The Original Asian Zodiac

zodiac girl

If you have ever seen a Chinese Horoscope, you will have seen the twelve animals of the zodiac.  They are, in descending order:

Rat, Cow, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Chicken, Dog, and Boar.  

That’s what shows up on the Chinese horoscope.  It’s a bit different for the Việt horoscope.  This is what we have:

Rat, Water Buffalo, Tiger, CatKronosaurus, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Chicken, Dog, and Pig.

Why the difference, and what the hell is a kronosaurus, you might ask.  Well, there is a really good answer to that because you see, we actually have a history behind these animals, spanning at least 12,000 years, and the history ties in with the developing civilization and linguistics of the ancient Việt culture.  However, to talk about all twelve would take many postings, and I don’t really have that much time or space in this one posting to talk about all the fascinating details of the Việt horoscope other than the fact that it has been around for a very long time.  In this initial posting, I am only going to have enough time to zero in on the three animals that seem to have been left out for one reason or another.

Ancient Chinese historians have written that back around circa 2300 BC, the kingdom of Việt Thường sent to Emperor Yao a one-thousand-year-old tortoise (at the time, it was still living), which carried on its back an inscription in (of all possible languages) Chữ Khoa Đẩu, an ancient Vietnamese language which was the precursor of Chử Nôm as well as Hanzi, of everything that happened from the time Sky and Earth had been born.  Emperor Yao had it copied and named it The Turtle Calendar.

As Chinese history states, he was credited with discovering the Chinese Lunar Calendar, and that is true because as you can see, he ‘discovered’ it from the inscriptions on the tortoise’s back.  This is why I am going to refer to this zodiac as the Vietnamese Zodiac from this point forward because I want to share with you a few facets of the origins of this fascinating calendar.

It starts with this:

Tí , Sửu , Dần , Mẹo , Thìn , Tỵ , Ngọ , Mùi , Thân , Dậu , Tuất , Hợi

These are the actual signs of the Việt zodiac and it is more involved than simply having an individual animal representing a year.  It ties in with the I Ching and the larger cycles of decades and of hundreds of years and not just with the twelve years, as most folks believe.  I will go into the details of the connection between the Việt Zodiac with the I Ching in another posting.  Believe me, I can get into the nitty gritty of this thing ad-nauseum, so for those who are not in the least bit interested in the I Ching/Calendar connection, simply skip that posting, as it does get tedious, mathematically.

So without further ado, let’s take a look at this Turtle Calendar and isolate the more interesting animals.  Let’s start with the Water Buffalo.

Water Buffalo

trau001This is the Chử Nôm Việt script for Trâu, the water buffalo.  It was originally pronounced Sửu in the ancient tongue and has kept enough of the sound to be easily recognizable for what it is, even in modern Việt pronunciation.

The water buffalo is the second sign of the zodiac—and yes, it is a water buffalo and not a cow or an ox. That got changed later, because the Han Chinese didn’t have water buffaloes in the northern areas where they originally inhabited.

The water buffalo is very important to my ancestors because it is the symbol of the development of wet rice agriculture, which had been mastered in Southeast Asia no later than 12,000 BC.

Wet rice agriculture was important to the region because it allowed us to settle in one location and feed a large population instead of being a hunter/gatherer society which could only maintain small communities because of the need to continually be on the move in search of game.

With the ability to settle in one area came all the other aspects of a civilization—a writing system, law structure, philosophy, mathematics, etc.  All this was made possible with the help of a water buffalo and also is a huge tell-tale sign that ancient Vietnamese had been growing rice for thousands of years.

According to Dr. Navaratna Rajaram in an article written for [1]

A vast subcontinent, known as Sunda Land, larger than India, was submerged when sea levels rose as the Ice Age ended. These tropical lands, and not the temperate regions at higher latitudes like the Fertile Crescent were where agriculture began. This is a scientific fact.

Folks, that was more than 14,000 years ago that wet rice had been cultivated by my ancestors.  Since the water buffalo was the animal that was specifically bred and domesticated to do the hard and heavy work in the swampy rice fields, it carried on its back the ancient rice industry, and was therefore honored as one of the zodiac signs.


meoThe character for Mèo is the same as the Chinese character, but we pronounce it a bit differently.  The zodiac pronunciation is a more ancient sound, Mẹo, but still close enough so that we can draw a direct connective line between the ancient word and the modern word.

Cats have always been important.  Even the Egyptians knew this.  They worshiped the cat as a deity more than 10,000 years ago, so it has been around for a long time.

Compared that to the genealogy of rabbits and it is clear.  All of today’s breeds of rabbit are derived from the wild rabbit, which originated in the Western Mediterranean region.  It is probable that the Romans started to domesticate them during the third century B.C. [2]  

catWith such a short time span, the rabbit could not possibly have been a part of such an ancient calendric system.  So…for fans of Tohru and Kyo, guess what…he has always been a part of the original zodiac and has never been kicked out.

