Friday, February 28, 2014

An Academic Journey to a New World - Part I.

When I was an undergraduate student, I took a class called "History of the American Indian." It was taught by Dr. Hyer, who at the time was Chadron State's newest history professor, and nowadays is Dean of the School of BEAMSS here.

Back in those days, the history faculty's approach to homework was mostly no-nonsense. You did a paper, and two tests. Depending on the professor, you might have a couple other minor projects or homework besides that. I like that philosophy - it doesn't waste anyone's time, and at the end of it all, if you paid attention and did your work you had something pretty impressive you could show people. (Which is what I'll be doing shortly.)

I have my own approach to homework - I don't want to bore my professors. In my World War II class, I wrote my term paper on Pink Floyd's "The Final Cut" because I was pretty sure Dr. Rankin had read a million papers about Hitler and the Holocaust and the Battle of Stalingrad already. There was nothing I could say on that score that hadn't already been said by someone a whole lot smarter than me.

But I could do unique, so I did. In this case, I chose to examine pre-Columbian contacts between the Old and New Worlds. Dr. Hyer suggested I limit my inquiries to only one possible pre-Columbian Old World society, so I chose what seemed the likeliest unproven candidate: the Phoenicians/Carthaginians.

This is something I'd read up on a bit. I'd always been an avid fan of Phoenician/Carthaginian history. When I was a little kid, I learned the Phoenician alphabet - it was probably my first act as a linguist. When I was in high school, I did a presentation on the Battle of Cannae, still studied in military colleges and considered one of the most brilliant military victories of all time. Also in high school, I drew that picture up top; it was supposed to be a representation of Carthage. I drew it from written descriptions and not pictures or maps; it has the Bursa and the two harbors connected by canal, and a statue of Dido.

Point is, I knew a lot about the subject. And I was fairly familiar with the arguments advanced in favor of Phoenician contact with the New World.

I am reposting my paper for that class, so you can all see what I wrote back then. It's after the jump.

Stuart Richards
HIST 430

Phoenicians In The New World

The first Old World "discovery" of the Americas has always been in dispute. Traditional history gave the honor to Christopher Columbus, the Genovese sailor in the service of Spain who found the New World in 1492. While that discovery and interaction was the first in modern times, "fringe scholarship" has held that different Old World peoples knew about America and sometimes even colonized it. Suggestions have included the Vikings, the Celts, the Chinese, but mainly the Phoenicians. All these theories were laughed off until a Viking settlement was discovered in L'Anse Aux Meadows in Newfoundland dating to the 10th century. Now scholarship is just beginning the process of looking into these other claims, and entrenched theories are falling into doubt.

Some of the claims are harder to prove than others, but certainly the strongest claimant to the discovery of the Old World would be the Phoenicians and their descendant civilization the Carthaginians. They knew about the Americas for the longest period of time and conducted the widest operations in the New World of any pre-Columbian Old World power, and they left the most records of their presence.

Indeed, the theory of pre-Columbian Phoenician contact with the New World was rather prevalent until about 1940 or so, with many scholarly magazines from that time period running articles in support of the theory. It fell into disrepute about that time because of stronger evidence supporting the settlement of America via the Bering Strait. Politics also entered into the equation-most anti-Phoenician contact scholars considered the notion of the Native Americans deriving their culture and accomplishments from a Phoenician model as tantamount to racism. However, the Viking discovery in the 60's reopened the issue for debate, and slowly the evidence has been accumulating.

With the facts and the evidence at hand, a rough chronology of events can be constructed. The Bible mentions the details of construction of the First Temple under King Solomon, around 900 BC. Solomon contracted with King Hiram of Tyre to supply him with a fleet of ships to purchase gold, silver, ivory, and other valuables for the Temple from foreign lands. Hiram's fleet went out to the land of Ophir in vessels from Tarshish (1) and brought back the necessary materials. Tarshish has been identified as the leading city in Spain at the time, but Ophir has yet to be found. Theories have been offered that it may have been a city in India, as the fleet was constructed at the Israelite port of Elath. However, the fleet returned every three years (1), much too long for a simple trade mission to India but perfectly timed for a trading mission to South America. (2) (3) Also, Israel had trade links already with India at this point, they could have traded there themselves. The only logical reason for bringing Tyrian sailors into the venture would be to reach a land that the Israelite sailors could not.

