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Pre-Columbian trans-oceanic contact

Pre-Columbian trans-oceanic contact describes alleged interactions between the indigenous peoples of the Americas and peoples of other continents – Africa, Asia, Europe, or Oceaniabefore 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 often controversial and hotly debated. Only one instance of such contact the Norse settlement at L'Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland, Canada c. A.D. 1000 is widely regarded as definitively proven.

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.

Bering Land Bridge

In the late 1500s, 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. 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

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.

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. Compared to the Atlantic and Pacific the Indian Ocean is a very easy one to travel on. The predictable monsoon winds allowed regular and reliable trade routes to be established.

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.

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

Norse interactions in the New World

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 for certain. The 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. It is possible, however, that South Americans brought it to the Pacific or that this plant or its seed-bearing parts simply floated across the Pacific without human contact ever occurring.

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". 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. A later article in the same journal has cast doubt on these findings.

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.

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; 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, 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. 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. 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". There may be records of expeditions from Bristol to find the "isle of Brazil" in 1480 and 1481. 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 disregarded it as myth.

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.

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.

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. Nothing beyond circumstantial evidence has been found to support Soren's claims.


Proposed claims for an African presence in Mesoamerica rest on attributes of the Olmec culture, the presence of an African plant species in the Americas, interpretations of certain Arabic sources, and European accounts of early sightings of black people in the New World.

The Olmec culture existed from roughly 1200 BCE to 400 BCE. The idea that the Olmecs are related to Africans was suggested by José Melgar, who discovered the first colossal head at Hueyapan (now Tres Zapotes) in 1862 and subsequently published two papers that attributed this head to a "Negro race". Authors such as Ivan van Sertima propose that these statues depict settlers or explorers from Africa. Some observers believe that the stone imagery carved on Olmec and Mayan stelae depicts interactions between Africans and Native Americans. Others point out epicanthal folds and the resemblance between the statues and Asians.

The presence of one African native plant species, the bottle gourd, in Mesoamerica has been cited as possible evidence of trans-oceanic contact. The bottle gourd could have also come to the Americas by floating, or possibly as a seed in the droppings of a bird.

Arabic sources describe what some consider to be visits to the New World by a Mali fleet in 1311. According to these sources, 400 ships from the Mali Empire discovered a land across the ocean to the West after being swept off course by ocean currents. Only one ship returned, and the captain reported the discovery of a western current to Prince Abubakari II; the off-course Mali fleet of 400 ships is said to have conducted both trade and warfare with the peoples of the western lands. Prince Abubakari II then abdicated his throne and set off to explore these western lands. In 1324, the Mali king Mansa Musa is said to have told the Arabic historian, Al-Umari that "his predecessors had launched two expeditions from West Africa to discover the limits of the Atlantic Ocean."

According to van Sertima, Christopher Columbus was told by natives of Hispaniola that black-skinned visitors had preceded the Europeans. Van Sertima further claims that Columbus acquired metal spearheads left behind by these black strangers and sent them to Spain, where they were found to be of a similar composition to metals forged in Guinea, West Africa. However, alloys of gold, silver, and copper had been made in South America for at least 1400 years before the arrival of Columbus. Van Sertima additionally claims that Spanish historian López de Gomara described certain peoples as identical to Africans seen in Guinea. Although an associate of Hernan Cortes, López de Gomara never traveled to the Americas, and his account of Cortes' exploits was criticized as a hagiography full of error and exaggeration.

The Dominican friar Gregorio Garcia, author of early speculative works on Native Americans, reported on "black-skinned people" sighted in present-day Colombia near where Cartagena now lies.

Early descriptions of Native Americans rarely referred to them as red. For instance, "a 1702 history of New Sweden, which did not describe Indians as red but as differing 'in their colour; in some places being black, and in others, brown or yellow,'" and "the earliest European explorers of the Southeast, the Spanish, described Indians as 'brown of skin'". This is both a possible explanation of 'blacks' seen by early European explorers and settlers and casts doubt about comments on 'red skin' necessarily referring to Native Americans.

