Ordinarily a book of American history will register a
qualification to the discovery of the Americas by Cristoforo
Colombo, to the effect that certain Vikings led by one Lief
Ericsson, son of an earlier explorer of Greenland called Eric
the Red, toured the coasts Southward in the year 1000, came
by chance upon "Newfoundland," which they called Vinland,
and there founded a settlement, whose ruins to this day are
discernible on a windswept plateau above the sea.
Perhaps it was here that the baby boy, Snorri,
was born, first known European child of America;
he lived out his years in Iceland.
Adam of Bremen, a believer in a global earth, wrote in the
1070's of interviews at the Danish Court asserting a Viking
presence in Iceland, Greenland, and Vinland; he says that
just recently a Norwegian expedition of Harold Hadrada was
forced to turn back because of dreadful weather conditions
along what must have been the American Coast.
In a rare but confirmed instance, in Maine
in 1957, a Norse penny coined between
1066 and 1096 was unearthed. Again,
at Spirit Pond, on the Maine coast, a map stone,
a memorial stone, an amulet, and a Christian
marker were found, ostensibly Norse.
There are other indications in favor of the Vikings (or Norse),
other embarrassing misidentifications, too, such as
a "Viking" tower at Newport, Rhode Island, which recent
estimates have unhappily removed to the seventeenth
century. A stone carved in runic characters called the
Kensington Stone, has brought contention since it was found
in Minnesota in 1898; it bespeaks in Latin a
Norse gang of the year 1362, fighting its way to
nowhere. It is roundly dismissed from accounts of early
Viking journeys to America.
Yet the Stone could conceivably originate with men who had
abandoned a Western Greenland Settlement,
who sought haven toward the southwest,
rather than follow the roadstead back to Scandinavia.
They might then either have sailed into
and descended South from Hudson Bay or had gone up the
St. Lawrence River, thence through the Great Lakes to
present-day "Minnesota." In 1354 one Paul Knudsson is
believed to have led an expedition in search of a lost group.
Viking expeditions discontinued not long thereafter.
A year ago, the fossil of an American soft-shell clam was
discovered in a sand bar off of Northern Denmark and placed
in the thirteenth century by carbon-14 dating;
most likely it had been a stowaway on the bottom of a Viking craft
coming from the New World; its species had not been Europeanized
before the sixteenth century.
In 1996 a conclave of scholars reconsidered
a suspect parchment map of the mid-fifteenth century that
pictured Newfoundland as Vineland, using a
cyclotron to beam protons through the material and
expose its chemical constituents.
They allowed that it was probably authentic.
Acceptance of Viking priority is due to much more than
Scandinavian-American pressure groups, and is not owing to
Protestant envy, because these Vikings were, if anything,
Roman Catholic, as the Kensington Stone, with its pathetic
pleas to the Virgin Mary, reveals. The Viking history gets
better as times go on, though it will always suffer from a
deprecatory: "So what?"
The Vikings were piratical rather than peaceful traders or
settlers. Homicide brought banishment, keeping the
peace at home, but spreading misfortune elsewhere.
To Iceland, thence to Greenland, then to Vinland, would be
one route for the wicked. Scholar Peter Mason thinks
that their own character as outlaws led the Vikings
to wreak mischief upon Skraelings and Einfoetingers,
"an Indian is an Eskimo, a barbarian, and a monster."
Later on, all Europe would be flooded with stories of
New World monsters, one-eyed, one-legged people,
Amazons, and cannibals. Sir Walter Raleigh would report
to his gullible Queen a nation of headless people,
"their eyes in the shoulders.."
Still from time to time some group of Vikings or domesticated
variants thereof would disembark to stay, ruling or as
subjects, and merging with the population. This happened,
for example, in Normandy (to which they gave their name),
Ireland, England, South Russia, and, most strikingly, in
Sicily, where Frenchified Norman gangs of the eleventh
century ousted a sophisticated Saracen elite and organized
quickly an envied cosmopolitan culture. The juiciness of
such targets would provide a reason why the Vikings would
not have followed up on their American adventures. Too,
they lacked the later invaders' explosive weapons to face
down hostile Indians, who were not yet decimated
by plagues of European diseases.
