Who Really Discovered America if It Wasn’t Columbus?

There would not be any argument on the topic of the discovery of America; many Americans and most archaeologists would agree that Christopher Columbus was the hero. For generations, that was what the history books said, but ancient evidence proved them wrong. There are a few theories that vindicate the discovery of America. That being said, each theory belies controversy and myth.

 There are many different opinions about who discovered America, which are still being investigated today by archeologists, nautical archeologists and oceanographers who studied the ocean, the currents and evidence found indicating who may have discovered America. Columbus should be credited for the discovery of the “economic exploitation of the economic markets in Europe” and historians credit him with the discovery of America.

There are many possibilities about who discovered America.  China in 1421 AD, Wales in 1150AD and Polynesia in 1000AD, Scandinavia in 1000AD, but before Polynesia, the Irish in 530AD, Israel in 600 BC were all thought to have discovered America.  They all have ships, navigators and the ability to sail the long voyages to America.  All have left evidence to indicate that they each made it to America, with the exception of the Irish. 

A portrait of Columbus
A well known rhyme goes like this: “In fourteen hundred and ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” However, Columbus may not have been the first to visit.

Did the Chinese Discover America?

This theory is proposed by a small group of scholars and amateur historians, led by Gavin Menzies, who is a retired submarine commander. Menzies claimed that Zheng He, a Muslim-Chinese eunuch-mariner from the Ming Dynasty, discovered America- 71 years before Columbus. 

At the time, China, the Ming-Dynasty, was an emerging superpower with a strong armada. At the beginning of the Ming-Dynasty, China had reached the peak of naval technology that was unsurpassed by the world. With advances in navigation, naval architecture, and propulsion, China was the preeminent maritime power in the region for centuries. The Chinese had taken their magnetic compasses aboard ships to use for navigation since the ninth century (two centuries before Europe). Zheng He was a Chinese mariner, explorer, diplomat, fleet admiral, and court eunuch during China’s early Ming dynasty who helped extend the maritime and commercial influence of China throughout the regions bordering the Indian Ocean. Zheng He’s first voyage was commanded by the emperor, who asked Zheng to become the commander of what it called the “Western Oceans”. Though Zheng had traveled through the South China Sea, Indian Ocean, Arabian Sea, Red Sea, and along the east coast of Africa, most historians would agree that its sole purpose was to flatter the emperor’s vanity. 

What Is The Evidence that Shows Chinese Discovery?

Nevertheless, these missions perhaps shed light on the discovery of America. Gavin Menzies examined the evidence behind his speculation, and accumulated historical accounts and archaeology information together. He claimed his theory was based on a recently discovered map dating back to 1418, depicting the Americas and even including names of specific Peruvian towns. The map was found in a second-hand bookshop by attorney Liu Gang in Beijing. 

a map that Gavin Menzies discovered
It’s a dual-hemisphere map, which is a uniquely European cartographic tradition. California is depicted as an island, taken directly from 17th-century European maps. China is in the centre of the map, as it was in early Jesuit world maps printed in China. It’s based on a scribbled copy of a Jesuit world map.

“The document,” Menzies said, “is an 18th century copy of Admiral Zheng He’s 1417 map.” Menzies argued that the map clearly showed North American rivers, the continent of South America, and the coastline. Though Zheng’s voyage to the New World wasn’t new, the map is. The discovery of the map was unforeseen as the Chinese court burned all records of Zheng’s voyages and achievements, creating a mystery that tantalized historians such as Menzies 500 years later. 

Mr. Liu, the attorney who discovered the map, brought the map forward for further authentication by an appraiser from Christie’s Auctions: it said that the map was not spurious or “newly-made”. In addition, Menzies also had his team analyze every detail on the map, which was also proven to be authentic. He concluded that only China had the resources to create such maps, build sea worthy ships and undertake an exploration of that scope. 

