Pre-Columbian trans-oceanic contact

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For the prevailing model(s) describing the geographic origins and early migrations of humans in the Americas see Settlement of the Americas.
For more details on Native American genetic heritage, see Genetic history of indigenous peoples of the Americas.
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Claims of pre-Columbian trans-oceanic contact relate to visits to, the discovery of or interaction with the Americas and/or indigenous peoples of the Americas by non-American people (e.g. from Africa, Asia, Europe, or Oceania), prior to the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the Caribbean in 1492.

Such proposals are often based on archaeological finds, cultural comparisons, comments in historical documents, and narrative accounts that seem to be about trans-oceanic voyages.

Claims of contact other than the Norse settlement of Greenland and the L'Anse aux Meadows settlement in Newfoundland[1][2] are generally controversial and considered debatable. These claims are often based on circumstantial or ambiguous evidence. The scientific responses to such pre-Columbian contact claims range from dealing with it in peer-reviewed publications to outright dismissal as fringe science or pseudoarcheology.

Norse trans-oceanic contact[edit]

L'Anse aux Meadows

Norse journeys to Greenland and Canada are supported by historical and archaeological evidence. A Norse colony in Greenland was established in the late 10th century, and lasted until the mid 15th century, with court and parliament assemblies (þing) taking place at Brattahlíð and a bishop located at Garðar. The remains of a Norse settlement at L'Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland, Canada was discovered in 1960. It was initially believed that the settlement may be Vínland which is described in the Norse sagas.

Archaeological evidence for contact with non-Norse peoples in Greenland is limited, but seems to indicate that the Norse did not substantially affect indigenous adaptations, technologies, or cultures.

Few sources describing contact between indigenous peoples and Norse people exist. Contact between the Thule people (ancestors of the modern Inuit) and Norse between the 12th or 13th centuries is known. The Norse Greenlanders called these incoming settlers "skrælingar". Conflict between the Greenlanders and the "skrælings" is recorded in the Icelandic Annals. The term skrælings is also used in the Vínland sagas, which relate to events during the 10th century, when describing trade and conflict with native peoples.

The Vinland sagas and other documents from the pre-Columbian era detail several past Norse expeditions from Greenland to places named Helluland and Markland to the west and Vínland to the south-west of Greenland. The sagas include the names of several explorers. Snorri Thorfinnsson is the first European known to have been born in America outside of Greenland. The first published mention of Vínland is from 1070 by the German medieval chronicler Adam of Bremen, in his book Descriptio insularum Aquilonis.

Claims of Polynesian trans-oceanic contact[edit]

Claims involving sweet potato[edit]

The sweet potato, which is native to the Americas, was widespread in Polynesia when Europeans first reached the Pacific. Sweet potato has been radiocarbon-dated in the Cook Islands to 1000 AD, and current thinking is that it was brought to central Polynesia c. 700 AD and spread across Polynesia from there.[3] It has been suggested[4] that it was brought by Polynesians who had traveled to South America and back, or that South Americans brought it to the Pacific. It is unlikely that the plant could successfully float across the ocean by natural means.[5] Phylogenetic analysis supports the hypothesis of at least two separate introductions of sweet potatoes from South America into Polynesia, including one before and one after European contact.[6] (see also #Claims based on linguistics.)

Claims involving chickens[edit]

The existence of chicken bones dating from 1321 to 1407 in Chile and thought to be genetically linked to South Pacific Island chicken species suggested further evidence of South Pacific contact with South America. The genetic link between the South American, Mapuche (who the chickens were thought to originally belong to)[7] chicken bones and South Pacific Island species has been rejected by a more recent genetic study which concluded that "The analysis of ancient and modern specimens reveals a unique Polynesian genetic signature" and that "a previously reported connection between pre-European South America and Polynesian chickens most likely resulted from contamination with modern DNA, and that this issue is likely to confound ancient DNA studies involving haplogroup E chicken sequences."[8]

Claims based on linguistics[edit]

Sweet potatoes for sale, Thames, New Zealand. The name "kumara" has entered New Zealand English from Māori, and is in wide use.

