Parts 1 and 2 of this series covered how former Marquette educator Fred Rydholm came up with his theories as to the likely identity of the ancient copper miners and why I have been a disciple of this train of thought (a ‘Rydholmite’ if you will humor me here) since the early 1980s. Even before Fred passed away in 2009, I found myself reading more and more material about the peopling of the Americas hoping that someone would find the Rosetta Stone needed to help prove Fred’s theories. When I stumbled upon the work of retired Royale Navy navigator Gavin Menzies in 2010, I could feel the shudder of revulsion that he had caused in the “North American History began with Christopher Columbus” camp. One of my first thoughts was, “I hope Fred read this.”
The first bubble that Menzie set out to burst was the long held theory that the indigenous people living in North America at the time the Europeans arrived had migrated across the land bridge that connected Asia to North American at the end of the last ice age. The 2000 mile trek across a vast expanse of newly opened (read: barren) landscape would be difficult to do with today’s technology. The various indigenous groups scattered from the Arctic Circle in the north to the southern tip of South America could have crossed this newly opened landscape. They could have spread into the Americas in the ten to twenty thousand year window of opportunity that the retreating ice sheet and rising ocean levels provided. They just would not have been able to spread that far and multiply that fast with the land bridge as their only highway from the west. Menzies concluded that there had to be a migration and spread of people by water that began much earlier than the Bering Sea land bridge. To prove his theory, he looked at crops, domesticated animals, parasites, and DNA profiles around the world. What he found is hard to argue with.
Corn is a good starting place. Corn was developed in Mexico and Central America and by selectively breeding certain species of this grass, ancient people were able to produce larger seeds. These seeds were to become a staple of agriculture, but how does one explain the presence of corn in Europe before Columbus set sail? Corn does not swim and the seeds would not survive a long float on a salty sea. Corn would not sail to Europe on favorable winds. The only way for corn to migrate from its place of origin in the Americas to Europe is to have it carried there by people.
Asiatic chickens were in South America to greet the Conquistadors. Wild Mongolian horses ran wild in parts of Oregon into the 1940s and the horses used by the Nez Perce in the Pacific Northwest bear a strong resemblance to the “heavenly horses” from China. The Nez Perce horses were stocky, short-legged, had thick necks and large heads, were sure footed and known for their speed and endurance, just like the Chinese horses.
Peaches, Chinese roses, hibiscus, Monterey pines, and Torrey pines grow up and down the western coast of North America. They are all indigenous species from China and like the non-swimming, non-flying corn, could not have traveled to this continent without the intervention of people. Even the parasitic hookworm common now on both sides of the Pacific Ocean could not have traveled here with people across the land bridge. Part of the hookworm’s life cycle requires it to spend part of its life cycle in a warm climate and unfrozen soil to spread. It simply could not have survived a long trek across the northern routes and had to have been transported to the Americas by people traveling by water.
Once Menzies began looking at the DNA database, it became clear that there was a large Chinese presence in the Americas long before the Europeans arrived. In an area that extends from central Mexico to Ecuador (an area larger than Western Europe) 96.5% of the population have Asian DNA haplotypes. If one looks at the physical features of those same people, it is impossible to ignore the Asian influence. Side by side comparisons of art, astronomy, city planning, pyramid building, and architecture show that many of the indigenous cultures in this same area mirror their Chinese counterparts. The spread of culture from the west to the east is much easier to establish when the records of the invading Europeans are studied: the Europeans themselves noted the Asian similarities in these populations.
In his book 1421: The Year China Discovered America, Menzies summarizes data that shows the existence of extensive Chinese exploration. He continues this thread in his second book 1434: The Year a Magnificent Chinese Fleet Sailed to Italy and Ignited the Renaissance. His third volume The Lost Empire of Atlantis: History’s Greatest Mystery Revealed is the volume I believe Fred Rydholm would have found the most interesting as Menzies makes a case for the Minoan Culture of the Mediterranean Sea being the likely seafarers who traveled to North America in search of copper.
The examples cited above as evidence of pre-Columbian travel to the New World are all found in Menzies most recent book Who Discovered America? The Untold History of the Peopling of the Americas (2013). The few examples I have drawn upon in no way do his extensive research justice. Menzies and his associate Ian Hudson maintain an expansive web site at www.gavinmenzies.net. I would encourage anyone interested in a more detailed discussion on the topic to begin there.
The next obvious question would probably have to be, “How could the Chinese have explored the world with their massive treasure fleets and not leave a record of it?” The answer is found in the political changes that occurred in China in the mid-1400s. Up to that time, the Chinese had amassed huge volumes of their accumulated knowledge which they carried with them on their voyages of exploration. How better to show the world that they were a superior culture than to share their book of accumulated knowledge? Upheaval back home slammed the door on future explorations and they essentially closed their borders to foreigners. The incoming dynasty not only instituted a policy of strict isolationism, but they also burned the books of knowledge (and only recently have a few surviving copies come to light). Once these books were re-discovered, new evidence began to appear in many strange observations that had been made over many decades and then discarded as ‘impossible’. Wrecks of Chinese junks have been found on both coasts of North America as well as large anchor stones. When Menzies first began posting information on his web site, he was inundated with reports of other Chinese wrecks from coasts all over the world. Some of the drawings attributed to Italian inventor Leonardo Da Vinci bear a striking resemblance to machines pictured in the Chinese book of knowledge. In 1434, Menzies doesn’t suggest that Da Vinci copied his drawings directly from the Chinese, but rather he was influenced and inspired by them. He does suggest that the entire Renaissance may have been kickstarted by the Chinese visiting Europe prior to pulling back and closing their borders. Even the European voyages of exploration may have been aided by the Chinese.
The popular version of Ferdinand Magellan convincing his mutinous crew to press on through the body of water now called the Straits of Magellan has always been a perplexing one. How could he convince his crew that there was another ocean ahead of them and that it would eventually lead them home? It was easy because before he set sail, he had obtained a map from his Portuguese benefactors considered so valuable that sharing it with anyone else would have been a death sentence. Where could the Portuguese have obtained such a map? When Admiral Zheng He sailed into the Mediterranean Sea, he was navigating with a map dated 1418 that had been compiled from earlier Chinese voyages. The intrepid European captains who sailed into the unknown western oceans already had charts and maps of those regions in hand. They just weren’t about share this information with anyone else under penalty of death. The Chinese would have had to been sailing the world’s ocean for sometime to construct charts and maps bearing that much detail.
The bottom line here is pretty simple. Christopher Columbus and the Europeans who sailed in his wake were Johnny-come-latelys who only managed to rediscover the ‘New World’. The North American continent was already populated with magnificent cultures and cities when the Europeans arrived. The North Americans they encountered had already traveled the world and exchanged plants, animals, and their own DNA. I know that Fred Rydholm could be frustrated by those close-minded individuals who wouldn’t see the evidence he uncovered as proof that North America was visited frequently by many seafaring cultures long before Columbus set sail. Menzies shares some of these same frustrations and tends to poke fun at the people who find it easier to deny all evidence in favor of their tired old dogma.
I have no problem accepting that we live in an area that was explored and mined by people from half a world away. As I often tell my students, it will take a while for these lessons to become ‘History book’ material. In the meantime, you and I will know the truth: In the ancient days, long before European voyages of discovery commenced, Upper Michigan was to copper then as Menards is to lumber today. If you believe as I believe, then please feel free to call yourself a ‘Rydhomite’ also!
Top Piece Video: This will have to do for a song about British Naval things . . .