Who really discovered America? | Sunday Observer

Who really discovered America?

1 March, 2020
Was Columbus the first to arrive in America?
Was Columbus the first to arrive in America?

 If you ask a child who discovered America, he will at once say it was Christopher Columbus. However, historians and archaeologists are battling over the question whether Columbus was the first to arrive in America or the first person to hold a press conference about the discovery.

An important incident took place in 531 B.C. A sailing ship moved into the mouth of Paraiba River. In addition to the leader of the ship, there were 11 men and three women who wanted to sail home. But the leader ordered the ship’s scribe to record the following message on a stone and fix it on the river bank.

“We are Sidonian Canaanites from the city of the Merchant King. We were cast up on this distant island, a land of mountains. We sacrificed a youth to the celestial gods and goddesses in the 19th year of our mighty King Hiram and embarked from Ezion-geber into the Red Sea. We voyaged with ten ships and were at sea together for two years around Africa. Then we were separated by the hand of Baal and were no longer with our companions. So we have come here, 12 men and three women, into ‘Island of Iron.’ Am I, the admiral, a man who would flee? Nay! May the celestial gods and goddesses favour us well!”

Stone inscription

The incident took place 2023 years before Columbus set foot in America. The stone inscription was found 100 years ago, and a copy of the text was sent to the Historical Institute of Brazil. The institute sent it to the greatest Semitic authority at that time, known as Ernest Renan who called it a fake. However, later it was found that he had misunderstood the text completely.

In 1967, Cyrus Gordon, head of the Department of Mediterranean Studies at Brandeis University in his book ‘Before Columbus’ said he was able to decipher the message found on the stone slab. According to him, the ‘hand of Baal’ is a Semitic phrase meaning ‘fate or divine will.’ The reference to Brazil as ‘Island of Iron’ indicates a prior knowledge of the country’s natural assets.

The stone was the oldest evidence found so far to prove that there had been sea lanes between the Old World and the New World. An incense burner depicting the head of a man with a beard has been identified as Semitic. Among the other findings in Central America there were sculpted heads of Negroes. They are considered to be evidence of traffic between Africa and the New World.

Japanese pottery

Meanwhile, archaeologists have found 5,000-year-old Japanese pottery in Ecuador. There is also a story of a Buddhist monk who had travelled from China to a land 20,000 miles to the east. The story describes many customs in Mexico and Central America, particularly those of the Maya tribe.

A map drawn by Turkish admiral Piri Reis in 1513 depicts the north coastline of Antarctica and the east coastline of South America. In addition, there is evidence that the Greeks and Romans had sailed to America long before Columbus. In 1961, a sculptured head of a Roman was discovered in Mexico. Processed iron dug from Virginia had a resemblance to Roman iron. Bronze cups dug from the iron remains had a similarity with cups from the ruins of Pompeii.

According to historians, many of us living today have a faulty image of ancient ships. Roman ships were ten times bigger than Columbus’s 100-ton ‘Santa Maria’ which carried about 600 passengers. Even the Chinese ships moving between Canton and India were capable of crossing the Atlantic or the Pacific. The Vikings, another sea-faring race, established themselves in Iceland in 874. Eirik Thorvaldsson Rauda discovered an island and named it ‘Greenland.’ People who settled down in Greenland explored the continent of North America. In 1965, Yale University published a map of the medieval world which was genuinely pre-Columbian.

Epic voyage

Do all these findings mean that Christopher Columbus should be dumped on history’s junk heap? Archaeologists and historians do not think so for many valid reasons. Thor Heyerdahl says the discoveries made so far add stature to Columbus’s achievement. This is because Columbus prepared himself for the epic voyage. He studied historic maps, consulted sailors. According to Heyerdahl, Columbus’s discovery resulted from brainwork and meticulous planning.

The problem is that some scholars have been trying to nudge Columbus from his pedestal. They say he was not the first to discover America. Archaeologist Dean Snow says, “It’s an issue with no resolution. Some things are unknowable, and I can live with that.”

The theory that some 5,000-year-old pottery fragments found in Ecuador closely resembled those found on the Japanese island of Kyushu. However, there is no evidence of Japanese presence in Ecuador. Archaeologists suggest that pottery found in the New World preceded the arrival of Kyushu delegation.

Wondrous tree

The story Hui-Shen, a Buddhist monk, travelling to Mexico has been rejected. According to Hui-Shen’s chronicle, there had been a wondrous tree that had edible sprouts, reddish fruit and bark used to make cloth and paper. However, the century plant had no reddish fruit. And no Hui-Shen artifacts have been found in Mexico.

Despite various theories of pre-Columbus arrivals in the New World, he remains a unique figure. Nobody has been able to remove him from his pedestal. The renowned historian Cyrus Gordon puts the record straight when he says, “Columbus united the Eastern and Western hemispheres by letting the whole world know of his voyages. He was, so to speak, the first discoverer to hold a press conference. Even if others preceded him to the New World, it was Columbus’s well-publicized voyages that led to its settlement by Europeans.” Some historians point out a minor mistake made by Columbus when he landed in America in 1492. He thought that he had landed in the ‘Indies’ (islands in the Indian Ocean) now called Indonesia. As it happened, people from Asia – including the ‘Indians’ – had come to the American continent about 25,000 years ago.

As Mark Twain said, “The researches of many commentators have already thrown much darkness on this subject, and it is probable that if they continue, we shall soon know nothing at all about it.”

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