6 Discoveries that Show the Pre-Columbian Americas Traded Across the Oceans
Ancient civilizations look ever-more advanced with each passing year as new discoveries continue to showcase just how sophisticated they truly were.
Yet, the idea that our ancestors were able to make extended sea journeys still seems far-fetched for some people. Despite the fact that, thousands of years ago, the Phoenicians could live for months on their boats and navigate flawlessly with the stars. Indeed, any of the great ancient cultures had access to hundreds of large, sophisticated ships and plentiful manpower, along with gifted navigators. So why not explore the unknown areas on the map?
Elephants in the Americas
Sketch of elephants depicted in reliefs in Palenque ruins, Mexico. Image Credit: W. B. Scott (Author provided)
Despite being non-native to the Americas, elephants were still depicted by the ancient inhabitants of North and South America using a variety of mediums.
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Drawing of elephant depicted on a Montezuma jar. Image Credit: Neil Harris. (Author provided)
Examples include the Montezuma Valley Jar, which was unearthed in 1885 at a Native American site, and the Elephant Slabs discovered in 1910 amongst Native American ruins in Flora Vista, New Mexico.
The Vai script of the ancient Mali empire can be found on the Elephant Slabs. Records from the ancient Mali empire also happen to detail multiple expeditions across the western ocean at different periods in their history. When exploring New Mexico in 1528, the Spanish explorer Cabeza de Vaca detailed distinct groups of black-skinned natives and red-skinned natives. One of these groups was named the Mendica. Curiously enough, the Mandinkas founded the Mali empire.
Elephant Slab 2 – Image Credit: Neil Harris. (Author provided)
It should be no stretch to believe that the Mali empire interacted with the Americas. At its height, it was one of the most powerful and sophisticated empires in the world. Records from the 1300’s regarding mariners trading far to the west detail one expedition as having 200 ships, and a later expedition, led personally by the emperor at the time, Mansa Abubakari, having over a thousand. As well, the Mali empire of this period is known to have been powerful enough to produce such giant forces. But, even more importantly, the South Equatorial Current would have carried the Mali empire’s ships right to the Americas.
It would seem that the Mali empire, and/or another of the great African empires, brought elephants with them during their expeditions to the Americas in the ancient past. The elephant was a primary beast of burden for the Mali empire, and it’s known that they carried elephants on their ships to different parts of the world, so it seems logical that some would have joined their trips across the Atlantic. Though, even if the elephants themselves didn’t make the journey, the Mali seafarers would certainly remember the iconic creatures.
Olmec pottery (left) – Credit: Zecharia Sitchin. Mayan sculpture (right) – Credit: Robin Heyworth (Author provided)
Yalloch, Guatemala – Late Classic 600-900 AD – Credit: Graeme Kearsley (Author provided)
Interestingly, native tribes throughout North America have myths describing creatures almost identical to elephants; giant beasts that slept while standing up or leaning against a tree and used “an arm like ours” to eat from the boughs of trees.
Other examples of elephants can be found in Mayan writing and sculptures, Olmec pottery, and metal plates from as far south as Ecuador.
Ecuador plate (left) – Credit: Crespi Collection. Copan, Honduras 756 AD – Credit: Shao (right) (Author provided)
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Mayan glyphs (left) – Credit: William Gates. Mayan depiction (right) – Credit: Alfred Maudslay. (Author provided)
Drugs of the Americas in Egyptian Mummies
Mummy of 19th dynasty King Rameses II. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )
While examining the mummified remains of Lady Henut Taui, a member of the Egyptian ruling class, Dr. Svetla Balabanova came across traces of both coca and tobacco. This quickly became a very perplexing find, as neither product was grown outside of the Americas until after Columbus arrived.
The discovery ignited a firestorm in the academic community, and it was assumed that there must have been contamination or the mummy itself wasn’t authentic. But after another, thorough analysis, the find was found to be authentic.
The ability to reach and trade with the Americas wouldn’t have been out of the question for the Egyptians. They’re known to have developed massive ships capable of carrying over 250 men along with animals, food, and trading goods. They also worked closely with the Phoenicians; who are known as the greatest seafarers of the ancient world.