And the Norse were moving now into a century, the
fourteenth, called the "Little Ice Age," for its bitter cold (due
to sunspot irregularities), that caused the abandonment of
numerous Northern settlements. It was a century further
cursed by bubonic plague, which killed off vast numbers of
people everywhere it struck.
(And eased living conditions for
The story of the Vikings is old, and far from complete.
Meanwhile many other histories, more or less fictional - it is
hard to tell - have been written about other precursors of the
Italian navigator. Candidates for earlier contacts with
America - in some cases, earlier settlements of America - are
numerous and should be borne in mind. Also worth
remembering is the theory to which I alluded earlier: that the
Indians were aboriginal Americans, who did not come from
Asia but were always here, and may even have sent tribes
`the wrong way' across Bering Straits!
A Calico Indian site has recently been dug up in the Mojave
Desert, offering dates of 200,000 years ago, which should be
taken as an indication of the problem and a warning, not as a
true measure of time. More recently discovered and most
remote is a 250,000-year dating accorded worked stone at a
site in Bahia, Brazil.
Charles Darwin, later to sponsor the theory of the origin of
species by means of natural selection, as he visited Tierra del
Fuego aboard the Beagle (it was at the time of Jacksonian
populism in the United states) imagined that the Fuegoans,
the most "simple and backward" tribe yet encountered by
Europeans, were a form later evolved into the
humans of the North.
And fifty years later, Fiorentino Ameghino, a famous
Argentinean paleontologist, who named more fossil large
animals species than anyone else, dug up bones he thought
were the primeval human, whom he called Homo Sinemento
(mindless), and considered that this Homo had possibly
spread to Europe via the great continental bridge of Atlantis
(generally regarded as only mythical). For his troubles he fell
into disgrace and was relieved of his University position.
The clues from around the world are tantalizing. People from
everywhere have been thrust into the act. A century ago, a
distinguished French physician and savant, Jean Rivet, a
founder, too, of the Musée de l'Homme, lost some of his
reputation when he detected salient resemblances between
Australoids and Polynesians of the South Pacific and the
peoples of the South American Andes; he felt constrained to
depict for them a journey along the rim of the Antarctic
Continent, conventionally considered to have been under an
immense burden of ice for long ages.
In 1513 a Turkish Admiral and author of
many maps put together a world map, now
called after him the Piri Re'is Map.
Only recently recovered from Turkish archives,
the map is believed to show outlines
of the Atlantic Coast in advance of the knowledge of its time,
and especially to detail the outlines of the
Antarctic coastline as the land exists under its ice cover;
hence it would present a configuration impossible
to know prior to the invention of the
latest depth-measuring and depth-imaging instruments.
Charles H. Hapgood has argued plausibly that
some civilized people were voyaging in the region
in a warm ice-free interval before the present
glaciation there. Persistent conjecture is therefore allowable
on questions concerning the ability of ancient peoples,
including ancient Americans, to traverse
oceans and continents.
Even though most anthropologists and archaeologists resist
such ideas, we must suspect that, prior to a few thousands of
years ago, humans were able to arrive upon and get a
foothold in the Americas. It seems even reasonable to portray
the Americas as a residence of the earliest humans, when
they spread from their point of earliest origin, wherever that
might be. In such a case, the absence thus far of remains of
earliest forms of humanity could be attributed to the effects
of epochal disasters or to small original numbers, or to a
disposition of remains totally defying paleontologists.
If, at most, homo sapiens is granted 150,000 years of history
since humanization, there must be something wrong with the
Bahia and Calico dates above. They are too old for mankind
anywhere. More in line with the main evidence are findings
dated between 10,000 and 30,000. But any dates over
12,000 years serve as threats to the Bering Straits Ice Age
theory and also to the theory of unique Siberian origins.
And there are more and more of these dates. There exist sites
in Monte Verde in Chile dated to be 13,000 years old; Clovis
in the U.S. Southwest, dated 11,500 years; Meadowcroft in
the Northeast, dated at 16,000 years; and several much older
sites in Pennsylvania and Brazil, not so well documented, as
well as the Orogrande Bahia site already mentioned. Nor are
their implements strikingly Siberian - meaning
a long preceding development occurred.
