Skip to comments.Did Ancient Drifters 'Discover' British Columbia?
Posted on 04/25/2012 4:58:58 PM PDT by Theoria
Legends and bits of evidence tell a story of Asians arriving here long, long ago. Part one of two.
"Even pale ink is better than memory." -- Chinese proverb
As the tide creeps over the sand flats of Pachena Bay south of Bamfield, it brings ashore the flotsam of the Pacific that -- on occasion -- hints at extraordinary travels and a mystery of historic proportions. Amid the kelp, in decades past, hundreds of green-glass fishing floats would arrive intact on the Vancouver Island coast, having ridden the powerful Japanese Current in year-long transits from Asia. But on rare occasions, entire ships would arrive -- like the derelict, Hokkaido-based, 54-metre squid-fishing boat located recently 260 kilometres off Haida Gwaii, part of the estimated 5 million tonnes of debris headed this way from last year's Fukushima earthquake and tsunami.
Even more rarely, these ghost ships would carry survivors of this slow drift, men who spoke Chinese, or Japanese. Such was the case of the Hyojun Maru that was left rudderless in a typhoon off Japan and drifted for 14 months before being washing up in 1834 on the Cape Flattery headlands just across from Pachena Bay. It contained three fishermen. It is, in fact, one of 100 known Asian drift boats that have crossed the Pacific accidentally. (The last one to arrive came ashore on the Queen Charlotte Islands in 1987, empty.)
But no one knows what to make of the evidence hauled up from the wreck that lies 16 kilometres off Pachena Bay in almost 150 metres of water, or the two wrecks that are purported to have yielded strange artefacts from beneath nearby Clayoquot Sound. For all three have produced barnacle-covered Asian pots -- probably Chinese -- whose age may predate the earliest European visitors to this coast.
Legend of Fu Sang
No one knows how to factor in the source of early iron implements in the Pacific Northwest -- where iron was unknown; or the origin of the 100 Asian plants and human parasites that suddenly appeared in Latin America a few millennia ago; or the recently revealed linguistic similarities between early Chinese and Mayan words. How did the bones of chickens -- an Asian fowl -- get into a prehistoric American midden? What explains the similarities between Japanese and Zuni blood types? And no one can figure out how it is the 1,500 year-old Chinese legend of Fu Sang could have come about. It recounts the journey of Chinese adventurer Hwui Shan, who claimed to have sailed across the Pacific, along the coast of British Columbia, then southward to a sub-tropical place he called Fu Sang. Many of the details in his chronicle of this 40-year journey are breathtakingly accurate.
Where does coincidence end and incident begin? Were people crossing the Pacific long before Europeans crossed the Atlantic?
In the past 100 years, a lot of eurocentric views of history have collapsed, and a lot of old myths, once viewed as fantastical, have proven true. Not long ago, no one guffawed when school teachers intoned Gutenberg had invented the printing press and Columbus had "discovered" America. Believing these was part of the conceit of European superiority. This view extended to old myths and legends that 20th century academics dismissed as the imaginings of primitive minds. The Vinland saga was a tale told by uncouth Vikings, and nothing more. Atlantis was something Plato dreamed up. A lost Incan city somewhere in the Andes? How romantic. But today, there's Newfoundland's L'Anse au Meadow and the Greek island of Santorini and Peru's Machu Picchu to remind the dogmatic that the ink of history is not indelible, that history is, in fact, a palimpsest of rewritings -- as new discoveries obscure old beliefs.
No person has been more influential -- or, with his conclusions, more wrong -- in exploring the possibility of early trans-Pacific travel than the late Norwegian adventurer, Thor Heyerdahl. He's the man behind the 1947 Kon-Tiki expedition, widely considered one of the greatest feats of human endurance in history. Few know that Heyerdahl's famous ocean-crossing raft journey had its origins in Bella Coola, B.C. in 1939, when the young anthropologist spent the winter there looking for evidence that might link natives of the Americas to ancient cross-Pacific human migrations.