For the Việt people, cats have always been important.  They were domesticated, just as dogs had been, and they played a crucial role in keeping the food stores safe from vermin such as rats, worms, and birds which allowed the people to retain their harvest.

This is in direct contrast to rabbits who are known to damage fields and destroy crops.  For the Việt people, rabbits are not a good luck sign.  The only thing we ever did with them was to hunt them as an added source of protein and to keep them out of our fields so we could retain as much of the harvest as possible.

The real reason why it got changed to rabbit was because the word for cat and rabbit sounds the same, so when the Han Chinese adapted the Việt calendar, they adopted the rabbit to replace the cat; hence the mix-up.


dragonOK, I admit.  Even this one took me by surprise because I had always thought this was the sign of the dragon.

But no.

My ancestors named the zodiac after real animals, not something that may or may not have been real.  The ancient word for dragon was thìn, but even more ancient than that, it was pronounced thuồng, which was short for thuồng luồng.

kronosaurus2Thuồng luồng means…well, the best definition for it would be something like a water-snake-crocodile-monster-looking-creature which existed in the far distant past but is no longer alive today.

Scientists call them Kronosaurus and they were huge.  Their body length is approximately 33 feet long and they lived during the middle cretaceous period, roughly 110 million years ago.  Their close cousin, the plesiosaurs can be found (from what I’ve heard) in and around the Loch Ness area.

Dragon_thap_daothinh_2000Somehow or other, my ancestors met up with this creature.  They represented the thuồng luồng in their art and named it Giao Long, the very first water dragon. [3] If we look at the drawing, this is much closer to the kronosaurus than the dragons that are represented in more modern times.

The Giao Long dragon can be found on many archaeological objects and showed up early, in our mythology and in our zodiac.  So many images of the thuồng luồng kronosaurus has been found that I can only surmise my ancient ancestors actually had some dealing with this creature, and that during periods of flooding or typhoons, these ‘water dragons’ had a lasting impact on them.

(to be continued…)

1.  Gift from Southeast Asia.  Dr. Navaratna Rajaram.

2.  Rabbit Breeds: Booklet No. 401: Animal Husbandry- Rabbits: RBS-2

3.  Giao Long Dragon.  Wikipedia image.

Sunken Paradise

anime girl 191

Much of the ancient world inherited by our ancestors now lies under water after melting ice caps flooded vast areas at the end of the last Ice Age. New advances in geology and marine technology mean that the great archaeological finds of this coming century will more than likely be found under the oceans. It now looks likely that large populations of early humans were obliterated from the historical record by this catastrophe over 10,000 years ago.  ~  Graham Hancock

(…continue from Ancient Viet: Cradle of Asian Civilization)


In order to understand ancient Vietnam and how it fits in with world history, I have to take a look back farther in time than I have been.  In fact, I have to go back to the time when we were all starting to move out of Africa.  Unfortunately, this means I have to talk about an area of the world that is no longer even on the map and for the longest time, was thought to be mythical.

I am standing here, looking at the shadowy depths of an area called Sundaland which, sixty-thousand years ago, was once a rich, fertile area, densely populated by a people with a high level of civilization.

sundalandMap taken from

OK, so I know some folks may think I am talking about a mythical place similar to an often-talked-about-but-never-found Atlantis, but there is real geological evidence that it does indeed exists.

Geological Evidence for Sundaland

According to geologist Peter Cattermole, Sundaland [1] was HUGE.  It was the largest area on Earth that underwent a submersion following three waves of global flooding following glacier ice melts at the end of the last ice age.  This means that, soon after our ancestors migrated out of Africa (and archaeogenetics show that it was in one big wave of migration, not two smaller waves), one of the first places we went to was Sundaland.  The weather was nice, the food was plentiful, we proliferated and grew in numbers.  We lived and worked and played in that area for at least 50,000 years—plenty enough time for a fairly advanced level of civilization to occur.  [2]

It was Eden…until global warming occurred (sound familiar?), at which time, we got flooded.

It didn’t happen all at once.  When the first signs of flooding appeared, around 20,000 years ago, my ancestors were slowly being forced to migrate westward.  Eventually, the southeast Asian subcontinent was hit HARD by three great sea level surges which sank the continent in huge swaths of land.  The first surge occurred in 12,000 BC, the second surge hit at around 9,500 BC, and the final surge hit around 5,600 BC.  Three times, they were forced to move westward and northward, onto drier shores of what is now present-day Northern Vietnam and Southern China.  From there, the population recovered and began spreading out all over the area. [6]

This happened as early as twenty-thousand years ago, when our ancestors found their homes becoming water-logged and had to move further inland.  However, according to new findings back in August of 2012, people were not just living in the area of Sundaland, they were also spread out into areas that were much further inland and further north. [3]

Here, I hit upon another gnarly situaiton:  How to prove human movement.  Since that was not within the scope of geology, I had to consult modern anthropology.