Dutch linguists and specialists in Amerindian languages Willem Adelaar and Pieter Muysken have suggested that two lexical items may be shared by Polynesian languages and language of South America. One is the name of the sweet potato, which was domesticated in the New World. Proto-Polynesian *kumala[9] (compare Easter Island kumara, Hawaiian ʻuala, Māori kumāra; apparent cognates outside Eastern Polynesian may be borrowed from Eastern Polynesian languages, calling Proto-Polynesian status and age into question) may be connected with Quechua and Aymara k’umar ~ k’umara. A possible second is the word for 'stone axe', Easter Island toki, Mapuche toki, and further afield, Yurumangui totoki 'axe'. According to Adelaar and Muysken the similarity in the word for sweet potato, "constitutes near proof of incidental contact between inhabitants of the Andean region and the South Pacific", though according to Adelaar and Muysken the word for axe is not as convincing. The authors argue that the presence of the word for sweet potato suggests sporadic contact between Polynesia and South America, but no migrations.[10]

Genetic claims[edit]

Geneticist Erik Thorsby and colleagues have published two studies in Tissue Antigens that evidence an Amerindian genetic contribution to the Easter Island population, determining that it was probably introduced before European discovery of the island.[11][12]

Geneticist Anna-Sapfo Malaspinas of The Center for GeoGenetics at the University of Copenhagen published a study in Current Biology that found evidence of interbreeding between the populations of Easter Island and South America that occurred between the years 1300 and 1500.[13]

Newly discovered genetic evidence from Southeast Brazil links the now extinct Botocudo people, tested from museum samples, to South Pacific Islanders:[14] "In what may be another blow to the Clovis model of humans' coming from northeast Asia, molecular geneticists showed last year that the Botocudo indigenous people living in southeastern Brazil in the late 1800s shared gene sequences commonly found among Pacific Islanders from Polynesia."

Proposed sites of contact[edit]


See also: Mapuche history
Mocha Island off the coast of Arauco Peninsula, Chile.

In recent years evidence has emerged suggesting a possibility of pre-Columbian contact between the Mapuche people (Araucanians) of south-central Chile and Polynesians. Chicken bones found at the site El Arenal in the Arauco Peninsula, an area inhabited by Mapuche, support a pre-Columbian introduction of chicken to South America.[15] The bones found in Chile were radiocarbon-dated to between 1304 and 1424, before the arrival of the Spanish. Chicken DNA sequences taken were matched to those of chickens in American Samoa and Tonga, and dissimilar to European chicken.[16][17] However, a later report in the same journal looking at the same mtDNA concluded that the Chilean chicken specimen clusters with the same European/Indian subcontinental/Southeast Asian sequences, providing no support for a Polynesian introduction of chickens to South America.[18]

In December 2007, several human skulls were found in a museum in Concepción, Chile. These skulls originated from Mocha Island, an island just off the coast of Chile in the Pacific Ocean, nowadays inhabited by Mapuche. Professor Lisa Matisoo-Smith of the University of Otago and José Miguel Ramírez Aliaga of the University of Valparaíso claim the skulls have "Polynesian features", such as a pentagonal shape when viewed from behind, and they hope to begin an excavation search for Polynesian remains on the island.[19]

Other theories[edit]

Ecuador-East Asia contact[edit]

According to a 2013 genetic study there was contact between Ecuador and East Asia. The study suggests that the contact could have been trans-oceanic or a late-stage coastal migration that did not leave genetic imprints in North America.[20] This contact could explain the alleged similarity between the pottery of the Valdivia culture of Ecuador and the Jōmon culture of Northeast Asia.[20][21]

Peruvian mummies[edit]

