How many times can a continent or two be discovered? It is new for each party each time, but at some point doesn’t the term “discovery” get just a little stretched? Columbus was certainly not the first person to step foot in America, we know that. Here are some alternative historical theories of discovery, long before the explorer looking for India made the erronous landing and called it discovery.
Here we reveal 10 of the most popular theories, some of which are and some not accepted by historians, along with the essential elements of each theory.
10. Saint Brendan, The Irish Monk
The legend of Saint Brendan, an Irish monk, is a particularly favorite one of English-speaking peoples of Britain and the United States. In this particularly romantic legend, Brendan sailed, with Prince Madoc, the Welsh Prince at the time, to America in 1170 C.E., landing in what is today Mobile Bay, Alabama.
What makes this theory specifically interesting is that later, during colonial times, England used this legend to claim what is today the eastern seaboard of the United States, and it was accepted by many other nations, including the Dutch, Spanish and Portuguese. Some argue, however, that this claim was accepted under the threat of war with England, and therefore is invalid as evidence.
There have also been tales that there were tribes of American Natives that spoke Welsh at the beginning of colonial times, and that there are monuments that have been found bearing Welsh inscriptions, however none of these stories have ever been confirmed by any credible linguist, epigrapher or archeologist.
9. The African Theory
This theory essentially states that Early Americans, particularly those of the Eastern portion of South America, came from Africa. The primary source for this theory is the discovery of Cocaine and Nicotine in some mummies in Africa, primarily in Ancient Egypt and Sudan, which was not native to the region. Though the tobacco plant, the only source of natural nicotine, may have existed at the time as a wild and uncultivated plant in parts of Europe and Asia, which would explain the presence of nicotine in the mummies, this still does not explain the presence of cocaine, a plant native to the western portion of South America until late into the 19th century.
There is also some DNA research that reportedly indicates that much of the population of South America east of the Andes to be closely related to certain African tribes and peoples. The most romantic of these African theories suggest that the African tribes and South American peoples that seem to be closely related are all descendants of the survivors of the Lost Continent of Atlantis.
8. The Land of Mu-Lan-Pi
This theory is related to the African theory in that it involves Muslims from Africa. It is based primarily on what is known as the “Sung Document”, a Chinese document dating from the 12th and 13th Century C.E. The Sung Document is a work of a Chinese author circa 1178, during the Song Dynasty. It states that Muslim sailors reached a region called “Mu-Lan-Pi”, which, though normally identified as Spain, has been claimed to be some part of the Americas (specifically, present-day California.)
If the document is authentic, and furthermore if the identification of Mu-Lan-Pi with America is correct, then it is one of the earliest records of pre-Columbian trans-oceanic travel from the Eurasian continent to the Americas. However both the authenticity of the Sung Document and the identification of Mu-Lan-Pi with America are doubtful.
Noted historian Joseph Needham is open to the possibility but doubts that Arabic ships at the time would have been able to withstand a return journey over such a long distance across the Atlantic Ocean and points out that a return journey would have been impossible without knowledge of prevailing winds and currents. Needham states that there is no evidence that these were known five centuries before the Portuguese used them.
7. Zheng He
There is also a variety of Chinese claims to the title of Discoverer of America. Some would say that, contrary to the Mali connection mentioned above, the Olmec civilization was actually started by a group of Chinese refugees that had fled China for their lives. Others tell of Buddhist missionaries arriving in Southern California sometime in the 5th Century CE.
The most credible theory seems to be that the ancient Chinese Naval Commander Zheng He arrived in the Americas in the 1421, some 71 years before Columbus. There is a doocumented account of a long and arduous journey by Zheng He in this year, and of a certainty it was to the east of China, but whether he actually reached any part of the Americas is not known. With seven maritime expeditions between 1405 and 1423, and a fleet of 317 ships and 28,000 men, Zheng He is acknowledged as one of the great naval explorers, but how far he actually went remains a matter of dispute.
6. The Mormon Story
If Mormonism is true, then neither the Vikings, nor Columbus can lay claim as the discoverers of America. If Mormonism is true the New World was discovered, not by an Italian, nor Vikings, but by a group of people known as Jaredites.
