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Earth Science

Maps Suggest Marco Polo May Have "Discovered" America 276

An anonymous reader writes in with news about maps attributed to Marco Polo that seem to show the coast of Alaska. "For a guy who claimed to spend 17 years in China as a confidant of Kublai Khan, Marco Polo left a surprisingly skimpy paper trail. No Asian sources mention the footloose Italian. The only record of his 13th-century odyssey through the Far East is the hot air of his own Travels, which was actually an "as told to" penned by a writer of romances. But a set of 14 parchments, now collected and exhaustively studied for the first time, give us a raft of new stories about Polo's journeys and something notably missing from his own account: maps. If genuine, the maps would show that Polo recorded the shape of the Alaskan coast—and the strait separating it from Asia—four centuries before Vitus Bering, the Danish explorer long considered the first European to do so. Perhaps more important, they suggest Polo was aware of the New World two centuries before Columbus."
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Maps Suggest Marco Polo May Have "Discovered" America

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  • And then... (Score:5, Funny)

    by dgatwood ( 11270 ) on Monday October 06, 2014 @01:13AM (#48071243) Homepage Journal
    ...he built the first American Swimming pool. You can guess where this is going.
  • Big Old Liar (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Quato ( 132194 ) on Monday October 06, 2014 @01:32AM (#48071281)
    There has been much research suggesting Marco Polo was a liar. a quick Google search showed this site: http://website.lineone.net/~mc... [lineone.net] Many scholars believe that he may have just traveled to India and talked to travelers from China. They point out that Marco Polo never pointed out major inventions like paper, that were unseen in Europe but common in China.
    • It's all irrelevant. Even if 2 centuries before Columbus, he's still even more centuries after other explorers who have already been shown to have been here at the North American continent.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Yeah, I still don't get the Columbus story. The "everyone thought the world was flat" BS annoys me. Everyone knew the world was round, Columbus' argument was he thought the world was SMALLER than it was (and smaller than everyone thought)... and he was wrong. So, basically, we celebrate a man who was both wrong and just plain lucky as a great explorer...

        • Re:Big Old Liar (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 06, 2014 @06:58AM (#48072121)

          Yea that is why we celebrate him. Pray what the fuck have you ever done that ranks in significance to what he has done. We should always celebrate explorers. Whether he was 100% correct in everything he tried to do. Are you going to make fun of astronauts in the Shuttle Columbia because they couldn't even land their space plane, and besides they really didn't build it in the first place.

          "It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. "
          -Uncle Teddy

          • by mcvos ( 645701 )

            I suspect AC has not murdered hundreds of people, nor sold their daughters into sex slavery. As such, I think AC deserves quite a bit more celebration than Columbus.

            But if you've got to celebrate explorers, there are far more noble ones than that bastard Columbus. He was really truly a despicable person. He does not deserve that kind of credit. He was wrong, he was not the first, and he was a terrible person. But he brought in lots of wealth for the colonial powers, and that's why he's famous.

    • Re:Big Old Liar (Score:4, Interesting)

      by CRCulver ( 715279 ) <crculver@christopherculver.com> on Monday October 06, 2014 @01:49AM (#48071327) Homepage

      Whether Marco Polo was in China or not continues to be hotly debated by scholars. Only two years ago, the German historian Hans Ulrich Vogel published a major new work [amazon.com] presenting evidence for Marco Polo's sojourn in China on the basis of economic data.

      I've often found unconvincing the argument that Marco Polo did not go to China because he did not mention certain habits of the Chinese that dazzle Westerners. As an American by birth and upbringing but long resident in Europe, it amuses me that American visitors immediately express amazement at certain customs here that I've grown so used to that I don't even notice anything special about them myself, and I'd be unlikely to include them in any rambling oral account I told about life in Europe.

      • Re:Big Old Liar (Score:4, Insightful)

        by kamapuaa ( 555446 ) on Monday October 06, 2014 @02:45AM (#48071501) Homepage

        This is a little stronger than "ha ha I forgot to mention, you don't have to leave tips!" He (essentially) wrote a book about China, and didn't mention chopsticks, foot-binding, or tea? But does mention a race of men who had dog-heads instead of human-heads? He also claimed to be governor of Yangzhou and other obvious bullshit.

        Centuries before Marco Polo, Arab Traders were well-established in China [wikipedia.org], Italians had extensive contacts with the Persian and Arab world, and it seems very likely that Marco Polo just compiled stories he had heard. We know his stories were full of BS, exactly how much is BS is impossible to say.

        • Re:Big Old Liar (Score:4, Insightful)

          by CRCulver ( 715279 ) <crculver@christopherculver.com> on Monday October 06, 2014 @02:55AM (#48071517) Homepage

          He (essentially) wrote a book about China, and didn't mention chopsticks, foot-binding, or tea?

