 Research by this author indicates that the Algonquin were, in part, the result of a migration of the Maya from the region of present-day El Salvador to the Great Lakes region in about 7430 BCE, less than 300 years before the tsunami.
 Buffalo repeats the usage of this name for an ice berg or ice sheet, first used by the Sioux ancestors on the Mississippi River in modern day Wisconsin. At other times it was also used to describe the bison. While it was Algonquin further north along the edges of Lake Agassiz, in present-day North Dakota it was likely Dakota.
The name Norman, the Minnesota county 50 kilometers northeast of Fargo, indicates that the tsunami resulted from an ice sheet. It is noh hor mah an in Mi and means “large crest from the bad flow,” with ma in the name indicating deaths. Manitoba is ma an ni to ba and means “sacrifice of bodies in the bad flow due to the knob (ice slab).” Anola is a place name 24 kilometers east of Winnipeg, Manitoba. Anola is an no hol ha’ and means “large flowing crest of water,” indicating a lake tsunami as it flowed north in the lake. The tsunami slammed into the north rim of Lake Agassiz, breaking through at the present opening of Nelson River near Purvis Island, pur bi is, which means “companions in the up and down movement.”
A large flow of water poured out of Lake Agassiz toward James Bay. There were several villages around the bay at the time, evidenced by the place names, which indicate a tsunami there too. For example, Akimiski Island is ak’ ki im mi is kib and means “tender cats covered by the rising, blasting motion.” From there the large flow of water from Lake Agassiz entered the Atlantic Ocean, where it caused an ocean-wide tsunami. Names throughout present-day Cuba, Puerto Rico, Haiti, and Dominican Republic indicate a tsunami. The same is true of present-day coastal Venezuela and Brasil. Because it was a flow of a significant amount of new water, the tsunami maintained itself and possibly strengthened as it passed the tip of South America and entered the Pacific Ocean. Names on the west coast of South America and Panama clearly indicate a tsunami. Then the tsunami reached the coast of present-day El Salvador, home to the Maya in 7280 BCE.
 While it is possible they were Algonquin, the language seems distinct and more likely to be Eskimo-Mi.
The Tsunami in El Salvador
The names along the coast of current-day El Salvador indicate that there was population on the coast – and therefore tsunami-relevant names – at the time of the tsunami. Conversely, there are no tsunami-relevant Pacific Coast names between Panama and El Salvador and few in Guatemala and Mexico. In the case of the region of El Salvador, I will start by looking at the eastern part of the coast, then the western portion, and finally the central area, where the tsunami had the biggest social and cultural impact.
During the presence of Xibalba, the Olmeka/Lenca ancestors would have been mostly limited to Lago Olomega in eastern El Salvador. The Xibalba were eliminated about 200 years before the tsunami and in that time, it appears that the Olmeka people spread out along the coast, 20 to 30 kilometers away. A similar process happened in the west. The department and city name, La Union, might have originally been a Mi name, then adapted into Spanish. It could have been la an yur ri on, meaning “formerly fatigued current beside breaking through.” Historically, the Gulf of Fonseca was called “fatigued current,” so calling it “formerly fatigued” may have been a play on words referring to the tsunami. Cutuco is a place name a couple kilometers east of the modern city of La Union. It is kut tu uk’ k’o and means “sadness for the corpses from the beating teeth.”
The most prominent name around la Bahía de La Unión is Sirama, with two rivers of that name and a village. There is a Sirama River just north of the bay, also called Rio el Amatillo, which drains into Estero Manzanilla, a Sirama River southwest of the bay, which starts near El Pilón, and a Sirama village located about 10 kilometers west of La Unión. Sirama must have really garnered the feeling of the communities after the tsunami. In Mi, it is sir ra am ha or “spiders in the rising tired water.” They self-identified as spiders – sailing people. “Tired water” was a reference to the Gulf of Fonseca. A second similar meaning for Sirama is “see a number of spiders in the water.” Ending in ma, the name also connotes badness and death.
Rio Pavana drains into Rio Sirama (Amatillo), Pavana is pah ab an ha’ and means “bodies in the swinging water current.” Mogotillo is a village located next to Rio Pavana, about five kilometers from the bay. It is mo’ ok’ k’o ti il lo’ and means “see loose ones trapped and split open from the teeth by the mouth.” The teeth are the giant tsunami waves.