Curiously, the first clues to this supposition were reports he heard from Bella Coola fishermen of glass Japanese fishing floats entangled in their nets, and the equally provocative anthropomorphic petroglyphs at nearby Thorsen Creek. To Heyerdahl's mind, the big-eyed, stone creatures were identical to ones he'd seen previously in Hawaii and Easter Island, far out in the Pacific off Chile. Could it be, he asked himself, the east-flowing ocean currents that were bringing Japanese fishing floats to Bella Coola have also carried early westbound native Americans to Polynesia? Perhaps the Pacific was not a impediment to prehistoric mariners, but -- with its endlessly circling currents -- an invisible river? With his successful east-to-west journey of Kon-Tiki, the door to an important new vista opened for scientific investigation: people could have utilized primitive vessels to cross the Pacific. (Heyerdahl's error -- and it was a huge one -- was to assume these ocean migrations originated in the Americas, not in Asia.)
In the late summer of 1979, captain Mike Tyne, then 31, was fishing with his trawler Beaufort Sea above Big Bank, a shallows off Pachena Bay in the Straits of Juan de Fuca, when his drag net hauled up an unusual catch. Amid the cod and sole were pieces of rotten wood and a large, intact, brown-glazed pot, its exterior encrusted with marine worm casts and its interior holding an octopus. The three-man crew discussed the likelihood they'd snagged an unknown shipwreck 150 metres below. The wood was promptly discarded, but Tyne told himself the urn would make a good planter for his wife, Patsy, and brought his find back to Ucluelet. Word got around town that Tyne had pulled up an old, Chinese-looking pot, and speculations began -- and continue to this day -- that Tyne had found the first evidence of an ancient Asian shipwreck on the North American coast. There were stories in the local paper. An American visitor offered him $2,000 for the pot. Archeologists appeared.
Over the next few years, as news of the 75 centimetre-high urn circulated, three institutions provided differing assessments of its age. According to Tyne, the British Museum in London said, based on photographs, it was probably 300 years old; the University of Toronto and UBC, using carbon dating, said it could be 700. However, no one could confirm its significance. Even if it were a very old Chinese urn, there was no proof the wreck itself was the same age. With an estimated 2,000 sunken ships along the B.C. coast -- most unsurveyed -- the old pot could have been carried on an unknown 19th century vessel that foundered off Pachena Bay. But uncertainty about the pot's origins did little to deter interest.
As a boy in Grade 5, Tom Beasley, now 54 and a Vancouver lawyer, read Thor Heyerdahl's famous book Kon-Tiki, and was fired by the anthropologist's conviction the Pacific was a crossroads of ancient travel. Beasley learned to dive, studied maritime histories and Pacific Northwest folklore, joined the Underwater Archeological Society of B.C., and came to believe the B.C. coast held myriad untold secrets. In 1983 in Tofino, searching for the sunken 19th century fur trading vessel Tonquin, he watched as a man appeared with a barnacle-covered Chinese pot that he claimed came from a second Asian wreck in nearby Clayoquot Sound. Tofino forestry employee and diver Robert Pfannenschmidt refused, however, to reveal the location of his alleged discovery, claiming he was keeping the shallow-water site secret in order to extract its artefacts at a time lucrative to him. (Pfannenschmidt was informed then that pillaging a historic shipwreck in B.C. is illegal, and has since rejected all requests for interviews.) Not long after that, two more old Chinese pots appeared in trawl nets off Tofino, prompting reports of a third Asian wreck.
'It will be found!'
To Beasley's mind, these underwater pottery finds were further hints Chinese voyagers reached North America long ago. And he lists a few of the other curious linkages: B.C. native myths of non-European strangers arriving from the sea; conical hats common to both Asians and local natives; the use of mortuary poles on both sides of the Pacific (and nowhere else); and the profoundly odd story of Fu Sang. "The story line is wonderful," he says of the mounting evidence that ocean-crossing Asian travellers did, in fact, venture here. "All we've got so far is pieces of the puzzle. We have to follow to the myths. Fu Sang's like the old Norse sagas describing Vinland. Now... with L'Anse au Meadow, we know the sagas were correct: the Vikings got to the New World 500 years before Columbus. But here... we haven't found the Holy Grail -- the shipwreck. But it will be found!"
The idea the Chinese may have reached the New World at least 500 years before the Vikings and 1,000 years before Columbus is as tantalizing as it is controversial. In the History of the Liang Dynasty, recorded almost 1,500 years ago, the story is told of an itinerant monk named Hwui Shan who set sail with his four Buddhist companions on a four decade-long, trans-Pacific odyssey -- with the intention of introducing their religion to the peoples they encountered across the "Great Eastern Sea."