Andalusians, Arabs, and Moors

Several medieval Arabic sources can be taken to suggest that explorers from the Al-Andalus (Islamic Iberia, comprising modern Spain and Portugal and Northwest Africa) may have travelled on expeditions across the Atlantic Ocean to the Americas between the 9th and 14th centuries. The earliest of these may have been the navigator Khashkhash Ibn Saeed Ibn Aswad, from Cordoba, who is claimed to have sailed from Delba (Palos) in 889, crossed the Atlantic, and returned with fabulous treasures. Another navigator, Ibn Farrukh, from Granada, is alleged to have sailed across the Atlantic in February 999, landed in the Canary islands where he visited the Guanche King Guanariga, continued westward where he saw and named two islands, Capraria and Pluitana, and arrived back in the Al-Andalus in May 999.


The Fuegian peoples of Tierra del Fuego at the extreme tip of South America are said to appear physically, culturally and linguistically distinct from other Native Americans and some suggest that they may be mixed descendants of both relative newcomers from Asia, American Aborigines and indigenous Australians. Both Tehuelches and Selk'nams practiced body-painting rituals similar to those of Indigenous Australians. Unlike most other Amerindian peoples the inhabitants of Patagonia were claimed to be significantly taller than most Europeans (see: Patagon myth).


The legend of Saint Brendan, an Irish monk, involves a fantastical journey into the Atlantic ocean in search of Paradise in the 6th century. Since the discovery of the New World, some have tried to link the Brendan myth with an early discovery of America.

Barry Fell claims that Ogham writing has been found carved into stones in the Virginias, but grave doubts about these claims have been raised and none of these finds have ever been confirmed by credible linguists, epigraphers, or archaeologists.


A group of Chinese Buddhist missionaries led by Hui Shen prior to 500 C.E. claimed to have visited a location called Fusang, which some think may have been part of the Americas, although it is more likely a reference to eastern Japan.

A fresco at the 5th Century Sri Lankan rock-fortress of Sigiriya shows a woman holding a five-petalled flower similar to Frangipani (plumeria), which originated in the American tropics. The Hindi for plumeria acuminata, which originated in Mexico, means 'the Rose of China'. Chinese travellers, the most notable of whom was the pilgrim Fa Hien (Faxian), had extensive contacts with Sri Lanka. It was possibly they who introduced the plant to Sri Lanka; they were recorded as having introduced frangipani to Ternate and Amboyna.

In his book 1421: The Year China Discovered the World the British author Gavin Menzies made the controversial claim that the fleet of Zheng He arrived in America in 1421. Menzies' assertions have been found to be unconvincing by professional historians. Menzies sees stylistic similarities between the decorative motifs of ancient China and those of the ancient Maya, and the high value that both placed on jade. The hypothesis has led to proposals of other Chinese-American contacts, e.g. by off-course Ming Dynasty ships. Also, an earlier Chinese trip is claimed to be documented in the Sung Document.

Egyptians and Mesopotamians

The apparent similarity between the Egyptian pyramids and the temples of some New World civilizations such as the Mayas, Aztecs, and Incas has fueled speculations that either the Egyptians had traveled to the Americas, or that civilizations on both sides of the ocean had sprung from a common source (such as the mythical lost continent of Atlantis). Sometimes the comparison was made between the pyramids of the New World and the ziggurats of Mesopotamia to imply contact with the Sumerians or other people of the region. However, the typical American pyramid was built as a platform for a temple, and was periodically enlarged with new layers; the design apparently evolved from an artificial earth mound, which was later covered with plaster and stone. In contrast, the Egyptian pyramid was just a tomb for one pharaoh and his immediate family, with no temple proper; it was never enlarged after its completion; and its design evolved from smaller stone tomb structures. Old Kingdom Egyptian pyramids such as the great pyramid of Cheops/Khufu were built using precisely hewn limestone or granite blocks whereas Mesoamerican pyramid-temples had a brick structure and outer appearance, but used a much less sophisticated "rubble-fill" construction for the mass of the building, in order to facilitate the enlargenings. Many other cultures which engaged in monumental building projects used pyramidical forms, and while this may be seen to imply common inspiration, logic suggests that it is arguably the simplest, easiest and most natural form for such a building to take; it is generally accepted that their development was entirely separate.

