5 Several pieces of evidence in Lewis’ painting can be found outside of the lung motif itself, in the surrounding limestone

Several pieces of evidence in Lewis’ painting can be found outside of the lung motif itself, in the surrounding limestone

Incredibly, a complete Imperial lung motif can be superimposed upon these parts, complete with the appropriate pose with the body of one of the beasts arranged head down on the left.

Several pieces of evidence in Lewis’ painting can be found outside of the lung motif itself, in the surrounding limestone.

To the left of the Piasa, Lewis depicts a stone bluff that has been clearly worked by man to create the flat surface of the Piasa ‘canvas’. Unusual quarrying marks that run at a diagonal, from top right to bottom left, are clearly visible (see inset to left). These quarrying marks are similar to those found on unfinished Ming-era stonework, which can still be seen in Nanjing, the Ming capital. This quarried area has weathered back to its original dark gray patina. One of the oldest road cuts in the region, on the Missouri side of the river, is 80 years old. It has yet to completely weather and return to the dark gray that is shown in Lewis’ quarried bluff face. The quarried area therefore, must have been exposed to the elements far longer than this. This detail, alone, strongly suggests that the quarrying, which was a necessary prerequisite for construction of the Piasa, far predates St. Louis, the first permanent white settlement in the area, founded by the French, in 1764.

The Ming-era Chinese had a method of “blastless demolition” that might be illustrated by these quarrying marks. It is believed that in that method, holes were hand-drilled into stone, and then filled with an expansive mixture of calcium alumino sulfate and water. As the mixture crystallized, it expanded thirty-percent in volume, generating enough pressure to split the stone.18 The diagonal technique is unusual, but one wonders if the angle would be typical of men working from hanging baskets, as did Chinese railroad workers in the American West in the 1860s.

Alternatively, the diagonals could have been completely chiseled by metal tools. However, that would also point to a non-Native origin; for the local Native Americans possessed no such tools prior to the incursion of white settlers into the region. As is stated in the Squier’s report of 1847: “It is probably unnecessary to say, that the mound builders did not attempt the working of large stones, for building or other purposes, they occasionally broke up or quarried through the sand strata in defending their military positions, but none of the disrupted stones bear the marks of edged tools.”


We have amassed a wealth of evidence that the Piasa was Chinese in origin a careful examination of the evidence also excludes any possibility that the Piasa was of Native American origin:

  1. Archaeologists have examined more than 700 native pictographs and petroglyphs in Missouri. The state of Missouri is adjacent to the Illinois Piasa site, just a few hundred yards across the Mississippi. River. The native populations of both states were ethnically and culturally virtually identical. Yet, none of this native art used the colors green or blue.
  2. Spencer Russell, “Professor” Russell’s son, put several important clues about the Piasa’s origin in writing. He reported that the Piasa’s tail was fifty feet long, and that it wrapped around its body three times. At first glance, this is a strange comment. Yet, if there were originally two beasts, heavily defaced over the centuries by man and the forces of nature, then perhaps the two sinuous and intertwined bodies could have been mistaken for one.
    The younger Russell also recorded that what remained of the Piasa was carved one-half inch into the limestone, and was painted black, red and blue. He also described it as having a head like a bear, with the head and neck covered by a whiskery mane. These clues certainly point to a Chinese origin, for his description indeed resembles a lung. That it was carved into the stone is important. That it was blue, is more curious, but perhaps also a revelation.
    An abandoned trade route between China and Persia was reopened only a few years before Zheng He’s voyages. A principle Persian import to China was cobalt . Cobalt that produced the intense blues associated with Ming porcelain. Fusing zaffer, an impure cobalt oxide, with potassium carbonate, as used in the Ming dynasty, produced cobalt blue, an intense, dark blue glass. This glass was ground to a fine powder. In this powdered state, the cobalt blue could be used as a coloring agent in porcelain, or as a pigment to be mixed with others to produce a range of colors.
    Cobalt was used by the Chinese to produce a range of brilliant paint pigments; including Cobalt Green. Only a Chinese origin can explain the green color of the Piasa. After several centuries of weathering, this green would have broken down again into its blue and yellow components. The yellow pigment would have leached away over time, but the more stable cobalt compound would have survived, producing a dull blue Piasa. This blue color was described by the younger Russell as being more intense after becoming wet in the rain; this strongly suggests the presence of cobalt blue.
  3. Native works are typically small and crude, rarely more than a few inches across. The Piasa is described as a masterpiece that equaled anything in Europe. It is no wonder then, that some early witnesses attributed the Piasa to an unknown and lost civilization.
  4. Lewis portrayed a Piasa site that had been worked to a smooth, flat, arched vertical surface — approximately five thousand square feet in area. Producing this flat surface, the prerequisite for carving and painting the Piasa, required the removal of tons of limestone. The left side of the “canvas,” in particular, would have required the removal of stone to a depth of at least ten to twenty feet from the rough bluff’s surface. Yet, the Squires Archaeological Report of 1845 stated categorically that the native Cahokians “did not attempt the working of large stones, for building or other purposes”. For this reason alone, the Piasa could not have been of Native American origin.
  5. Nor did the Cahokians possess the necessary metal tools. The only worked metal found locally was native copper, obtained from Michigan. This was hammered into small objects such as jewelry. Some ceremonial axe heads have been unearthed, made from single, large copper nuggets. However, metal smelting was unknown to Mississippian cultures.
  6. There are no other truly comparable Piasas. There still exists, on the wall of an eastern Missouri cave, a foot-long (about thirty centimeters) drawing of the “Uktena”, or horned underwater spirit, which has been very tenuously linked to the Piasa. It is a crudely drawn, limbless, slug-like creature with raccoon eyes, triangular teeth, and irregular deer antlers. This Uktena painting has been carbon dated to 1050 AD32 — six centuries before Marquette’s explorations. That date is typical to Mississippian-era art. Drawings from this period have only survived intact in caves and other sheltered environments — Midwestern weather is too destructive. Therefore, it is extremely unlikely that Marquette’s Piasa would date to that era. It must have been created centuries later.

