Skip to comments.The Pinta, Santa Maria And A Chinese Junk? (More)
Posted on 02/03/2003 3:18:04 PM PST by blam
from the January 29, 2003 edition
The Pinta, Santa Maria, and a Chinese junk?
A new book claims the Chinese discovered America in 1421, but historians refute thesis.
By Amanda Paulson | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
To the Norsemen, the Japanese, and the Carthaginians; to the Irish, the Africans, and a long list of others who, it is claimed, crossed the oceans to America long before 1492, add one more: the Chinese. They toured up and down both coasts of the Americas, established colonies, made maps, and left behind chickens. That, at least, is the theory posed by former British naval officer and amateur historian Gavin Menzies.
REWRITING HISTORY: British historian Gavin Menzies claims that it was the Chinese, not the Italians, who first discovered America.
What is surprising is not so much the claims themselves but the buzz they've created in popular culture both here and in Britain - especially given that few professionals in the field find his case convincing.
Mr. Menzies's book, "1421: The Year China Discovered America," has sold more than 75,000 copies since it hit British shelves in October. It debuted in the US at No. 8 on the New York Times bestseller list earlier this month. Mr. Menzies, who reportedly received an $800,000 advance from Bantam, has appeared on TV and radio. He's been profiled in the New York Times magazine. A PBS documentary is close behind.
"He's come up with a story people want to believe in," marvels Gillian Hutchinson, curator of cartography at London's National Maritime Museum who heard Menzies give a lecture last spring at the Royal Geographic Society. "There was almost a religious fervor in the audience."
This isn't the first time a tale of preColumbian discovery has captured the popular imagination. Thor Heyerdahl's 1950 book "Kon-Tiki" claimed that ancient Peruvians crossed the Pacific by raft - and documented his own attempt to emulate them. Then there was Harvard marine biologist Barry Fell, who translated scratches on rocks as ogham script, claiming evidence of Asian, African, and Celtic exploration. And many an Irishman insists the first person to reach America was none other than Brendan the Navigator, a 6th-century Irish monk.
Before Christopher Columbus was born
But Menzies's tale, which looks at a well-documented voyage by a Ming Dynasty fleet in 1421, is more specific in its assertions than most theories. In his version, a fleet led by admiral Zheng He rounded the Cape of Good Hope and then split up. One group explored South America, Antarctica, and Australia, while other ships toured Central and North America, circled Greenland, learned to measure longitude, and established settlements. Menzies says all records of the voyages were later destroyed.
For evidence of his theory, Menzies casts a broad net, citing shipwrecks, anchor stones, language, and maps that he says helped guide Columbus and Magellan. The historian points to a map the Portuguese had by 1428 that suggested some Caribbean islands long before any European was known to have traveled there. Menzies believes the chart was derived from Chinese explorations.
The book is more detective novel than history, with Menzies as the Hercule Poirot who pieces together the clues, helped by his navigation experience. "If I have found information that escaped [eminent historians]," he writes, "it is only because I knew how to interpret the extraordinary maps."
There's just one problem: Mainstream historians consider the book hogwash.
"It's absolutely preposterous," laughs Donald Blakeslee, an archeologist at Wichita State University in Kansas, referring to one of the book's claims: that ships with "gilded sterns" had sailed up the Mississippi River and into the Missouri. "A seagoing vessel couldn't have gotten close to that area."
Dennis Reinhartz, who teaches the history of cartography at the University of Texas at Arlington and is a past president of the Society for the History of Discoveries, agrees. "There's a whole genre of this stuff," he says with a laugh. "People are forever saying this line [on a map] represents this or that ... but it's still shaping a square peg to fit a round hole." Much of the evidence Menzies points to - a mysterious tower in Newport, R.I., for instance, and several 15th-century maps - has been used to support other theories.
None of this, however, takes away from the charm of the author or his story. Read it, or better yet, listen to Menzies for a few minutes, and it's hard to resist his enthusiasm. Charismatic, with a delightful British accent, he sounds like a kid who's just worked out the solution to a particularly tricky riddle.
"There's a flood of new evidence," he exclaims, ticking off a list of clues of Chinese settlements in America.
"So, for New York, the first person who got there was Giovanni de Verrazzano, and in trying to find the Northwest Passage he met people he described as Chinese! In Florida, Pedro Menendez de Aviles found wrecks of Chinese junks in the Atlantic. In Peru, Friar Antonio de la Calancha found pictures people had painted of the Chinese cavalry...." He keeps going, enthusiasm unabated.
That exuberance may account for some of the book's popularity. "It's a delightful read," says Nancy Yaw Davis, an independent scholar in Anchorage, Alaska. Dr. Davis understands what it's like to have academics attack a pet theory. Most dismissed her book, "The Zuni Enigma,"(Good book) which described the influence of 13th-century Japanese explorers on Zuni Indians. Though disappointed in some of his evidence, Davis admires Menzies.
"He was gutsy," she says, adding, "I was a wee tad envious. I had hoped my book would generate that kind of recognition."
What is it about discovery theories that can so capture the imagination? "It's about rewriting history," says John Steele, an executive producer of the upcoming PBS documentary, "1421: The Year China Discovered the World." Menzies upends Captain Cook's claim to Australia and Magellan's claim to the first circumnavigation, he notes. "But the thing that really gets everyone is discovering America before Columbus."