Other claims of contacts between the New World and Egypt are based on reports that chemical tests run on various Egyptian mummies found traces of plant products native to the Americas, such as tobacco and coca, which some have proposed were brought to Egypt by Carthaginian merchants. Whether this provides a proven link between the New World and Ancient Egypt is still under discussion.


Túpac Inca Yupanqui, the tenth Inca emperor, is said to have led an expedition lasting between nine months to a year into the Pacific Ocean around 1480, which discovered two islands. It has been suggested that the islands he visited are the Galapagos, or possibly Polynesian islands. The story says that he brought back gold, brass and the skin and jaw of a horse, none of which would have been found on islands in the south Pacific.


An image in a temple in southern India depicts a goddess holding what is claimed by some to be maize, a crop native to the Americas; the image is usually taken to be a native grass like sorghum or pearl millet, which bear some resemblance to maize, or a mythical fruit bearing pearls known in Sanskrit as "Muktaphala". There is also a purported reference to some civilization that may resemble the Mayan civilization in the Indian epic Mahabharata . 'Mayudu' (a king known for his architectural skills) is asked by the Pandavas to build a palace for them. However, the similarity is likely simple coincidence.


Claims have been made that King Solomon may have sent expeditions to America in search of gold and other resources based on references to Ophir, a land of gold mines, and Tarshish, a land famous for mineral wealth. It is unclear which lands either of these might have been, and some theorize that one of them or both might have been in America. The dubious Bat Creek inscription and Los Lunas Decalogue Stone have led some to suggest the possibility that Jewish seafarers may have come to America after fleeing the Roman Empire at the time of the Jewish Revolt. This would have been many centuries after the time of Solomon.


Pottery associated with the Valdivia culture of coastal Ecuador dated to 3000–1500 BCE was said by Smithsonian archaeologist Betty Meggers to exhibit similarities to pottery produced during the Jomon period in Japan. Chronological and other problems have led most archaeologists to dismiss this. The suggestion has been made that the resemblances (which are not complete) are simply due to the limited number of designs possible when incising clay.

Alaskan anthropologist Nancy Yaw Davis claims that the Zuni people of New Mexico exhibit linguistic and cultural similarities to the Japanese. The Zuni language is a linguistic isolate, and Davis contends that the culture appears to differ from that of the surrounding natives in terms of blood type, endemic disease and religion. Davis speculates that Buddhist priests or restless peasants from Japan may have crossed the Pacific in the 13th century, traveled to the American Southwest, and influenced Zuni society.

Mormon teachings

The Book of Mormon mentions three groups that it claims travelled from the Old World to the New. According to Mormon belief, the first group left from the Tower of Babel and eventually sailed to the Americas (see Jaredites); the second and third groups consisted of Israelites that migrated from the Middle East to ancient America around 600 BCE (see Lehites and Mulekites). Others have speculated that one of the lost tribes of Israel may have ended up in America.

According to some Mormon archaeologists, some evidence exists for Book of Mormon accounts of trans-oceanic migration. However, the majority of archaeologists do not accept this.

Native Americans

According to Bartolomé de las Casas, two dead bodies that looked like those of Indians were found on the Portuguese Flores Island in the Azores. He said he found that fact in Columbus' notes, and it was one of the reasons why Columbus assumed that India was on the other side of the ocean.

In Ferdinand Columbus' biography of his father Christopher, he says that in 1477 his father saw in Galway, Ireland two dead bodies which had washed ashore in their boat. The bodies and boat were of exotic experience, and have been suggested to have been Inuit who had drifted off course.