The monopoly that Ophir apparently held on the trade of almug wood (4) also suggests an extra reason to consider Ophir's location in South America. Many plants and trees are unique to South America, especially in the Amazon. If Ophir had been located in India, land-based caravans would still have imported the wood, and the same goes for Africa. The possible explanation of an embargo on the wood by a state-run monopoly also falls flat-neither India nor central Africa were at the time unified to the degree necessary to prevent the exportation of almug wood, were it to exist in their territory. Furthermore, they would have had no reason to do so-exports of almug wood would have added to tax revenue.

It seems that the height of Israel's trade with Ophir was during the reign of King Solomon (5), but knowledge of and interaction with Ophir continued in Israel until at least the time of the prophet Isaiah circa 450 BC. (6)

The Tyrians did not merely conduct trade between Israel and the Americas, however. A study done at the Munich Museum in the early 1990s discovered that several ancient Egyptian mummies had traces of nicotine and cocaine in their hair and bones. In fact, mummies have been excavated with coca leaves in their mouths and bags of coca leaves in their hands. In these mummies, levels of cocaine were on par with Peruvian mummies. (7) High levels of nicotine were also found in several of the Egyptian mummies, but evidence wasn't as conclusive that they had ingested nicotine. (8) The significance of these findings is, of course, that neither tobacco nor cocaine was grown anywhere in the Old World at this time, giving weight to the possibility of trade between the Old and New Worlds at this time.

The strongest argument used by establishment Egyptology against the mummies' use of nicotine and cocaine is the lack of a record of tobacco or cocaine use in Egyptian hieroglyphics. The Egyptians left significant records of their use of wine, beer, and even opium-if tobacco or cocaine were used, surely there would have been records left. (9) However, there are obvious explanations against this suggestion. First, the evidence of tobacco levels suggests that the plant was not ingested by the ancient Egyptians; at least not in large quantities. Tobacco also acts as a preservative, and may have been used in the embalming process, in which case levels would generally be higher in bones than hair. (10) Indeed, a native Egyptian plant with trace levels of nicotine, compositae, was used in the mummification of Ramses II for precisely that reason. (11) Also, only a third of mummies have tested positive for nicotine on levels high enough to suggest tobacco was the source of nicotine, suggesting that its use as a preservative (which would have required generous use of the leaves) would have been limited to the richest of the rich. Even though mummification was in theory available to rich and poor alike, (12) most mummies known today were rich. (13) Also, tobacco may have been used as a medicine, in which case nothing would have been inscribed about it in a tomb, where scenes of the afterlife were present. In the Egyptian afterlife, bodies were perfect and immune to disease, rendering medicine unnecessary. (14)

As for cocaine, it was quite obviously used as a recreational drug, so the medicinal reasoning for tobacco falls short. There is the unlikely possibility that the lotus motif common in Egyptian architecture was a reference to the coca leaf, however a comparison of the two items will make this comparison a stretch. More likely is the possibility that only the rich could afford it, and therefore cocaine never entered the popular drug culture of Egypt. Since coca leaves had to be imported by comparatively slow-moving ships with a small cargo hold, the cost of importation would have been prohibitively high for the lower strata of Egyptian society, and therefore its use would not have been well-documented.

The Old World-New World trade seems to have reached its zenith in the eastern Mediterranean around the time of the Israelite king Solomon, but by necessity would have declined after the fall of Phoenicia to first Assyrian, then Babylonian, and finally Macedonian armies. However, the Phoenician colony city of Carthage seems to have continued its trade with the New World for a little while after the fall of its motherland. In fact, there is significant evidence that Carthage ran a flourishing trade system in both North and South America, a system that incorporated natives and probably ran similarly to the trade empire operated by the French that would antedate them by two millennia.

There is much direct evidence for this. The official coins minted by the Carthaginian Senate from the years 350-320 BC have a representation of a map of their known world. Central position on the map is, of course, Carthage, with Italy to the north, Mesopotamia on the far right, a little circle in the place where Britain should be, and a blob of landmass past Spain unexplainable by modern views. (15) Plenty of these Carthaginian coins have been found in the Canary Islands and the Azores, as well as in several states of the United States of America; and coins from Rome, Greece, and Judea have also been found. Most of them have been found outside of the context of archaeological digs, leading these finds to be dismissed by archaeologists as hoaxes or merely the discovery of coins dropped by modern-day numismatists. However, the odds of someone finding a dropped Old World coin in the middle of nowhere would be slim to none-if dropped coins were to be found, it'd be in the middle of cities, most predominantly on university campuses that possessed an archaeology department. However, this is not the case-not only that, but no Old World coins have been discovered on the West Coast (except for Chinese coins) (16), and the coins are concentrated in Eastern and Southern states. (17)

