Monday, January 7, 2013
Did Muslims Discover the Americas?
Responsible for the Discovery, perhaps? But the actual Discovery itself? That would most certainly be the Italians (and those crazy Swedes, Danes and Norwegians before them) by Clifford F. Thies A co-founder of CAIR is catching a lot of attention for claiming that the Muslims discovered the Americas. The simple refutation of the claim is that they're called North and South America, not North and South Mohammed. But, it is possible that - among others - Muslims visited America prior to Columbus. The strongest evidence we have of people from the Old World visiting the New World concerns the Vikings. We know that Vikings colonized Iceland and Greenland. And, why would they have stopped at Greenland? Mastering ocean navigation, it seems only logical that they would have continued west, and visited or even colonized North America. Complementing Viking legend and artifacts, recent archeology has discovered a Viking settlement in Newfoundland. Today, there is no doubt as to Viking visitation and even colonization of the Americas. But, why, if Vikings had established at least one colony in the Americas did Viking contact with the Americas end? The answer is climate change. With the onset of the Little Ice Age life was made much more difficult in Greenland and the upper east coast of North America. The Viking settlements on Greenland died out or else moved on. Indeed, some of their hamlets became covered by glaciers, and only recently have reappeared with the receding of the glaciers. We can only suppose that the Viking colony or colonies in the Americas - now cut off from Europe - either died out or that their people were either killed by or became part of the Indian population. With respect to other contacts of people of the Old World with those of the New, we have a hodgepodge of intriguing legends and artifacts. There are some hints, for example, that the Celtic people of the British Isles and the northern coast of the Iberian Peninsula may have been engaged in trade with the Indians of North America. Again, this would have involved sailing along the northern Atlantic and would also have been prior to the Little Ice Age. My long time friend and fellow economist Hu McCulloch has been interested in the archeology of North America. At the following link, he displays some ancient coins that have been discovered (or, at least were claimed to have been discovered) in North America. (I should point out that just because these coins include, e.g., Roman coins, doesn't mean Romans were in contact with North America, as Vikings or Celts could have used Roman coins.) The world then changed with the Little Ice Age. Transatlantic commerce came to an end. Furthermore, life was made much more problematic in Europe. From measurements of bones dug up from the graves of northern Europeans, we can see that the average height of adult men diminished. Life expectancy decreased and population declined. Knowledge was lost, including that of the Americas. At the same time, the Muslims had become well established in a vast expanse of territory stretching from the straights of Gibraltar to India. And, the focus of the Europeans was how to by-pass the Muslims in order to trade with China. The Portuguese had one idea: sail around Africa. Only, nobody knew how far south that continent extended. The English had another idea: sail around Russia. Except the Little Ice Age put an end to that, and the company organized for this purpose, the Muscovy Company, became involved in whaling. The Spanish had yet another idea. Sail west, across the Great Ocean, for which they were encouraged by a faulty map. Since the time of the Greeks, if not the Egyptians, we have known the Earth to be about 25,000 miles around. But, Christopher Columbus had a map that showed the circumference to be only two-thirds that distance, implying that Asia was only a few thousand miles west of Europe. So, in a strange way, the fellow from CAIR is partially correct. Not that Muslims discovered the Americas in the way meant when we say Columbus discovered the Americas. But, that because the Muslims cut-off the direct trade route from Europe to China, the Europeans sought a new route that would by-pass them. And, one of the routes the Europeans explored led to the Americas.