A team of academics headed by the University of York's Mummy Research Group and BioArch,[22] while examining a Peruvian mummy at the Bolton Museum, found that it had been embalmed using a tree resin. Before this it was thought that Peruvian mummies were naturally preserved. The resin, found to be that of an Araucaria conifer related to the 'monkey puzzle tree', was from a variety found only in Oceania and probably New Guinea. "Radiocarbon dating of both the resin and body by the University of Oxford's radiocarbon laboratory confirmed they were essentially contemporary, and date to around CE 1200."[23]

Claims of Egyptian coca and tobacco[edit]

Traces of coca and nicotine found in some Egyptian mummies have led some[who?] to speculate that Ancient Egyptians may have traveled to the New World. The initial discovery was made by a German toxicologist, Svetlana Balabanova, after examining the mummy of a female priestess called Henut Taui. Follow-up tests of the hair shaft, performed to rule out contamination, gave the same results.[24] The significance of these findings lies in the fact that both coca and tobacco plants are indigenous to the Americas and were thought not to have existed in Africa until sometime after the voyages of Columbus.[25][26] Subsequent examination of numerous Sudanese mummies undertaken by Balabanova mirrored what was found in the mummy of Henut Taui.[27] Balabanova suggested that the tobacco may be accounted for since it may have also been known in China and Europe, as indicated by analysis run on human remains from those respective regions. Balabanova proposed that such plants native to the general area may have developed independently, but have since gone extinct.[27] Other explanations include fraud, though curator Alfred Grimm of the Egyptian Museum in Munich disputes this.[27] Skeptical of Balabanova's findings, Rosalie David, Keeper of Egyptology at the Manchester Museum, had similar tests performed on samples taken from the Manchester mummy collection and reported that two of the tissue samples and one hair sample did test positive for nicotine.[27] Sources of nicotine other than tobacco and sources of cocaine in the Old World are discussed by the British biologist Duncan Edlin.[28]

Mainstream scholars remain skeptical, and they do not see this as proof of ancient contact between Africa and the Americas, especially because there may be possible Old World sources.[29][30] Two attempts to replicate Balabanova's finds of cocaine failed, suggesting "that either Balabanova and her associates are misinterpreting their results or that the samples of mummies tested by them have been mysteriously exposed to cocaine."[31]

A re-examination in the 1970s of the mummy of Ramesses II revealed the presence of fragments of tobacco leaves in its abdomen. This became a popular topic in fringe literature and the media and was seen as proof of contact between Ancient Egypt and the New World. The investigator, Maurice Bucaille, noted that when the mummy was unwrapped in 1886 the abdomen was left open and that "it was no longer possible to attach any importance to the presence inside the abdominal cavity of whatever material was found there, since the material could have come from the surrounding environment."[32] Following the renewed discussion of tobacco sparked by Balabanova's research and its mention in a 2000 publication by Rosalie David, a study in the journal Antiquity suggested that reports of both tobacco and cocaine in mummies "ignored their post-excavation histories" and pointed out that the mummy of Ramesses II had been moved five times between 1883 and 1975.[30]


14th- and 15th-century Europe[edit]

Authors Robert Lomas and Christopher Knight claim that these carvings in Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland depict Indian corn (maize).[33]

Henry I Sinclair, Earl of Orkney and feudal baron of Roslin (c. 1345 – c. 1400) was a Scottish nobleman. He is best known today because of a modern legend that he took part in explorations of Greenland and North America almost 100 years before Christopher Columbus.[34] Henry was the grandfather of William Sinclair, 1st Earl of Caithness, the builder of Rosslyn Chapel (near Edinburgh, Scotland). The authors Robert Lomas and Christopher Knight believe some carvings in the chapel to be ears of New World corn or maize.[33] This crop was unknown in Europe at the time of the chapel's construction, and was not cultivated there until several hundred years later. Knight and Lomas view these carvings as evidence supporting the idea that Henry Sinclair travelled to the Americas well before Columbus. Specialists in medieval architecture interpret these carvings as stylised depictions of wheat, strawberries or lilies.[35][36]