Some have associated the Piasa with depictions of the Aramipichia33 (“underwater panther”), the Uktena, or the Manitou (a spirit creature), 34 three mythological creatures feared and respected by the Native Americans.

The aramipichia, or water panther, was depicted in many variant forms by tribes throughout the central United States. It was an underwater creature that attacked those who unwarily entered the water. Depictions of it are crudely drawn, and vary greatly in form. Recently, it has been suggested that water panthers might have been bull sharks. They have been known to attack humans in fresh water, and have been caught in fishermen’s nets in several locations along the Illinois bank of the Mississippi River. The Uktena is the Cherokee version of the water panther. However, as the Cherokee lived far to the southeast of the Illinois Piasa, the uktena theory is most unlikely. Also, the uktena also had a rattlesnake’s rattle on its tail, and lacked claws.

The Manitou spirit creature has been depicted as having a somewhat human form with large, many-pronged antlers.

Aside from having horns or claws, these small, crudely carved figures bear little resemblance to Marquette’s Piasa. It is probable that these entities have been linked to the Piasa simply because their attributes have become confused and mingled over the centuries.

The volume of gunfire that was directed at the Piasa clearly demonstrates that the local Native Americans feared and hated the Piasa. It was not venerated, as were the sacred petroglyphs and pictographs that they created. Professor Russell claimed that the Illini Indians created the Piasa in order to shoot arrows at it, to celebrate its demise. Considering the elder Russell’s unreliability, and given the overwhelming evidence of a non-native origin, this assertion is unlikely, at the least.


The Piasa, as first described by Father Marquette, was virtually identical to the Imperial Chinese lung. Lewis’ 1854 painting shows a deteriorated lung motif that was executed on a massive scale. The preparation of this site required excavation with metal tools, skilled carving, and painting techniques unknown to the local Native Americans. The Illini tribe, the local Native Americans, made no claim to the Piasa, attributing its construction to small beings from the Mississippi River. The Piasa was alien to them, and greatly feared.

We believe that the weight of evidence clearly points to a Chinese origin for the Piasa.

Others have uncovered much evidence that Zheng He’s fleets sailed around the world. The Piasa is evidence that his men reached Alton, Illinois, in Middle America. There, on the banks of the mighty Mississippi, they proclaimed their great achievement by executing a towering lung, carved in stone and painted in Imperial colors. It proclaimed the greatness of China to that uttermost corner of the earth.

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