Further to the west and away from the bay, at San Alejo the focus was on healing the survivors. San Alejo is one of many examples where Mi names were transformed into Spanish names, often beginning with “san.” San means “swelling” in Mi. San Alejo is san al leb bo’ and means “time of stroking (healing) those from the swollen hole.” Hole is one of the words used frequently for ocean. El Jicaro is eight kilometers east of El Carmen and would be hi’ ik’ k’ar ro’ or “retained loose sand from the wind.” This is a key name and the first of many in the El Salvador region that indicate that the winds that accompanied the tsunami blew up sand that became retained under the skin of survivors. Five kilometers south of El Jicaro, up in the hills safe from any tsunami, is the village of El Pilon. This might be a Spanish name, but it could be Mi, coming from pi il lo’ on or “see the previously loose companions” – those loose in the wave but who survived and then relocated away from the ocean and bay.
To the southeast of La Union is Amapalita, an obvious reference to Amapala on Isla Tigre. It means “remnant beside Amapala,” indicating that people either floated across from Isla Tigre or moved to the mainland due to the destruction from the tsunami. The nearby town and volcano of Conchagua have a similar meaning, it is k’o on ch’a’ ak’ wa’ in Mi and means “beings previously covered and horizontal from the teeth,” likely referring to people who previously lived on Isla Tigre or other islands in the Gulf. Conchagua has a double meaning of “two” which seems to refer to there being a second group from Isla Tigre. The name of another nearby village, Yologual, provides more information. It is yo’l lo’ ok’ wa’ al and means “the time of splitting off of the beings who were loose in the perforation.” This indicates that they were loose in the gulf, floating to the mainland. Splitting off probably means both “split open” and is an expression when one family, clan, etc. is split in two, indicating that some of their people remained on Isla Tigre. They could easily have returned but probably interpreted their situation as fate, they were meant to stay in Conchagua.
Playa el Flor, south of Conchagua volcano, might be from Mi, pel lo’ hor, meaning “loose ones collapsed in the crest.” Near where the gulf meets the Pacific is Playa Tamarindo. This appears to come from Mi and perhaps the plant was then named after this place. Tamarindo in Mi is ta’ am mar ri in toh and means “remnant spiders from the sea beside where the first sacrifice.” This indicates that there was a second group from Isla Tigre that floated from the island, where the first heart sacrifices took place as described in Chapter 3. Those that floated to Tamarindo were sailors – very adept in the water. The point, Punta Amapala, named after Amapala, Isla Tigre, is further evidence of a group floating from Tigre. That the people floated west indicates that the tsunami took place in the rainy season from May 1 to October 31 when the wind and ocean currents go west along the coast.
Further west in current day San Miguel, is Playa el Cuco and San Jose Gualozo. Cuco might come from the time of the tsunami. It could be kur uk’ k’o, meaning “sadness from the points and teeth.” Gualozo is wa’al lo os soh and means “loose ones set down by the standing curve (wave).” This would seem to indicate that bodies or persons were carried up to Gualozo, about five kilometers inland, by the wave.
A little bit east, Isla el Arco might be a Spanish name, but if indigenous, it would be ar k’o or “time of the teeth.” Nearby is Isla Espino – again, possibly a Spanish name, but in Mi it would be etz’ pi noh or “observe the companions in the large one.”
The water from the tsunami crest backed up the Rio Grande de San Miguel, the major river in eastern El Salvador. Moropala, about 15 kilometers upstream, is moh hor ro bah al ha’ or “the time of loose bodies trapped in the water’s crest.” It has a double meaning of boats, indicating that boats were also trapped and lost in the current. Across the river from Moropala is La Anchila, which in Mi is an ch’i’ il ha’ or “see the large water current.” Chilanguera, about 30 kilometers upstream, and the name indicates the current went at least that high. In Mi it is ch’i’ il an k’er ha’ and means “see the large gashing water current.” Today Chilanguera is 35 meters (115 feet) above sea level. The name Talpetate, present up one of the narrow canyons from Chilanguera, may indicate that the flow of the tsunami reached that high – as flood waters were forced up the narrow valley. It located 200 meters above level – which at the time may have been the equivalent of 180 meters above sea level.
 The crest of the wave would not need to be that high but the wave could force water much higher than the crest up a narrow valley.
Maya communities existed in ~7280 BCE along much of the present-day El Salvador coast, including in the west. Communities located in today’s La Libertad Department probably were linked to Lago Guija. The last chapter described the historical connection between Lago Guija and La Libertad following the Guija flood.
