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Did the Phoenicians arrive in South America ?

Phoenicians

In 1872, near Rio de Janeiro, an engraved slab bearing a text of Mediterranean origin was exhumed. Is this the proof that Phoenician navigators approached Brazil two thousand years before its official discovery?

The very mysterious Paraiba stone

It has long been known that Christopher Columbus only rediscovered the New World, five centuries after his real "inventors", the Vikings. But, over the course of archaeological finds, it appears that America may have been known, in fact, since ancient times.

On September 11, 1872, the Viscount of Sapuacahy, president of the Brazilian Historic and Geographic Institute, received a letter recounting the discovery in a plantation in Paraiba of a stone bearing a strange inscription, a copy of which is attached. But the strange stone in question will never be found.

Some scholars believe to recognize in the copied inscription the Phoenician writing. Frenchman Ernest Renan is called in because the author of The Life of Jesus is a specialist in Phoenician civilization. Renan declares that the inscription is a forgery, after making a translation which now appears to be entirely erroneous. Subsequently, a controversy arose among European scholars: the strangeness of the affair stems from the fact that certain aspects of the writing used were theoretically unknown at the time of the discovery. This detail would point towards the authenticity of the text, even if the description of the Paraiba stone is a major argument in favor of skeptics.

New translation and new interpretation

In 1967, Professor Cyrus Gordon, a specialist in ancient languages ​​and head of the Department of Mediterranean Studies at Brandeis University (Massachusetts), took over the text and translated it again. He then asserts, in light of recent findings, that the Paraiba inscription cannot be a forgery. His statement arouses controversy.

Gordon explains that the mentioned king is none other than Hiram III (552-532 BC), which gives 531 as the date of the inscription. The Carthaginian control of Gibraltar explains the outline of Africa to the east from the Red Sea. The island of iron is none other than Brazil, where this metal is abundant. The evocation of the "hand of Baal", god of storm and rain which intervenes in the affairs of men, can have two meanings: storm or toss, perhaps a journey ordered by the city.

Why haven't the Phoenicians come back in America ?

The phrase "thrown on this remote island" and the very small number of crew members suggest that the ship must have been wrecked. But, in a wooded country like Brazil, sailors of this caliber could easily rebuild a smaller boat and set off again.

The real obstacle has a name: the trade winds. At this latitude, they blow from Africa to America and make the outward journey easier. But the Phoenician ships without a stern rudder (invented around the 12th century in Europe) are unable to sway and therefore to fight against strong headwinds. This suggests that the navigators who engraved this stone remained all their lives prisoners of the continent where they had shipwrecked ...

The boldness of the Phoenician, Cretan and Carthaginian sailors is well known: they very often left the reassuring limits of the Mediterranean. So a crossing like this is ultimately nothing impossible.

Who discovered America?

In ancient times

The Phoenicians may have had predecessors, but on the Pacific coast of the South American continent this time. According to Cyrus Gordon, Japanese pottery from the time of Jomon (3rd-1st century BC) was found in Ecuador.

A Ming-era chronicle also reports that a fleet of 60 ships commanded by Admiral Cheng Ho allegedly hit the west coast of an unknown continent, Fou Tchang. Are Fou Chang and South America one?

From the Romans to the year 1000

Apart from Saint Brendan's voyage in the 6th century which remain surrounded by a semi-legendary halo, some clues would tend to prove that trips would have taken place at the beginning of our era: the head of a Roman statue unearthed in a Mexican pyramid as well as Roman coins mixed with some Arabic coins found off Venezuela. But the authenticity of each of these findings is still highly contested.

From Vikings to Columbus

The Vikings are now known to have reached North America shortly before the year 1000, and some research suggests that the longships descended much further south : as far south as the Amazon.

But there are also many signs that other European sailors may have crossed the Atlantic between Leif Erikson's voyage and that of Columbus.

People and Civilization