“When mankind were overwhelmed with the deluge, none were preserved but a man named Coxcox … and a woman called Xochiquetzal, who saved themselves in a little bark, and having afterwards got to land upon a mountain called by them Colhuacan, had there a great many children; … these children were all born dumb, until a dove from a lofty tree imparted to them languages, but differing so much that they could not understand one another.”1

A garbled version of the biblical accounts of Noah and Babel? Perhaps. This story comes from the Aztecs of Mexico—one of many such tales, from geographically remote and widely divergent cultures, that speak of a cataclysmic flood.

A wealth of deluge legends

Mesoptamia

Tablets excavated from Iraq recount the myths of ancient Mesopotamia. They speak of a vanished culture in Sumer and of a king called Gilgamesh. He was renowned for his great wisdom and knowledge. Gilgamesh related the story of a worldwide flood. This was told to him by Utnapishtim, a king of a pre-flood civilisation and a survivor of the catastrophe.

The story relates that Ea, lord of the waters and man’s guardian, warned Utnapishtim of the deluge by which the gods planned to exterminate mankind. Ea told Utnapishtim to “tear down your house and build a boat” and to “take up into the boat the seed of all living creatures. … [E]ach side of the deck measured one hundred and twenty cubits, making a square”. There were seven decks in all. The flood itself was frightening and full of fury. Utnapishtim recounted that ‘the god of the storm turned daylight to darkness, when he smashed the land like a cup’. Once the tempest had subsided, Utnapishtim ‘looked at the face of the world and there was silence, all mankind was returned to clay. The surface of the sea stretched flat as a rooftop … on every side was the waste of water’. Utnapishtim loosed a dove who returned finding no resting place, and then a swallow with the same result. Finally, a loosed raven did not return. The boat came to ground on a mountaintop and Utnapishtim offered a sacrifice.2

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