According to the Portuguese seafarer Antonio Galvão, "certain Indians" (certos Indios) were picked up at sea in 1153 and sent to Lübeck. Galvão said they were probably from Bacalao, a mythical island.

Pomponius Mela writes, and is copied by Pliny the Elder, that Quintus Caecilius Metellus Celer (died 59 BCE), proconsul in Gaul, received "several Indians" (Indi) who had been driven by a storm to the coasts of Germania as a present from a Germanic king:

It is unclear whether these castaways may have been people from India or Eastern Asia, or possibly American Indians. Edward Herbert Bunbury suggested that they were Finns. This account is open to question, since Metellus Celer died just after his consulship, before he ever got to Gaul.

Romans, Greeks, and Phoenicians

Evidence of contacts with the civilizations of Classical Antiquity chiefly the Roman Empire, but sometimes also with Greece, Carthage and other Phoenician cities, and other cultures of the age have been based on isolated alleged archaeological finds in American sites that originated in the Old World. The disputed Bat Creek Inscription is one example.

In 1933, in the Toluca Valley, 72 kilometres southwest of Mexico City, a small terracotta head, showing a beard and European-like features, was found in a burial offering under three intact floors of a pre-colonial building dated between 1476 and 1510. The artifact has been studied by Roman art authority Bernard Andreae, director emeritus of the German Institute of Archaeology in Rome, Italy, and Austrian anthropologist Robert von Heine-Geldern, both of whom stated that that the style of the artifact was compatible with small Roman sculpture of the 2nd century. In 1999, the head was dated by thermoluminescence to 870 BCE–1270 CE. While it is often dismissed as a deliberately planted hoax, perhaps intended as a joke, if genuine and if not placed there after 1492 the find provides evidence for at least a one-time contact between the Old and New Worlds.

In 1963, what appeared to be Roman coins were discovered in New Albany, Indiana, across from Louisville, Kentucky. All but two of the coins have vanished; the remaining ones appear to depict Roman Emperors Claudius Gothicus and Maximinus. More recently, what appear to be Roman coins from the same period have been found on the other side of the Ohio River. The coins were found buried in what might have been a disintegrated leather pouch. There is no evidence that these were buried/lost before 1492.

In 1982, Brazilian newspapers reported that fragments of amphorae had been recovered by treasure hunter and underwater archaeologist Robert F. Marx, from the bottom of Guanabara Bay, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Elizabeth Lyding Will of the University of Massachusetts identified the finds as being Roman, manufactured at Kouass (Dehar Jedid) in Morocco, and dated them to the 3rd century. A bottom survey by Harold E. Edgerton, an MIT researcher, located what Marx thought to be remains of two disintegrating ships. This potential find aggravated Brazilian and Spanish government officials as Spain was in the process of planning the 500th anniversary celebration of Columbus' arrival in the New World. These claims were also disputed when Américo (Amerigo) Santarelli, an Italian diver living in Rio de Janeiro, revealed in a book that he had 18 such amphors made by a local potter, and had placed 16 of them himself at various places in the bay. He said that he intended to recover the encrusted amphors later, to decorate his house at Angra dos Reis. It should be noted, however, that Marx claimed that the Brazilian government prevented any additional research and that the Brazilian Navy dumped sand over the site in the bay to ensure that no further artifacts would ever be recovered. The Navy denied this. Robert Marx, incidentally, was prohibited from working in Brazil due to his insistence on trying to locate the alleged Roman wrecks.

Claims of contact have often been based on occurrences of similar motifs in art and decoration, or on depictions in one World of species or objects that are thought to be characteristic of the other World. Famous examples include a Maya statuette depicting a bearded man rowing, a cross in bas-relief at the Temple of the Cross in Palenque, or a pineapple in a mosaic on the wall of a house at Pompeii. Nevertheless, most of these finds can be explained as the result of mis-interpretation. The Palenque "cross", for instance, is almost certainly a stylized maize plant; and the Pompeii "pineapple" is more likely to be a pine cone.

