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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Using a sextant, tables, and a chronometer is merely the easiest way to do it ... and to train people to do it who are not rocket surgeons einsteins.
This is in accordance with the earlier discovery of America by a Latvian drinking team in 1098, but all records were destroyed, unfortunately, when upon the return trip home the boat capsized with the loss of all hands and 34 kegs of beer.
"Native Americans" are fighting a losing battle to perpetuate the now disproved fable that their ancestors were first in America. Their desperate denying scientists the chance to discover ever older remains in order to hide these remains' ancestry is pitiful and contemptible.
The Azores were discovered by the Portuguese in 1421. At least that's the date given, it's likely they were using the Azores as a intermediary point on their fishing forays to & from the fishing area (now known as the Grand Banks) off Newfoundland ... much earlier.
Columbus had no concerns about sailing off the edge of the earth ...
Huh? Just how would that be done?
Sorry. This is bullshit. Navigation 2,300 miles precisely by "looking at the sky"? Not a chance. If they were off heading by just 2 degrees, they would miss their target island by hundreds of miles and never see it. "Other signs?" "Passed verbally?" LOL!
by taking sights on the moons of Jupiter (which are actually visible to the naked eye at sea on clear nights)
I was a navigator for the USAF/ANG — did a lot of tricks with a sextant. But never saw the moons of Jupiter without a telescope and never heard of any navigation tricks using the moons of Jupiter.
(Nothing like a 10 year old thread on which to reach an agreement.)
well ya see, Jupiter has nine moons, and depending upon how many of them you spot on a starry might, and who is in first place in the Eastern Division of the National league on August 15th, you subtract the sales tax, add the square root of your belt size, and turn left?
HHTH would I know this, Pabs? I am a trained sextant-and-tables-man. However, I know from my assiduous reading that certain highly skilled 18thC type navigator guys could do this. I also know from my own acute observations that you can actually see these little moon things flitting about Jupiter (and other planets) when you are out at sea and it's clear. Besides, everyone I sail with nowadays has GPS. I am usually good to 2 miles. They are good to 2 feet!
I also know that the Bumstead solar compass works ... just don't ask me how, OK? BTW, my admiration for old-time navigators increases all the time ... how these fellows actually got where they were going with their equipment is truly pretty darned amazing.
Seems you sort of use Jupiters Moons as your clock. Try this at home, just not at sea with me aboard.
But they are plain as day on a clear night. BTW, in my day lots of USAF people seemed to be lost, so I must take the word of a USAF Navigator cum grano salis, economy size.
Good one. I, too, am an old periscope sextant and DR guy (P-2s, early P-3s) before nav was overtaken by INS, Omega, Doppler-airmass, and LORAN. PQS nav instructor, etc. When I started in the baseline P-3B the only thing that worked was the sextant, your DR plot, and an occasional stray LORAN LOP. By the time I retired it was all black box, track the different electronic solutions and yawn stuff. I'm dating myself. There was real pride in going from NAS WHIDBEY to MCAS IWAKUNI as the only NFO on board, just you and your sextant, and hitting the ADIZ point smack on top and on time. I remember my first such trip, sitting on the ramp at IWAKUNI on an early Japanese morning, marveling how I'd been a fat college slug less than two years before and now I was navigating across oceans with a plane load of crewmates. Where else would a 23-year-old exercise such responsibility? No civilian can ever understand the sense of accomplishment.
Old dogs, new tricks ....
Galileo’s proposal Jovian moons
In 1612, having determined the orbital periods of Jupiter’s four brightest satellites (Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto), Galileo proposed that with sufficiently accurate knowledge of their orbits one could use their positions as a universal clock, which would make possible the determination of longitude. He worked on this problem from time to time during the remainder of his life.
To be successful, this method required the observation of the moons from the deck of a moving ship. To this end, Galileo proposed the celatone, a device in the form of a helmet with a telescope mounted so as to accommodate the motion of the observer on the ship. This was later replaced with the idea of a pair of nested hemispheric shells separated by a bath of oil. This would provide a platform that would allow the observer to remain stationary as the ship rolled beneath him, in the manner of a gimballed platform. To provide for the determination of time from the observed moons’ positions, a Jovilabe was offered this was an analogue computer that calculated time from the positions and that got its name from its similarities to an astrolabe. The practical problems were severe and the method was never used at sea. However, it was used for longitude determination on land.
But I was never lost with my sextant, a good compass, and a good time hack.
Never mind all this, my LORAN is not working!
When he did his PowerPoint for the Portuguese, they of course immediately picked up on this error. After all, the Portuguese knew that Eratosthenes had figured it at 25,000 miles in the 3rd CBC and that Chris had made a basic "units" error in his calculations. Not good.
The other thing was that he was a foreigner and the Portuguese also figured he could be a spy for the Genoese traders who wanted to sent the Portuguese on a wild goose chase based on this screwy data, so they could corner the pepper market or something like that.
In Spain, he was able to sell his wrong idea better because, instead of having to explain it all in Latin, he could present it in his native Genoese dialect, which of course is Catalan, and thus easily understandable to Ferdinand and Isabella. Also they were not as technologically hip as the Portuguese anyway. (The Portuguese tell "Polish" jokes about Spaniards to this day.)
"The rest," as Sherman used to say, "is history."
What about the Cocain found in Egyptian Mummies? How did it get to Egypt? My bet—Carthage sailed the Atlantic and traded for it. kept it hidden least others get a piece of this rich trade (a very Cartaginian concept ) the practiced human sacrifice like the Peoples of the new world.
At sea, on a clear night the moons of Jupiter can actually be seen with the naked eye. The fix apparently involved timing their passage across the face of the planet, checking the time, how many of the nine were visible, angles to other stars, and the clincher, going below and checking one's results against GPS (made in China and I made that up.)
BTW, Chinese sailing vessels may look and smell like junk, but those odd-looking things that I certainly wouldn't want to see tied up at my YC could evidently rapidly sail rings around the first Western ships to encounter them. Their sails look more like your Aunt Fanny's porch shades, but they do have the effect of being fully battened, very easily reefed, and are very aerodynamic. To give those oriental chaps their long overdue, they also invented the compass (reportedly), the centerboard, the lifting keel, water-tight compartments, and the transom-mounted or center-line rudder. Gave us round-eyed devils a whole new slant on sailing.
There is little doubt that the Chinese once explored the whole Pacific. However, this glimpse of the outside world apparently frightened their eunuch mandarin bureaucrats and the emperor, and all further exploration was stopped. That pretty much puts paid to the notion that the Incas were having their suits made in Hong Kong or the Aztecs sending their laundry to Shanghai.
Maybe those Italian yachtsmen were definitely NOT the first to see our continents, but they certainly put North, Central, and South America on the map, one of them modestly enough, naming the place after himself, or at least not correcting the mapmaker who did.
Your Honor, my client knows absolutely nothing about that, has never been to Egypt, is a pillar of this community and not a flight risk."
Nonsense. We know that the Goa’uld settled the Americas in 10,000 BC.
Measuring longitude requires accurate ship-going timepieces not available until the 18th century. At that time China had just discovered the water clock.