          And those minutiae of fashion or dining are exactly the sort of details that today expatriates may well leave out if they were asked to recount life abroad.

          But does mention a race of men who had dog-heads instead of human-heads?

          Marco Polo's account was set down not by Marco Polo himself, but by Rustichello da Pisa, who is known to have also added other European stories of the East. At this particular point in history, belief in races of people somewhere out there with e.g. dog's heads, with faces in their chests, or with a single leg was common in Europe, and this may well be da Pisa's own interpolation.

          He also claimed to be governor of Yangzhou

          In the new book by Vogel that I cited, Elvin (who wrote the preface), notes a longstanding controversy about whether Polo held some kind of office in Yangzhou, or whether he simply stayed there, the Italian words for these two activities being similar enough that an error in transmission is understandable.

        • And it's been established that Italians were in China (living here) before Marco Polo:

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/K... [wikipedia.org]

          As much as they try to shrug off foreigners in China, the statue and museum in Yangzhou dedicated to him are touching. I didn't know of them before I visited, and I certainly had no knowledge that there were already Italian communities!

      • He doesn't mention Chinese tea houses. Tea has been important in China for thousands of years but Polo makes no mention of it.

        • As already pointed out here by myself and others, that's hardly a convincing argument on its own. Every country has a food or drink it consumes regularly, but expatriates may not necessarily mention it in their accounts of live abroad to people back home, whether for lack of space in their tale or simply because they have simply become so used to the matter that it no longer feels worth mentioning. It is unreasonable to expect Marco Polo to have mentioned (or da Pisa to have included in his manuscript) ever
    • Those arguments seem hilarious to me. [alphagalileo.org] Furthermore, whenever someone visits a foreign place and writes about it, for every thing he writes about, you can find a dozen others that he omitted! What exactly does that prove?
    • Re:Big Old Liar (Score:5, Informative)

      by Rick in China ( 2934527 ) on Monday October 06, 2014 @03:33AM (#48071609)

      What? "never pointed out major inventions like paper" - he pointed out specifically and meticulously the use of paper money and salt. http://www.history.com/news/ma... [history.com]

      "Historians before him have touched on these issues while defending Marco Polo’s honor, but Vogel also relies on another compelling body of evidence: the explorer’s meticulous descriptions of currency and salt production in the Yuan era. According to Vogel, Polo documents these aspects of Mongol Chinese civilization in greater detail than any of his Western, Arab or Persian contemporaries, a hint that the Venetian relied on his own powers of observation. Polo’s claims about the size of paper money and the value of salt, among other aspects, check out against archaeological evidence and Chinese documents maintained by Yuan officials, Vogel concluded."

      One thing I find interesting - is that they teach Chinese students of Marco Polo in China. I would imagine that, if presented with "Hey, look, this dude from Europe visited you guys hundreds of years ago and did trade with the Mongols!" the first to refute and expose that would be the Chinese, as it would seem that their history would more likely be the source of truth (or closer to the source) rather than simply speculating on the contents of his verbal transcript.

  • by Dorianny ( 1847922 ) on Monday October 06, 2014 @01:35AM (#48071297) Journal
    I am not sure how any European can claim to be the first to discover America when the continent was populated by humans for thousands of years.
    • by aepervius ( 535155 ) on Monday October 06, 2014 @02:09AM (#48071379)
      Because discovery imply being unknown before. If you are already inhabiting the body (carabic, australia, americas) this is already known to you. So naturally discovery implies the perspective of somebody for which it was previously unknown. Combine that with the fact most of the history here around is seen from the european perspective at worst, eurasian at best, and it is immediately understandable why this is seen as a discovery.
      • By europeans. Not by the rest of us.
      • I'd say being able to spread the knowledge of your discovery is an important part of that discovery. After the Vikings reached America, one tribe knew about the discovery and it was subsequently forgotten. After Columbus discovered America, this knowledge spread throughout Europe.

        • by Shinobi ( 19308 )

          No, it was not forgotten. The knowledge was still there, it was just seen as a bad investment at the time to try and settle there, for various socioeconomical and political reasons.

          Icelandic Norse still had that knowledge for example, and Icelandic sources dated to the late 1400's mention him visiting there and talking to local sailors and traders

          • Icelandic Norse still had that knowledge for example, and Icelandic sources dated to the late 1400's mention him visiting there and talking to local sailors and traders

            Cite this, please.

    • by Thanshin ( 1188877 ) on Monday October 06, 2014 @02:23AM (#48071427)

      Because of the subconscious "us" vs "them".