Some have conjectured that Columbus was able to persuade the Catholic Monarchs of Castile and Aragon to support his planned voyage only because they were aware of some recent earlier voyage across the Atlantic. Some suggest that Columbus himself visited Canada or Greenland before 1492, because according to Bartolomé de las Casas he wrote he had sailed 100 leagues past an island he called Thule in 1477. Whether he actually did this and what island he visited, if any, is uncertain. Columbus is thought to have visited Bristol in 1476.[37] Bristol was also the port from which John Cabot sailed in 1497, crewed mostly by Bristol sailors. In a letter of late 1497 or early 1498 the English merchant John Day wrote to Columbus about Cabot's discoveries, saying that land found by Cabot was "discovered in the past by the men from Bristol who found 'Brasil' as your lordship knows".[38] There may be records of expeditions from Bristol to find the "isle of Brazil" in 1480 and 1481.[39] Trade between Bristol and Iceland is well documented from the mid 15th century.

Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo y Valdés records several such legends in his General y natural historia de las Indias of 1526, which includes biographical information on Columbus. He discusses the then-current story of a Spanish caravel that was swept off its course while on its way to England, and wound up in a foreign land populated by naked tribesmen. The crew gathered supplies and made its way back to Europe, but the trip took several months and the captain and most of the men died before reaching land. The ship's pilot, a man called Alonso Sánchez, and very few others finally made it to Portugal, but all were very ill. Columbus was a good friend of the pilot, and took him to be treated in his own house, and the pilot described the land they had seen and marked it on a map before dying. People in Oviedo's time knew this story in several versions, but Oviedo regarded it as myth.[40]

In 1925, Soren Larsen wrote a book claiming that a joint Danish-Portuguese expedition landed in Newfoundland or Labrador in 1473 and again in 1476. Larsen claimed that Didrik Pining and Hans Pothorst served as captains, while João Vaz Corte-Real and the possibly mythical John Scolvus served as navigators, accompanied by Álvaro Martins.[41] Nothing beyond circumstantial evidence has been found to support Larsen's claims.[42]


Early Chinese accounts of Muslim expeditions state that Muslim sailors reached a region called Mulan Pi ("magnolia skin") (Chinese: 木蘭皮; pinyin: Mùlán Pí; Wade–Giles: Mu-lan-p'i). Mulan Pi is normally identified as Spain, though some fringe theories hold that it is instead some part of the Americas.[43][44] The sources for this claim are Lingwai Daida (1178) by Zhou Qufei and Zhufan Zhi (1225) by Chao Jukua, together referred to as the "Sung Document".

One supporter of the interpretation of Mulan Pi as part of the Americas was historian Hui-lin Li in 1961,[43][44] and while Joseph Needham is also open to the possibility, he doubts that Arab 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.[45]


Scholar Cyrus H. Gordon believed that Phoenicians and other Semitic groups had crossed the Atlantic in antiquity, ultimately arriving in both North and South America.[46] This opinion was based on his own work on the Bat Creek inscription[47] Similar ideas were also held by John Philip Cohane; Cohane even claimed that many geographical names in America have a Semitic origin.[48][49]

Using gold obtained by expansion of the African coastal trade down the west African coast, the Phoenician state of Carthage minted gold staters in 350 BC bearing a pattern, in the reverse exergue of the coins, interpreted as a map of the Mediterranean with the Americas shown to the west across the Atlantic.[50] Reports of the discovery of putative Carthaginian coins in North America are based on modern replicas, that may have been buried at sites from Massachusetts to Nebraska in order to confuse and mislead archaeological investigation.[51]

Irish and Welsh legend[edit]

See also: Great Ireland

The legend of Saint Brendan, an Irish monk, involves a fantastical journey into the Atlantic ocean in search of Paradise in the 6th century. Since the discovery of the New World, various authors have tried to link the Brendan myth with an early discovery of America. The voyage was recreated in recent times by Tim Severin.