The Italian-American community, perhaps the fiercest defender of Columbus's legacy, is used to such challenges. "Every nationality claims to have a Columbus," says Adolfo Caso, author and founder of the Internet-based Dante University. "Regardless of who may have been here before or after, the Europeans met the Indians because of Columbus," he says firmly.
If Menzies is correct - what to do about that well-known rhyme? A visitor to his website, www.1421.tv, offers one suggestion:
"In fourteen hundred twenty-one
China sailed there before anyone."
Just don't look for fifth-graders to be memorizing the couplet anytime soon.
Anthropologists have found remains of one modern narrow-headed population, the Pericus, that lived in Baja California, until going extinct in the 18th century. Discover Magazine
By Jeordan Legon CNN
Wednesday, December 4, 2002 Posted: 7:56 AM EST (1256 GMT)
The "Peñon Woman III" skull was found near Mexico City International Airport.
(CNN) -- Researchers said it may be the oldest skull ever found in the Americas: an elongated-faced woman who died about 13,000 years ago.
But perhaps more significant than the age, researchers said, is that the skull and other bones were found while a well was being dug near Mexico City International Airport. Because the remains were discovered outside the United States, scientists will be able to study the DNA and structure of the skeleton without the objection of Native American groups, who can claim and rebury ancestral remains under a 1990 U.S. law.
"Here Mexico is providing the opportunity to see what clues these bones can yield about man's arrival in the American continent," Mexican anthropologist Jose Concepcion Jimenez Lopez said.
The oldest skull up to now, believed to be that of "Buhl Woman," was found in 1989 at a gravel quarry in Idaho. Scientists said it dates back 10,500 to 11,000 years. But researchers scarcely studied those bones before the Shoshone-Bannock tribe claimed and reburied them.
The "Peñon Woman III" -- which scientists believe is now the oldest skull from the New World -- has been sitting in Mexico City's National Museum of Anthropology since 1959.
At the insistence of geologist Silvia Gonzalez, who had a hunch that the bones were older than previously thought, the remains were taken to Oxford University to be carbon-dated. And indeed, tests proved Gonzalez's assertion.
Scientists said they believe that the Peñon Woman died anywhere from 12,700 to 13,000 years ago at the age of 27.
Did humans arrive in the Americas by boat?
Emboldened by her finding, Gonzalez will try to prove her theory that the bones of the Peñon Woman belong not to Native Americans, but to descendants of the Ainu people of Japan.
She said she bases her hypothesis on the elongated, narrow shape of the Peñon Woman's skull. Native Americans, she said, are round-faced with broad cheeks. "Quite different from Peñon Woman," she said.
She said she believes descendants of the Ainu people made their way to the New World by island hoping on boats.
"If this proves right, it's going to be quite contentious," said Gonzalez, who teaches at John Moores University in England and received a grant last week from the British government to conduct her research. "We're going to say to Native Americans, 'Maybe there were some people in the Americas before you, who are not related to you.' "
Gonzalez's theory is controversial but gaining credence in scientific circles, where up to now many believed hardy mammoth hunters were first to arrive in the Americas 14,000 to 16,000 years ago by crossing into Alaska from Siberia.
Gonzalez and other scientists said they believe people may have arrived in America as much as 25,000 years ago. She points to evidence of camps -- man-made tools, a human footprint and huts dating back 25,000 years -- that have been found in Chile as evidence of man's imprint on the Americas long before mammoth hunters.
Searching for answers to coastal migration
Gonzalez will embark on a three-year journey to prove her theory. As part of that journey, she will travel to Baja California to study the Pericue (Pericus) people, who shared the same elongated faces of the Peñon Woman. She said she believes that the Pericue, who for unknown reasons went extinct in the 18th century, may hold the answers to coastal migration of man from Asia to America.
The bones of the Peñon Woman will have DNA extracted to compare it with genetic matter of the Pericue, she said. Scientists also said they hope to study clothes fibers found near the skeleton and try to piece together how the woman died. Gonzalez said the skeleton does not show any wounds or obvious injuries.
"We still have a long way to go," she said. "But we have a good start."
shesh! one thing we learnt from 1984: If you destroy the records it never happened.
At least the Irish and Norse were bright enough to keep a note of what they did.
BZZZTTT! Sorry. Wrong answer! You don't "learn to measure longitiude." To measure and plot rough longitude you need a timepiece accurate to within several minutes after a journey of months (or, when I was a Navy nav in the 70s, to within ten seconds). No such watch or clock existed in 1421, and certainly not in the Chinese Navy. The Brits finally built such a clock in the Eighteenth Century.
So sorry dear heart, but they were 421 years too late to be the first for sure. One things this does show is that our ancestors moved around a lot more then we think.
The Vikings would have stayed if the little ice age hadnt hit but the rest just stopped by for a visit before going on their merry way. As for Cristobol Colon, timing is every thing.
American Indians' pitiful scramble to keep evidence away from scientists is just a delaying tactic. We'll know in the next few years just who got to the Americas first.
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One thing is sure: Columbus did discover the western hemisphere and is the only one who established his claim. Maybe the Chinese were before him; maybe the Portuguese were, and surely the Vikings were, BUT, the continous link between east and west begins in 1492. Given the ingenuity of men as sailors, it is quite possible that small expeditions reached the west from both Asia and Europe as long ago as the Ice Age. BUT We don't know, for sure, who or exactly when or where they landed. We have forgotten more history than we remember.
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