Pre-Columbian trans-oceanic contact

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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Pre-Columbian trans-oceanic contact describes alleged interactions between the indigenous peoples of the Americas and peoples of other continents – Africa, Asia, Europe, or Oceania – before the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492. Many such contacts have been proposed at various times, based on historical accounts, archaeological finds, and cultural comparisons.

However, claims of such contact are controversial and hotly debated. Only one instance of European contact – the Norse settlement at L'Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland, Canada c. A.D. 1000 – is widely regarded as demonstrated. Much older Asian contact is evidenced by the Dene-Yeniseian language family, which has branches in central Siberia and northwestern North America.Contents [hide]

1 Models of migration to the New World

1.1 Bering Land Bridge

1.2 Other models of migration to the New World

1.2.1 Pacific intercoastal migration

1.2.2 Solutrean hypothesis

2 Post-migration trans-oceanic contact

2.1 Historical long-range travel

2.2 Confirmed trans-oceanic contact

2.2.1 Thule people migration in the New World

2.2.2 Norse interactions in the New World

2.3 Possible trans-oceanic contact

2.3.1 Polynesians

2.3.2 Material evidence of possible contact

2.4 Fringe theories

2.4.1 15th century Europe

2.4.2 Africans

2.4.3 Andalusians, Arabs, and Moors

2.4.4 Australians

2.4.5 Irish

2.4.6 Chinese

2.4.7 Egyptians and Mesopotamians

2.4.8 Incas

2.4.9 Indians

2.4.10 Israelites

2.4.11 Japanese

2.4.12 Mormon teachings

2.4.13 Native Americans

2.4.14 Romans, Greeks, and Phoenicians

2.4.15 Welsh

3 Notes

4 References

5 See also

6 External links


Models of migration to the New World

Main article: Models of migration to the New World

A 2007 study suggests "that the initial founders of the Americas emerged from a single source ancestral population that evolved in isolation, likely in Beringia.... the isolation in Beringia might have lasted up to 15,000 years. Following this isolation, the initial founders of the Americas began to rapidly populate the New World from North to South America."[1]


Bering Land Bridge

In the late 16th century, the Jesuit scholar José de Acosta suggested that the peoples of the Americas arrived via a now-submerged land bridge from Asia as primitive hunters, later settling into sedentary communities and cities. In Notes on the State of Virginia (1781), Thomas Jefferson theorized that the ancestors of Native Americans crossed the Bering Strait from Asia, a viewpoint that came to prevail in the 20th century, as carbon dating and molecular genetics began to shed light on the origins of Native populations.

Between the 1950s and the 1980s, the Bering Land Bridge theory gained acceptance in the archaeological community.[2] Most archaeologists came to accept that the indigenous cultures of the Americas had been isolated from the Old World after the closing of the Bering land route and developed without any outside influences for the next 11,000 years until the time of Columbus.


Other models of migration to the New World

The standard single route migration model for the population of the Americas has been increasingly challenged in recent years by claimed discoveries of human artifacts dating between 15,000 and 50,000 years, a time period in which inland routes were blocked by massive ice sheets. Human remains from 9,000 years ago such as Kennewick Man have anatomical features that differ somewhat from those of modern indigenous populations. Finds such as these raise the possibility that the Bering Land Bridge may not have been the sole route of pre-Columbian migration to the Americas.


Pacific intercoastal migration

A growing body of recent evidence indicates that another potentially important migration route into the Americas existed along the Pacific shoreline. This theory does not suggest potentially hazardous open ocean crossings, but instead, gradual movement close to shore, possibly in pursuit of favorable fishing areas. From coastal areas, people could have migrated inland, bypassing the vast northern ice sheet. This theory may account for the appearance of human activity well within the Americas during the time when inland migration routes were blocked by ice sheets, as well as potential later migrations by Na-Dene and Eskimo-Aleut peoples. Unfortunately, many of the prime sites for study now lie beneath sea level on the continental shelf since sea levels were substantially lower during the ice age than they are today.


Solutrean hypothesis

Main article: Solutrean hypothesis

Proponents of the Solutrean hypothesis suggest that Upper Paleolithic settlers from Europe could have crossed the Atlantic along the ice sheets during the Last Glacial Maximum, bringing with them tool-making methods which may have influenced the Clovis tool complex. Paleoclimate models created by Professor Richard Peltier at the University of Toronto seem to indicate that at that time, the northern Atlantic Ocean froze every winter. Some researchers suggest that recent finds of spear points at Cactus Hill, Virginia dating to 15,000 years ago seem to indicate a transitional style between the Solutrean tool-making style and the later Clovis technology.

The presence of mitochondrial DNA Haplogroup X in the Native American gene pool might lend conditional support to such a hypothesis. However, research published in March 2008 argues that X entered the Americas along with other typical DNA markers. A team of researchers reported that "by using 86 complete mitochondrial genomes [it can be shown] that all Native American haplogroups, including haplogroup X, were part of a single founding population, thereby refuting multiple-migration models."[3]


Post-migration trans-oceanic contact

There is a variety of evidence that shows, or purports to show, contacts between the New and Old Worlds after the initial peopling of the New World. Mainstream scholarship is dubious about claims of pre-Columbian transoceanic voyaging, since apart from the Norse and perhaps the Polynesians, evidence to date has been circumstantial or nonexistent.