Utilizing the Japanese Current, the legend reports the men travelled from China 4,000 kilometres northeast to a land where people had striped faces. The direction, distance, and details fit remarkably with the tattooed Aleuts of southern Alaska. Hwui Shan then sailed 2,700 kilometres further east to a land of "mile high" trees where people's wooden houses were surrounded by decorations. He called the place the Great Land of Rushing Waters. In distance, direction, and details it sounds like British Columbia.
Turning south, the men journeyed 10,600 kilometres to a country the monk called Fu Sang, named after local trees that produce a red, pear-shaped fruit. The people, he reported, had a rich culture -- with an aristocracy, a writing system, complex rituals, and domestic animals that today suggest Mayan Mexico. Again, things fit almost perfectly. Hwui Shan returned to China in 499 A.D. only to find his homeland wracked by civil war.
Some elements of the Fu Sang story are, however, so odd that critics dismiss the account as the product of imagination. Hwui Shan reported he heard stories in Fu Sang of a nearby society composed exclusively of Amazonian women who took snakes as husbands, and nursed their children from nipples on their shoulders. He said he saw deer pulling wheeled carts, and dog-faced men. Time and transcription can, of course, turn gods to dogs. Such is the nature of myth. But no less an authority than the late British sinologist Joseph Needham counted, on visits to Mayan Mexico, over 100 parallels -- in complicated rain-making ceremonies, in the construction of suspension bridges, and in a belief in the magical properties of jade -- that indicated the two civilizations had ancient links.
Riddle of the Ancient Asian Mariners
Until quite recently, most North American archeologists would get nervous at the suggestion ancient Asian mariners crossed the Pacific in travels to the Americas. Trapped in a scientific orthodoxy -- not so different from the one that dictated early 20th century geologists rejection of the new (and now firmly established) theory of drifting continents -- archeologists have claimed the early cultures of the Americas evolved untainted by any outside influences. This belief had its roots in a sort of uber-nationalism of western scientific thought -- that unlike the mongrel cultures of Asia, Melanesia, and Africa, so the argument went, there was no foreign miscegenation in the Americas. Smug and borderline racist, this isolationist idea held sway for most of the 20th century.
So Thor Heyerdahl's Kon-Tiki demonstration of an alternative theory -- that the Pacific was, in fact, a highway of ancient American/Asian diffusion -- was greeted with derision by academia. Then came Gavin Menzies's best-selling book 1421: The Year the Chinese Discovered the World, describing alleged Oriental visits to the New World almost 600 years ago. Historians and archeologists went ballistic. Menzies is a liar, they said. Worse: he's a charlatan. What often got lost in the tirades against Menzies and his mistaken predecessor Heyerdahl -- they did get important things wrong -- was this increasingly accepted premise: early Asian and American peoples had been criss-crossing the Pacific for centuries, perhaps for millennia before Europeans appeared on the scene.
This paradigm shift can be traced, in part, to a series of recent discoveries that demonstrate early mariners had both the capacity for and an interest in trade that regularly propelled them out of Asia and to the New World. When, for example, Victoria archeologist Doug Fedje announce a few years ago that he'd found datable 13,000 year-old human artefacts on the Queen Charlotte Islands, his discovery was part of a growing belief that prehistoric Asian nomads had the boats and skills to utilize the B.C. coast for navigation. Virtually gone today is the scientific concept of the Bering Strait land bridge as the sole entry point for human migrations into Ice Age North America. That theory is now an anachronism -- as dead as the one that once said God set the universe in motion on Wednesday, Oct. 22, 4004 B.C.
Why cross several thousand kilometres of tundra and ice when there's plentiful fish, game, and dry land on ice-free, Pacific coast promontories? When archeologists recently analyzed some buried ship's planks on California's Channel Islands, they discovered the sawn wood had likely had its origins in the Gilbert Islands, 7500 kilometres to the southwest. And the wreck was 1,600 years old. When other researchers reported recently that New Mexico's Zuni native blood types, religion, and language have unmistakeable Japanese links; or that old Mayan had common linguistic roots with old Sino-Tibetan -- and that these Asian influences appear to have arrived abruptly within the past 1,500 years -- it was a sign the iconoclasts of Asian dispersal had overwhelmed the bastion of American uniqueness.