The only record mentioning a people called Jaredites is found in the book of Ether (which begins on page 487 in post-1981 editions of the Book of Mormon). Ether, we are told, was a descendant of Coriantor, the son of Moron.
If Mormons believe Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, they must accept his claim that the Book of Mormon, including the Book of Ether it contains, is an accurate history. If that claim is true, then historians across the globe who credit either Columbus or the Vikings with the discovery of America are clearly misguided. If the Book of Mormon is true, the discovery of America must be credited to the Jaredites. If this isn’t so, then Joseph wasn’t a prophet….a lot of “ifs”…
5. The Japanese
The Valdivia Culture is one of the oldest settled cultures recorded in the Americas. It emerged from the earlier Las Vegas culture and thrived on the Santa Elena peninsula near the modern-day town of Valdivia, Ecuador between 3500 BC and 1800 BC.
The Valdivia culture was discovered in 1956 by the Ecuadorian archeologist Emilio Estrada. Based on comparison of archeological remains and pottery styles (specifically, the similarity between the Valdivian pottery and the ancient J?mon culture on the island of Ky?sh?, Japan) Estrada, along with the American archaeologist Betty Meggers suggested that a relationship between the people of Ecuador and the people of Japan existed in ancient times.
Since then, it has been discovered that of the people living in the area and in SW Japan, both have a low rate of a virus not known in other populations, HTLV-1. Part of the theory is that the Japanese had discovered America through early trans-Pacific trade.
4. Henry Sinclair, Earl of Orkney
Prince Henry Sinclair was the subject of historian Frederick J. Pohl’s Atlantic Crossings Before Columbus, which was published in 1961. Not all historians agreed with Pohl, but he made a highly convincing case that this blond, sea-going Scot, born at Rosslyn Castle near Edinburgh in 1345, not only wandered about mainland Nova Scotia in 1398, but also lived among the Micmacs long enough to be remembered through centuries as the man-god “Glooscap”. Some even suggest that the reason Christopher Columbus was able to persuade the King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella to fund the expedition was because he and they knew of Henry’s voyage.
However, one of the Biographers of dear, old Henry states rather bluntly: “It has been Earl Henry’s singular fate to enjoy and ever-expanding posthumous reputation which has very little to do with anything he achieved in his lifetime.”
3. The Empire of Mali
Another of the ever-popular African theories, this one is based on two attributes, the Olmec culture, and the presence of a native African plant species found in the Americas. According to some, the Olmec civilization lived in the tropical lowlands of today’s south-central Mexico, from around 1200 BCE to 400 BCE. The primary evidence that suggests this people came from Africa is the artifacts that have been found which have a remarkable resemblance to the “Negro race.”
Since this race was not present in the Americas until they were transported here as slaves, this resemblance is a rather convincing argument. As far as the plant that is native to Africa, there are many theories as to how it got here, the one with the most credibility would seem to be that it was already part of the horticulture of the area before Africa and South America separated into two continents.
2. The Polynesians
The Polynesian civilization spread by canoe throughout the Pacific Ocean in what is sometimes referred to as the Polynesian Triangle defined by the three points of Easter Island, the Hawaiian Islands and New Zealand. There are many that believe that this spread also included South America, primarily because the sweet potato, a native American food plant, appeared to “back spread” through the triangle during this same time frame (300 to 1200 CE).
1. The Roman Connection
The 1933 discovery in Mexico of a small terracotta head in the Roman style has caused quite a stir among some experts, since it suggests that the Romans knew about the Americas beginning in the 2nd Century CE. The head was located under a pre-colonial structure (dating back to between 1476 and 1510 CE) and has been identified as an authentic Roman artifact from the late 2nd to early 3rd century. In 1999, the head was dated to the Severian Emperors period (193-235 CE), and is said to be “exactly in the fashion of the epoch.”
However, there are two major concerns with this theory. The first is that the Romans kept nearly impeccable records, and a discovery as significant as this one would certainly show up in their records. In defense, it has been proposed that the explorers which found the Americas never made it back, so there was nothing to indicate they had found anything. Could also be a hoax in which authenticated Roman artifacts were “found” in the new world, only to be discovered later that they were planted, and some of them not even authentic.