The name La Libertad may come from Mi from the time of the tsunami. In Mi it would be li ib ber ta’ at or “beside the remains of the spirits collapsed in the bath.” Rio Aquiquisquillo in eastern La Libertad is ak’ ik’ ix ki’ il lo’ or “see the tender ones loose in the covering movement and wind”. Above Aquiquisquillo is the municipality of Rosario de Mora in today’s San Salvador Department. It might be from Spanish, but probably comes from Mi: ro’ os sar ri ho’ ot te’ em moh or ha’, which means “shelter for those beside, the desirable ones trapped loose in the crest of the wall of water, set down in the trees in the descent.” This indicates that the survivors may have sought shelter up the hill in Rosario de Mosa.
Rio Chilama is just east of Puerto La Libertad. Chilama is ch’i’ il am ha’, which means “see the spiders (sailors) in the large water,” with “badness” (death) as a double meaning. Just west of the mouth of Chilama is Playa Conchalio, which is k’o on cha al li ho in Mi, meaning “the time in the two teeth, the desired ones previously beside.” This name suggests that there were two waves in the tsunami. This area of La Libertad may be where one of the groups that made it to Mexico were from: most likely the Mangue/Chorotega.
Beyond the beach ten kilometers up the coastal range is La Shila or ch’i’ il ha’, simply “see the giant water.” A couple kilometers west of Conchalio is El Sunzal. In Mi it is suh un sal or “youth under the layer of the wall,” with a double meaning of “foreigner.” This is one indicator that the Maya believed the tsunami came from elsewhere – across the ocean or perhaps when Sunzal was named they had learned of the North American origin.
Near the coast the name El Zonte describes trees that were completely covered up by the tsunami. El Zonte is soh on te’, meaning “trees previously in the curve (wave).” Far above El Zonte is the municipality of Tamanique which describes a very common condition of those near the ocean. The very strong tsunami wind blowing sand into the skin. Tamanique is tam an ni ik’ k’er and means “in the current for the interior of the bumps from the gashing wind.” To relieve their painful skin they rested in the Rio Huiza. A little west is Siberia or si ib ber ri ha’, which means “beside the many collapsed spirits in the water (ocean).”
The collapsed spirits in the tsunami included a shaman or spiritual leader, according to the meaning of the nearby municipality of Chiltiupan and the Rio Sunzacuapa. Sunzacuapa is sun sahk uh ha’ pah and means “search for the body of the sacred one in the greedy (foreign) water.” Chiltiupan is ch’i’ il ti uh pah an and indicates that the body of the sacred one was found. It means “see the opened body of the sacred one in/from the giant current.” Perhaps the sacred one and others lived near the present-day town of Taquillo near the coast. It is ta’ ak’ ki’ il lo’ and means “see the remains of the loose covered-up tender ones.”
Like Tamanique, Jicalapa refers to the sand flying penetrating the skin with the strong winds. Jicalapa is hi’ ik’ k’al ha’ pah in Mi and means “in the river for sand from the wind retained in the body.” This meaning is extremely clear.
In far western La Libertad and Sonsonate are several coastal villages that appear to be from the K’iche’ lineage at Lago Coatepeque rather than the Ch’orti’ lineage. Mizata, or mi is sat ha’ or “cats lost in the movement of water.” Next to Mizata, in present day eastern Sonsonate, is Apancoyo and Playa Dorada. Apancoyo is ap pa an k’oy yor, meaning “swinging bodies of the smokers hit by the current.” The K’iche’ lineage is known for first cultivating tobacco. “Pan” is used in the name, linking it both to Teopan and to the Tlapanec in Mexico. Finally there is Playa Dorada, which is to or at ta’ or “remains of those sacrificed by the crest of the bath.” The name of the Department of Sonsonate comes from the time of the tsunami. It is so on so on at te and means “previously on the arched wood who previously were at the curved bath.” Curved bath refers to Lake Coatepeque, long-time home of the K’iche’. Arched wood refers to the boats they used to sail in the ocean. A double-meaning of Sonsonate is “distant”, hinting that the name originated after they were aware of the landing of the survivors in Guerrero.
In western Sonsonate is a curious repeating of the name Amatal, the beach where the first families arrived from South America about 80 kilometers to the east (see Chapter 2). In this context it appears to be am ma at ta’ al and mean, “the time of the remains of the spiders (sailors) in the bad bath.” I take the repeated name to be likening the death(s) in the ocean among the first families to the many deaths in the ocean at the time of the tsunami.
Further west in today’s Ahuachapan is Barra de Santiago, the first of many examples where names begin with the syllable “san” and the Spanish claimed them, in most cases, to be saints’ names. In Mi, Santiago is san at ti ak’ k’o (Sanatiago) and means “in the bath for swollen open bumps on skin from the teeth.” San means “swollen” and was usually used as a prefix to describe the bumps from the sand in the skin.
Finally, the Garita Palmera lagoon name seems to date from this time. Garita Palmera is k’ar ri ta’ ap pah al mer ha’ and means “time of being beside the remains of the failed bodies in the swinging water,” with “boats” as a double meaning. It is likely that the community at Garita Palmera was related to the Ch’orti’ community at Lago Güija, serving as one of the primary sailing communities of the Ch’orti’. As we will see, many of the Garita Palmera community survived.
The Origin of the Zapotec
Perhaps the most important story from the tsunami in Mesoamerica took place in the central part of present-day El Salvador in the regions of Usulutan, San Vicente, and La Paz. This event resulted in the creation of a new ethnic group in Mexico, when the leadership portion of the Ik’ lineage communities survived the tsunami blast but were carried out to sea, landing eventually at the Oaxaca coast. Other surviving groups carried out to sea did not include the core leadership of their respective lineages.
Two stories were told about the Balam Ik’ leadership getting swept to Oaxaca: one by the survivors who stayed along the coast and other Maya who searched for their lost Balam Ik’ lineage who lived by the ocean, and the second by the survivors of the tsunami who floated to the shores of Oaxaca. The place names on both sides of the lower Lempa River tell the story from the perspective of the Maya. On the east side of the Lempa (Usulután), the story starts near the coast at Salinas de Sisiguayo, a place where salt is made. Sisiguayo is si ix sik’ wa’ yo’b and means “search for the series of beings struck by the arriving movement.” This describes where they may have searched for the missing people. “Arriving movement” is an apt description of a tsunami-type wave. Sisiguayo has a complete double meaning – sis si ik’ way yor – or “series of cold wind gusts hit while sleeping,” indicating a possible warning before the tsunami, which apparently hit at night. A third meaning is “Ik’ beings.”
A few kilometers northwest of Sisiguayo is El Zamoran, which is tz’ah am mo hor an and means “spiders trapped by the cresting shiny current.” Spiders was a common expression for sailors, going back to Taiwan and Siberia in Chapter 1. “Shiny” was an expression for various bodies of water.” The Ik’ lineage on the Pacific Coast were sailors in the ocean. Recently the ancient bones of a woman and a child were excavated at Zamoran. Perhaps they are from the time of the flood.
 Personal conversation with University of El Salvador anthropology student, Ariana Ninel Pleitez, August 2012.
Along the Usulutan coast are San Juan del Gozo and Isla Cumichin. Cumichin, a kilometer south of Sisiguayo, is k’um mi ix ch’i’ in and means “first cats (of us) rinsed in the large movement.” The tsunami struck there before Sisiguayo. San Juan del Gozo is a village five kilometers west of Cumichin. The whole name appears to come from Mi: san wa’an tel k’o soh, meaning “teeth of the swollen rising curve on the ridge.” It has a double meaning of “running beings set down.”
To west along the La Paz coast are El Chingo and El Pimiental, indicating that the Ik’ lineage spread out in this direction as well. El Chingo is ch’i’ in k’o and simply means “first ones in the large teeth.” El Pimiental is pi im men ta’ al and means “time of the spirit-remains of the companions in the blast.” It has a double meaning of “arrival.”
A few kilometers north of El Zamoran is the oddly named Quita Calzon. I believe that a similar sounding Maya name was replaced with the two odd Spanish words. Quita Calzon or kitakalison in Ch’orti’-Mi is ki’ ta’ ak’ k’al li ix soh on and means “beside where dear ones previously set down by the arch, remnant with retentions in the skin.” It is a name that recognizes those whose bodies were carried by the wave and set down upshore here, as well as discussing the problem of the sand embedded (retained) in the skin. In a similar way, Mata de Piña received its name, a few kilometers north of Quita Calzon. Mata de Piña is mah ta’ pi in ha’ and means “remains of the first companions in the bad water.” The water was described as bad because it had caused the deaths of the first companions.
