So when were “the Americas” discovered?
Well, in the Colonial minded days we said “In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue” and discovered America…Europeans promptly settled the unpopulated lands…<pause for irony>…Okay, it started perhaps the largest dislocation/genocide in human history; that is another show.
Thanks to the persistence of the Scandinavians, the Saga’s of Leaf Ericson and some nifty archeology, we were able to push back that ‘discovery’ date to 1000 (ish) AD with the uncovered Viking settlements in the Maritimes.
With the benefit of science and paleo-genetics in particular, we think the first humans arrived in North America about 14 thousand years ago via the Bering Strait. There has been some debate about the number of invasions and the method or actual path they took, but it’s generally accepted…for now…that what we commonly refer to as “first nations” are these Asian immigrants.
Shifting gears for a second…
Did you hear that the US is reliving WW2 by sinking a Japanese ship on the west coast?
Apparently the ship (and assorted other materials) has been adrift since the great Tsunami last year and has only now made it to the North American West Coast. This event helped resurrect the debate amongst anthropologist and archeologist about the possibility of ‘discovery’ of America from historical Asia.
Due to the Japanese Current…the Pacific equivalent of the Gulf Stream, ‘garbage’ from Japan, China and area will travel to North America. This current provide the possibility of a “fast track” between Asia and North America. It has long been conjectured that the great Chinese civilization has at some point in the distant past traded with the people of west coast here. Whether China, Japan, Korean or other…I will from here on refer to them in the generic as East Asian.
Sadly there has been little physical evidence to support such claims but there has been a noticeable amount of cultural evidence. Now there have been a number of East Asian artifacts discovered off the west coast, however their age…well age of deposit…has been questioned. Some of the artifacts date back over a thousand years; though it is possible these objects made their way here via 19th century ships.
However there are some theories out there that imply cultural contamination between the East Asian civilizations and the American ones. First, some have asserted that linguistic elements of Japanese can be found in the Zuni people…that other cultures in Asia…notably the Ainu which have strong genetic links to the ‘first nations peoples’…the use mortuary poles…what we would call totem poles can be found in Asian cultures.
This secondary evidence has led people to think that the legend of Fu Sang…a 6th century Chinese legend could be true…in the same way that the legend of Troy turned out to be true…kinda. The story of Fu Sang tells the tale of a group of missionary monks who set forth to convert America…or the land on the other side of the Great Eastern Sea…to Buddhism. The monks describe what could be interpreted as features of America, including the tattooed people of the Aleuts, the great Western Rain Forest and mention of a “red, pear-shaped fruit”…i.e. a tomato.
Now, logic makes me think that it quite possible the East Asians came in drips and drabs to North America. There is no logical or technical reason…however such a trip would have been arduous in the extreme. Remember our wayward Japanese ship took over a year to reach our shores.
For adventurers to travel across the Pacific is possible in rare instances…there are issues of food and fresh water…but in limited numbers. It seems exceedingly unlikely a ‘colonizing’ force could have survived…at least in one trip.
The lack of ‘solid’ evidence…so far…makes me think that such adventures…such as the legend of Fu Sang could be true but rare…enough to create legends of strange men but not the genetic ‘anomaly’ in the local west coast population.
What I mean is, if enough ‘modern’ East Asians colonized the West Coast they would have interbred with the locals. Their genes would have been integrated into those of the coast and we should be able to see, in some populations in some ways, this foreign injection.
However in my study of genetic variations across the globe, there are no such Asian abnormalities in the indigenous genome (although to be fair, more intensive study may show otherwise but to date this is a dry hole).
The linguistic links are still ‘fringe” ideas and my own analysis makes such claims dubious. For example, one of the claims is the linguistic similarities between the Zuni people and Japanese. First, the Zuni live/lived in New Mexico…you would expect linguistic influence to be strongest along the coast and weaken as they move inward.
Also, the Zuni have a significantly different phoneme set than Japanese. Those words that some have claimed to be similar are not the classic benchmarks. For example Zuni for Clan is Kwe while in Japanese it is Kwai…and CLAN? The typical word-root links are more common words like mother, father, etc…So I think this weak at best.
That said, I did discover a more plausible linkage between Asia and America. Did you know that the Polynesians settled Hawaii around 550 ce and Easter Island sometime between 500 ce to 1200 ce. It seems impossible to think that they did not continue to land in South America…at least.
The distance from Japan to Vancouver Island is about 6500 km, however if you leap frog, like the Polynesians did, the distance from Easter Island to Chili is only about 3000 km. There is even supporting evidence more solid that what we have already discussed.
As it turns out in 2007, a chicken bone was found in Peru. So what you might say? Well, it was believed that chicken, NOT indigenous to the Americas, was introduced to our shores by the Spanish invaders in the 16th century. However, the 2007 bone dated to 1400 ce meaning that there must have been an alternate source of the fowl. Chickens are common in Polynesia.
There is also the presence of sweet potato in Polynesia. The great ramifications the potato had to Europeans when it was “discovered” in the “new world” is well known. The fact it existed in Polynesia since 1000 ce…as an evasive or imported species…depending on your view of agriculture…lends credibility that it is quite possible that “Asians” ‘discovered’ America long before even the Vikings…but that those Asians were not the great ‘civilizations’ of the time but the much forgotten Polynesians.
What I take away from this is really three things…as you may notice I like things in threes…First, it seems obvious that ‘other cultures’ be they Chinese, Romans or maybe Indians, ‘discovered’ America long before Europe did but such encounters were at best ‘unique’ events…akin to our landing on the moon. Second, it seems that the Polynesians may have been the first ‘non- indigenous’ colonist to the Americans…and third that our bias for “GRAND” extends even to non-Eurocentric history.
What I found funny was that IF Europeans did not discover America, those who did must be “equivalent” to us. That is, the quote “lowly and unsophisticated” Polynesians could not have done it. If anyone but US did it…well the Chinese seem acceptable. They are Euro-like…civilized…they have a royalty…central government…they are a, forgive the racism here…they are a ‘yellow version’ of Europe, therefore acceptable to be “like” us in discovering America.
It seems that lowly and very un-European (ignoring the colonization part) like Polynesians beat them all to our shores…excluding “first nations” who may not actually be the “First people” depending on your view of the origin of the Clovis people…but that’s another show.