The series “Origins” opens the new season with several articles from our guest author Harry Bourne.
India, Africa, the Sea & Antiquity: “Amerindia” and Scandinavia
Author: Harry Bourne
What is about to be described in this section is to demonstrate what is written about various groups hypothesised to have reached parts of Africa in antiquity and will mainly follow Oliver Cromwell’s much-quoted comment on the occasion of his portrait being painted. This was that the portrait had to include his warts plus all his other imperfections or never be done.
This wartsn’all approach means the noting of the good and bad about the cited groups. This will largely concentrate on the period between circa (= ca.) 500 BCE and ca. 500 CE. By BCE is meant Before Common Era (= BC) and CE indicates Common Era (= AD). Indian seafarers are mainly excluded from this section and will be discussed in Part 2 and onwards. Mention of such as “online in 2015” indicates access in that year.
This section figures the people(s) variously known as the First Nations, Native Americans, Amerindians, Amerinds, etc. The latter is plainly an abbreviated form of the term immediately preceding it. The inclusion of the Amerinds may be somewhat unexpected but hopefully the reason for this will become obvious.
There has been a considerable amount of research into the maritime history of Amerinds on the Pacific or west-facing littoral of the Americas. Attesting the very long history of seafaring of Amerinds these shores of West-coast Americas is the near-800 pages by Thor Heyerdahl (20). Useful supporting material is in “The Dissemination of American Economic Plants on Precolumbian Sea Routes” by Bruno Wolters (21). Also useful are Richard Callaghan (22), Dorothy Hosler (23), etc.
The last three named are among those showing extensive commercial traffic along these Pacific-facing parts of West-coast Americas. Heyerdahl, Wolters, etc, demonstrate this was largely raft-based that again could be non-stop for ca. 3500 miles between Ecuador and west Mexico. A major difference between that of the Indo-Malay ANs on the Indian Ocean and that of West-coast Americas is that the Amerind seacraft had clearly defined steering and propulsion modes. The propulsion came by use of sails and the steering methods were based on devices called guares/guaras, swords/daggers, leeboards, etc.
Evidence of the passages between Ecuador to west Mexico include shaft-graves, clothing, language, ceramics (& associated technology), metallurgy (& associated metallurgy), terraced agriculture, etc. Useful agricultural produce was also exchanged according to Wolters (ib.), as were psychoactive plants plus fungi according to such as Terry McGuire (24). Hosler (ib.) points to the interesting case of the bird called the white-faced jay. She says Ecuadorian habitat differs from that of Ecuador where it has a very restricted distribution in Mexico and says there are no known intermediate stages between Ecuador and west Mexico. She thought that it was attractive to the traders because of its color and its ability at mimicry.
The Ecuadorian merchants not only brought these birds to west Mexico but came looking for supplies of the Spondylus shell plus the psychoactive drugs also known in the homeland and apparently having the effects. McGuire (ib.) also refers to an overland trade also reaching east Mexican parts of North America. Looming large among the ancient cultures here are the Olmecs.
The Olmec Culture may have had their heartland in the Veracruz province (Mexico). An alternative name for them according to Philip Arnold (25) was Uixtotin (= Peoples of the Saltwater/Sea). To this is to be added Giancarlo Sette (26). Sette (ib.) shows Olmec artifacts evidently traded for gold and jade from Panama/Costa Rica. They include an Olmec-made object found in Costa Rica having decoration matched at the Early Olmec site of La Venta (Mex.) so presumably indicates the beginnings of this trade. What Hosler (ib.) says about the white-faced jay probably showing non-stop traders for ca. 3500 miles applies equally to Veracruz-to- Panama voyages.
By far the most complete research into the seafaring of East-coast Amerinds is by Jack Forbes (27 & 28) and is probably the nearest there is to Heyerdahl’s (ib.) massive book touched on already. He regards it as probable that East-coast Amerinds from those of Mesoamerica to those of North America as capable reaching parts of Europe. Forbes (ib.) cites John Heaviside (29) as an early believer of Amerinds reaching that part of Africa known as Egypt.