Could Zheng He, one of the greatest voyagers, explore his way to America’s shore decades before Columbus? Well, some certainly do not think so. First, people questioned Menzies’s scholarship, who was only an “amateur” compared to other historians. Second, many of his claims were “written without proof” says historian Robert. Finally, some discredited the genuiency of the map: Simon Jenkins, a British author and editor, wrote in one of his articles “…Why diminish them by faking a circumnavigation? Besides, since the map is a copy, there is no way of verifying any original.”

The theory does not end here. In 1974, Bob Meistrell and Wayne Baldwin found thirty unusual shaped stones  scattered across the sea floor off the Palo Verdes coastline in 1974. After examination, it was found that these were actually anchors from a 3000-year-old Chinese wreck.  The story was met with great interest as it implied that the New World was discovered by the Orient and not by Europeans. In particular, this bolstered Menzie’s theory of Zheng He’s discovery of America. 

to present anchors that were found near the coastline
The stones that were discovered near the coastline.

Some people are sceptical about the idea that the Chinese discovered America, but after all, some theories are more credible than others. We know for certain that Vikings visited America centuries before Columbus, and there is also (disputed) evidence that Polynesian explorers visited the continent before Columbus. Nomadic Asian tribes were the first to discover America over 15,000 years ago- xxx years before Columbus.

Could it be the Norsemen?

Columbus may have made America known to the Europeans who eventually conquered it, but he did not discover it. Erik the Red’s son, Leif Erikson, was a Norse explorer and Viking from Iceland. To add on, Greenland’s first Norse settlement was also founded by Erik the Red. Obviously, the adventurous blood ran through their veins, as Leif went on to travel much further: to America.

a picture of Leif Erikson as a statue
Leif Erikson is believed to have discovered North America in the year of 1000AD, which is almost 500 years before Columbus. In 1964, president Lydon B.Johnson designated October 9 as a day to honor the explorer.

What Is The Evidence?

Leif and his crew traveled from Greenland to Norway in 999 AD. Not long after that, he sailed for the Atlantic. According to the Sagas of Icelanders, In about 1000, Leif was blown off course on his way back to Greenland and landed on the North American continent, where he discovered forests with excellent building timber and grapes, prompting him to name the new region Vinland (“Land of Wine”)- what is now called Newfoundland in Canada.  Suprised but not suprised perhaps, the first Viking site was found on the northern tip of Newfoundland. Well, at least it was clear from the features that Vikings had visited North America centuries before Columbus.

The second Viking settlement was found in America. Things became more clear: not only have Vikings visited America, they also colonized part of it – or atleast attempted to do. “The sagas suggest a short period of activity and a very brief and failed colonization attempt,” says Douglas Bolender, an archaeologist specializing in Norse settlements.  

Another indirect evidence that suggests the Vikings (Leif and his crew) may have reached America was the failed colonization of Leif’s brother, Thorvald Eiriksson. Icelandic sagas claim that in 1004, Thorvald Eiriksson and his crew of thirty people attempted to attack the local population, but Eiriksson was instead killed by an arrow. Furthermore, the sagas mention a peace treaty between the indigenous peoples and the Norsemen, implying that Norsemen may have already arrived long before Colmbus. 

Another interesting piece of evidence that supports this theory was the recent discovery of toothfillings by researchers. Researchers believe the Vikings picked up the practice of teeth filling from another culture as no European culture had ever done it: It was only in America that such a practice was used.

to show the teeth filling practice in South America
Teeth filling practice in South America

As predicted, there are always skeptics of a theory. Some, such as Prof Clark and Miss Brown, believe that  “There is not one single scientific evidence that Vikings were in America.”  Furthermore, according to the sagas, the book Voyages to Vinland, Leif was not the first European to travel to America: Leif had heard of merchant Bjarni Herjólfsson, who claimed to have sighted land to the west of Greenland, which then prompted him to visit. 

Hold up… What About Polynesians?