Anthropological Evidence for Human Presence

According to Dr. Laura Shackelford, anthropology professor at University of Illinois, in the summer of 2012, a skull found in Northern Laos that was dated circa 63,000 years old, indicates that there was also human presence there, which corroborated with the latest genetic studies that indicate that modern humans occupied that part of the world at least 60,000 years ago. “This is the first fossil evidence that supports the genetic data,” she said. [4]

Compelling evidence also shows that we went as far west as Sumeria, where folks started setting up a new civilization. [8]  That is how archaeologists go from seeing nothing—no sign of human civilization, to all of a sudden, a people who called themselves Sumerians springing up out of nowhere, with a completely developed culture and civilization.  Even though there was no evidence whatsoever of where they originated and how they came to acquire their knowledge, the middle-east region became known as the cradle of civilization because that was the farthest scientists had been able to pull back the veil of ancient past. [7]

But now, with better technology, better methods of research, we are starting to discover deeper and deeper levels of humanity’s existence.  With archaeogenetics and the ability to do genome sequencing of ancient biological evidence, all of a sudden, we had the tools and knowledge to reach back even farther—thousands and thousands of years farther.

anime girl 194

Archaeogenetical Evidence for Human Movement and Expansion

Genetics indicate a radical and completely fascinating story.  The real cradle of civilization seems to be pointing towards the sunken Sundaland continental shelf, with the oldest of that population, genetically-speaking, being the Vietnamese population. [5][7]

According to the sequencing of human mitochondrial DNA from 153 independent samples which was done in 1992 by a team of scientists working with the Genetics Society of America, “all  Asian  populations  were  found  to share two ancient AluIIDdeI  polymorphisms at nps  10394  and  10397  and to be  genetically  similar indicating that  they  share  a  common  ancestry.  The  greatest  mtDNA  diversity  and  the  highest frequency of  mtDNAs with  HfiaI/HincII  morph  1 were  observed  in  the  Vietnamese  suggesting  a Southern Mongoloid  origin of Asians.” [8]  This means that my Vietnamese ancestors spread out EVERYWHERE.

Using this initial finding as the leaping board, through a massive collaborative effort of the Human Genome Organisation in 2009, scientists from 40 institutes were able to gather 2,000 samples from 73 different populations covering almost the entire spectrum of linguistic and ethnic diversity and genotyped for approximately 50,000 single nucleotide polymorphic markers.

This is some of what they were able to assertain:  [9]

1.  East and Southeast Asians share a common origin.

2.  East Asians mainly originated from South East Asian populations with minor contributions from Central-South Asian groups.

3.  A common ancestor of the Negrito and non-Negrito populations of Asia entered into the continent. This supports the hypothesis of one wave of migration into Asia as opposed to two waves of migrations from Africa.

4.  The Taiwan aborigines are derived from Austronesian populations. This stands in contrast to the suggestion that this island served as the ancestral “homeland” for Austronesian speaking populations throughout the Indo-Pacific.

5.  Genetic ancestry is highly correlated with linguistic affiliations as well as geography.

This is powerful information.  It sent a shock wave rippling through the communities around the world when the information was initially released.  As more and more evidence began to surface, the idea of a Sundaland Cradle of Civilization became more and more widespread until it began to turn the tide and is now in the process of rewriting the history of ancient mankind.

By no means am I saying that this is all there is to know about our ancient past.  I will always be on the lookout for any new information that comes to light in regards to ancient people of Sundaland and elsewhere.  Indeed, much of what has just been found all around the Sundaland area between 1999 and early 2013 (barely 14 years of research) continues to support the evidence of what has been indicated by genetic sequencing.  However, this is plenty enough evidence for me to confidently move onto my next leg of the journey, that of rediscovering the history of my people.

1.  Peter Cattermole.

2.  Dr. Martin Richards. “Climate Change and Postglacial Human Dispersals in Southeast Asia”. Oxford Journals. Retrieved 2010.

3.  Eden in the East: The Drowned Continent of Southeast Asia.  Oppenheimer, Stephen.  July 1999.

4.  An Anatomically Modern Human in Southeast Asia (Laos).  Dr. Laura Shackelford.  August 2012.

5.  Mapping Human Genetic Diversity in Asia.  Science Magazine.  December 2009.

6.  Underworld: The Mysterious Origins of Civilization.  Graham Hancock.  October 2003.

7.  Genetic ‘map’ of Asia’s Diversity.   BBC News. Dec. 2009.

8.  Southeast Asian Mitochondrial DNA Analysis Reveals Genetic Continuity of Ancient Mongoloid Migrations. The Genetics Society of America.  1992.

9.  HUGO (Human Genome Organisation).  Dr. Vikrant Kumar.  December 2009.