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As we get ready to celebrate Columbus Day on October 14th, here is some food for thought. What if it was not Christopher Columbus, but Chinese Admiral Zheng He that discovered the new world almost seven decades before the Spanish explorer set foot on the island in the Bahamas that we now call San Salvador? That, is something that amateur British historian Gavin Menzies has been asserting for years and he now has new evidence to prove it.
Mr. Menzies presents his extensive research in a book called 'Who Discovered America' that was released on October 8th, to coincide with the Columbus Day celebrations. His latest claims are based on a 600-year-old map found by Beijing attorney Liu Gang in a second-hand bookshop, a few years ago. The author believes that the map that clearly depicts North American rivers and coasts and also, the continent of South America, is a genuine 18th century copy of the one created by Admiral Zheng He in 1417.
While the map has been authenticated by an appraiser from Christie's Auction as a 'very old' document, there is no way to prove that it is a copy of one drawn in the 1400's. But Menzies says that his theory is corroborated by the fact that the Chinese names like Chawan, which translates to land or Chulin, which means wood or forest that are mentioned on the map as regions in Peru, coincide with those that were known to exist from other independent sources found from that era.
Based on the opinion of some expert historians that he hired, Menzies concluded that the original map was sketched during the Ming Dynasty sometime between 1368-1644. Given that Admiral Zheng He was exploring the world between 1371- 1433, this adds further evidence to his theory that the Chinese explorer discovered the Americas, long before Columbus. In fact, Mr. Menzies goes as far as stating that when Chris Columbus set out on his journey, he had a copy of the Admiral's map.
This is not the first time Zheng He, China's most famous explorer has rained on another adventurer's parade. Earlier this year, a 600-year-old Chinese coin found in Kenya has made historians reconsider the well documented theory that Portugal born Vasco Da Gama was the first explorer to sail around Africa and India.
If that's not enough to send a shiver down the historian's spines, Menzies also claims that Chinese sailors, not European explorer Ferdinand Magellan, were the first to cross the Pacific Ocean almost 40,000 years ago, something he says he can prove with DNA evidence from the American Indians and other natives that he claims are descendants of Asian settlers.
As you can guess, most 'real' historians are not thrilled with these assertions especially given that in their opinion, Mr. Menzies is an amateur. But that doesn't deter this British man who has been voicing his skepticism about Chris Columbus being the first person to explore the 'New World', for the last twenty years and has written several best-selling books about it. He has thousands of fans and evidence that he believes is getting increasingly stronger.
Given that we will never know for sure unless one of these men decide to rise from their graves, this debate is bound to go on amongst the experts for centuries. Meanwhile, the rest of us can blissfully ignore it all, and simply enjoy the holiday!
Happy Columbus Day!