      To think of the discovery as "The moment Americans and Europeans met for the first time" requires a very objective and open mind. And we know that way of thinking isn't common because otherwise there wouldn't be wars.

      I believe the main reason is that thinking in "us vs them" terms is evolutionary superior to "we are all one humanity" unless there's a third party involved. Or, in other words, had there been an enemy to humanity other than itself, man would be friend to man.

      • To think of the discovery as "The moment Americans and Europeans met for the first time" requires a very objective and open mind. And we know that way of thinking isn't common because otherwise there wouldn't be wars.

        While it is true that your description is technically correct, it is also true that Columbus' voyage was only one of a series of contacts where Europeans actively traveled far at a great risk while the natives didn't. To claim that this series of events was merely "Europeans and Xs meeting for the first time" is as misleading as claiming that between 1969 and 1972, there was a series of contacts between the Moon and a few boots. Also technically accurate, but hardly giving a credit to people who could have

    • Just because one group of people knows about something, doesn't mean another group can't discover it as well. It would be much like if aliens visited Earth. They could discover Earth, and humanity. Doesn't matter we were already here, it is still a discovery to them.

    • because they didn't discover it, they already existed in it. The biggest part of discovering new lands was sharing the new knowledge gained from it / about it with the rest of the world, obviously native americans couldn't do that.

    • by Lisias ( 447563 )

      I am not sure how any European can claim to be the first to discover America when the continent was populated by humans for thousands of years.

      discover verb \dis-k-vr\
      : to see, find, or become aware of (something) for the first time

      Our civilization became aware of the land to be known as America thanks the Norwegians, Columbus (officially) and as it appears, Marco Polo.

      The humans that used to live there was not part of the current European centric civilization - au contraire, we dizimate this ancient, previously stablished civilization and took his place.

      Believe-me: giving them the "credit" for discovering America is adding Offense to the Injury.

    • The claim was never that Columbus or anyone was the first PERSON to "discover America." The question is who was the first EUROPEAN to discover it and make it known to Western civilization.

      Lief Erikson was the first European to discover it, but he didn't end up making its existence known outside of Iceland and maybe Norway. Then the knowledge got buried.

      When Cristorforo Colombo discovered the Americas, they stayed discovered permanently and their existence became common knowledge across Eurasia.

      And it's wo

  • We will be the last ones to rid ourselves of the ridiculous idea that Columbus "discovered" the new world. Read historical accounts of the guy!!! He was a crook looking for gold. The vast majority of the wayfaring sailors of the time knew the Earth WAS NOT FLAT. And there is plenty of evidence to show that the Vikings knew that the Western Hemisphere existed. There is absolutely no reason why we should keep acknowledging this idiot.
    • by CRCulver ( 715279 ) <crculver@christopherculver.com> on Monday October 06, 2014 @01:57AM (#48071351) Homepage
      While the Vikings were in North America first and had a few tangles with the Skrælings, Columbus was the first to enslave the indigenous inhabitants, forcibly convert them and use them to extract precious metals. Because Columbus was serving the centralized Spanish state with its missionary zeal and interest in mining, not a small group of Norse freeholders who just wanted to be left alone and farm, his visit marks the start of catastrophic social upheaval in the Americas, and so it's understandable that he remains so prominent a figure.
      • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 06, 2014 @04:31AM (#48071723)

        > Columbus was the first to enslave the indigenous inhabitants

        I believe that many of the native inhabitants practiced that well before he got here.

        • by James Buchanan ( 3571549 ) on Monday October 06, 2014 @08:29AM (#48072673)
          If you checked back, it, slavery, was even practiced though out the world. From the earliest writings, slaves were counted. It's not an European, white man thing. But mentioned in the creation of earth by the Assyrians. Later the eqyptians had slaves in their writings. Same with the Greeks and the Chinese. Don't forget the writings of the slave ships on how the people were obtained. They were bought from slave traders, from their native lands. Not excusing it, or condoning it, but its part of earths history.
      • by gtall ( 79522 ) on Monday October 06, 2014 @06:13AM (#48071971)

        Yep, life in the Americas was a Bunny Life. The next tribe over the hill enslaved your women and killed your warriors in a spirit of love an harmony. The Aztecs were a hippie culture which cherished medicinal "herbs" and sang Kum-by-Ya by the firelight in the evenings before going off to make free love.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by CRCulver ( 715279 )

          Yep, life in the Americas was a Bunny Life. The next tribe over the hill enslaved your women

          You might think yourself clever, but your retort only confirms my point above. Violence and political domination before Columbus was only "the next tribe over the hill" (or at least another tribe a limited geographic area). Lacking ships, horse, and steel, no one indigenous tribe could have had such a wide impact and held so much territory as the Spaniards starting from 1492.