According to British legend, Madoc was a prince from Wales who explored the Americas as early as 1170. While most scholars consider this legend to be untrue, it was used as justification for British claims to the Americas, based on the notion of a Briton arriving before other European nationalities.[52] Local legend holds that Devil's Backbone, a rock formation near Louisville, Kentucky, was used as a citadel by Madoc and his companions.[53] One tribe which was said to be Welsh-speaking was the Mandan.

Biologist and controversial amateur epigrapher Barry Fell claims that Irish Ogham writing has been found carved into stones in the Virginias.[54] Linguist David H. Kelley has criticized some of Fell's work but nonetheless argued that genuine Celtic Ogham inscriptions have in fact been discovered in America.[55] However, others have raised serious doubts about these claims.[56]


Evidence of contacts with the civilizations of Classical Antiquity – primarily with the Roman Empire, but sometimes also with other cultures of the age – have been based on isolated alleged archaeological finds in American sites that originated in the Old World.

The Bay of Jars in Brazil has been yielding ancient clay storage jars that resemble Roman amphorae[57] for over 150 years. It has been proposed that the origin of these jars is a Roman wreck, although it has been suggested that they could be 15th or 16th century Spanish olive oil jars.

Tecaxic-Calixtlahuaca head[edit]

A small terracotta head sculpture, with a beard and European-like features, was found in 1933 (in the Toluca Valley, 72 kilometres southwest of Mexico City) in a burial offering under three intact floors of a pre-colonial building dated to between 1476 and 1510. The artifact has been studied by Roman art authority Bernard Andreae, director emeritus of the German Institute of Archaeology in Rome, Italy, and Austrian anthropologist Robert von Heine-Geldern, both of whom stated that the style of the artifact was compatible with small Roman sculptures of the 2nd century.[58] If genuine and if not placed there after 1492 (the pottery found with it dates to between 1476 and 1510)[59] the find provides evidence for at least a one-time contact between the Old and New Worlds.[60]

According to ASU's Michael E. Smith,[61] John Paddock, a leading Mesoamerican scholar, used to tell his classes in the years before he died that the artifact was planted as a joke by Hugo Moedano, a student who originally worked on the site. Despite speaking with individuals who knew the original discoverer (García Payón), and Moedano, Smith says he has been unable to confirm or reject this claim. Though he remains skeptical, Smith concedes he cannot rule out the possibility that the head was a genuinely buried Post-classic offering at Calixtlahuaca.[62]


Claims of contact have often been based on occurrences of similar motifs in art and decoration, or on depictions in one World of species or objects that are thought to be characteristic of the other World. Famous examples include a Maya statuette claimed to depict a bearded man rowing, a cross in bas-relief at the Temple of the Cross in Palenque.[63] Nevertheless, most of these finds can be explained as the result of misinterpretation. The Palenque "cross", for instance, is almost certainly a stylized maize plant.

In 1950 an Italian professor suggested that a depiction of a pineapple was represented among wall paintings of mediterranean fruits at Pompeii. According to Wilhelmina Feemster Jashemski this interpretation has been challenged by other botanists, who identify it as a pine cone from the Umbrella pine tree which is native to the Mediterranean area,[64]

The Bat Creek inscription and Los Lunas Decalogue Stone have led some to suggest the possibility that Jewish seafarers may have come to America after fleeing the Roman Empire at the time of the Jewish Revolt.[65]


Several Olmec colossal heads have features that some diffusionists link to African contact.

Proposed claims for an African presence in Mesoamerica rest on attributes of the Olmec culture, the presence of an African plant species in the Americas, and interpretations of certain European and Arabic historical accounts.

The Olmec culture existed from roughly 1200 BCE to 400 BCE. The idea that the Olmecs are related to Africans was suggested by José Melgar, who discovered the first colossal head at Hueyapan (now Tres Zapotes) in 1862.[66] More recently, Ivan van Sertima has argued that these statues depict settlers or explorers from Africa, but his views have been the target of severe scholarly criticism.[67]

North African sources describe what some consider to be visits to the New World by a Mali fleet in 1311.[68] According to these sources, 400 ships from the Mali Empire discovered a land across the ocean to the West after being swept off course by ocean currents. Only one ship returned, and the captain reported the discovery of a western current to Prince Abubakari II; the off-course Mali fleet of 400 ships is said to have conducted both trade and warfare with the peoples of the western lands. It is claimed that Abubakari II abdicated his throne and set off to explore these western lands. In 1324, the Mali king Mansa Musa is said to have told the Arabic historian, Al-Umari that "his predecessors had launched two expeditions from West Africa to discover the limits of the Atlantic Ocean."

According to the abstract of Columbus's log made by Bartolomé de las Casas, the purpose of Columbus’s third voyage was to test both the claims of King John II of Portugal that “canoes had been found which set out from the coast of Guinea [West Africa] and sailed to the west with merchandise” as well as the claims of the native inhabitants of the Caribbean island of Hispaniola that “from the south and the southeast had come black people whose spears were made of a metal called guanín...from which it was found that of 32 parts: 18 were gold, 6 were silver, and 8 copper.”[69][70]

Brazilian researcher Niede Guidon, who led the Pedra Furada sites excavations "...said she believed that humans...might have come not overland from Asia but by boat from Africa."[71]


A jade Olmec mask. Gordon Ekholm, who was an eminent archaeologist and curator at the American Museum of Natural History, suggested that the Olmec art style might have originated in Bronze Age China.[72]

Other researchers have argued that the Olmec civilization came into existence with the help of Chinese refugees, particularly at the end of the Shang dynasty.[73] In 1975, Betty Meggers of the Smithsonian Institution argued that the Olmec civilization originated due to Shang Chinese influences around 1200 BC.[74] In a 1996 book, Mike Xu, with the aid of Chen Hanping, claimed that celts from La Venta bear Chinese characters.[75][76] These claims are unsupported by mainstream Mesoamerican researchers.[citation needed]

Other claims have been made for early Chinese contact with North America.

In 1882 artefacts identified at the time as Chinese coins were discovered in British Columbia. A contemporary account states that:[77]

In the summer of 1882 a miner found on De Foe (Deorse?) creek, Cassiar district, Br. Columbia, thirty Chinese coins in the auriferous sand, twenty-five feet below the surface. They appeared to have been strung, but on taking them up the miner let them drop apart. The earth above and around them was as compact as any in the neighborhood. One of these coins I examined at the store of Chu Chong in Victoria. Neither in metal nor markings did it resemble the modern coins, but in its figures looked more like an Aztec calendar. So far as I can make out the markings, this is a Chinese chronological cycle of sixty years, invented by the Emperor Huungti, 2637 B. C., and circulated in this form to make his people remember it.

In 1885, a vase containing similar discs was also discovered, wrapped in the roots of a tree around 300 years old.[78] Grant Keddie, Curator of Archeology at the Royal BC Museum, examined a photograph of a coin from Cassiar taken in the 1940s (whereabouts now unknown) and he believes that the character style and the evidence that it was machine-ground show it to be a 19th-century copy of a Ming Dynasty temple token.[79]

A group of Chinese Buddhist missionaries led by Hui Shen before 500 AD claimed to have visited a location called Fusang. Although Chinese mapmakers placed this territory on the Asian coast, others have suggested as early as the 1800s[80] that Fusang might have been in North America, due to perceived similarities between portions of the California coast and Fusang as depicted by Asian sources.[81]

In his book 1421: The Year China Discovered the World, the British author Gavin Menzies made the controversial claim that the fleet of Zheng He arrived in America in 1421.[82] Menzies's contact hypothesis is regarded by professional historians as invented without proof.[83][84][85][86]

