Did the ancient Romans reach America more than a thousand years before Columbus or any other conquistador? This question emerged in the past century after a curious discovery near a pyramid in the ancient Mesoamerican city of Calixtlahuaca in Mexico.
What is nowadays known as the Roman Tecaxic-Calixtlahuaca head was found at a burial ground and presents a small terracotta head with features far different from any other Mesoamerican artifact.
Although the head was examined and dated to the Hellenistic-Roman period, it took more than half a century for it to appear in the headlines and become a widely discussed subject. No other similar evidence of the Roman presence in Mexico has been found since but what do we know about the small terracotta head?
1. The Calixtlahuaca Head was discovered under three floors of an ancient pyramid
2. The burial ground was dated to approximately the time of Columbus’s discovery of the Americas
It is impossible to date the burial ground accurately which remains the main problem in this case. Historians cannot be certain that the burial ground dates from the last years of the Pre-Columbian period or a few years after his arrival.
All in all, the approximate origin was dated to some time between 1476 and 1510. In each case, this was at least a decade before Cortes reached Mexico, and thus, the possibility that the Spaniards left it there is invalid.
3. The Tecaxic-Calixtlahuaca was the only artifact of unknown origin in the burial ground
A plethora of ancient objects and treasures were found beside the terracotta head but all have been declared Mesoamerican in origin.
4. Experts Dated the Calixtlahuaca head to around 200 AD
This theory was suggested many decades ago when the discovery was made but it was later confirmed in the 90s when elaborate research began. Several experts from institutes agreed that the origin cannot be other than Roman.
5. The style of the head is identical to that during the Severan dynasty
It is understandable how impossible it sounds that Romans could have reached Mexico but based on comparisons to other ancient Roman artifacts, historians found out the approximate period of origin.
There were debates whether the head was from the 2nd or 3rd century but based on similar artifacts found in ancient Roman sites, experts suggest that it must be from the end of the 2nd century during the reign of the Severan dynasty.
The Important Question: Did Ancient Romans Travel to Mexico?
Based on the fact that the Roman head is the only evidence of such travels, it remains unlikely. First and foremost, why was there only a single artifact and not a variety of Roman objects?
Another obvious question is why was it buried sometime around the end of the 15th century? The most plausible option is that it was imported from Europe. However, this variant is also hard to believe as Columbus landed in Venezuela and the colonization of Mexico did not begin before 1519 when Cortes landed there.
Another theory is that it was brought by the Vikings who are not only known as great voyagers but took artifacts from around the world. However, there is no evidence that Vikings ever reached the shores of Mexico or anywhere close to this area.
All in all, this is one of those mysteries that will perhaps never be solved unless archaeologists find more ancient Roman artifacts.