The bay in Usulutan also has a name that dates to the time of the flood. Jiquilisco is ji’ ik’ ki’ il li ix k’o and means “see the movement of biting sand in the wind beside the tender ones.” It was a location from which a survivor(s), perhaps higher up from the ocean level, saw and felt the sand in the wind generated by the tsunami wave(s). They were beside those who passed away – the tender ones.
On the west side of the Lempa (present-day San Vicente), the story starts with La Pita, near the present small port on the Lempa used to access Isla Montecristo and the Pacific. La Pita is lap pi ta’ and means “rubbing remains of the companions,” where “rubbing” was an expression for caring for the bodies of those who had passed. La Pita has a second meaning indicating that people moved back there: “remnant of the rubbing (stroking) companions,” referring to ocean paddlers. Montecristo, at the mouth of the present-day Lempa, might come from Mi: Montekeristo would be moh on te’ ek’ k’er ri ix toh and means “ancestors on the broken wood under the stars beside those sacrificed while trapped in the movement.” The ancestors on the broken wood are those that floated to Mexico, indicating that this name came after there was contact between those in Oaxaca and those here. If Montekeristo is a name from the time of tsunami it likely referred to an island near the mouth of the river at that time rather than the precise island that is today called Monte Cristo.
A little north of La Pita is the town of Santa Marta, which is san tam mar ta’ and means “remains in the depth of the swollen sea.” The next town north of Santa Marta is San Bartolo. Its name – Sanabaratolo, also derives from Mi and is san ab ba ar at toh lo’, which means “time of the sacrificed bodies in the swinging swollen bath.” Double meanings here include “boats” and “forgotten ones.”
Ojushtada, a more obviously Maya name, is one kilometer north of San Bartolo. Ojushtada is ho’ huch’ ta’ at ha’ and means “the remains of the nice ones pressed by the water bath.” While many Ch’orti’-Mi names have two, three or more meanings, Ojushtada is constructed in such a way that there is no other possible meaning for this name.
The present-day city names Tecoluca and Zacatecoluca describe the sentiment of the Maya who remained. They were named at a time after the Ik’-lineage surviving leaders were located in Mexico. Tecoluca is te’ ek’ k’ol uk’ ha’ and means “water transport on branches by the stars in sadness,” describing the journey of those who floated to Mexico. The theme of being under the stars in the ocean is repeated in El Salvador and Oaxaca. This name brings up two historical references, both described in Chapter 2. First, it was the Ik’ lineage that was especially adept at navigating by the stars on the original journey from South America to the El Salvador coast, about 1,400 years before the tsunami. Second, it sounds similar to Toluca beach, where the original four rafts landed. Zacatecoluca is sak’ k’at tecoluca or “search for those who crossed, Tecoluca,” indicating that the Maya sent search parties out into the ocean to look for the survivors, eventually finding them in Mexico.
The name Talpetate describes the extent of the flow of the tsunami wave – no doubt reaching elevations higher than the height of the wave itself, especially as it flowed up steep river valleys. Talpetate is tal pet ta at te and means “arrival of a residual of the pouring of the bath on vegetation.” In contemporary Salvadoran parlance, talpetate means a subsoil layer of clay and sand. The wave brought sand and soon the word meant any place of sandy-clay soil, an indicator that at some much earlier time the ocean covered a portion (or all) of Central America. There are at least 12 occurrences of Talpetate. They occur only in areas that are indicated by this research would be occupied at the time of the flood – there are none in Mexico, Belize, or northern or western Guatemala.
Two of the Talpetate name placements have equivalent elevations – 100 meters – likely indicating the height of the tsunami, although the ocean level was perhaps 17 to 20 meters higher at that time in Central America. This would indicate a 61 to 80 meter tsunami (200 to 262 feet). These two places are Talpetate, Usulutan, El Salvador, and Talpetate, El Viejo, Chinandega, Nicaragua. Two other Talpetate place names have a lower elevation, likely indicating other places where the tsunami dumped sand once it had receded. A fifth Talpetate, in San Miguel, El Salvador, has an elevation of 200 meters. However it is in a narrow river valley and could indicate that tsunami swell reached that height as water was pushed up the narrow valleys.
 The 8670 BCE sailing stones at Toluca are 17 meters above sea level today. The rising continental shelf has dropped the ocean level to its current level. However, there may have been a counter force of a rising ocean from 8670 to 7270 BCE due to melting ice sheets worldwide.
Next, in the next blog entry, we will look at those who somehow survived this giant tsunami and floated under the stars to Mexico.