In 1994 studies by Antonio Torroni
of genetic diversity of widely distributed Indian peoples
of North America revealed that their degrees of relationship
increased when calculated backwards, until it appears that
they were all of a similar high degree of consanguinity
some 29,000 years ago. This could mean,
however, that they had already been separated genetically
before they crossed the Bering Strait.
The announcement in 1993 of findings on the Northern
slopes of the Brooks Range in Alaska called "Mesa," with a
date of between 9,700 and 11,700 years, highlights a
dilemma of American anthropology today. This site is paleo-
Indian. A second site in Alaska contains the Nenana
Complex, which is similar to the Siberian of the time. The
two cultures here appear to be of the same age although very
different. Either the dating is wrong or the Indians came
from the South and encountered a Siberian-type culture in
the region. But there is no counterpart to the paleo-Indian in
Siberia. Hence it might conceivably have originated
in the South and finally come North.
Such would suggest an ancient proto-American people and
culture, of unknown origins and from somewhere in the
South, probably Central America. Could the Indians have
been in America all the time and gotten a late
infusion from Siberia, which was then wrongly claimed as the
sole source under the Bering Strait theory? This appears
probable. Warlike tribes from Asia could have driven out and
decimated aboriginal nations, just as the same types had
brought ruin to the Middle East and Europe over the ages: I
remind you of Medes, Celts, Teutons, Huns, Arabs,
Tartars, Turks, and Mongolians.
The history of a scientific theory may reveal its Achilles Heel
(as would have been the case if Achilles' medical history
had been on file with the Trojans). Jesuit José de
Acosta, a Jesuit traveler and scholar of the stature of
Alexander von Humboldt, but two and a half centuries earlier,
theorized as early as 1590 that the Indians had come to
America by means of the Bering neck. Not until 1728 did
the Danish-Russian Captain Vitus Bering discover the actual
water connection between the Pacific and Arctic Oceans.
So disrespectful of tribal cultures were Europeans, that they
needed the help of the Ice Age theory to project the
Amer-Indians from Siberia. The Theory argued that an Ice Age
could lower oceanic levels to a point where a land-bridge
would connect Asia and North America, a conception not
unlike the biblical solution for getting the Hebrews under
Moses out of Egypt. Louis Agassiz, a Swiss-American and
Harvard Professor, popularized and won scientific belief in
the Ice Ages in the mid-nineteenth century.
The theory was politically as well as geographically
convenient, because it would assist American historians and
public opinion to suppress guilty feelings for the treatment
accorded Indians; they could think that Indians had
not been truly aboriginal but were also newcomers, who had
appropriated the land somewhat earlier.
Too, the Bering Strait idea came before the discovery of
abundant fossils of a great many large animal species
including tigers, elephants, camels, and horses, mammoths,
and then, much earlier, dinosaurs. How these all came over
to America and then were wiped out in at least two giant
catastrophes was difficult to explain.
Strange that a cordial land-bridge should appear when ice-
caps were melting and waters rising; queer, too, that iced-over
seas should not be traversable. Shortest distance was a mere
64 kilometers, with islands between. Unless there were a
great mountain of ice that sloughed off suddenly.
Time, receding to dinosaurs, became a complex set of guesses.
A succession of Ice Ages, great and small,
of Intermediate Periods, of evolutionary periods and of
extinction periods entwined with one another. Yet the idea of
a recently collapsed Ice Age, that permitted an old Siberian
race to cross over to a continent empty of humans and
fan out over a great hemisphere, was stoutly maintained.
It still dominates education below the
rarefied air of a rare scholar.
But meanwhile a host of special interest groups
rose up to snatch the honor of breeding Amer-Indians
away from the "Siberian School." Many major and minor
cultures of the world have been pictured, with more or less
evidence, as contributors to the Amer-Indian population and
culture- mix. Operating under historiographical conditions of
near total uncertainty, many of them nevertheless exude the
supreme confidence that accompanies learned ignorance.
Most such writers used as background contemporary
gradualist geography, or the Ice Age Bering Strait idea,
but a mythical, religious, catastrophic or quantavolutionary
natural history has also been employed.
The last date when American and Euro-African
land masses were united in the single continent
of Pangaea is said by most geologists to have been
65 million years ago at the close of the
Cretaceous Period, the Age of Dinosaurs.