Clue of the 600-year-old chicken
David Burley, chair of SFU's Department of Archeology, finds himself -- like most others in his field -- having to assimilate this new, often discomforting information. It runs counter to a lot of preconceptions. "The evidence clearly shows now," he admits, "people moved from west to east across the Pacific. If the Polynesians hit tiny Easter Island [off Chile] -- and they did -- they had to hit South America. If they got to Hawaii -- and they did -- they got to the Pacific Northwest." There are Ainu totem poles from northern Japan, he adds, that are almost identical to West Coast totem poles. There's old Polynesian bark cloth that's identical to native cedar cloth here. And then there are those strange Bella Coola petroglyphs.
Even more provocative, however, than the petroglyphs that inspired Heyerdahl in 1939, is last year's announcement by one of Burley's own doctoral students, Alice Storey, that DNA in 600 year-old chicken bones found in Chile pinpoint the bird's genetic origins in Samoa, almost 8,000 kilometres across open ocean to the west. It had been assumed by eurocentric archeologists that the Atlantic-crossing Spanish brought this Asian bird -- not Pacific-crossing Polynesians -- to the New World. And to further the early trans-Pacific argument, it's now also understood that these same maritime traders brought back from the Americas the previously unknown sweet potato and the bottle gourd to Polynesia.
But when the issue of early Chinese travellers to the British Columbia came up, the best that Burley can muster on Fu Sang is this: "Anything's possible. Most myths have some kind of root basis in events."
Warped by time
B.C. archeologist George MacDonald, 70 and director-emeritus of the Bill Reid Foundation, is one of the few that didn't succumb to the scientific conceit of the Americas' isolation from Asia. He has believed all along that Asian traders and ideas have come to these shores since... well, forever. "It's harder to explain why they did not come than why they did. The first emperor," he says, referring to a different Chinese myth dating to 210 B.C., "sent his fleet across the Pacific to find 'The Land of Immortality.' Those ships disappeared. Then came Fu Sang. There had to be Chinese ships that came here!"
MacDonald has dug evidence of Bronze Age (3000 B.C.) Japanese-style armour from a site near Prince Rupert. He has seen examples of ancient, folded birch bark boxes from Siberia that are mimicked exactly by the traditional, curve-sided cedar boxes of B.C. coastal natives. He has seen how the raven myth has survived among tribes on both sides of the Pacific. He believes the circum-Pacific peoples have -- despite the distances -- known about each other for millennia, traded and fought regularly, exchanging their ideas, their products, and their genes in a traffic that helped shape the rise of the great cultures of the Americas. He believes it's time to follow the old myths.
"Most legends have some point of historical origin. But the old stories get warped in time. The challenge in archeology is to take the warp out of it. To find the key sites and evidence. And date them. I'd say maybe one-tenth of one per cent of B.C. archeological sites have been dug. Under the ocean... less. The day will come when we search the ocean off B.C. If you were looking for Chinese remains, you'd get results. Of course, it's a needle-in-the-haystack situation. There's a lot of coastline, a lot of water. But if you're not looking," and he points down, "you're not going to find proof."
The resolution to this mystery may well lie in one of several B.C. places today. The first is in the cabinet-filled Archeological Collection Room in Victoria's Royal B.C. Museum. It is presided over by its garrulous, 60 year-old curator, Grant Keddie, who acknowledges he has seen a dramatic shift in his field -- toward seeking connections between Pacific cultures, rather than trying to dismember diffusion theorists and their theories.
The more Keddie looks, the more he believes the proverbial "needle" will soon be found. He pulls out a bunch of old perforated Chinese coins dug in B.C. and dated by him to around 1100 A.D. But, he says, there's no proof these coins -- like the old Chinese pots found off Vancouver Island -- arrived here new. Traditionally, native people wore old coins as good luck charms. Keddie points out the 550 year-old "Ice Man" found frozen in a B.C. glacier in 1999 was carrying iron tools at a time iron smelting was well known in East Asia, and unknown in the Americas. So... where did the iron come from?
