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No. 125: Sep-Oct 1999

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Pre-Columbiana

Pre-Columbiana is the title of a new journal focussing upon evidence for preColumbian contacts between the Old and New Worlds. Except for the Norse settlement at L'Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland, such early visitations are denied by mainstream archeology. Yet, there are hints everywhere that both the Atlantic and Pacific were crossed frequently before Columbus set sail.

One class of pre-Columbiana consists of linguistic, artistic, literary, and fossil evidence that distinctive New World plants were known in the Orient well before 1492. C.L. Johannessen, a geographer at the University of Oregon, demonstrates in a long article that both India and China knew and exploited a surprisingly wide range of American plants. For example, many carvings in Indian temples depict maize, which originated in the New World. A similar situation prevails for the sunflower and a many-seeded New World fruit called "annonas." Sunflowers and maize are also prodigious seed producers, suggesting that these three plants were valued as fertility symbols and may not have been consumed as food.

The pre-Columbian Pacific was a twoway conduit for plants and even a few animals. For example, the Old World contributed black-boned chickens, cotton, and coconuts to the New World.

As for China, Johannessen has gathered evidence for early Chinadestined Pacific crossings of maize, sunflowers, a squash, chili peppers, sweet potatoes, the yambean, and grain amaranths.

Most startling, though, has been the discovery of New World peanuts at two Neolithic sites in eastern China. The associated dates are astounding: 2,400 BC and 4,400 BC. Who was sailing the wide Pacific while the Egyptian pyramids and Stonehenge were under construction? Supporting the fossil peanuts is a written Chinese record of 300 AD describing a plant that buries its flowers in the soil and makes seeds that rattle when dry. Peanuts are very unusual that they flower above ground and then burrow into the ground to form nuts -- a characteristic one must see to believe and a story hard to fabricate.

(Johannessen, Carl L.; "American Crop Plants in Asia before A.D. 1500," Pre Columbiana, 1:9, 1998.)

From Science Frontiers #125, SEP-OCT 1999. 1999-2000 William R. Corliss