10 Civilizations That Might Have Beaten Columbus To America

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In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue—and then he discovered America. That’s the story we all grew up with, but it’s now common knowledge that the Vikings beat Christopher Columbus to the Americas by around 500 years. As it turns out, they might not have been the only ones.

1. The Chinese

From 1368–1644, China was ruled by the Ming Dynasty. As Europe was becoming dominated by ships and sails, China was also encouraging naval exploration, and one expedition may have led to America. The theory—which has been dubbed the “1421 theory,” the year the Chinese supposedly made landfall—was popularized by British amateur historian Gavin Menzies, who noted similarities between Chinese and Native American culture. Menzies posits that during the 70 years before Columbus reached the New World, the Chinese were ruling major American tribes and interbreeding with the natives.

There’s not much evidence to support the 1421 theory, but what does exist includes old Chinese coins that were found scattered throughout the Pacific Northwest, an old Nez Pierce garment made of Chinese beads, a Chinese horseman painted in a Colombian cave, and a Chinese jade found in California, all of which allegedly date back to before Columbus’s arrival. The most compelling evidence comes from a Chinese map that was supposedly drawn in 1408 and depicts the entire world, including the American supercontinent. Many historians have dismissed this map as a Chinese copy of a 17th-century Jesuit map, mostly because China itself is so poorly detailed.

In the end, there’s no real way of confirming or dismissing the 1421 theory. The Qing Dynasty, which succeeded the Ming Dynasty, destroyed numerous Ming documents as a means of enforcing its rule.

2. Semites

There are multiple theories that ancient Semitic peoples visited the Americas. One formerly popular theory suggests that the Phoenicians were responsible for establishing the major pre-Columbian Native American empires. This theory is heavily associated with the legend of Votan, a mythological figure who allegedly founded the first city of the New World in 1000 B.C. Curiously, this critically important figure is referenced only in European texts. Most of the archaeological evidence in support of the Phoenician theory has been dismissed as fake, but there is an intriguing Carthaginian coin that may feature a map of the world. The Carthaginians were descendants of the Phoenicians, so their knowledge of the New World would support the theory.

A more widespread theory concerns the Israelites. According to the Book of Mormon, three Israelite groups—the Nephites, Lamanites, and Mulekites—settled the Americas with a non-Israelite group called the Jaredites. They established major cities, wrote extensively in Hebrew and Egyptian, and imported flora and fauna from the Old World. These groups together were also said to be the ancestors of the Native Americans. Nothing in archaeology or genetic testing has substantiated any of these claims, and none of the groups are mentioned outside of Latter-day Saints literature, but because the Book of Mormon is considered divine, many believers accept the claims as fact.

3. Siberians

If the Native Americans aren’t the descendants of the Israelites, where did they come from? Popular scientific opinion points to East Asia, specifically Siberia. According to the theory, prehistoric peoples from Siberia migrated to northern North America and gradually proliferated throughout the entire supercontinent. The migration is believed to have taken place around 11,000 years ago, but some archaeological evidence places that number as far back as 20,000–30,000 years ago. It’s widely believed that the Siberians traveled to America across the frozen Bering Strait during an ice age, but they also may have crossed the Bering Strait by boat.

Though many aspects of the journey remain a mystery, this theory has been supported by genetic testing. In 2012, a team of anthropologists from the University of Pennsylvania released a study that showed a unique shared mutation between the southern Altai people of Siberia and Native Americans. It seems conclusive that credit for “discovering” America should go to these Siberians—not only did they beat Columbus, they were the first humans on the supercontinent, period… Show More

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