On top of all that, there actually has been an ancient Old World coin discovered in an archaeological dig. A Roman coin was found at the Great Gully site of an Upper Cayuga Iroquois village, during excavations carried out by Harrison Follett and George Selden. The coin, commemorating the reign of Imperator Antonius Pius, was minted about A.D. 165. (18) Epstein comments on the likelihood of missionaries giving the coin to Iroquios in trade, but a Roman coin would have been worthless at that time as a trade item. Inflation had crept in to the point where Roman coins were nearly worthless hunks of bronze, and the Iroquois already had access to all the bronze they needed. As the coin would not have been accepted as legal tender in any French, British or Dutch trading post in the area, it would have been doubly worthless to the Iroquois. However, if Old World traders had been operating in Iroquois territory around the time of the coin's minting, the coin would have held value and thus would be useful for trade. However, this would mean that somehow, the Romans would have maintained a trade link with the Americas after the fall of Carthage, which is unlikely as there would have been records of this surviving to the modern day. More feasible is that Roman explorers or political refugees stumbled upon the North American mainland by accident, using whatever Carthaginian records were left in Alexandria as a guide.

Many Punic stellae were found on America's East Coast as well, with statements such as "This monument placed by Hanno, do not deface." (19) But the most important stellae discovered in America is by far the Parahyba Stone, a stellae discovered in 1872 but since lost to modern scholarship. Etchings were made of it, with text that read:

"We are Sidonian Canaanites from the city of the Merchant King. We were cast up on this distant island, a land of mountains. We sacrificed a youth to the celestial gods and goddesses in the nineteenth year of our mighty King Hiram and embarked from Ezion-geber into the Red Sea. We voyaged with ten ships and were at sea together for two years around Africa. Then we were separated by the hand of Baal and were no longer with our companions. So we have come here, twelve men and three women, into "Island of Iron." Am I, the Admiral, a man who would flee? Nay! May the celestial gods and goddesses favor us well!" (20)

This would have most likely been a part of the fleet commissioned by Pharaoh Necho to circumnavigate the African continent, as it seems they were blown off course and had no knowledge as of yet of the land of Brazil. (3) Indeed, the record fits the known facts-a journey around the Cape of Africa would have required two years for Phoenician sailors who weren't familiar yet with the waters of southern Africa, but the remaining distance after reaching the Ivory Coast area of Africa across from Brazil would have only taken a year, with most of the remaining sailing being in familiar waters.

Even more conclusive is the text by the classical author Diodorus of Sicily, who describes in detail the geographic knowledge of America possessed by the Carthaginians. (21) His texts read:

"For there lies out in the deep off Libya an island of considerable size, and situated as it is in the ocean it is distant from Libya a voyage of a number of days to the west... and the inhabitants, being well supplied with this game at their feasts, lack of nothing which pertains to luxury and extravagance; for in fact the sea which washes the shore of the island contains a multitude of fish, since the character of the ocean is such that it abounds throughout its extent with fish of every variety."

The fishing grounds of the North American continent are well-known even today, after centuries of overfishing-they would have been absolutely abundant in those days. Diodorus continues;

"In ancient times this island remained undiscovered because of its distance from the entire inhabited world, but it was discovered at a later period for the following reason. ...And since their ventures turned out according to their expectations, they amassed great wealth and essayed to voyage beyond the Pillars of Heracles into the sea which men call the ocean. ...The Phoenicians, then, while exploring the coast outside the Pillars for the reasons we have stated and while sailing along the shore of Libya, were driven by strong winds a great distance out into the ocean. And after being storm-tossed for many days they were carried ashore on the island we mentioned above, and when they had observed its felicity and nature they caused it to be known to all men."

The strong winds mentioned above would be easily explained by the Gulf Stream currents, which were exploited at a later date by Thor Heyerdahl when he crossed the Atlantic along that same route in a papyrus reed boat. (22) A problem is the additional statement "and when they had observed its felicity and nature they caused it to be known to all men," but that could be explained by the Carthaginians making known their discovery of the new land but not revealing how they got there, which would be consistent with later texts describing their Pillars of Hercules policy. The meat of the relevant text by Diodorus concludes:

"Consequently the Tyrrhenians, at the time when they were masters of the sea, purposed to dispatch a colony to it, but the Carthaginians prevented their doing so, partly out of concern lest many inhabitants of Carthage should remove there because of the excellence of the island, and partly in order to have ready in it a place in which to seek refuge against an incalculable turn of fortune, in case some total disaster should overtake Carthage. For it was their thought that, since they were masters of the sea, they would thus be able to move, households and all, to an island which was unknown to their Conquerors."