Some contact claimants note that the Aztec word for "god", teotl, is similar to Greek theos and Latin deus. Linguists generally ascribe such similar words to coincidence and identify them as false cognates, a common linguistic fallacy.

The established presence of Romans and probably Phoenicians in the Canary Islands has led some researchers to suggest that the islands may have been used as a stepping-off point for such journeys, as the islands lie along the same favorable sea route undertaken by Columbus on his first voyages to the Americas.


According to British legend, Madoc was a prince from Wales who explored the Americas as early as 1170. While most scholars consider this legend to be untrue, it was used as justification for British claims to the Americas, based on the notion of a Briton arriving before other European nationalities. A memorial tablet erected at Fort Morgan in Mobile Bay, Alabama reads: "In memory of Prince Madog, a Welsh explorer, who landed on the shores of Mobile Bay in 1170 and left behind, with the Indians, the Welsh language."



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  • Gary A. Rendsburg, "'Someone Will Succeed in Deciphering Minoan': Minoan Linear A as a West Semitic Dialect," Biblical Archaeologist, 59:1 (1996), pp. 36-43, esp. p. 40.
  • Seaver, K.A.(1995) The Frozen Echo: Greenland and the Exploration of North America ca A.D. 1000-1500 Stanford University Press ISBN 0 8047 3161 6
  • Simon, Soltan A. Atlantis: The Seven Seals (Vancouver, 1984);
  • Smith, Michael E. " The 'Roman Figurine' Supposedly Excavated at Calixtlahuaca", accessed December 2007.
  • Sorenson, John L. and Johannessen, Carl L. (2006) "Biological Evidence for Pre-Columbian Transoceanic Voyages." In: Contact and Exchange in the Ancient World. Ed. Victor H. Mair. University of Hawai'i Press. Pp. 238-297. ISBN-13: ISBN 978-0-8248-2884-4; ISBN-10: ISBN 0-8248-2884-4
  • Sorenson, John L.; Raish, Martin H. (1996) Pre-Columbian Contact with the Americas Across the Oceans: An Annotated Bibliography. 2v. 2d ed., rev., Provo, Utah: Research Press, ISBN 0-934893-21-7.
  • Stirling, Matthew (1967) "Early History of the Olmec Problem", in Dumbarton Oaks Conference on the Olmec, E. Benson, ed., Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, D.C.
  • Storey, Alice A.;Ramırez, Jose Miguel; Quiroz, Daniel; Burley, David V.; Addison, David J.; Walter, Richard; Anderson, Atholl J.; Hunt, Terry L.; Athens, J. Stephen; Huynen, Leon; Matisoo-Smith, Elizabeth A. (2007) "Radiocarbon and DNA evidence for a pre-Columbian introduction of Polynesian chickens to Chile", in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, June 19, 2007, v. 104, n. 25, pp. 10335–10339.
  • Van Sertima, Ivan (1976). They Came Before Columbus. Random House. ISBN 0-394-40245-6.
  • Von Wuthenau, Alexander (1975). Unexpected Faces in Ancient America: The Historical Testimony of Pre-Columbian Artists. Crown Publishers. ISBN 0-517-51657-8.
  • Wauchope, Robert (1962) Lost Tribes & Sunken Continents. University of Chicago Press.
  • Williams, Stephen (1991) "Fantastic Archaeology: The Wild Side of North American Prehistory", Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, ISBN 0-8122-8238-8/0-8122-1312-2.
  • Man across the sea: Problems of Pre-Columbian contacts (Austin and London: University of Texas Press, 1971).
  • Brazilian newspaper O Globo, September 23, 1982.
  • Article on Robert Marx in the online agazine Naufrágios (in Portuguese).
  • Report of Severin's trip in the National Geographic Magazine, Volume 152, Number 6 (December 1977).

See also

External links

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