Before you have fully changed your mind and settled that vikings discovered America, new DNA evidence revealed that it was not Columbus nor the Norse (Erik Eiriksson)- it was not any Europeans at all; it was actually the Polynesians. All modern Polynesians can be traced back to the sea migrating Austronesian, who were the first humans to discover and populate most of the Pacific islands, including lands as far-reaching as Hawaii, New Zealand and Easter Island.

What Is The Evidence?

Clues about the migration pattern of Polynesians can be found in sweet potatoes. The origin of sweet potatoes in Polynesia remains a mystery: Sweet potatoes were first domesticated in the Andes of South America about 800 years ago, and it couldn’t have spread to other parts of the world until contact was made. In other words, if Europeans were the first to contact the Americas between 500 and 1,000 years ago, the sweet potato should not have been discovered anywhere else until then. 

showing a picture of sweet potatoes so readers can make connection to the sweet potatoes I am referring to
Sweet potatoes originated in Central and South America. But archaeologists have found prehistoric remnants of sweet potato in Polynesia from about A.D.

The DNA study looked at genetic samples taken from modern sweet potatoes from around the world and historical specimens kept in herbarium collections. Sweet potatoes in Polynesia were discovered to be part of a distinct lineage that was already present in the region when European explorers introduced different lines elsewhere. Sweet potatoes, in other words, made it out of America before European contact. Furthermore, when combined with archaeological and linguistic evidence regarding the timeline of Polynesian expansion, an original contact date between Polynesia and America between 500 and 700 CE appears likely. Polynesians would have arrived in South America before the Norse arrived in Newfoundland.

Another finding shown to be “true” is that the Polynesians indeed came before the “Columbus discovery”. Chicken bones were recently unearthed on the coast of Chile. These chicken bones resembled the DNA of a fowl species native to Polynesia. In other words, Polynesians made contact with the west coast of South America as much as a century before any Spanish conquistadors. “Chickens could not have gotten to South America on their own—they had to be taken by humans,” said anthropologist Lisa Matisoo-Smith from the University of Auckland, New Zealand. 

In addition to DNA study and archeological records, there is also linguistic and technical evidence which may also yield clues. The Chumash Indian homeland is located on the Northern Channel Islands and along the California coast between Malibu and Paso Robles. The first evidence is the similarities between the naming of Chumash’s canoe with the traditional Polynesians’. The Chumash word for “sewn-plank canoe” is called tomolo’o, while the Hawaiian word for “useful tree” is kumulaa’au. An interesting fact is that the Polynesians colonized Hawaii during the first millennium AD, and in the process, their language evolved into the Hawaiian language. For instance, for the Hawaiian word “kumulaa’au”, it is a combination of the Polynesian words “tumu” (tree) and “ra’akau” (wood). Linguistic specialists say this is just a difference in pronunciation, and that its the same word. This means that the Polynesians would have traveled all the way to Santa Barbara to share this information. 

Furthermore, the Polynesians were claimed to be the best navigators and sailors. They also had ships that were efficient and clearly served them well as they had travelled around the Pacific. In order to make it all the way to America, having a good ship and navigators are crucial to making the journey. It was said that it would take around 300 days or 4000 miles to travel to America. Without those assets, it would be near impossible to arrive at this destination. 

The Polynesian's highly developed navigation system
Polynesian navigation of the Pacific Ocean and its settlement began thousands of years ago. The inhabitants of the Pacific islands had been voyaging across vast expanses of ocean water sailing in double canoes or outriggers using nothing more than their knowledge of the stars and observations of sea and wind patterns to guide them.

So Who really Discovered America?

In conclusion, there are many theories with evidence supporting the discovery of America. Personally, the Polynesians were the first to discover America, because all of the evidence is very logical and built upon stable facts, which, in my opinion, make it the only viable possibility. However, there is enough evidence to say that Columbus, in fact, was not the first person to discover America. Christopher Columbus may have been the first European to come across America, but he was not the first individual to discover it. Prehistoric Polynesians beat Europeans in the Americas. What do you think?

Leave a Reply