Keddie repeats B.C. native myths of people arriving long, long before the appearance of the first Europeans. These strangers purportedly ate "maggots." Could that be rice? He extracts from a drawer a six-centimetre-high figurine -- with a top-knot, and of apparent Asian origin -- found amid potsherds and slate beads in a native midden on Saturna Island. Could it be proof Asians got here; or merely a trade artefact?
Keddie says he'd like to get a piece of the wood fisherman Mike Tyne tossed overboard the day his crew found the Chinese pot off Pachena Bay. Carbon dating could determine the age of the shipwreck. "Discussion is afoot," Keddie acknowledges. "The paradigm is changing. Scientists are now looking for the evidence to establish China's role in history."
'If this pot could talk'
A second place to look would be in the old office of former director of the Vancouver Maritime Museum, James Delgado. As an archeologist and host of the long-running TV series Sea Hunter, he knows myths and isolated artefacts cannot alone make the case for Chinese mariners coming to the B.C. coast long ago. For that, you need a shipwreck. "If you take the accounts of the Chinese at face value, they did get here. The Fu Sang story says so. But there's been a tendency in the West to dismiss the influence of the East. We've pretty much discarded that view now. And that..." he says, pointing dramatically across his desk and downward toward the floor, "that fits our post-modern view. We're rejecting eurocentric world history and the idea of American uniqueness; and beginning to accept historic Asian ties to the Americas."
Delgado's fingertip aims at one of the two intact Chinese pots recently pulled from 1,200-metre-deep water off Tofino, the location of the latest purported Asian shipwreck. The half-metre high pot is covered with swirling, white tunicate worm casts atop its beer-brown glaze. Delgado studies the almost calligraphic casts as if trying to read an illegible script. "If we discover an Asian shipwreck off this coast," he adds, "it would be one of the most significant discoveries in North American archeology."
A third place to look is in the living room of Michelle Morelan's suburban Steveston home. She's the daughter of Mike Tyne. On the floor in the corner, covered in white worm casts, is the very Chinese pot her father hauled up off Pachena Bay years ago. Curiously, balanced atop the upright pot's mouth, is a large green-glass Japanese fishing float, identical to those that once inspired Heyerdahl. To hold this giant Chinese pot, to run one's fingers over the rough, raised worm casts is to sense the proximity of mystery. "If only the pot could talk," Morelan says.
Over a century ago, B.C. ethnologists recorded a story from the Loht'a people of Pachena Bay, describing a great flood that had swept away their village long before, and had submerged the summit of nearby 1,817 metre Mt. Arrowsmith. For 100 years, this tale was considered nothing more than a myth. Then a decade ago, a Japanese seismologist, analyzing records of local tsunamis, uncovered reports of a great wave that had inundated the Japanese coast on Jan. 27, 1700. But he could find no accounts -- despite a Russian presence in Alaska and a Spanish presence along most of the west coast of the Americas -- of a big earthquake. The only gap in reliable reporting at that time was the still-unconquered Pacific coast of Canada. Archeologists began digging along coastal B.C., and soon found that a 10-metre-high tsunami wave had swept into Pachena Bay that day and had obliterated the village there. The old Loht'a myth had its roots, it is now known, in British Columbia's last great earthquake.
It is widely believed today -- after a century of denial -- that evidence of ancient Asian travellers along this coast is out there somewhere, and that the remarkable Chinese myth of Fu Sang, and the gathering weight of local artefacts and native stories are pointing the way to a new understanding of the past. It shouldn't come as a surprise -- considering the likely direction of 21st century history -- that the metaphorical tsunami headed across the Pacific from China in the decades ahead may duplicate, in many ways, the cultural tsunami that swept the Pacific coast of the Americas millennia ago. Myths are history's pale ink. One Chinese shipwreck found, and history changes.
Menzies fanboy....overall for catalog.
I don't even want to think about it.
Great read! Thank you very much for posting it!
Thanks for posting. Fascinating.
Love the GGG list, love SunkenCiv's posts too. All that stuff. :)
Reality is stranger than fiction.
A very interesting read. Thanks for posting. As a young teen I read Thor Heyerdahls Kon-Tiki and was mesmerized by the adventure. At 17 I found myself in Oslo Norway on the second leg of an around the World trip. I made it a point to visit the Kon-Tiki Museum to see the actual Kon-Tiki. Quite an experience for a young man my age to see the actual craft I had read about in a book.
