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Chris You Were Late! - Part 2

>> Part 1

Have you ever met a young American gakusei (student) who doesn’t remember the couplet: “In 1492 – Columbus sailed the Ocean blue?” Try my own version, please:

In fourteen-hundred-ninety-two, Columbus sailed the Ocean blue
It’s all and well, but I’ve to tell
That, eons before Chris’ arrival, thanks to their top knack for survival,
The Jomon sailors came ashore, on the North Coast of Ecuador;
The Chinese came to Calico, and both of them to Mexico.
So as we with care review the past, find that Columbus got here last.

In his book Columbus Was Last1, Patrick Huyghe recounts the American fascination with him, which exploded in full force in the nineteenth century, and brought Chris close to being declared a Saint. That the gent never performed miracles saved us from that aberration.2 Besides analyzing the simplistic historical approach to his voyages, Huyghe also regales us with tidbits on Columbus’ life, origin, competence and real motives, which, were the navigator currently alive, would make delightful fodder for the paparazzi. His main accomplishment is having set the stepping stone on which Spain launched her attempt to gobble up the whole world. OK, OK…half of it; the Portuguese were desperately trying to swallow the other half.

The only fact orthodox archeologists accept is that Columbus got to the New World years after the Norsemen. Saint Brendan’s, Fusan’s, and similar stories are dubbed urban legends to keep people tattling when not watching TV.

Two of the most acidic controversies irritating the world of Anthropology/Archaeology-and sister-sciences, are whether or not Asian mariners, particularly the Jomon3, ever landed in America; and what language did they speak.

Some scientists call the Jomon language Japonic4, not too distant from Ancient Japanese. Others claim it was Altaic, or Austronesian; or an Altaic superstructure with an Austronesian substructure…or vice versa.5 Maybe it was Tamil, from the Dravidian family.6 Dr. Alexander Vovin (U. Hawaii), an authority on Japanese historical linguistics believes that there’s some oblique evidence to its being some form of (proto-) Ainu and adds wryly: “no Jomon texts are extant.”7 One may spend ages studying the Jomon, like Junko Habu, Charles T. Keally, J. Edward Kidder, or Keiji Imamura8, never being able to know if they composed love poems, how they prayed, or what lullabies they sang to their babies.

Earlier than any other culture, the Jomon invented utilitarian and splendid ornamental ceramics. With primitive stone tools, they downed hefty trees for architecture, industry and navigation. They crafted gemstones as jewels or amulets. They developed lacquer for practical and decorative objects. They wove textiles for clothing and for sails. They made nets, fishhooks and harpoons, and went fishing for tuna, bonito and whales in rafts; or in canoes, some highly polished, some up to 60 feet long. They even baked chestnut cookies and made elderberry wine. But without even a little haiku left behind, the Jomon must remain classified as preliterate—anthropological euphemism for illiterate. Fortunately, they bequeathed us some fifty-thousand sites which certify their presence, and offer great clues about their lives.

The possibility that Ancient Japanese and other Old World people visited America has been amply explored. In his book, Huyghe lists sixteen ways in which such visits may have occurred, supported by an extensive bibliography on the thesis that Columbus got here last. Call it a non-academic work, but read it and see how much sense it makes.

Just as a teaser, there is also a little tract, somewhere else, claiming that the dogu figurines of the Jomon, show the Space cloths of people from Up There visiting Down Here.9

Infinitely more serious is the work by Smithsonian Institute’s renowned anthropologist Dr. Betty J. Meggers. With her husband, Clifford Evans (1920-1981), she traveled to Ecuador, at the request of businessman-turned-archaeologist Emilio Estrada, and the trio became involved in painstaking and fruitful research.

In 1956, Estrada discovered the Valdivia Culture in SW Ecuador, and found some impressive ceramic work quite different from all other with which he was familiar. Its designs reminded him of Jomon work. He contacted Meggers and Evans, and convinced them to join him in exploring the issue. And they did. Emilio Estrada died in 1961, leaving the burden of proof totally on Meggers’ and Evans’ shoulders.

Click to enlarge. Valdivia pottery shards (left), Jomon pottery shards (right)

The main objections to the thesis developed by Estrada, Evans and Meggers are: the enormous distance between America and Japan10; the Jomon’s supposed inability to build craft capable of lasting the trip; their assumed ignorance of Geography and Astronomy; and the supplies needed to survive the trip. Just riding the Kuroshio and her sister currents, we are told, would take over a year and a half to reach America, and by then, riders and craft would be dead and gone. As already proven in modern times, the long voyage from Japan, on primitive crafts, with limited supplies, using the strength of the Kuroshio and the Pacific winds, and adding some vigorous paddling, is possible in less than two months! More on this later.