Therefore a completely different, practically Biblical, or
Atlantean, short chronology would have to be supported in
order to get the peoples of the world to America by land or
brief sea voyages. This appears to be impossible. Still a very
short-time or micro-chronology figured in much thought
about the origin of the American Indians until the
uniformitarian evolutionists won their case.
So now we go to sea.
A courageous nautical scientist from Norway, Thor
Heyerdahl, has shown how to sail as Polynesians did long ago
to remote Pacific Islands, such as the Polynesian Island of
Puka Puka and Easter Island, from Peru. His vessel was a
model of an ancient Peruvian balsa boat. Thus could the
South Americans have settled Polynesia. The presence in
Polynesia of the sweet potato, of megalithic cultures, and
stepped pyramids, and to a minor degree linguistic usages
and legendary adversions common to both regions, helped
his case, although not enough to bring conviction. In
1970 also, Heyerdahl constructed a papyrus
reed boat of ancient Egypt, Ra II,
then sailed it to Barbados in the West Indies.
Manual and wind power, and water currents, with expert
seamanship, can work wonders. So can nature.
In May of 1990, at 48 degrees N, 161 degrees W,
a storm dislodged a container of 80,000 pairs
of Nike-brand shoes from the goods ship "Hansa
Carrier", bound from Korea for the United states. Within six
months thousands of shoes began to wash ashore between
the Queen Charlotte Islands and Southern Oregon. Some
months later, many shoes had turned heel and followed
the California Current Southward and then westward back to
the Big Island of Hawaii.
What is even more remarkable, Gérard d'Aboville, a sturdy
Breton, who had rowed across the Atlantic Ocean alone in
1980, in 1991 rowed his 26-foot kayak with a convertible
cockpit from Japan to the State of Washington, averaging
7000 strokes a day and accomplishing the journey in 134
days. The kayak, basically the same boat, if not so finely-
tuned as d'Aboville's, was the common Eskimo fishing and
hunting boat since time immemorial.
With respect to the Atlantic Ocean, Alain Bombard crossed it
in a rubber raft in 1952, and Guy Delage, a 42-year-old
Frenchman, swam and accompanied a 15-foot raft (for
resting) from the Cape Verde Islands to Barbados in the
West Indies, 4,000 kilometers, half of it spent in the water,
in 55 lonely days. Single-man sailings around the world were
achieved in the 1990's, too. Whether the Bering Strait was
ice or water or dry land would have meant
little to the settlement of America.
The physiques and faces among the thousands of Indian-
American tribes, not to mention their correspondingly
numerous cultures and languages, differed greatly, attested
by the first Europeans to arrive after 1492, and by the
thousands of sculptures and drawings that have survived.
Negro African features are common in pre-Columbian
civilizations of Central America, among the Olmecs, Mayans,
Guatemalans, and Caribbean folk. Japanese features are not
absent there, either, nor are European features
indistinguishable among the Indians of Northeastern North
America. Historian Vine Deloria thinks that Cro-Magnon
man, found in France, might have been of the Indians of
Northeastern North America.
Generally, Indians hardly presented a pure type
or closely-related set of types; they were as different amongst
themselves as the Caucasians, to whom belong all the
Europeans, the North Africans, East Indians and Near
Easterners, as well as most North and South Americans
today. Lacking the theory of the Bering Crossing, scholars
would probably not have lumped the Indians into a single
American sub-race of the Siberian sub-race of the
Mongolian Asian Race.
When "Kennewick Man" was found sticking out of an embankment
of the Columbia River in Kennewick, Oregon in 1996,
by college students at a boating festival, then turned over to
anthropologists, who identified him as a Caucasian, and
released him to a radiocarbon dating laboratory at the
University of California, that estimated him as 9,300 years old,
and then became subject of a lawsuit by Indians who
claimed his bones as a Native American under the
1990 Native American Graves and Repatriation Act,
so that he could be given a proper sacral burial,
one could imagine the next step to be
the script for a musical comedy.
Had Indians the right to a "white" man's bones,
or was "finders, keepers" the rule?
