The Sideshow

Chinese explorer Zheng He may have reached America before Columbus, according to new book

Eric Pfeiffer
The Sideshow

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Does this map prove that the Chinese discovered America before Columbus? (Harper Collins)

Does a 600-year-old Chinese map prove that Christopher Columbus was not the first international explorer to navigate the New World?

In his book “Who Discovered America?,” published Tuesday, author Gavin Menzies says the settling of North America by nonnative peoples is more complex than previously thought.

‘The traditional story of Columbus discovering the New World is absolute fantasy, it’s fairy tales,” Menzies, 76, said in an interview with the Daily Mail.

However, not everyone is sold on the theory. Menzies has been derided as a “pseudo-historian” by critics, who say his claims are grandiose and not based in historical fact. Menzies has primarily focused his studies on when and how North America was first explored but he has also argued that the mythological city of Atlantis was real.

Menzies also has passionate supporters — his previous books have been best-sellers, and proponents of his theories have donated millions to his efforts, allowing him to hire a number of experts to join in his investigations.

Menzies says that the Chinese map, found in a bookstore and created in the 18th century, is attributed to Chinese Admiral Zheng He and shows a detailed map of America dating back to 1418. That would place Zheng He’s efforts some 70 years ahead of Columbus. In fact, Menzies says Columbus used a copy of Zheng He's map to plot his own voyage.

Zheng He — a Muslim eunuch — is arguably the most famous explorer in Chinese history. Deployed by the emperor, He led Chinese fleets on voyages of discovery that helped expand the empire’s knowledge of the world to include previously unknown areas in the Middle East and Africa. His influence over Asian culture was so strong that he is still considered a god in parts of Indonesia.

An appraiser from Christie’s has authenticated the map itself, but there is currently no way of proving the map was based on images drafted in the 1400s. However, Menzies says that certain observations on the map, including descriptions of communities and other cultural landmarks in Peru, coincide with known data from that period.

In addition, Menzies makes an even broader claim in his book, saying that Chinese sailors were the first to cross the Pacific Ocean 40,000 years ago. Menzies says there is DNA evidence to support his claim.

So how does Menzies believe the Chinese pulled off such a giant historical accomplishment thousands of years before anyone else?

“If you just go out in a plastic bathtub, the currents will just carry you there,” Menzies told the Mail. “They just came with the current, it’s as simple as that.”

The current historical version of events says that individuals from what is now Asia crossed into North America via a land bridge extending from the Bering Strait.

Critics of Menzies point out that he holds no degrees or professional training as a historian. But the Daily Mail says he “can no longer be called an amateur” after his most recent efforts.

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"Who Discovered America?" author Gavin Menzies. (William Morrow)

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