| Fiction over fact|
|How it didn't happen|
Pre-Columbian Contact relates to claims that people from outside the Americas visited the Americas before the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492. Conventionally, this excludes the arrival of early populations over the Bering Straits and the movements of aboriginal people around the Arctic, but includes ocean-going voyages by Asians, Africans, Europeans, and Oceanians.
At least one of these theories is now believed true, supported by archaeological evidence as well as written accounts. Others may conceivably be true but most are almost certainly made up, or at best are based on very hopeful misinterpretation of very vague old historical accounts.
Discoverers of the Americas
|Norsemen (Vikings)||Canada: Bjarni Herjólfsson, Leif Eriksson, Thorvald Eiriksson, Thorfinn Karlsefni, Freydís Eiríksdóttir, and Gudrid Thorbjarnardóttir||970 - 1050 CE based on carbon dating at L'Anse Aux Meadows and Von Bremen's The Deeds Of The Bishops Of Hamburg.||Greenland and Newfoundland, Canada; possibly Labrador and Baffin Island||Corroborating Inuit and Norse folktales: The Saga Of The Greenlanders and The Saga Of Erik The Red (Norse) is widely known, but also The Tale of Ungortok, Chief Of Katortok and Meeting The Ancient Kavdlunait (Inuit). Also see Adam of Bremen's The Deeds of the Bishops of Hamburg.||Smoking Gun: Ingstad found the ruins of a settlement in 1965 at L'Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland. It included a smithy, carpentry workshop, and possibly weaving looms. It could have housed 30-160 people. L'Anse Aux Meadows was recognised by UNESCO as one of its proclaimed World Heritage Sites in 1978.
Circumstantial: Patricia Sutherland's multiple Baffin Island/Tanfield Valley discoveries, most significantly whetstones that contained streaks of smelted iron (in 2012) and woven yarn (in 1999). There is further circumstantial evidence such as Deborah Sabo's discovery of a pre-Columbian Inuit carving on Baffin Island that depicts a European-like figure.
Possible: Point Rosee, discovered by Parsac (2016), is currently under some dispute (such as by Birgitta Wallace) over whether its evidence of bog iron is legitimate. The presence of mitochondrial Haplogroup C1 (a distinctly Native American haplogroup) in a small population of present-day Icelanders suggests but does not confirm precolumbian, transatlantic sexytimes.
Total Bullshit: The Stone Tower in Rhode Island, the Dighton Rock petroglyphs, and the Narragansett Runestone are bullshit. Also the Vinland map (a hoax map), as well as the idea that the lexicon of the Algonquian languages is substantially Old Norse in origin.
|It is an accepted fact that the Norse explored the American continent. What is under contention is to what extent and how long for.|
|Polynesians||Possibly c. 1000 CE||South America||An increasing number of historians, linguists and geneticists||The sweet potato seems to have arrived in the South Pacific islands before 1492; assertions that it floated across the Pacific have been disproven. The similarity of the words for sweet potato in Quechua (k'umara) and the hypothesized Proto-Polynesian (kumala) may be evidence of linguistic borrowing. There are claims about pre-Columbian chickens in South America, although more recent research makes that unlikely. Genomes of inhabitants of Rapa Nui may indicate contact with Native Americans, while Amazonian peoples have a degree of Austronesian (though not necessarily Polynesian) ancestry. More recently, genetic tests have revealed that contact did indeed happen between the southern Marquesas Islands and Colombia, and thereby indirectly between Rapa Nui and Colombia, though the direction of contact has not been firmly established.||Accepted since the genetic studies came out.|
|Portuguese||João Vaz Corte-Real and others||15th century||Newfoundland and/or Caribbean||A few historians||The Portuguese navigator Corte-Real was granted land on the Azores for his reported discovery of the 'land of the codfish' in 1472. Portuguese fishermen are known to have fished off the banks of Newfoundland in the 1490s.||Possible, but lacking evidence.|
|French||Jean Cousin||1488||Brazil||French tradition||Only stories. It is claimed that Cousin sailed to Brazil in 1488; one of his alleged crew members, Alonzo Pinzón, is said to have later sailed with Christopher Columbus and been able to show him the way across the Atlantic. There are claims that Binot Paulmier de Gonneville, who visited Brazil in 1504, found French traders already there.||Possible, but totally without evidence.|
|Chinese||Hui Shen||c. 5th century CE||The unidentified region of Fusang||Texts forming Classic of Mountains and Seas and other volumes of Chinese legend.||None||Unlikely (not least because the texts say he found horses, which by then were extinct in the Americas).|
|unspecified||pre-Incan (<1476 CE)||northwestern Peru||Francisco A. Loayza||Pseudoarchaeological comparisons of pottery, and pseudolinguistic comparison of Chinese with Peruvian toponyms and indigenous words.||Unlikely (see Zheng He below)|
|Zheng He||1421||Gavin Menzies in his book 1421: The Year China Discovered the World.||None, basically, although Menzies claimed the Piri Reis map is proof.||Most historians reckon Menzies was talking rubbish. See also 1421 Theory.|
|Malian||Abubakari II||14th century CE||Old stories, including African oral tradition and possibly 14th century Egyptian writer Al Omari; more recently Gaoussou Diawara and Khadidjah Djire have advanced the theory.||Supposedly ancient Olmec statues show African facial features. It is also posited that Central American natives used African religious symbolism and African linguistics.||Unlikely|
