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1421: The Year China Discovered America
Gavin Menzies

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The Year China Discovered America

Copyright © 2002, 2003 by Gavin Menzies


The Voyage of Zhou Wen
Satan’s Island

Note (Hal’s):
After separating from the others in the western Atlantic, Zhou Wen enters the Caribbean, charting Les Saintes and Guadeloupe, where they encounter Carib cannibals. They explore Puerto Rico, then head north across the Great Bahama Bank (taking extensive damage in the shallows) to the Berry Islands.


  • Analysis of the Pizzigano chart.
  • The breadth of information in the Piri Reis chart (from a source obtained in 1501) and the Cantino (1502).

— end note

Many of the islands seem to bear little relation to their present sizes and shapes, and I was baffled as to why it was so much in error.

I struggled to make sense of this for some considerable time; then, all at once, the answer came to me. Sea levels in 1421 were lower than they are today. Global warming has caused the polar ice to melt, causing sea levels to rise slowly but inexorably.

Columbus was a poor cartographer. On his first voyage his calculations of latitude were twenty degrees out – he believed he was somewhere in Nova Scotia – and his longitude was a thousand miles in error. Even if Columbus had a secret, and rather better, cartographer aboard who could have accurately drawn the Caribbean islands shown on the Cantino during all four of Columbus’ voyages, that still left hundreds of thousands of square miles of ocean and islands shown on the Cantino that neither Columbus nor any other European explorer reached until twenty years after the chart was drawn.
To achieve the remarkable precision and wealth of detail of the Cantino and Piri Reis charts would have required at least thirty ships just to survey the Indian Ocean, let alone South America, Antarctica and Africa. Neither Portugal nor Spain could have sent so many huge fleets simultaneously to different quarters of the world.
The Treasure Fleet Runs Aground

Note (Hal’s):
Some of the fleet, too heavily damaged to cross deep water safely, make for shore in the Bimini region.


  • Unidentified shipwrecks in the region.
  • The “Bimini Road” (described below), interpreted as a slipway to allow wrecks to be drawn ashore.
  • A possible description of Chinese survivors, seen on Cuba in 1494 by a Columbus crewman.

— end note

In 1974, an American scientist, Dr David Zink, led an expedition (the first of nine) to survey these mysterious stones. He produced overwhelming evidence that the road was man-made. Small stones are placed underneath large ones, apparently to make the sea-bed level, and the larger of the two structures contains arrow-shaped ‘pointers’ that can only have been man-made. Parts of the road contain stones cut to the same size and laid in rows, and some small square stones have tongued and grooved joints. The mineral micrite, foreign to America and almost always found in association with lead and zinc ores, was also lying on the sea-bed around the stones. They have been submerged over a long span of time, for the edges of some have become rounded by wave action, giving them something of the appearance of huge loaves of bread. Some of them were not of Caribbean origin. The road is clearly visible from the air through the azure water. It runs straight as a die down into the depths, a broad band of beige stone.

Dr. Zink later reached the bizarre conclusion that the stones of the Bimini Road were part of the fallen pillars of a sacred temple built about 28,000 BC by a long-lost civilization, the Atlanteans, who employed aliens from the star cluster Pleiades to build a megalithic temple complex similar to Stonehenge.

Dr. Zink sent a sample to the Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island. As it had never been fired in a kiln, they were unable to carbon-date the blocks but the head chemist, Dr Edward V. Sayre, confirmed that some of the smaller square blocks were made with a sandstone-limestone mixture and suggested that they ‘might have been created by an ancient technique of mass production’. Moreover, each ‘building block’ was tongued and grooved to slot into its neighbour, and although they had square sides, they tapered in thickness. There appeared to be no need for the tongue and groove on the sea-bed, for the stones were not joined together with them. The solution could be that the building blocks were tongued and grooved so that they could be joined together around ballast in the bottom of a junk, preventing the large stones from moving in a heavy sea and damaging the hull.

Note (Hal’s):
Imagine my frustration! If the use of such shaped stones could be identified with Chinese techniques for junk construction, we would have in hand some pretty strong evidence for much of Menzies’ tale. Yet he gives us a “might-have-been” scenario and grouses about not being allowed to excavate mounds on the beach.

— end note

Settlement in North America

Note (Hal’s):
Having lost more ships and cargo (including food) than people, Zhou Wen must leave some behind. These can be of both sexes, as the Chinese fleet carries numerous concubines. He plants one colony in New England.


