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The Pre-Columbian discovery of the American continent by muslim seafarers

The Pre-Columbian discovery of the American continent by muslim seafarers

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The Pre-Columbian discovery of the American continent by muslim seafarers by Fuat Sezgin
The Pre-Columbian discovery of the American continent by muslim seafarers by Fuat Sezgin

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Published by: XeyeXofXlynxX on Dec 07, 2008
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08/06/2013

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F
UAT
S
EZGIN
THE PRE–COLUMBIAN DISCOVERY OF THE AMERICAN CONTINENTBY MUSLIM SEAFARERS
Excerpt fromGESCHICHTE DES ARABISCHEN SCHRIFTTUMS Vol. XIII(in print)
 Vol. X appeared in English translation under the title:
Mathematical Geography and Cartography in Islam and their Continuationin the Occident
, vol. I, Historical Presentation, Part 1, Frankfurt 2005.English translation of Vol. XI in print.
2006Institute for the History of Arabic-Islamic Scienceat the Johann Wolfgang Goethe UniversityFrankfurt am Mainwww.uni-frankfurt/fb13/igaiw
 
FUAT SEZGIN: THE PRE–COLUMBIAN DISCOVERY 
2
THE PRE–COLUMBIAN DISCOVERY OF THE AMERICAN CONTINENT BY MUSLIM SEAFARERSFuat Sezgin
T
HE
Q
UESTION
 
of a possible pre-Columbian discovery of the Americashas been pondered by many schol-ars throughout the second half of the20th century. Recently, stimulated bythe publication of the book
1421. TheYear China Discovered The World
1
byGavin Menzies in the year 2002, theinterest in this issue has once moreincreased considerably.The author, a retired submarine-commander, maintains his book wasintended for a broad public ratherthan for experts. Yet this modeststatement is contradicted by the wayMenzies assumes, throughout thebook, the status of a would-be au-thority for the history of cartogra-phy. According to Menzies one mapin particular from the collection of Sir Thomas Phillips, which is now inthe James Ford Library, Minnesota,drew his attention. It bears thename of Zuane Pizzigano, a Venetiancartographer, and is dated 1424.Menzies’ interest in this map wasmainly aroused by the appearance of four islands in the western Atlanticcalled
Satanazes, Antilia, Saya
and
Ymana
.
2
He concludes that
 Antilia
 and
Satanazes
are Puerto Rico andGuadeloupe “… but that meant thatsomebody had actually surveyed theislands some seventy years beforeColumbus reached the Caribbean”.In pursuit of this matter Menziesconvinced himself he had found solidevidence that someone indeed hadreached the Caribbean 70 years be-fore Columbus and even established acolony there. He considered whetherthose early discoverers could havebeen Portuguese but found it quiteunlikely.
3
In addition to the fact that the ap-pearance of this archipelago on mapspredating the Columbus voyages hasbeen discussed for about 200 years,I would like to remark that it wasin fact Armando Cortesão who dis-covered the Zuane Pizzigano Map of 1424. In his book
The Nautical Chartsof 1424 and the Early Discoveryand Cartographical Representationof America. A Study on History of Early Navigation and Cartography
(Coimbra, 1954) he rst expressedthe opinion that Portuguese navi-gators brought the knowledge aboutthe Caribbean islands and possi-bly even the American mainland toEurope prior to 1424.
4
 
1
Bantam Press, London – New York – To-ronto – Sidney – Auckland.
2
 
1421.
 
The Year China Discovered TheWorld,
l.c. pp. 29-31,
3
Ibid, p. 31.
4
 
The Nautical Charts of 1424,
l.c. p. 109
.
 
 
OF THE AMERICAN CONTINENT BY MUSLIM SEAFARERS
 
3
This view was further ex-pounded by Cortesão in his
Historyof Portuguese Cartography
5
 
andhas caused widespread discussion.Menzies could well have known that,for example from Tony Campbell’s ar-ticle in the
History of Cartography
6
.
However, by further considera-tions and research Menzies came tothe conclusion that the Portuguesewere far from being in the position todiscover the Caribbean islands.
7
 “They [the explorers] must havebeen skilled in astro-navigation andmust have found a method of deter-mining longitude to draw maps withnegligible longitude errors.”
8
“There was only one nationat that time with the material re-sources, the scientific knowledge, theships and the seafaring experience tomount such an epic voyage of discov-ery. That nation was China, but thethought of searching for incontest-able proof that a Chinese eet hadexplored the world long before theEuropeans filled me with dread.”
9
Sofar Menzies’ assumptions.In the course of some unac-counted further investigationsMenzies claims to have “discovered”that “…several Chinese fleets hadindeed made voyages of explorationin the early years of the fteenth cen-tury. The last and greatest of themall—four eets combining in onevast armada—set sail in early 1421.The last surviving ships returned toChina in the summer and autumn of 1423. There was no extant record of where they had voyaged in the inter-vening years, but the maps showedthat they had not merely rounded theCape of Good Hope and traversed the Atlantic to chart the islands I hadseen on the Pizzigano map of 1424,they had then gone on to explore Antarctica and the Arctic, North andSouth America, and had crossed thePacic to Australia. They had solvedthe problems of calculating latitudeand longitude and mapped the earthand the heavens with equal accu-racy.”
10
Passing over the questionwhether Menzies is justified in at-tributing these achievements to theChinese (more on this later) I wouldlike to explain that we are talk-ing about seven military missionsthat were dispatched by the ChineseEmperor Chéng Zĭ (title of reign: Yŏng Lè) in the rst quarter of thefifteenth century to the “western bar-barians” in order to establish or re-
5
Vol. II, Coimbra 1971, pp. 125–139. “Themore I study the subject, taking into consid-eration the various criticisms of my book of 1954, the more convinced I am that the Antillagroup of Islands in Zuane Pizzigano’s chart of 1424 represents for the rst time some unde-termined American land sighted during an un-known Portugese voyage to the western Atlan-tic” (p. 139).
6
Vol. I, 1987, pp. 371–458, esp. 410–411;Campbell’s contribution is entitled:
 PortolanCharts from the Late Thirteenth Century to1500 
.
7
 
1421.
 
The Year China Discovered TheWorld,
l.c. p. 31.
8
Ibid, p. 33.
9
Ibid, p. 34.
10
Ibid, pp. 36–37.

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