Historical long-range travel

Circumstantial evidence includes records of ocean voyages of comparable distance. Linguistic evidence has demonstrated that Madagascar, for example, was settled by Austronesian peoples from Indonesia. Their navigators were able to cross the Indian Ocean and large sections of the Pacific by the early 1st millennium. As the Indian Ocean's weather is dominated by predictable monsoon winds, regular and reliable trade routes were established as early as the Roman Period.

Centuries before Europeans arrived in the area Arab traders had conducted a trade that linked East Africa, the Middle East, India, and China. This trade has been well documented with written records and archaeological finds such as Chinese pottery in Zimbabwe.[4]

In modern times there have been attempts to retrace possible contact routes with reproductions of ancient boats. While these experiments have fueled wide conjecture, they indicate that such voyages were at least technically possible.

For more on modern efforts to reconstruct prehistoric trans-Pacific and trans-Atlantic travel, see Thor Heyerdahl.


Confirmed trans-oceanic contact


Thule people migration in the New World

The Thule culture spread eastward from the northeastern coast of Siberia,[citation needed] along the north coast of Alaska, through Canada's Arctic Archepelago, and finally to Greenland, starting in the 5th century,[citation needed] finally reaching Greenland by the 14th century. They replaced the Dorset culture in the Canadian Arctic. The Thule are believed to be the direct ancestors of the Canadian Inuit.


Norse interactions in the New World

Main article: Norse colonization of the Americas

Norse, or Viking, journeys to North America are supported by both historical and archaeological evidence. A Norse presence in Greenland apparently began in the late 10th century, and lasted until the early 15th century. In 1961, archaeologists Helge and Anne Ingstad uncovered the remains of a Norse settlement at the L'Anse aux Meadows archaeological site in Newfoundland, Canada. A connection is frequently drawn between L'Anse aux Meadows and the Vinland sagas. These are written versions of older oral histories that recount the temporary settlement of an area to the west of Greenland, called Vinland, led by a Norse explorer, Leif Erikson. It is possible that Vinland may have been Newfoundland.

Few sources describing contact between Native Americans and Norse settlers exist. Contact between the Thule people, ancestors of the modern Inuit, and Norse between the 12th or 13th centuries is known. The Norse Greenlanders called these incoming settlers "skraelings". Conflict between the Greenlanders and the "skraelings" is recorded in the Icelandic Annals. The Vinland sagas, recorded hundreds of years later, describe trade and conflict with Native peoples, who were also termed skraelings, but may have been an entirely different people. Archaeological evidence for contact in Greenland is limited, but seems to indicate that the Norse did not substantially affect indigenous adaptations, technologies, or cultures.


Possible trans-oceanic contact



Between 300 and 1200 CE, Polynesians in canoes spread throughout the Polynesian Triangle going at least as far as Easter Island, New Zealand and Hawaii, and perhaps on to the Americas. The kumara, which is native to the Americas, was widespread in Polynesia when Europeans first reached the Pacific. Kumara has been radiocarbon-dated in the Cook Islands to 1000 CE, and current thinking is that it was brought to central Polynesia circa 700 CE and spread across Polynesia from there, possibly by Polynesians who had traveled to South America and back.[5] It is possible, however, that South Americans brought it to the Pacific . The theory that the plant could spread by floating seeds across the ocean is not supported by evidence. Another point is that the sweet potato in Polynesia is the cultivated Ipomoea batatas, which is generally spread by vine cuttings, and not by seeds. [6]

A 2007 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of chicken bones at El Arenal near the Arauco Peninsula, Arauco Province, Chile claimed to provide "unequivocal evidence for a pre-European introduction of chickens to South America".[7] Chickens originated in southern Asia and the Araucana species of Chile was thought to have been brought by the Spaniards around 1500; however, the bones found in Chile were radiocarbon-dated to between 1304 and 1424, well before the documented arrival of the Spanish. DNA sequences taken were exact matches to those of chickens from the same period in American Samoa and Tonga, both over 5,000 miles (8,000 km) away from Chile. The genetic sequences were also similar to those found in Hawaii and Easter Island, the closest island at only 2,500 miles (4,000 km), and unlike any breed of European chicken.[8][9][10] A later article in the same journal has cast doubt on these findings.[11]

Recently, linguist Kathryn A. Klar of UC Berkeley and archaeologist Terry L. Jones of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo have proposed contacts between Polynesians and the Chumash and Gabrielino of southern California, between 500 and 700. Their chief evidence is the advanced sewn-plank canoe design, which is used throughout the Polynesian Islands, but is unknown in North America – except by those two tribes. Moreover, the Chumash word for "sewn-plank canoe," tomolo'o, may have been derived from kumulā'au, the Polynesian word for the redwood logs used in that construction.[citation needed]