If the facts be as attested, it becomes apparent
that either more than one race found its way to America -
a contention of this chapter - or that radiocarbon dating
is often far off the mark - which I also contend,
or both - to which I say amen.
Anyhow, the U.S. Corps of Engineers seized the bones,
to the despair of both Indians and anthropologists,
then relented to allow anthropologists to make the
final determination of race. If adjudged mongoloid,
the bones would be transmitted to the Department of the Interior
for deciding which of five claimant tribes should receive them.
Evidence is scant, we insist: anthropology has not
systematically resurveyed the comparative evidence;
archaeology has yet to dig in the right place. And maybe a
human population was eradicated in a catastrophe, a flood
truly of Noachian proportions, with super-hurricanes and
mega-fires and meteoroid falls. Of course, if all of mankind
were young and the separation of the continents were recent,
then the Indians that we have come to know as part of us
were the original and perpetual residents. We ought to rescue
these hypotheses from the wastebasket and place them on
the table for future studies.
A favorite topic of debate among early anthropologists and
historians, never fully settled, was the relative contribution of
diffusions of invention and independent inventions in the
acquisition of culture. Did various peoples invent their own
languages? Or did language originate in one people and one
spot and diffuse with them or from them among the whole
human race? Alphabets - and writing systems, too: are all of
these descended from a single proto-system, as John de
Francis proposed in 1989? Certain inventions seem so
complex and peculiar that diffusion is to be
preferred in explaining their presence at
two widely separated points in space.
Furthermore, no design, practice, or myth is so simple as to
evade the fecund differentiation brought about by the
mathematics of permutations and combinations. A few
sounds can make a thousand languages; similarly, a few
differences of construction materials, weather, habits,
perceived needs and learning techniques will prevent any two
walls in the world from being identical, and therefore any
two walls that seem to be almost identical will almost surely
have originated at the hands of closely connected people, no
matter where they may be at the time of construction.
Now let us direct inquiries to pre-Columbian American
history. Pan pipes are found in America and Asia. Corn is
found abundantly in America, but also discovered in Africa
and India. Palms and gourds crossed the Pacific Ocean, sweet
potatoes may have, too. Cotton may be New World or Old
World in origin. The pig, dog, chicken, and rat seem to have
originated in Asia before transfer to America. The specialized
fishing technique using cormorant birds as assistants
probably crossed the Pacific at some point in time. The
magnetic compass of China had its counterpart in Olmec
Mexico, and one cannot say which was the older, both well
over 2000 years. Once more we note: overall and through the
ages, many different peoples take turns at being
innovative at long-distance traveling and exploring.
Myths, symbols, even religious practices from the Old World
and the New can resemble one another closely. The couvade,
a custom whereby the husband goes to bed on the eve of his
wife's accouchement and acts as if the pains of childbirth
were his own, was found both in the new world and the old.
The swastika, the pentagram, and the eight-pointed star were
old world and new world symbols. Sacred ball-games were
played all over the world.
Gods of Meso-America resembled in key instances
divinities of Greco-Roman and Egyptian religion; the gods
that correspond to planets even share behavioral
peculiarities. The Roman god Mars is the same brutal warrior
operating under different names among the Aztecs,
Assyrians, Greeks, and Romans, and is identified
as connected to the planet Mars.
Traditions of a world flood that left unique survivors are
found everywhere. Various forms of writing are to be found
in America. The Cuna proto-writing of Panama, an
ideographic scrawling on wood and bark, resembles the
writing of Easter Island and the ancient script of the Indus
Valley of India. The Grand Traverse stone, an inscribed piece
of slate, found in Michigan in 1877, has recently been
expertly translated to reveal a money transaction written in
Latin of the period 100 B.C. to 100 A.D.
In Mexico, representing the ancient Central American
civilizations, there were to be found pyramids, of both the
stepped ziggurat type and the smoothly ascending kind.
