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Saturday, January 17, 2009

American Indians discovered Europe first?

Raising controversy already is Jack D. Forbes's The American Discovery of Europe, which speculates about Native American crossings of the Atlantic before the time of the great European discovery of the Americas: in effect, he says that Native Americans toured Europe before the time of Columbus.

The aboriginals of the Caribbean, it seems, were the Polynesians of America. Sophisticated boat-builders and mariners, they had the benefit of favorable winds and currents.

In the Middle Ages, there were rumors of "redmen" in Portugal.

Columbus himself noted Indian-like men in canoes off the German coast in 1410.

Inuit harpoon heads have been found in Ireland and Scotland.

Forbes is the professor emeritus of Native American studies and anthropology at University of California at Davis, so knows how to juggle terminology and logic convincingly. Whether he succeeds is debateable. That harpoon head business reminds me of my reaction when I was phoned by a radio station for comment, after the skull of a European woman who, according to carbon dating, had been killed sometime in the mid- to late-1700s, was discovered north of Wellington. Did this mean that women traveled on American whaleships to New Zealand before 1800? Nope, said I. The skull had been carried here by some Victorian traveler, or maybe even by a theatrical troupe with Hamlet on their playlist, and then had been lost or dumped.

So who knows when those harpoon heads arrived in Ireland and Scotland? Or can prove that they were carried there by Inuit travelers?

For a precisely argued review by Mark Meuwese of The American Discovery of Europe, read on.

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