So this illustrates approximately when the discovery was-after the founding of Carthage but before the fall of Tyre, probably during a period of close ties between the two cities. Most likely, it therefore happened in the beginning years of the city of Carthage, circa 1200-700 BC. (23)

Another indicator of Carthage's concern over the protection of their American trade secret was some of the provisions of their early, pre-Punic War treaties with Rome as well as their actions against the Greeks. Roman sailors were forbidden to sail past the Pillars of Hercules without permission from the Carthaginian Senate and a representative of said body on board (24), and Greek sailors from Massilia were pushed away from the area in a war and kept out by the treaty that ended that war. (25) The main trade routes from Carthage to Gades (modern-day Cadiz) were patrolled, and the patrols were strengthened to enforce the terms of these treaties.

There is also significant evidence for this contact in the New World itself. In 1889, a Semitic inscription was found in a burial mound in Bat Creek, Tennessee. (26) The inscription has the letters "LYHWD", meaning "for Judea", inscribed on them. As Judean sailors wouldn't have had the wherewithal to attempt to sail to America on their own, it's likely that Tyrian sailors in the service of Judea made the inscription; it would be something akin to Christopher Columbus, a Genovese sailor in the service of Spain, claiming the New World for Spain. It's also possible but less likely that Judean traders or settlers were carried to the New World in Carthaginian boats after the fall of their homeland to the Babylonians. (27) The inscription would also have, by necessity, to been made after the reign of Rehoboam, when the kingdom of Israel split into the rival kingdoms of Israel and Judea, as otherwise it would have been carved "LYSRL", or "for Israel."

Another stone was found in November 1860 near Newark, Ohio (28), inscribed with the Ten Commandments and a representation of Moses. Its most likely function was as an arm phylactery, or in other words a container, worn on the arm by observant Jews, holding a scroll of the Torah as a reminder of their faith. Once again, it is highly possible that some Jews did come to the New World with the Tyrians who traded for them, and thus possible that they left these artifacts behind on accident. It's also likely that these religious items were used in trade, much as medals of American Presidents and British royalty were used for trade goods with Native Americans in later eras. In any case, the scope of indirect Jewish trade with North America was probably small, given the relative sparseness of an archaeological record. Most trade would have been done, as postulated above, with the gold- and timber-rich South American continent which was closer to Africa in any case.

There is also some circumstantial evidence of pre-Columbian contact between the Old and New Worlds. The Mexica worshipped gods like Quetzalcoatl, said to be a light-skinned traveler from the east. They mistook Hernando Cortez for Quetzalcoatl when he conquered them in the 1500s, but it's possible that, via the Carthaginians, light-skinned travelers may have visited the region in times past, giving occasion for the myth in the first place.

Overall, it appears from the evidence that Carthage traded in North and South America along the course of navigable rivers. When Carthage fell after the Third Punic War, all contact with the New World was seemingly lost, with traders either blending in with Native American peoples or returning home in disgrace. Rome burned the city of Carthage after the Third Punic War, giving away her massive libraries to their Numidian allies in exchange for their aid. From Numidia, those books were either lost or destroyed, but in any case they were rendered unavailable to modern scholarship yet could have been very illuminating on this subject. Another possible repository of the information they contained, the Library of Alexandria, was burned by Julius Caesar and then later by the Muslims, so any copies of Carthage's books made there would likewise have been lost. But some evidence of trade remains-and it was a trade that appears to have been mutually beneficial to both people. If Europe had had knowledge of that model of interaction available to them when they began their colonization, it's quite possible that they could have avoided the horrific devastations they visited upon Native American peoples.


(1) 1 Kings 10:23, the word translated as "merchant ships" in the King James Version literally means "ships of Tarshish." As Tarshish was the leading city in Celtic Spain at that time, it could be a reference to the deep-hulled Celtic vessels capable of making long voyages that Julius Caesar described in his Gallic Wars.