Dr. Meggers is recognized as the most determined supporter of the thesis of Pre-Columbian Transpacific contacts. She has been involved in a titanic effort to open the eyes of her opposing colleagues, urging them to, at least, consider the possibilities of such an event. Her profuse work includes books, articles, conferences; trips abroad to substantiate and constantly re-evaluate her findings; and time to answer, most politely, the objections against her findings.11

In June 1992, as part of the events designed to celebrate Columbus’ 500th anniversary, the New England Antiquities Research Association, NEARA, held its scientific conference Across Before Columbus, at the Brown University Campus, in Providence, R.I. The presentations were collected, reviewed and critiqued, with the critique counterpointed by the presenters. A truly fantastic document was later produced under the conference’s title.12 The first paper is Meggers’ Jomon-Valdivia Similarities: Convergence or Contact? which together with her reply to the opposition, would put the controversy to rest.

Dr. Betty J. Meggers (1921-), Smithsonian Institution.

Although Dr. Meggers, and quite a number of other scientists have responded excellently to the objections against Pre-Columbian transpacific contacts, the opposition still persists. Sometimes it raises new arguments, or just ridicules the diffusionists’ exhaustive work, or resorts to chauvinism. “It’s insulting,” some say, “to claim that Native Americans couldn’t have developed by themselves techniques resembling those of other cultures. Diffusionism13 is a distorting lens through which to observe cultural similarities.”

Says Dr. Meggers: “Scholars are expected to base their interpretations on evidence, but in the case of transpacific contact, the evidence is not evaluated. It is simply ignored.”14 In one of our contacts, Dr. Meggers rightly observed that, unfortunately, the American press has failed to give the issue the attention it deserves, which has helped the din continue.15

How other distinguished Americanists have observed similarities between the cultures of Ancient Japan and America will be the topic for the next issue.

Part 3 >>

1. San Antonio: Anomalist Books. 1992
2. In Catholic tradition, before declaring someone a Saint, he/she has to perform a certifiable miracle.
3. The Jomon (cord markings in their pottery) inhabited Japan between 11,000 and 300 years BC. Habu, Junko: Ancient Jomon of Japan. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge U. Press. 2009. Also (2010) see:
4. Japonic or Japanese-Ryukyuan is a language family composed of Japanese and Ryukyuan. Their common ancestral language is known as Proto-Japonic or Proto-Japanese-Ryukyuan.
5. In the family of Altaic languages we find Turkic, Siberian/Manchurian; Mongolic and Korean, with the uncertainty about Japanese. Most Austronesian languages are spoken in the South Pacific islands; a few such as Malay are indigenous to mainland Asia and adjacent islands.
6. In the Dravidian family we find many languages from Southern India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and even Afghanistan and Iran.
7. Correspondence with the author, 7-20-09.
8. Habu (2004) has an extensive bibliography about her own work and that of other Jomonologist. See also: Kidder, J. Edward. Pre-historic Japanese Arts: Jomon Pottery. Palo Alto: Kodansha. 1968; Imamura, Keiji; Pre Historic Japan. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press; 1996. Anthropologist C.T. Keally has an online 49-page bibliography on Japanese Archaeology and History by Westerners.
9. Greene, Vaughn M. Astronauts of Ancient Japan; Millbrae, CA: Merlin Engine Works, 1978.
10. From Los Angeles to Tokyo the distance is about 8,821 kilometers or 5,481 miles.
11. Meggers, Betty J, Clifford Evans and Emilio Estrada. Early Formative Period of Coastal Ecuador: the Valdivia and Machalilla Phases. Smithsonian Contributions to Anthropology 1, Washington, 1965. Online About lists other titles by Dr. Meggers
12. Gilmore, Donald Y, and Linda S. McElroy, editors. Across Before Columbus. Edgecomb, ME:NEARA, 1998.
13. In the previous article we reviewed in brief the main differences between inventionist and diffusionist theories.
14. (2005) NEARA JOURNAL. Vol.39, #2.
15. PBS has produced three documentaries on various aspects of the issue. Also, in January 2000, The Atlantic Monthly magazine published an article by Marc K. Stengel: The Diffusionists have landed.

© 2010 Edward Moreno

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