In this opinion, Heaviside runs opposite to the rather later one of Stephen Compton (30) but both agree on the Egypto/Mexican connections (as do many others). Forbes (ib.) refers to many instances of Amerinds possibly known in ancient Europe Also to the finding of bodies with faces that were neither African nor European in vessels washed up in the Azores. This was evidently reported by the brother-in-law of Columbus. Gordon Kennedy (31) makes a further possible linkage of Amerinds with the island-groups collectively known as the Macaronesian Islands that are otherwise the Azores, Madeira, the Canaries plus the Cape Verde Islands.
Kennedy is manly describing the Canary Islands. Heaviside refers to half-black and half-white populations in west African oral-lore. He says this is mirrored by a passage in the Popol Vuh (= Counsel-book [of the Quiche Maya]), itself oft-said to be the nearest thing to an Amerind sacred book. More on this comes with the frequent comparisons of west African faces and some those carved on the Olmec Great Heads, the head of a young Yoruba (Nigeria) woman and another in the famous Wuthenau collection, of the names of Yemoja/Yemoya ( a Yoruban sea-goddess) and Yemoye (an Amerind spelling of Jamaica). Other hints added when we read of Roger Blench (32) saying it seems the African palm-oil tree turned into that of the Americas and the American silk-cotton tree became the African silk-cotton tree.
A similar pattern of plant exchanges was briefly noted as having been shown by Wolters (ib.) but it should be said that this was mainly a trade in coastal waters. Views earlier than those of Heyerdahl (1952) are cited by Michael Bradley (33) that totally dismisses Amerinds sailing on rafts. Nor do all authorities agree that rafts are a typical seacraft of West –coast Amerinds.
Even after the exploits of Heyerdahl detailed in his massive 800 pages (& elsewhere) there is an opinion this only shows Norwegians are good sailors not South American Amerinds were/are. The DNA tests demonstrate Heyerdahl’s basic thrust of an Amerind origin for the Polynesians was wrong but should not be taken as indicating the Amerinds of southern West-coast Americas did not venture out on to the Pacific Ocean.
Two books by Jack Forbes have been referred to. In them, he makes obvious he has little time for claimed Africans as an ancestral strand of the Olmecs of Mexico or as traders in the Caribbean coeval with Columbus. It should be borne in mind that although Forbes points to an offshoot of the North Equatorial Current west-flowing to the Gulf of Guinea, the voyages there described in Richard Callaghan’s computerised simulations denote that they were of a drift not purposeful nature.
Douglas Peck (34) says Amerinds could not get from Yucatan (east Mex.) to Cuba. If wrecks truly imply bad seacraft, the probable Amerind bodies found in the Azores were in a wrecked vessel. Many would disagree with Kennedy (ib.) seeking Amerind links with the Canaries; the more so given there was even very little contact with nearby islands. With the Cape Verde Islands as the last of the Macaronesian groups in mind, any attempt at linking them with Amerinds in west Africa would surely fail on such as Elysee Reclus (34) noting the current between these islands and Senegal halted contacts. This would almost mirror what Peck says about Yucatan to Cuba.
Scandinavia or Nordic Europe is the homeland of the variously labelled as Vikings or Norse and it might again be wondered why they are included here. One similarity are scenes on rocks depicting economic activities in parts of Africa and Scandinavia. Those in the latter region include fishing and are detailed in Graham Clark’s (35) “The Development of fishing in prehistoric Europe”. Clark’s many works attest large bones showing adult cod at sites of the Mesolithic (= Middle Stone Age) plus the gathering of stone from the Lofoten Islands for axe-making. The rock-art continues through the Neolithic (= New Stone Age) into the succeeding Bronze and Iron Ages. By the Pre-Roman Iron Age, the Hjortspring/Nydam/Kvalsum/ Gokstad sequence of Nordic ship-building has already begun. It should be borne in mind this is a simplified version of development but serves as rough and ready way to demonstrate stages leading up to the beginning of the Viking period.
The ship excavated at Gokstad (Norway) in the 19th c. is held to be a fine example of Nordic/Viking shipbuilding. As the Phoenicians had a round-shaped merchantmen called the golah so the Vikings had one called the knarr. Likewise, the Phoenicians had a called a kirkarah and the Vikings had the drakarr (= dragon-ship/longship). As is normal, the drakarr as a warship gets most attention.
Follow up: Part 1.3: . Stay tuned.
The first chapters of this can be found here: