Minoans in North America? I hae me doots …

Readers of my Explorator newsletter will recognize the name of Gavin Menzies as the guy who wrote a book suggesting that a Chinese sailor reached North America  before Columbus. While the book was hailed in China (for obvious reasons), it seems to have been generally met with skepticism on this side of the Pacific … now Menzies is working on another book — this time suggesting that the Minoans (!) made it here even earlier than that! Some excerpts (and a tip o’ the pileus to Francesca Tronchin for alerting us to this one):

[…] As he did back then, Mr. Menzies remains unwavering from his beliefs. He claims his latest evidence for his book, which doesn’t have a publishing date or a title yet, solves the mystery of which ancient civilization mined thousands of copper mines around Lake Superior on the Canadian-American border as early as 2,200 B.C., leaving behind thousands of knives, harpoons and other objects.

Vessels depicted in Minoan frescoes and the remains of one of them — the Uluburun wreck found on the Mediterranean seabed in 1982 with a cargo of copper ingots and artifacts from seven different civilizations — have convinced him that their ships were advanced enough for ocean travel. The frescoes and the wreck’s surviving fragments, he claims, gave him enough detail to work out the number of rowers, the type and efficiency of sails and the sailing capacity.

“We can make accurate estimates of the length, width and draught of the ships and hence their seagoing capability,” he explains in a phone interview from his home in central London, sounding resolute. “The ships could sail into the wind as well as before it, and lower sail very quickly in the event of an unexpected squall.”

He also claims to have DNA proof that the Minoans carried a rare gene found today among Native Americans around Lake Superior and scientific tests matching the region’s “uniquely pure” copper to the Uluburun ingots. Pointing to evidence of indigenous American plants being transported to other civilizations — including nicotine traces found in ancient Egyptian mummies and maize-cobs carved on their temples — he says that the Egyptians with their flimsy vessels weren’t great seafarers and that only the Minoans, with whom they traded, could have undertaken trans-Atlantic travel.

One would expect that if the Minoans carried tobacco from the Americas to Egypt, evidence of American tobacco should exist around Crete. “There is such evidence in the form of a tobacco beetle found buried beneath the 1450 B.C. volcanic ash of a merchant’s house in Akrotiri, the Minoan town…This tobacco beetle, Lasioderma Serricorne, was indigenous to the Americas. It should be remembered tobacco didn’t grow in Europe in 1450 B.C.,” Mr. Menzies says.

Despite his confidence, Mr. Menzies is bracing himself for ill-winds and a storm over his new theories. Although he has yet to finish his Minoan book, some academics are again skeptical ahead of having a chance to read the evidence.

Although Professor Carl Johannessen, professor emeritus at the University of Oregon and co-author of “World Trade and Biological Exchanges before 1492,” is intrigued by Mr. Menzies’s latest research and applauds his previous efforts as “a powerful search for ancient knowledge,” he says, “I am convinced that the Minoans were not the first or the only sailors crossing the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.”

Meanwhile, Susan Martin, an associate professor of archaeology at Michigan State University who specializes in Lake Superior’s prehistoric archaeology, says, “There is no evidence of any exploration or exploitation of the mineral resources by anyone other than Native American users.”

Professor John Bennet, a Minoan expert at the University of Sheffield, argues that, while it is theoretically possible that Minoans reached America, their ships were too small to carry sufficient supplies and cargo for regular long voyages. And Cemal Pulak, an associate professor at Texas A&M University who led the Uluburun excavation, says that such ambitious seafaring wouldn’t have been feasible. Although the vessels were sturdy, they didn’t have decks to endure storms and rough seas, he explains, adding that the Uluburun copper came from Cyprus.

Undeterred, Mr. Menzies counters that the Minoan ships were three times the size of Columbus’s, that ancient artifacts found at Lake Superior match those from the Uluburun wreck, and that indigenous Americans had no knowledge of mining or smelting copper artifacts. […]

Wow … outside of the obvious squirrel-potential of this one, it is incredibly surprising that the Wall Street Journal is printing what is a review of a book before it is even finished; it’s similarly surprising that Dalya Alberge (the archaeology writer for the Times of London … although I notice she now seems to be with the Guardian?) seems to be penning it. Perhaps Menzies wants to know what he’s going to have to explain away before his tome goes to press. Whatever the case,  folks  might want to prearm themselves and take a look at some of the Old Copper Complex artifacts found in various sites around Lake Superior as depicted on this very nice webpage (scroll down for photos) … just a quick observation on my part: I’m not sure many of the Old Copper Culture artifacts were actually ‘cast’ (as are most of the metal items from Uluburun); particularly noteworthy is a comparison of spearheads … the Old Copper Culture ones seem to be definitely hammered (photo on the aforementioned page) while those on the shipwreck are definitely cast (see the link to a photo near the bottom of this page). There’s a marked difference in quality of ‘attachment’ as well … just for starters.

via Sailing Against Conventional Wisdom – WSJ.com.


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