Could these have been designed in ancient times both by
Americans and Near East peoples, Egyptians and
Babylonians? Or were they so close intrinsically,
mathematically, and in time that there would have been
most likely a mutual or diffused invention? Should the
Cambodian pyramid puzzle be entered here, too? No answer
is yet acceptable. On a Mayan dig at Acajutla, Mexico, of
1914, statuettes of the Egyptian divinities Osiris and Isis
were found, and remain as embarrassments to
Central Americans seemed to have been expecting the coming
of white-skinned strangers; they said some of these had once
come out of the sea to help them; they might even have
come from the sky, it was believed. A white-skinned hero or
god was prominent in Central American millennialist thought,
like the expectation in some quarters throughout European-
American history later on, especially among Protestants, of
the Second Coming of Christ. Some scholars have discovered
that the god-hero may have been black- and yellow-striped in
color, or a Black American god, who is the god of the planet
Venus (and one recalls the Black Hindu goddess Kali,
also representing Venus).
The expected event was dreaded, it must be added. The
Mexican Aztec King Montezuma half-believed and feared
that Hernan Cortez was the heroic embodiment of this god,
a delusion that damaged greatly his nation's ability to resist
the Spanish conquistador.
Many writers have exploited irresponsibly this god-trait and
god-belief, implanting it upon their favorite candidate for
early arrival in America. The legendary sinking of Atlantis,
indicated as a continent of White race, would have allowed
proto-European survivors to escape both to Egypt and
Greece, as Plato reported, and to America, as Brasseur de
Bourbourg and many another would have it.
In Brazil were found artifacts and inscriptions of indubitable
Phoenician origin. A Phoenician origin has been claimed, too,
for the Melungeon Indians of the United States, whose
appearance was allegedly Semitic, and who claimed to have
come from across the seas, but this is most likely incorrect.
At Fort Benning, Georgia, inscriptions in Cretan along with a
picture of a distinctive double-headed Cretan
axe have been uncovered.
Cotton Mather, the illustrious Puritan elder, wrote in 1690
that the Indians, descending from the Canaanites who were
begat by the disreputable Ham of the Bible, were affected by
his Biblical curse, hence had a dubious future even in this
New World - just one more example of the infinity of
historical falsehoods that have encouraged genocide, in
America as elsewhere.
Ham (probably a tribe) begat the Canaanites,
the Canaanites begat the Phoenicians,
the Phoenicians begat the Carthaginians, and
these, equally good sailors, sailed to
Britain and Sierra Leone (this we think we know) and,
if to there, why not to America?
Peralta, writing before the Plymouth landing,
deplored the cannibalism and idolatry of
many Indian cultures and thought they must be sprung
from Canaanites, driven from the Promised Land by
conquering Jews. Later, other writers believed the
Carthaginians, who also practiced child sacrifice and idolatry,
became disaffected when compelled by Greeks and Romans
to desist in their religious practices, and
departed for America in search of freedom of religion,
setting an unflattering precedent for certain later dissenters.
In Tennessee, Jewish inscriptions and Roman coins have been
found together, leading some to believe that the scattering of
the Jews by the Romans after their incessant rebellions had
led a band of Jews here. (Actually the Diaspora or
spreading of Jews to far-flung homes had begun
voluntarily long before this, through preceding
Hellenistic and Roman times.) A burial ground at
Bat Creek, Tennessee, was considered by the expert American
semiticist, Cyrus Gordon, to contain Hebrew inscriptions, which
may relate to the nearby Roman coins.
The Jewish experience in legendary American history is
extensive. In the 1580's Peralta was also bringing the
Ten Lost Tribes, driven from Jerusalem in 583 B.C. by
Nebuchadnezzar the Assyrian, to Central America. They
spread throughout the Americas afterwards: so the story goes.
In 1775 James Adair, who had consorted intimately with the
Chickasaw Indians and fought with them against the
Cherokees, published a discourse to claim
Hebrew origins for the Indians.
The idea was big in Colonial New England.
Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism in the
early nineteenth century, was a Vermonter, and so was
his successor as President of the Church, Brigham Young.
Perhaps his Yankee ancestry might help to explain
why the Book of Mormon declares that the Indians are
descended from survivors of the Assyrian holocaust.
Since the Mormons later became one of the most
powerful and progressive religious sects of America, and Jews
have been associated with America from its dreamlike origins
in Spain, Portugal, and the Low Countries up through the
first settlements and into the present, our allusions to these
theories of pre-Columbian events seem to be pertinent.