|Arab||Khashkhash Ibn Saeed Ibn Aswad||889 CE||Various stories exist: Old Chinese accounts of the Arabs refer to a mysterious land called Mulan Pi, which may or may not be connected but cannot be identified.||10th century Arab historian Al-Masudi, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.||The treasures which Ibn Aswad supposedly returned with have disappeared.||Unlikely|
|Paleolithic Europeans (Solutrean culture)||c. 20,000 BCE||Across pack ice in the north Atlantic to eastern Canada and USA||The Solutrean hypothesis proposed by Dennis Stanford, Bruce Bradley, and others.||Alleged similarity between Solutrean and Clovis spear points; there is also some genetic evidence.||Extremely unlikely; although some mainstream scientists do seem to believe it, it has largely been dismissed as a crackpot hypothesis.|
|Mandinka People of West Africa||Sultan of Mali||c. 1300s CE||Sailing across the Atlantic to Brazil||Claimed by Harold G. Lawrence||Unlikely|
|Phoenicians||Around 4th century BCE||Cyrus H. Gordon, a scholar of the near east.||Allegedly Phoenician maps show North America. Phoenician coins have been found in North America but are believed to have been hoaxes left in modern times.||Unlikely|
|Scots||Henry I Sinclair, Earl of Orkney||Late 14th century||Greenland and North America||Various vague stories||None||Unlikely|
|Irish||Saint Brendan||6th century||Supposedly sailed the Atlantic in search of paradise.||Legends||There are claims of Ogham (Celtic) writing in West Virginia which may be Welsh or Irish (but isn't). In 1976 Tim Severin successfully crossed the Atlantic in a replica boat, proving it might have been possible.||Very unlikely|
|Welsh||Madoc||12th century||Various sites across Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia, etc., including Devil's Backbone, near Louisville, Kentucky.||Vague stories which may have been spread by the British to enhance their territorial claims.||There are claims of Ogham (Celtic) writing in West Virginia which may be Welsh or Irish (but isn't); also the alleged presence of Welsh Indians.||Very unlikely|
|Semitic peoples||ca. 600 BCE||Various sites in the northern USA||No|
|Ancient Egyptians||2nd millennium BC||Meso-America or the Andes, presumably||Thor Heyerdahl||Heyerdahl built a raft out of papyrus and sailed with it from Morocco to Barbados. Apparently that's proof. Oh, also both ancient Egypt and ancient Mexico built pyramids, so there you go.||No|
The other way
It has been claimed that Egyptian mummies show traces of cocaine, which originated in South America. However, these theories are far more popular with the producers of wacky TV programs than with actual Egyptologists.
There are also suggestions of Inuit children or adults being brought back from North America or Greenland by Norsemen. This might have happened, although, as with most things on this page, there's no actual evidence.
American Indian historian Jack Forbes argued in The American Discovery of Europe that American Indians traveled to Europe in the 1st century.
The elephant in the room: The Columbian exchange
The reconnection of two continents which had virtually no contact with each other for more than 10,000 years changed the world's biology. Within a few centuries after Columbus's discovery, 90 per cent of all indigenous Americans had died of diseases previously unknown in the Americas, horses, cows, and sheep were all over the Americas, and potatoes, tomatoes, and maize had become hugely popular in Europe.
If there had been any intensive contact between the Old World and the New World before 1492, it would have been followed by a similar exchange of plants, animals, and diseases. The fact that it didn't happen is extremely strong evidence for the absence of any far-reaching outside influence on Pre-Columbian America.
If you think a piece of pottery in Mexico that looks faintly Roman proves Roman colonization of Mexico, you'd have to explain why the Romans only exported ceramics, and not measles, horses, and carrots.
- Stories About the Ancient Kavdlunait
- "Genetic relations of South American Indian languages". In Adelaar & Muysken, eds, The Languages of the Andes. Cambridge University Press, 2004. p. 41.
- Chicken DNA Challenges Theory That Polynesians Beat Europeans to Americas, Roff Smith, National Geographic, March 19, 2014
- Epic pre-Columbian voyage suggested by genes, Andrew Lawler, Science Magazine, Oct. 23, 2014
- South Americans may have traveled to Polynesia 800 years ago: DNA suggests people from the Americas had a role in the peopling of Pacific islands by Bruce Bower (July 8, 2020 at 11:00 am) Science News.
- Claiming the Azores – The Flemish Connection to Newfoundland Crossing the Ocean Sea.
- See the Wikipedia article on Jean Cousin (navigator).
- Fusang, Wikipedia
- Chinos Llegaron Antes de Colon by Francisco A. Loayza (1948)
- "Whole websites sprang up devoted to debunking his claims. Scholars called him a fantasist." — Gavin Menzies: mad as a snake - or a visionary?, Daily Telegraph, 1 Aug 2008
- Africa's 'greatest explorer', BBC, 13 December, 2000
- Voyages described in The Muslim Discovery of America, By Frederick William Dame, pp 59-60
- Muslims found Americas before Columbus says Turkey's Erdogan], BBC News
- See the Wikipedia article on Solutrean hypothesis.
- "Mandinga Voyages Across the Atlantic" by Harold G. Lawrence, Harold G. Lawrence 8(2): 202-247.
- "Many historians however, remain doubtful. 'If the Phoenicians got to England — which we think they did — I wouldn't be surprised if the boat could get to America physically. But whether they could have done it without running out of food is a different matter,' maritime historian Sam Willis said." Transatlantic crossing: Did Phoenicians beat Columbus by 2000 years?, Sheena McKenzie, CNN, 28 February 2013
- The Sinclair Voyage to America, Renaissance Magazine, 1999
- Did St. Brendan Reach North America 500 Years Before the Vikings?, Andrew Howley, National Geographic, May 16, 2013
- What's up with the "cocaine mummies"?, The Straight Dope, 26 January 2001