(2) Ibid

(3) Decker, "Able Seamen." The Pharaoh Necho of Egypt commissioned a fleet from Tyre, Sidon and Byblos to sail from the Red Sea to Egyptian ports on the Mediterranean, circumnavigating the African continent, about 700 BC. The feat took three years to complete without a knowledge of the waters off the African coast, making a similar trip later on with a side visit to Brazil feasible in that period of time.

(4) 1 Kings 10:11-12

(5) Ibid, the decline of the importation of almug wood after Solomon's time suggests a decline in Israelite trade with Ophir.

(6) Isaiah 13:12

(7) Jacobs, "Toke Like An Egyptian." Studies have also been done on mummies recently excavated from an archaeological dig near Cairo that confirmed the results seen in Munich.

(8) Ibid, the tests on nicotine levels came back conflicting, with one researcher able to find high levels in bone and hair and one unable to find them in bone. Levels of nicotine also weren't on par between the bones and hair, which for mummies of that age should have been 20-25 parts of nicotine in the bones per every part of nicotine found in the hair.

(9) Ibid

(10) Ibid

(11) Ibid

(12) The Egyptian State Information Service, "Luxor's Mummification Museum, First in the World."

(13), "Mummification."

(14) Jacobs, "Toke Like An Egyptian."

(15) McCaffrey, a previous view of the pictures on the coins included a Phoenician script as-yet undeciphered, but that theory was largely discounted in the 1960s.

(16) Belyaev, "Chinese Coins In The California Desert"

(17) Epstein, p. 5.

(18) Epstein, p. 19.

(19) Decker, "Punic Calling Cards."

(20) Myers, "Phoenicians in the New World: The Parahyba Stone."

(21) Diodorus, Book V chapters 19-20 (in Volume 3 of the Loeb series).

(22) Geneves, p. 266

(23) Sammer, the dates for Carthage's founding are speculative and range anywhere from 1300 B.C. to 700 B.C., depending on the date of Carthaginian founder Dido's flight from the court of Tyre. The historians Appian and Philostos date the founding of Carthage to "fifty years before the capture of Troy", postulated to be circa 1350 B.C. With an older date, it is quite possible that Carthaginian sailors would have discovered the Americas and retained a close enough relationship with Tyre that Tyrian sailors could have likewise exploited this knowledge in the service of King Solomon of Israel.

(24) Decker, "The New Town."

(25) Baird, "Punic History."

(26) Huston, "The Bat Creek Inscription: Did Judean Refugees Escape to Tennessee?"

(27) Diodorus, Book V chapter 20 (in Volume 3 of the Loeb series), if Carthage had preserved the New World from colonization for the possibility of settlement after a possible defeat of their homeland, it's remotely feasible that the Judean kingdom would have done the same and remnants of the Judean court (who would have had sufficient funds to pay the Carthaginians) would have been able to flee to America. If this was the case, it would have been a very tiny migration indeed, and this particular migration would have been certainly nothing significant enough to manifest itself in the modern world.

(28) Shanks, "An Interview With Cyrus Gordon."


Roy Decker, Carthaginians in the New World?

Peter Myers, Phoenicians in the New World: The Parahyba Stone

Frank M. Cross, "Phoenicians in Brazil?" Biblical Archaeology Review, January/February 1979

Hershel M. Shanks, "An Interview With Cyrus Gordon", Biblical Archaeology Review, November/December 2000

William Jacobs, "Toke Like An Egyptian", Fortean Times, December 1998

The Egyptian State Information Service, Luxor's Mummification Museum, First in the World, Mummification

Kevin McCaffrey, Who Discovered the Americas?

Diodorus of Sicily, tr. C.H. Oldfather, Harvard University Press (Loeb), Cambridge, MA 1968. Written circa 56 B.C.

Santiago Genoves, "Papyrus Rafts Across the Atlantic", Current Anthropology, Vol. 14, No. 3. (Jun., 1973), pp. 266-267.

Jan Sammer, The Date of Carthage's Founding

Rodney E. Baird, Cadiz

McCulloch, J. Huston, "The Bat Creek Inscription: Did Judean Refugees Escape to Tennessee?" Biblical Archaeology Review, July/August 1993

McCulloch, J Huston, The Newark 'Holy Stones'

Jeremiah F. Epstein, "Pre-Columbian Old World Coins In America: An Examination Of Evidence," Current Anthropology, Vol. 21 No. 1 (1980), pp. 1-20.

Vladimir Belyaev, Chinese Coins In The California Desert

There's a Part II to this in case you're interested in reading on.

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