Friday, February 28, 2014

An Academic Journey to a New World - Part II.

While writing that last post, I was casting about for some kind of image. I take it as a point of pride that I can usually find some manner of appropriate image for most of the posts I do. While I ended up settling on that drawing of Carthage I made (it's hanging in my bedroom to this day), my first thought was to post an image of one of those Carthaginian coins with the map of the world under it that was cited in the paper.

I found the website of the guy that postulates this particular theory well enough, but what I couldn't find was a clear image of the full coin. (That guy, Dr. Mark McMenamin, isn't even a historian as it turns out, but a geologist... so he's not speaking in his area of expertise.) Anyway, I saw the coin to your left, and I saw a detailed image with a section of a that coin that looked really detailed as well as an artist's rendering of that coin, but I haven't been able to find any other instances of the coin on the internet.

However, doing a search for Carthaginian coins wasn't fruitless. These are some examples of what I found, after the jump:


In every case, it's some mythological figure, a god or demigod, with an animal (usually a horse but sometimes a pegasus or lion) and palm tree on the obverse. And on the obverse, under the animal's legs, is some kind of writing.

Occam's Razor dictates that the simplest explanation is usually the best. It's a whole lot simpler for the bit under the horse on Dr. McMenamin's coin to be eroded Phoenician lettering, and not a map of the world as known by the Phoenicians. If he had been more familiar with the primary documents, he probably would have come to the same conclusion. And so would I as an undergrad, if I had been a little less credulous and a little more willing to Google. But, such is the nature of undergrads. I regularly run across undergrads that spout silly things in the course of my work, and that must have been how I seemed back then. So long as they can make a good argument, that's all that matters for their grade.

Another place where I got it wrong was the Parahyba Stone. Evidently it was a hoax. So were the "Carthaginian" coins scattered around the United States - this thread explains that in greater detail.

In any case, I'm not completely ready to throw in the towel on the theory of Phoenician contact with the Americas. In particular, Diodorus' writings and the question of almug wood in the Jewish Temple are still burning questions. We know the Phoenicians circumnavigated Africa, and that the timeframes for a journey to the Americas would have been doable for them. Also, Quetzalcoatl remains a hard phenomenon to explain without some kind of pre-Columbian Old World contact with Mesoamerica.

But the evidence is circumstantial. We can't come to any firm conclusions yet, nor should we. It remains that the first proven contact between the Old and New Worlds was that of the Vikings. Until we can come up with a Carthaginian L'Anse aux Meadows, or at least a lot more Bat Creek inscription-style finds, we can't make any firm conclusions.

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