Casson writes that this arms race continued, eventually resulting in a "forty" -- 400 feet long, 50 wide, 70 high, manned by 4000 rowers, 400 deckhands, and 2850 marines. It never saw action.The Ancient MarinersAntigonus [the One-Eyed] wanted a fleet, not of triremes like the Athenian, but of the newer quadriremes and quinqeremes which, having proved their worth in the navy of Dionysius of Syracuse at the beginning of the century, were gradually making their way into eastern navies. Demetrius' ideas were even more grandiose: if quadriremes and quinqueremes, that is, "fours" and "fives," could be built, why not larger still? Under his watchful eye, in 315 BC, the Phoenician shipyards turned out some "sixes" and "sevens' for him. By 301 he had "eights," "nines," "tens," an "eleven," and even one great "thirteen". A dozen years later he added a "fifteen" and a "sixteen." ...when the Romans conquered Macedon in 168 they found the old ship there; it was no longer of any use in battle but they sailed it home, rowed it up the Tiber, and moored it at one of the city docks as a trophy. [pp 129-130]
by Lionel Casson
The Nale Tasih 2, a bamboo raft made with stone tools, on its epic 13-day journey from Timor to Australia, December 1998, travelling in 5-m waves.
Just how far did the Romans go? Is there a Roman ship off the Azores, as some say? Are there thousands of Phoenician and Roman amphora fragments on Salt Island in the Cape Verdes, as reported by the underwater salvor Robert Marx? Is the "Rio Wreck," at the bottom of Guanabara Bay near Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, a Roman ship that in ancient times was blown off course?
Twice a year London's Sunday Times phones me to ask if I know anything more about the Rio Wreck. The highly publicized amphoras Robert Marx found in the ship are in fact similar in shape to jars produced in kilns at Kouass, on the west coast of Morocco. The Rio jars look to be late versions of those jars, perhaps datable to the third century A.D. I have a large piece of one of the Rio jars, but no labs I have consulted have any clay similar in composition. So the edges of the earth for Rome, beyond India and Scotland and eastern Europe, remain shrouded in mystery.
Erectus ahoy: prehistoric seafaring floats into view
Science News, Oct 18, 2003 by Bruce Bower
Homo Erectus Crosses The Open Ocean
Wed, May 6, 2009
Briton to recreate first African circumnavigation
Mon 19 May 2008, 15:19 GMT
By Jeremy Lovell
Phoenicians Discovery Of America — More Evidence
Richard J. Karam, J.D.
Michel N. Laham, M.D.
On Mogador (Berber "Amegdul") a piece of pottery bearing the name of Mago, general of Carthage, was found along with Corinthian pottery of circa 7th c BC, well before the suggested date for the Periplus of Hanno (sorry, I don't think I have the source of that info).TarshishReferences to the ships of Tarshish and to a place of that name, in the Old Testament, beginning with the time of Solomon (10the century), to the time of the prophets of the 8th and 7th centuries, make me think that by this designation the Cretan navigators and Crete itself were meant. The Minoan civilization survived until the great catastrophes of the 8th century and it would be strange if it and its maritive activities remained unmentioned in the Old Testament. The usual explanation puts Tarshish in Spain, though other identifications are offered, like Tarsus, in Asia Minor. One of the old names for Knossos sounds like Tarshish. [see also "Tarshish" on p 252, and "Tharshish" near p 126, Ages in Chaos]
by Immanuel VelikovskyCaphtorThe island Caphtor is named in the Scriptures. The usual identification is Crete, because the Keftiu bringing presents (vases) to Egyptian pharaohs are thought to be Cretans. I prefer Cyprus as the biblical Caphtor and the Egyptian Keftiu. If Caphtor is not Cyprus, then the Old Testament completely omits reference to this large island close to the Syrian coast. The phonetics of the name also point to Cyprus. Separately I show that Tarshish was the name of Crete. It seems that the Philistines arrived in Palestine from Caphtor following the catastrophe that brought there the Israelites after their wandering in the Desert.
by Immanuel Velikovsky
The Voyage of Hanno
|GGG managers are SunkenCiv, StayAt HomeMother & Ernest_at_the_Beach|
Thanks Theoria and sauron. I regard Menzies as a one trick pony.
a comment so i can find this later...
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