In 1973 and 1975 dough-nut shaped stones were discovered off the coast of California that resembled Chinese stone anchors used by fishermen. These (sometimes called the Palos Verdes stones) were initially thought to be up to 1500 years old and proof of pre-Columbian contact by Chinese sailors. Later geological investigations showed them to be a local rock known as Monterey shale, and they are thought to have been used by Chinese settlers fishing off the coast in the nineteenth century.[87]


Smithsonian archaeologist Betty Meggers wrote that pottery associated with the Valdivia culture of coastal Ecuador dated to 3000–1500 BCE exhibited similarities to pottery produced during the Jōmon period in Japan, arguing that contact between the two cultures might explain the similarities. Chronological and other problems have led most archaeologists to dismiss this idea as implausible.[88][89] The suggestion has been made that the resemblances (which are not complete) are simply due to the limited number of designs possible when incising clay.

Alaskan anthropologist Nancy Yaw Davis claims that the Zuni people of New Mexico exhibit linguistic and cultural similarities to the Japanese.[90] The Zuni language is a linguistic isolate, and Davis contends that the culture appears to differ from that of the surrounding natives in terms of blood type, endemic disease, and religion. Davis speculates that Buddhist priests or restless peasants from Japan may have crossed the Pacific in the 13th century, traveled to the American Southwest, and influenced Zuni society.[90]

In the 1890s, lawyer and politician James Wickersham[91] argued that pre-Columbian contact between Japanese sailors and Native Americans was highly probable, given that from the early 1600s to the mid-1800s several dozen Japanese ships were carried from Asia to North America along the powerful Kuroshio Currents. Such Japanese ships landed from the Aleutian Islands in the north to Mexico in the south, carrying a total of 293 persons in the 23 cases where head-counts were given in historical records. In most cases, the Japanese sailors gradually made their way home on merchant vessels, but in 1833 one Japanese crew crashed near Cape Flattery and was enslaved by Makahs for a period before being rescued by members of the Hudson's Bay Company. Another Japanese ship crashed in about 1850 near the mouth of the Columbia River, and the sailors were assimilated into the local Native American population. While admitting there was no definitive proof of pre-Columbian contact between Japanese and North Americans, Wickersham thought it implausible that such contacts as outlined above would have started only after Europeans arrived in North America.

Mormon archaeology[edit]

Izapa Stela 5

The Book of Mormon states that some ancient inhabitants of the New World are descendants of Semitic peoples who sailed from the Old World. Mormon apologetics groups such as the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies attempt to vindicate these ideas. However, mainstream archaeologists reject these claims. The National Geographic Society, in a 1998 letter to the Institute for Religious Research, stated "Archaeologists and other scholars have long probed the hemisphere's past and the society does not know of anything found so far that has substantiated the Book of Mormon."[92] Given the lack of historical accuracy in the Book of Mormon as it relates to modern archaeological knowledge, mainstream scholars interpret the Book of Mormon as a work of fiction.[93]

In the 1950s, Professor M. Wells Jakeman popularized a belief that the Izapa Stela 5 represented tree of life vision from the Book of Mormon and was a validation of the historicity of the claims of pre-Columbian settlement in the Americas.[94] His interpretations of the carving and its connection to pre-Columbian contact have been widely discredited by both mainstream scholars and LDS scholars.[95]

Trans-oceanic travel originating from the New World[edit]

Native American roots of some Icelanders, based on genetic evidence[edit]

In 2010 Sigríður Sunna Ebenesersdóttir published a genetic study showing that over 350 living Icelanders carried mitochondrial DNA of a new type that is similar to the type found only in Native American and East Asian populations. Using the DeCODE genetics database, Ebenesersdóttir determined that the DNA entered the Icelandic population not later than 1700, and likely several centuries earlier. However, Ebenesersdóttir also states that "...while a Native American origin seems most likely for [this new haplogroup], an Asian or European origin cannot be ruled out".[96]

All 350 Icelanders had a line of descent from a single woman. This DNA is distinct from Inuit DNA, and combining the historical and genetic information available, the only realistic hypothesis is that this ancestral woman was a Native American presumably abducted from the Vínland area of North America around 1000 by visiting Norsemen.