Over the last 20 years, the dating and analysis of anatomical features of human remains found in Mexico and South America have led some archaeologists to propose that those regions were first populated by people who crossed the Pacific several millennia before the Ice Age migrations; according to this theory, these Pre-Siberian American Aborigines would have been either eliminated or absorbed by the Siberian immigrants. However, current archaeological evidence for human migration to and settlement of remote Oceania (i.e., the Pacific Ocean east of the Solomon Islands) is dated to no earlier than approximately 3,500 BP;[12] trans-Pacific contact with the Americas coinciding with or pre-dating the Beringia migrations of at least 11,500 BP is highly problematic, except for movement along intercoastal routes.


Material evidence of possible contact

A team of academics headed by the University of York's Mummy Research Group and BioArch,[13] while examining a Peruvian mummy at the Bolton Museum, found it had been embalmed using a tree resin. Before this it was thought that Peruvian mummies were naturally preserved. The resin was found to be that of an araucarian conifer related to the 'monkey puzzle tree', was from a variety found only in Oceania and probably New Guinea. "Radiocarbon dating of both the resin and body by the University of Oxford's radiocarbon laboratory confirmed they were essentially contemporary, and date to around AD 1200." (From the University of York Magazine, page 9, April/May 2008)

In 1995, archaeobotanist Hakon Hjelmqvist published an article in Svensk Botanisk Tidskrift presenting evidence for the presence of chili peppers, a New World crop, in Europe in the pre-Columbian era.[14] According to Hjelmqvist, archaeologists at a dig in St Botulf in Lund found a Capsicum frutescens in a layer from the 13th century. Hjelmqvist thought it came from Asia. Hjelmqvist also claims that Capsicum was described by the Greek Theophrastus (370–286 BCE) in his Historia Plantarum, and in other sources. Around the first century CE, the Roman poet Martialis (Martial) described "Piperve crudum" (raw pepper) in Liber XI, XVIII, but describes them as long and containing seeds, a description which seems to fit chili peppers.


Fringe theories

A number of scenarios of pre-Columbian trans-oceanic contact have been proposed without gaining acceptance in mainstream scholarship.


15th century Europe

Some have conjectured that Columbus was able to convince the Catholic Monarchs of Castile and Aragon to support his planned voyage only because they were aware of some recent earlier voyage across the Atlantic. Some suggest that Columbus himself visited Canada or Greenland before 1492, because according to Bartolomé de las Casas he wrote he had sailed 100 leagues past an island he called Thule in 1477. Whether he actually did this and what island he visited, if any, is uncertain. Columbus is thought to have visited Bristol in 1476.[citation needed] Bristol was also the port from which John Cabot sailed in 1497, crewed mostly by Bristol sailors. In a letter of late 1497 or early 1498 the English merchant John Day wrote to Columbus about Cabot's discoveries, saying that land found by Cabot was "discovered in the past by the men from Bristol who found 'Brasil' as your lordship knows".[15] There may be records of expeditions from Bristol to find the "isle of Brazil" in 1480 and 1481.[16] Trade between Bristol and Iceland is well documented from the mid 15th century.

Even in Columbus' time there was much speculation that other Europeans had made the trip in ancient or contemporary times; Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo y Valdés records several in his General y natural historia de las Indias of 1526, which includes biographical information on Columbus. He discusses the then-current story of a Spanish caravel that was swept off its course while on its way to England, and wound up in a foreign land populated by naked tribesmen. The crew gathered supplies and made its way back to Europe, but the trip took several months and the captain and most of the men died before reaching land. The ship's pilot, a man from somewhere in the Iberian peninsula (Oviedo says different versions have him as Portuguese, Basque, or Andalusian), and very few others finally made it to Portugal, but all were very ill. Columbus was a good friend of the pilot, and took him to be treated in his own house, and the pilot described the land they had seen and marked it on a map before dying. People in Oviedo's time knew this story in several versions, but Oviedo regarded it as myth.[17]

Douglas Owsley from the Smithsonian Institution says that he examined what are alleged to be the skeletal remains of Portuguese fisherman who reached Canada before Columbus reached the West Indies.[18]

In the first half of the 16th century, the Tupinambá people in the Rio de Janeiro region cut their hair in a monk-like fashion. According to Hans Staden, a sixteenth-century German sailor who was their prisoner for several years, they attributed the style to a European monk who had visited them some time before the Portuguese discovery of Brazil in 1500.[citation needed]

In 1925 Larsen Soren wrote a book claiming that a joint Danish-Portuguese expedition landed in Newfoundland or Labrador in 1473 and again in 1476. Soren claimed that Dietrich Pining and Hans Pothorst served as captains, while João Vaz Corte-Real and the semi-mythical John Scolvus served as as navigators.[19] Nothing beyond circumstantial evidence has been found to support Soren's claims.[20]



Several Olmec colossal heads have features that some diffusionists link to African contact.

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