  • A description by Giovanni de Verrazzano (1524) of light-colored people in Narragansett Bay.
  • The Round Tower in Newport, Rhode Island (hotly disputed).
  • Carved stones, including possible depictions of Buddha and of horses.

— end note

Expedition to the North Pole

Note (Hal’s):
The fleet divides with the currents off Newfoundland. One group travels east to chart the Azores, then south to the Cape Verde Islands, around Africa to the Indian Ocean, and back to China. The other group heads for the North Pole, wintering on Ellesmere Island, and circumnavigating Greenland (this being shortly prior to a climate shift that icelocked its north coast) and attacking residents. They return to China via Iceland and the sea route north of Europe and Asia, passing through the Bering Strait.


  • A statue of a horseman on Corvo, in the Azores.
  • The appearance of the Azores on the Kangnido chart.
  • The Vinland map (provenance traceable to a map-dealer’s Fiat in 1965, and no further).
  • Evidence of climate change in the right timeframe.
  • A 1448 letter from Pope Nicholas V, describing a barbarian attack on Greenland thirty years before.
  • Stone, roofless houses on the Bache Peninsula of Ellesmere. (Speculation: temporary roofs of ship timber.)
  • Multiple hearths outside the Bache colony houses (for boiling blubber? smelting copper?)
  • A report by Columbus that he reached Iceland in 1477, and that Chinese had been there.
  • On the Waldseemüller map (1507), a depiction of the entire north coast of Europe and Asia, not yet surveyed by Russia.
  • In the I Yü Thu Chih, depictions of Cossack dancers as well as Eskimo hunters.

— end note

The cumulative evidence – the Chinese reaching the Caribbean, the currents and winds that could have carried them from there around Greenland, the Pope’s letter and the stone village – is suggestive of a Chinese attempt to reach the North Pole. By reaching Greenland they failed only by four hundred nautical miles . . . or did they? The most exquisite artefacts – snow geese, polar bears, seals and walruses of sumptuous workmanship carved from walrus ivory – have been found in the High Arctic even further north than Greenland, within 250 miles of the North Pole. They were designed by artists of genius. Could the Inuit have made them, or were they the art of a civilization almost as old as time?

Note (Hal’s):
This is inexcusable.

If artworks usually attributed to the Inuit can be linked to Ming Chinese techniques or styles, let the evidence be considered. Menzies describes none; he appears to be claiming the art for China solely on the basis of its quality. Wishful thinking I can deal with, but outright cultural chauvinism, sans evidence, deserves no quarter.

— end note

The Voyage of Yang Qing
Solving the Riddle

Note (Hal’s):
The fleet that had departed ahead of the others, commanded by Yang Qing, takes up positions around the Indian Ocean, and obtains precise timings of the stages of a lunar eclipse. On their return, the observations are combined to make possible precise calculations of longitude for the locations at which they were taken.


  • Positional accuracy for this region in the Cantino.
  • Portuguese incapacity to achieve this by 1502 (few voyages, and lack of technique).
  • Arab incapacity due to insufficiently precise timing techniques, confirmed by limitations of their charts.

— end note

We decided to go on a crocodile shoot in the estuary of the Limpopo, and duly borrowed the ship’s motor boat, several rifles and a crate of rum. We arrived in the glassy, greasy estuary under a leaden sky, a scene Kipling would have recognized. There were no crocodiles but plenty of hippos with their ugly snouts and big ears showing above the muddy water. This was sport! We soon discovered two things: hippos’ hides are tough (the bullets bounced off) and hippos do not enjoy being peppered with shot. One charged us; I can see the boat now, flying through the air upside down, its propellers whirring away as it passed overhead. Both we and the hippo retired bruised but otherwise undamaged.


The Limpopo River

If a sufficiently large fleet was deployed, there is no reason why longitudes across the whole of the Indian Ocean should not have been established in a single lunar eclipse. Men would have been despatched to different locations in readiness to take readings of the lunar eclipse, all on the same night. They could then return to base to compare measurements.



Though the Western world is largely silent on the origin of these extraordinary world maps, now correct both for latitude and longitude, the inscription on the stone erected by Zheng He in commemoration of his voyages shows where the credit is due: ‘And now as a result of the voyages the distances and courses between the distant lands may be calculated.’ It was another towering achievement by the Chinese fleets, one that should have burned like a beacon in the annals of global history. Instead, it was to be snuffed out and forgotten, along with the discovery of the Americas, Australia, Antarctica and the Arctic; Europeans would claim the glory that should have belonged to the great Chinese admirals and their fleets.

