Is there support for the theory that the Mayan deity Chac represents an elephant?
On a holiday in Mexico, we were told about Chac, the Mayan rain deity. The tour guide said that Chac's snout was that of an elephant, indicating that the Maya originally came from India.
While humans have migrated over long distances, this story seemed somehow unlikely to me.
Is there support for the theory that Chac represents an elephant? Or, if not, can we rule this theory out, given what we know about the migrations in the ancient past?
It's not likely.
I shall approach the question from two sides:
Was it likely that Mayans knew about elephants?
There are no modern elephants that were ever native to the Americas, including Mexico. However, there were Woolly mammoths, which have the same long snouts. The very last known living Woolly Mammoths were alive 6500 years ago; the very earliest Mayans were alive closer to 4000 years ago, in the Early Preclassic period. So, while it's technically possible that the Mayans either knew about the Elephant snouts from when their ancestors travelled over the Beringa Land Bridge 20000 years ago or from Woolly Mammoth snout fossils, it seems unlikely.
Well, if not elephants or mammoths, why a snout?
The first thing to note is that Chaac did not always appear with a snout. In Mythology: Myths, Legends and Fantasies, page 481 it says:
Chaac appears in many faces and guises. Some images show him with a curled, snoutlike nose, and sometimes he is seen with scales or catfish whiskers, or with tears flowing from his eyes. Often he is seen painted blue and weilding an axe, which he uses to create lightning and thunder.
So why did he have a snout? The same source says:
The Codz Poop building at Kabah in the Yucatan region of Mexico features 250 masks of Chaac. One of the many beliefs about Chaac is that he uses his hooked nose to penetrate the clouds, causing rain to fall.
This is an alternate reasoning for him to have the hooked nose - to part the clouds, not because he's elephant-like.
As you can see, Chaac's long nose doesn't always really remind of Elephants: