Back in 2013, I discussed the work of Christos A. Djonis, a fringe speculator who believes that Plato’s Atlantis dialogues have been incorrectly translated and that his own translation revealed that Atlantis was actually the Cyclades through his unique decision to rearrange the word order of the English translation by following the Greek word order irrespective of grammar. Well, Djonis is back again, this time with claims that the ancient Greeks discovered America.
Djonis begins his article with Atlantis—of course!—and disingenuously dismisses Atlantis’ claim to be America (a longshot to start with) by saying that “scholars and researchers” have found that “proper translation” of Plato yields a Mediterranean location. That would be a reference to himself and his 2013 book Uchronia.
Instead, he focuses first on Mark McMenamin’s claim that a Carthaginian coin depicts a map of the world, including the Americas. McMenamin, a geologist, made the claim in 1996 and it was featured on America Unearthed a few years ago. As I mentioned then, the so-called “map” is so small, a few millimeters, that it is all but beyond the ability of ancient artisans to have carved into a mold in the detail he claims for it: “Ancient dies simply weren’t that good to have such tiny pictures, and McMenamin relied on computer enhancement to ‘restore’ the map and make it visible, a telltale sign of problems.” The blobs he calls continents are almost certainly decorative.
Anyway, it’s a bit disconcerting that Djonis doesn’t seem to be aware that McMenamin’s “map” claims emerged because of two Classical texts that alleged that the Carthaginians had discovered a large and wealthy island in the Atlantis: Pseudo-Aristotle, De mirabilis auscultationibus 84 and Diodorus Siculus, Library 5.19-20. Both texts specify that the land was an island located a few days’ sail from the African coast. At the time, it would have taken weeks or even months to cross the Atlantic (Columbus took five weeks; in the 1700s it still took 50 days), so either the texts that allegedly support the discovery of America are wrong and therefore must be dismissed or they do not refer to America and are irrelevant. This is not a new claim, of course: Francisco López de Gómara, the Spanish historian, argued that the texts referred to America in 1552.
After this, Djoris enters into evidence the Piri Reis map, which he grossly misunderstands. He seems aware that the post-Columbus Turkish map is not an accurate depiction of Antarctica, but he mistakenly takes the Turkish admiral’s claim that the map draws on charts dating back to the fourth century BCE as proof that all of the elements of the map originated with the Greeks and Romans, including its depiction of South America. This is false. The extant section is part of a much larger world map, and it was the Old World section that drew in part on ancient sources, while Reis is quite clear about the origin of the various sections. His sources were Arabian (drawing on Greco-Roman Ptolemaic originals), Portuguese-Indian, and Spanish (Columbus’ map). It is the last of these that provides the New World section.
As for the date Djoris gives: He’s wrong there, too. Here’s what Djoris says: “If truly Piri Reis borrowed from other ancient maps dating back to the 4th century BC, then unquestionably this reinforces the suggestion that Plato, at 360 BC, could have been aware of the American continent in order to include it in his story.” Unfortunately, this is not true. Reis, like many Islamic and Arabic historians before him, confused Claudius Ptolemy the scientist with Ptolemy I of Egypt, and thus mistook Claudius Ptolemy’s second century CE maps for those of Ptolemy I in the fourth century BCE. And with facts, Djoris’s speculation fizzles.
Djoris, though, isn’t done. He next tries to claim that the Greek myth of Hyperborea represents knowledge of Arctic Canada. As I recently discussed, the Greek Hyperborea wasn’t a fixed geographical location, and Greek writers placed it everywhere from Scotland to Romania to Siberia. Due to the lack of consistency, it’s impossible to conclude that Hyperborea existed in a literal sense, though elements of the stories suggest that they include some transmitted knowledge of the Arctic, perhaps from Scandinavia or Siberia, including the fact that there are periods when the sun doesn’t rise or set. This can be compared to the tale of the Greek traveler Pytheas in Geminus’ Phaenomena at 6.9, describing a land where the nights were but 2 or 3 hours long.
Seeming to sense that he doesn’t have enough evidence to make even a halfhearted case, Djoris concludes his article by throwing at the wall a range of irrelevant and/or discredited diffusionist claims, from the imaginary “missing” copper of the Great Lakes (allegedly stolen by the Minoans) to the cocaine allegedly found in Egyptian mummies (probably due to modern contamination) to the “American” beetle found buried on Santorini (actually indigenous to the island) to, of course, haplogroup X and a supposed Ice Age connection to Europe. He finishes his article by arguing, against the best findings of science, that the presence of haplogroup X in the DNA of Scotland, Iceland, and Canada should allow us to trace waystations on a voyage from the Near East to North America via the Hyperborean Arctic.
The trouble for that hypothesis is that Native American mitochondrial DNA and the Y chromosomes are nearly identical to those of the Altai people of Siberia, who are believed to have emerged from an earlier people of the Caucasus. This would exclude transmission from Europe and suggests an earlier phase of migration from the Caucasus through Siberia to the Americas. Indeed, the European haplogroup X is genetically distinct from the North American one, and genetic studies suggest that one could not have given rise to the other but that both descend from a common ancestor.
Djoris’s overall claim isn’t even supported by his own evidence: The “Greeks” he refers to turn out to be everyone from the Carthaginians and Minoans to the Hyperboreans and even the Egyptians! The only people he did not try to show actually were in America were the Greeks themselves!
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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