Portugal Inherits the Crown
Where the Earth Ends

Note (Hal’s):
Henry “the Navigator” of Portugal conquers Ceuta in 1415, acquiring Arab knowledge of the East. He establishes a base at Sagres (1419) and designs the caravel, with lateen sail adapted from the dhow. Porto Santo and Madeira are discovered in 1421.

Henry and his brother, Dom Pedro, acquire maps based on Ptolemy’s Geographia (from Byzantines fleeing the Ottoman conquest) and, by 1428, charts based on the Chinese voyages, brought from the East by Niccolò da Conti.

Paolo Toscanelli interviews da Conti and supplies maps to Columbus and to Behain of Bohemia.


  • Toscanelli’s letter.
  • Magellan’s foreknowledge of his route.

— end note

Another of Zarco’s shipmates, Bartolomeu Perestrello, was sent to establish a colony on the neighbouring island of Porto Santo. It was an ill-starred choice. Perestrello’s children had a pet rabbit, a doe. It gave birth to a litter during the voyage to Porto Santo, and when the colonizers settled on the island the rabbits multiplied so fast without natural predators to control their numbers that the island was soon reduced to a desert.

There are some parts of the ocean where a mariner knows his position by the smell of the sea. The Grand Banks off Newfoundland is one, the Straits of Malacca another, but most potent of all is the scent of pines off Sagres on a warm summer’s night, a smell that for me always brings back memories of voyages to the East, for after Sagres one alters course to the south-east for the Mediterranean and the lands beyond.


The Sea

Arabs had used compasses for centuries, after obtaining the device from the Chinese with whom they regularly swapped nautical knowledge. However, the Chinese knowledge of navigation, astronomy and the means by which latitude and longitude could be calculated, perfected on the last great voyage of the treasure fleets from 1421 to 1423, remained theirs alone. Others, even the Arabs but particularly the Europeans, were still floundering in their wake decades, and in the case of longitude centuries, later.
Colonizing the New World

Note (Hal’s):
The Portuguese colonize the Azores and Puerto Rico (“Antilia”), and explore the coast of Africa beyond Cape Bojador (south of Morocco).


  • A 1936 chart describing the Sargasso Sea.
  • A note by Columbus of a Portuguese colony on Antilia in Henry’s time.
  • Multiple pre-Columbian mappings of Antilia with Portuguese names and descriptions matching Puerto Rico.

— end note

In times of trouble, my habit is to pray to the Virgin and eat bacon sandwiches.



On the Shoulders of Giants

Note (Hal’s):
Bartolomeu Dias and Vasco da Gama round the southern tip of Africa.

Christopher Columbus and his brother Bartholomew (still working for the Portuguese as a cartographer) create the Martellus map: a tracing of the secret Portuguese world map, with distortions placing Africa’s tip further south, attaching a land mass south of Malay, and increasing the longitudinal distances east of Europe (with consequent reductions on the westward route to China). They use this to convince Spanish royalty and financiers that a westward route to the East would be competitive.

Cook’s “discoveries” were also based on maps already known.


  • Multiple references to a map of Brazil prior to European expeditions.
  • The Martellus map and a copy.
  • Expert opinion that the tracings and some blatantly false notes are in Bartholomew’s hand.
  • Cook’s remark, on first reaching Cooktown harbor, that “it is not as large as I had been told.”
  • A protest against Cook’s claim to have discovered Australia, written by the head of the Map Department at the Admiralty, and citing 250-year-old maps in Admiralty possession.

Comment: The traditional Columbus story seems to require an amazing combination of knowledge and ignorance; the suggestion that he was deliberately falsifying evidence makes more sense than any other explanation I have seen.

— end note

In several ways, the forged Martellus maps depicted a monumental eastward journey, whereas by sailing westwards for Antilia to China, Spanish ships could pass through the Strait of Magellan and beat the Portuguese to it. This is the reason, I submit, why the Portuguese concentrated on the eastern route to China and the Spanish tried to reach the same destination via South America. Bartholomew Columbus stole the intellectual property of the Portuguese government. He then forged a chart he and Christopher knew was bogus, and both of them used that chart to extract money and backing under false pretences from the Bank of Genoa and the Catholic monarchs of Spain. Columbus’s true legacy to posterity is not the discovery of the Americas, but of the circulatory wind systems of the Atlantic he so brilliantly analysed and exploited on his later voyages.



text checked (see note) Feb 2005

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