Tennessee appears to have hosted other remarkable peoples
in times past. One large group of burials conveyed to the
grave-digger the bones of little people, too battered
by the rigors of life to be children, and therefore
a race of pygmies, the least unlikely source of which
would have been the Aetas tribe of the Philippine Islands.
The Cherokees, a highly remarkable Indian nation,
held a tradition that a pygmy people existed nearby at one time.
Connections have been made with the Hindus and Indo-
Chinese. These, too, had been building stepped pyramids of
colossal size. And in India, 700-year-old temples were
found to contain representations of ears of corn.
Other resemblances between Southeast Asia and Mexico
include the trefoil arch; sanctuaries built inside temples, the
sacred tree and cross; a god holding a lotus flower; certain
pillar constructions; a method of vaulting; diving gods;
serpent gods; wire bells; and phallic ornaments.
Von Humboldt, in his early nineteenth century travels,
found many coincidences, among them
similarities between Mexican and Hindu calendars.
A triple-headed Amer-Indian vase,
found in 1820, was claimed to represent the
triple Hindu deity - Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva.
A fine story has been concocted of the enormous fourth
century fleet of Alexander the Great, intended for the
invasion of India and points East, which was left stranded by
his untimely death in 323 B.C., and disappeared from
history. We are left to imagine that, lacking better to do and
believing like Ptolemy and his later follower Columbus in a
small round world, its admirals might have sailed it Eastward
through the South Seas, ultimately entering upon the Pacific
Ocean and encountering Polynesia, leaving there strains of
Caucasian blood, and passing thence to the Americas.
Additional hints of veracity: similar peaked helmets; similar
metal-working techniques; the close identity of the Indian
game of pachisi and the ancient Mexican game of patolli.
Lately, as I mentioned above, tests of blood types and blood
chemistry - blood is a veritable encyclopedia to the
knowledgeable reader - have been used as indicators of
degrees of racial affinity among persons and groups. (A
startling example was the offering of genetic proof in support
of the theory of the origin of mankind from central African
prototypes.) In connection with the Americas, Japanese
blood chemistry has been shown to relate strongly to
Ecuadoran, Mayan and Zuni (United States) peoples. And
Japanese and Ecuadoran artifacts dated to 3000 years ago
closely resemble each other.
Further, there exists a strong Chinese cohort that plausibly
finds the story of American West Coast explorations
in the voyages and accounts of a renowned surveyor,
Shu-Hai, sponsored by the Chinese Emperor. Around
220 B.C. another Chinese explorer, Hsu Fu, is supposed to
have settled in America. Even earlier, a group of Buddhist
monks is said to have carried its religion to Fusang,
another name for America, and made converts there.
The Roman case is fairly strong, especially when abetted by
the several Romanized peoples, evidence of whom is to be
found in the New World. At least forty-one finds of Roman
coins have been publicized, beginning in 1533, these in
places as far apart as Tennessee, Panama, and Venezuela.
Pompeiian house walls, uncovered in modern times from
their burial by Vesuvian ash of the first century, carry
paintings of New World pineapples. Roman bronze and iron
pieces were dug up in Virginia in 1943.
Digging far South in the Toluca Valley of Calixtlahuaca,
José Garcia Payon found a bearded Roman head of terra cotta
dated back to about 220 A.D. Whether it had arrived by way
of the Orient or the Occident is not known, but its
authenticity is not disputed.
The earliest claims for African settlement are more logical
than evidential. Ivan Van Sertima has argued that the
Nubian conquerors of Egypt in the seventh and eighth
centuries B.C., one of whose kings, usually called Ethiopian,
appeared on the battlefield of Troy, were explosively
expansive for a brief period, and probably crossed the ocean,
entered the Caribbean Sea and merged with the Olmecs of
Gulf Coast Mexico. Olmec statues, I have adduced above, are
distinctly Negroid of features, and could readily have
coincided in time with this Nubian period.
Much later on, Mandingo and Songhay expeditions of trade
and colonization across the ocean are legendary. Skeletal
similarities, the importation of cotton to Africa from the
Americas, and a few other indications, all uncertain, have
been introduced to the discussion. A strong legend has Abu
Bakr II, Emperor of Mali, despatching two
expeditions to America in the years between
1307 and 1311. Their fate is unknown.
The Gulf Stream, with its potential for assisting
westward travel, was well-known to the
West African peoples.