Inuit, documentary evidence[edit]

In 1009, Norse explorer Thorfinn Karlsefni abducted two children from Markland and took them to Greenland, where they were taught to speak Norse and baptized.[97] Karlsefni sailed back to Norway and then Iceland shortly after, and if he took his two captives with him, they may have been the earliest Americans to come to Europe.

In 1420, Danish geographer Claudius Clavus Swart wrote that he personally had seen "pygmies" from Greenland who were caught by Norsemen in a small skin boat. Their boat was hung in Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim along with another, longer boat also taken from "pygmies". Clavus Swart's description fits the Inuit and two of their types of boats, the kayak and the umiak.[98][99] Similarly, the Swedish clergyman Olaus Magnus wrote in 1505 that he saw in Oslo Cathedral two leather boats taken decades earlier. According to Olaus, the boats were captured from Greenland pirates by one of the Haakons, which would place the event in the 14th century.[98]

In Ferdinand Columbus' biography of his father Christopher, he says that in 1477 his father saw in Galway, Ireland two dead bodies which had washed ashore in their boat. The bodies and boat were of exotic appearance, and have been suggested to have been Inuit who had drifted off course.[100]

Inuit, speculative[edit]

It is possible that the Norse took other indigenous peoples to Europe as slaves over the following centuries, because they are known to have taken Scottish and Irish slaves.[98][99]

Additionally, there is substantial evidence of Inuit coming to Europe under their own power or as captives after 1492, opening up the possibility that this had happened previously as well. A substantial body of Greenland Inuit folklore first collected in the 19th century told of journeys by boat to Akilineq, here depicted as a rich country across the ocean.[101]

Pre-Columbian contact between Alaska and Kamchatka via the subarctic Aleutian Islands would have been conceivable, but the two settlement waves on this archipelago started on the American side and its western continuation, the Commander Islands, remained uninhabited until after Russian explorers discovered the Aleut people in 1741. There is no genetic or linguistic evidence for earlier contact along this route.[102]


Kon-Tiki, photographed in 1947

Túpac Inca Yupanqui, the tenth Inca emperor, is said to have led an expedition lasting from nine months to a year into the Pacific Ocean around 1480, which discovered two islands.[103] Don Francisco de Toledo, who governed Peru from 1569 to 1581 and who compiled a history of the Incas, was convinced that those islands were the two of the Galápagos.[103]

Toledo's history states that the emperor brought back gold, brass, and the skin and jaw of a horse,[103] none of which would have been found on islands in the south Pacific. It has therefore been suggested that they were possibly Polynesian islands (Easter Island).[citation needed] Thor Heyerdahl speculated that since Yupanqui was able to reach the Galápagos, the Incas may have been able to reach the Polynesian islands even earlier, which he set out to show as plausible during the Kon Tiki expedition.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "L’Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site". UNESCO » Culture » World Heritage Centre » The List » World Heritage List. Retrieved March 1, 2013. 
  2. ^ "''L'Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site of Canada'' (Parks Canada. 2007)". January 28, 2011. Retrieved February 3, 2011. 
  3. ^ Van Tilburg, Jo Anne. 1994. Easter Island: Archaeology, Ecology and Culture. Washington D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press
  4. ^ Langdon, Robert (2001). "The Bamboo Raft as a Key to the Introduction of the Sweet Potato in Prehistoric Polynesia". The Journal of Pacific History 36 (1). 
  5. ^ "Batatas, Not Potatoes". Retrieved February 3, 2011. 
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Further reading[edit]

  • Erik Wahlgren The Vikings and America (1986, 2000) ISBN 0-500-28199-8.
  • Stacy Kowtko Nature and the Environment in Pre-Columbian American Life (2006) ISBN 978-0313334726

External links[edit]