Biological Knowledge of Ancient Meso-American Indians
Summary of Maciej Kuczyński's book "Czciciele węża"
("Worshippers of the Serpent" or “Veneradores de la Serpiente”), Warszawa 1990. (cont.)
By Maciej Kuczyński
Indians were familiar with this form of chromosome too, and commonly depicted them as the sign ollin, composed of two rods. Often it was accompanied by the sign of the precious stone or the cell. (8).
Figure 8. Drawing (8a) is an electromicrograph of the bivalent chromosome. Drawing (8b), reproduced from the Bodley codex, shows ollin
or bivalent chromosome inside the schematic view of the cell. Drawing (8c) shows various styles. Legs added to the rods (codex Vindobonensis) express the chromosome's ability to `trespass' to the progeny cells.
Drawing (8d), the caban sign, a Mayan substitute for ollin, represents rods together with the sign of a cell, an hieroglyph for `sun-life'.
For comparison the same symbol found in the tomb of the egyptian Pharao Tutankhamon (8e) and another one, a decoration on an Etrurian wine cup (8f) are also shown. In addition, on the golden plate from Crete, there are twin chromosomes which assume the shape of serpents (8g) which, as described above, was also a mexican practice.
In popular use the Aztec sign ollin denoted “earthquake”, but its linguistic meaning is quite different. The stem ol means something round or something rotating which correlates with the helical twist of DNA. The word ollini meant not only the rotary motion but also movement, migration of a big herd, group of people (López Austin) which could refer to the “migration” of chromosomes to progeny cells.
Like Egyptians, the Zapotec Indians used to put the sign of two rods on the ash urns of those cremated as a symbol of eternal regeneration. Their name for the sign was xoo, meaning powerful (and possibly representative of its genetic activity). At that time the Maya tribes Tzeltal-Tzotzil called it chic or getting rid of (the twin rod?) and Mayas from Yucatan called this sign caban or that what is underneath, below or hidden.
These correlations of graphic and linguistic material indicate that the sign ollin, placed in the cell nucleus, primarily depicted the bivalent chromosome and secondarily the “earthquake”.
If the Indians used the notation of bivalent they would also have known that number of chromosomes in the cell is strictly defined and that there are specific characteristics for each species: men have 46 in their cells - 23 from the mother and 23 from the father. The egg and sperm before fertilization contain 23 chromosomes (9b) and it is exactly this which is depicted in the rock painting from Santa Barbara Mountains in California (Natural History, No. 6,1964) (9a).
There is a horizontal strand visible with a scheme of double helix accompanied by 23 (!) rods of different lengths. The presence of the helix suggests that it is related to the rods.
Although the codices depict many aspects of biological origin just one of them, page 52 of codex Vindobonensis (10), is presented here as representative illustration. It is concerned with the origin of the agave, one of the most precious plants of Meso-America, which supplied the Indians then as it does today with fibre as well as an alcoholic beverage. The page presents a “table” explaining basic notions regarding the genetic code and protein synthesis in the cell.