It is strange that scholars have credited the Polynesians with
having reached and settled islands over thousands of miles of
the Pacific Ocean, while they have uniformly resisted the
idea that Africans would have had many occasions to reach
the Americas as readily.
Why they would wish to discover and settle new lands is
scarcely answerable. On other occasions, they would not have
had anything to say about the wave and wind that carried
them. Also, African rulers, like European rulers, could
ultimately see a profit in forcing some of their people to go
overseas; for the most part, even less than European
hoi polloi did the African common people
see much point to changing their life style and
dwell in a poorer part of the world.
Slightly better documented than the expeditions of Abu Bakr
II is the story of St. Brendan whose curachs left Ireland in the
Fifth century with the Holy Cross to explore a large maritime
region that included Barbados, the Bahamas and the Azores.
We have his "Navigatio" to peruse.
From 1275 to 1759
various maps circulated, bearing the "mythical"
Island of St. Brendan, some of them drawn by an
Irish monk working in Northern Europe.
Other Celtic brethren from Wales claim that in the same age
as St. Brendan, the explorer Madoc voyaged to America,
from which came an epic poem as supporting evidence (it is
well to remind oneself that modern "science" had written off
the Trojan war to Homeric legend, until Schliemann, an
amateur archaeologist, uncovered what was a reasonable
facsimile of a Trojan-Achaean conflict). Perhaps it was from
such Fifth Century Celtic sources that a
Merovingian Gaul of the 600's who called himself Aethicus
told of a round-the-world trip, traversing the
Atlantic Ocean. His fanciful story inspired many
a would-be explorer for a thousand years.
Harvard scholar Barry Fell, a New Zealander by birth,
built up over many years a Celtic-Iberian case,
involving copper mines, institutional correlations
in laws and practices among Celts and Algonquins,
architectural similarities, and a script called "ogam"
said to be commonly used in ancient times on
both sides of the ocean. Far to the West of Ireland there
began to appear with Dalorto's map of 1325 an Island of
"Brazil." Where it came from and went no one knows.
More famous in historical cartography was the Island of
Antilles (perhaps the same?) and this island, too, was far to
the West and during the 1400's was reputed to be the haunt
of Portuguese fishermen. It was drawn in Vizzigano's Map of
1424 and Bianco's Map of 1436. The renowned mapmaker
Toscanelli recommended to Columbus that he use it as a
stopover on his way to the Far East, and Columbus
planned to do so.
For the years 1380 to 1433, customs records
from England show the importation of beaver skins - they
could only be American, probably Canadian Micmac,
given their peculiar packaging - brought in by Basques of the
Iberian peninsula, who wandered far and wide as fishermen
and traders. It is claimed that the Bretons, famed for
seamanship, fished off the shores of America, but the first
hard evidence of a French-Breton presence there is Jacques
Cartier in 1504. Bristol merchants poked around the
Western seas regularly before Giovanni Cabotto was hired by
the King to do the job right. Before him by a few years,
Henry Sinclair, Earl of Orkney, is said to have reached the
But not even many a swallow can a summer make. It is
important to give a special meaning to geographical
discovery. Like a scientific discovery, or, I should say, like
other scientific discoveries, a geographical discovery is to be
understood as a recorded event that is replicable, here by a
deliberate, successful, follow-up voyage. Such was the voyage
of Columbus, well-recorded, and then promptly emulated by
other voyages. Like some other scientific discoveries, such as
penicillin, the discovery may be serendipitous: Columbus
thought that he was reaching the Old Indies.
But this still does not make an "Age of Discovery," no more
than a single scientific discovery makes a "Scientific Age." For
this we need a large diverse set of cultures prompted to act
by the initial successes. And we need a large lasting effect
upon both sides of the discovery, the discoverers and the
discovered. It is scarcely to be doubted that the Vikings
discovered and reported to their confined culture their
American findings, so that their directions could be
successfully followed by a subsequent expedition.
However, the Norse world, and its connecting links with the
European World, and the European World itself, were
not ready to treat such discoveries as big news,
full of promise, revealing a great set of cultures
ripe for exploitation by the new technology
of the Europeans. That is why
"Christopher Columbus discovered America."