Brief Notice: Gavin Menzies's New Claim of a Pre-Columbian Chinese Map of America
I’ve received a few emails about Gavin Menzies’s new book, Who Discovered America? (William Morrow, 2013), which claims new evidence that the Chinese discovered America in 40,000 BCE and again in 1417. (This revises down the date from Menzies’s 2002 bestseller 1421: The Year China Discovered America). I have not read the book and therefore can’t comment on all of Menzies’s claims. However, as reported in The Daily Mail, the primary evidence he offers is the following map, which he claims is an eighteenth century copy of a 1417 original, based on a scholar’s assertion that the language used dates from the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).
As you can see, there are a few issues that immediately call into question this claim. Notice that Baja California is shown as an island. Were Chinese navigators half as great as Menzies claims, they would not have made this error. The error, in fact, derives from a Spanish myth, that of the “Island of California” which existed west of the Indies. The earliest mention of this fictional island came in 1510 and was later applied to Baja. Despite Spanish reports that Baja California was a peninsula in the 1530s and 1540s, the myth of the “Island of California” was so strong that Spanish cartographers depicted it as an island into the 1600s. Therefore, the dating of the Chinese map’s text to before 1644 and the depiction of Baja California as an island, also from the 1500s and 1600s, all but confirms that this Chinese map is derived from a Spanish original, unless one wishes to believe that the Chinese were either terrible mapmakers or otherwise could not tell an island from a peninsula despite having surveyed the entirety of America, as Menzies claims.
Update: We do not need to resort to mere facts to criticize the map. As Caleb points out in the comments below, scholars who examined the map have declared it a fake, probably produced after the release of 1421 to support the book and Menzies. Of course, that could be the academic conspiracy at work!
As for his other claim, there were no ethnically Chinese people 40,000 years ago and therefore no way of declaring Native Americans the descendants of ancestral Chinese. Menzies seems to have misunderstood the idea that modern anthropology suggests that Native Americans descend from successive waves of migrants from Asia, some of which originated deeper in the continent than others at one time or another.
10/9/2013 05:19:14 am
The amazon.com synopsis mentions "an ancient Asian seagoing tradition—most notably the Chinese—that dates as far back as 130,000 years ago", evidently as "a revolutionary new alternative" to the Beringia-crossing theory. Doesn't sound like he misunderstood anything; he just made up a new Atlantis.
10/9/2013 05:48:11 am
I was generously assuming he was familiar with newer ideas that suppose that some migrants to the Americas came by boat, hugging the coasts. Apparently he just makes things up. No one in mainstream archaeology doubts that the first Americans crossed over from Asia, but I'd like to see Menzies prove that there were ethnic Chinese alive 40,000 or 130,000 years ago.
10/9/2013 06:49:39 am
I've always been interested in arrowheads and spear-points ever since I found a few arrowheads growing up in Michigan, along the Muskegon River. As a teen and young man, I read a lot (before the computer age!) about the mound-building culture, and later I studied the most recent developments concerning the Solutrean migration debate.
10/9/2013 08:15:17 am
I am note aware of any evidence proving the authenticity of the map. The map has been declared a fake by both Western and Chinese historians. It contains obvious errors and anachronism according to at least three historical scholars that have studied the map.
10/9/2013 08:21:08 am
Thanks for the link about the map. It shouldn't surprise me that Menzies is using fake material. Just looking at it, I could tell it wasn't medieval. Now I know it's a fake. I'll add the link to the post.
10/9/2013 02:41:47 pm
you can't have any traditions going back 130,000 years or whatever because we didn't even get writing together until around Sumerian times. Of course, generations of people who occasionally went to sea might add up to a seafaring tradition, but that's a tradition of practice not of knowledge.
10/9/2013 04:35:07 pm
You didn't at least go to the links provided by Caleb, did you? If you had, you would realize the map, is indeed, fake. That's part of the experience offered by this forum...you can look at the evidence provided by Jason or others, who have taken the time to find and link to it. From there, you can make your own determination.
Justina (Christine Erikson)
10/12/2013 03:00:07 am
I probably didn't but whatever proof (like examination of ink or paper)is there doesn't rule out that this was copied from an earlier map.
10/12/2013 02:48:59 am
One thing that I noticed immediately was the inclusion of the imagined circumpolar islands at the North Pole of the map. This was an error of 16th century European cartograpy, based on the Invetio Forturna, or perhaps the Itinerarium of Jacobus Cnoyen who supposedly included parts of the Inventio in his work.
Justina (Christine Erikson)
10/12/2013 03:02:03 am
But there are islands up there, Iceland, Greenland, the spatter of islands in the Baltic Sea and other stuff that may be gone now due to volcanic action and subsidence. Maps drawn from just sailing by aren't going to be as good as we have now, only maps of places that one uses for ports. Even so, the Mediteranean maps were not perfect, just good enough to get you there and you figure out the rest.
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