The Ancient America Foundation (AAF) is pleased to present AAF Notes: a series of research articles by scholars of Book of Mormon culture and history and reviewed by AAF editors. Visit our Web site:  HYPERLINK

Editors Note:  We have always anticipated that archaeology research would someday discover concrete evidence of ancient Middle Eastern culture influence in the rise of ancient American civilizations, as set forth in the Book of Mormon.  Circumstantial evidences for such contact considered for many years have been ignored or dismissed by the archaeology establishment as coincidental.  Now Garth Norman's discovery of Middle Eastern standard measures in Mesoamerican art and architecture presents empirical proof of such contact, opening new vistas for related research that could at long last help open the real ancient American world related to the Book of Mormon to our view.     

The Cubit Connection–Middle East and Middle America

By V. Garth Norman

Development of civilization depends a great deal upon having an established standard of weights and measures. Measuring things is as basic as language. Ever since man began constructing standardized dwellings he has made measurements.

Thompson (1950:53) observed that the Maya system of recording vast numbers with a vocabulary for handling them would have been useful for commercial transactions. This observation implies the use of standard measures. The Maya used a rod or staff to lay out their fields. The Chumayel Maya manuscript speaks of walking sticks being used to mark a land survey during an ancient occupation (Roys 1967:65. p. 1-3, 8). Uinic, meaning “man” in Yucatec Maya, can also mean 20 kaan, a cord-length used in measuring milpas (Thompson 1950: 143). This implies man is the standard with the 20-count derived from his 20 fingers and toes.

In the 1880’s Daniel G. Brinton (1890:433-451) conducted a linguistic survey in Nahuatl, Yucatec and Cakchiquel of words for measuring. In all three languages he found words for various dimensions of the human body–such as arm and foot lengths, and from the foot up to the knee, to the thigh, the navel, ribs, shoulders, and head. The Cakchiquel Maya emphasize arm measurements, including the outstretched arms, shoulder to opposite finger tips, elbow to finger tips (which Brinton likened to the Near Eastern cubit), and hand and finger dimensions. As a result the various body measurements in ancient Mesoamerican art primarily exhibit unnatural proportioned units just as is characteristic of Egyptian and Semitic art. According to Father Thomas Coto the cubit (chumay) was the common building measure of the Cakchiquel, however a standard unit had not been identified–until now.

In line with Brinton’s linguistic suggestion, I began looking at Izapa art for possible units of measure in proportions of the human body. The standard measure used to plan and create monuments at the Izapa temple center in southern Mexico is primarily the 49.5 cm. cubit. A secondary standard measure is 52.5 cm. It can be detected along with its doubling and halving divisions and proportional repetitions in many special relationships on monument carvings and architecture as well as in the layout of the entire temple center complex. This has been confirmed in many field studies.

Following discovery of the 49.5 cm. cubit at Izapa, I searched Near Eastern literature on metrology. I was understandably surprised to find it is the same as the famous Royal Cubit or Gudea Cubit of Babylon that dates from the time of Gudea, king of Lagash. It is preserved in a table of measures on a basalt statue of Gudea, now in the Louvre Museum, Paris, dating to 2050 B.C. which served as the basis for other measures. In a comparative survey of sculpture from Egypt to Assyria I found measures and different uses of the measures.

Other Mesoamerican sites which have carved monuments, art and architecture with consistent, numerous examples of these standard measures include Kaminaljuyu, El Baul, Juchitan, Palenque, La Venta, Monte Alban and Teotihuacan. I have obtained hundreds of measures from monuments in National and Regional museums as well as archaeology sites in Mexico and Guatemala. My method to standardize my research so it was not random was to emphasize measuring statues and monuments with carvings of the human body, mainly heights and lengths of arms and feet to trace a standard measure canon for the human body, as with the forearm cubit or foot in the ancient Middle East.

This standard measure was transported from the ancient Near East during the early rise of Mesoamerican civilization. The discovery of these standard measures in Middle America is the first empirical data substantiating cultural contact with the ancient Middle East during the formative era of Mesoamerican civilization.

Geometry and Measure in ancient Mesoamerica and in the Ancient Middle East. by V. Garth Norman will be published Fall of 2008.    Publication notice will be posted on this Website.

King Gudea's right arm = Babylonian Cubit

Babylonian King Gudea - Forearm = Royal Babylonian Cubit

LaVenta Park - Royal Babylonian Cubit measures

LaVenta, Mexico - Figure height = 1 1/4 Royal Babylonian Cubit

Mexico-Olmec Acrobat Disc--Forearms=1/2 Royal Babylonian Cubit, Feet (above head)=1/4 Royal Babylonian Cubit

Mexico-Olmec Acrobat Disc--Forearms=1/2 Royal Babylonian Cubit, Feet (above head)=1/4 Royal Babylonian Cubit


Note:  This research note by permission from Garth Norman's archaeology research web site at, an affiliate of AAF.


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