    • by Sique ( 173459 ) on Monday October 06, 2014 @02:17AM (#48071407) Homepage
      Columbus' travel never was about the world being flat or not. That's a made up story from the late 18th century. There is no evidence in Middle Age scholar's writing that the Earth was considered being flat at all. The only sources are two obscure byzanthine scholars from the 4th and 6th century, but they are never quoted in later writings.

      Columbus' travel was about the circumfence of the Earth. While most scholars in the 15th century estimated the circumfence to be about 26,000 miles, quite close to reality, Columbus was convinced it was only 15,000, making a travel westward to India to seem actually feasible and shorter than the Portuguese way around the Cape of Good Hope.

      • by itzly ( 3699663 )
        And, ironically, it was Columbus who was wrong, and he probably would have died if he hadn't bumped into America.
      • The only sources are two obscure byzanthine scholars from the 4th and 6th century

        Who were those? I figure they must have been actively denying Eratosthenes for being a pagan or something. Some people were like that back then.

        • I figure they must have been actively denying Eratosthenes for being a pagan or something. Some people were like that back then.

          Byzantine scholars did not deny pre-Christian figures simply for being pagans. The canon of Byzantine schools relied to a great extent on pre-Christian writers; Aristotle, Plato and the Neoplatonists were cornerstones, and works by many less famous Greek figures have survived to our time in large part because of Byzantine transmission. The learned, in a tradition going back to Jus

          • If they didn't deny it, how come that some of them came to the "flat world" conclusion when at least in the Hellenistic period, the roundness of Earth had already been firmly established?
            • by will_die ( 586523 ) on Monday October 06, 2014 @05:40AM (#48071875) Homepage
              You can always find a few flat world, even today, however the widespread myth of the Christians believing the earth was flat is a creation of two atheists (White and Draper) who pushed this.
              Easy way to see that Christians did not believe this is look at the art they created, from the 300s, you will find various art works of the Christ where he is holding a representation of the earth with a cross over it and that representation is a round sphere.
    • The vast majority of the wayfaring sailors of the time knew the Earth WAS NOT FLAT.

      Uh, EVERYONE knew that. And how the hell is that relevant to the topic in the first place?

      • I doubt that anyone who is not seafaring had any clue about that, e.g. farmers or simple town folk who where illiterate and bond slaves till late middel ages at least.

        It is a common saying/teaching that even aged simple sailors feared long espeditions because they expected 'to fall over the edge of the world'.

        That some scholars knew the world must be a sphere is certain, that it was an consensus I doubt!

  • by marcello_dl ( 667940 ) on Monday October 06, 2014 @01:47AM (#48071321) Homepage Journal

    A guy who is reported as traveling in China in fact was getting into America 200 years before a guy who bumped into America when trying to reach India using a shortcut which in fact was much longer.

    • I'm sure that people from Genoa and Venice will be at it again. ;-) "Our guy was first!" "No, our guy was first! And your guy sucked!"
  • by ruir ( 2709173 )
    he saw (old) Chinese maps...It does not mean he actually was there. It is rumoured that the Portuguese "discovered" so much of the world because of the very same reason.
    • Pretty sure if you look at a map you will see that the vast majority of our discoveries were ON THE WAY to China, haha, or entirely in the opposite direction, across the Atlantic Ocean :)
      Like, you know, the entirety of Africa, India, and Brazil? :)
      We certainly didn't discover the Bering Strait or anything up north. Beyond China, we went to Japan and Indonesia and that's about it.

    • by Tablizer ( 95088 )

      he saw (old) Chinese maps...It does not mean he actually was there.

      The back even says "Made in China".

  • John Cabot? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by fremsley471 ( 792813 ) on Monday October 06, 2014 @02:07AM (#48071373)

    If the journey were reversed, Columbus would have discovered the Azores. The first exploration by Europeans [who recorded their discovery] of continental North America in 1497 was led by John Cabot. He was always thought of as the discoverer of America until the early C19th (why would a bunch of British immigrants credit a Spaniard?).

    Then came the War of 1814, burning of the White House, etc. and a wave of anti-British sentiment. Suddenly, the US's founding father became good ol' Christopher.

  • If the Chinese did explore the Americas well before Columbus, they would have done better to have brought back some chili peppers?
    • by jrumney ( 197329 )
      And if the Vikings did explore the Americas, they would have done better to introduce some olives, right?
  • It's fake (Score:5, Funny)

    by Tablizer ( 95088 ) on Monday October 06, 2014 @03:42AM (#48071629) Journal

    Poloshopped

  • Hmm, it always grates against my soul when people use names without checking whether it is usage; I'm probably just being pedantic.

    So, historically things like last names were not commonly used the way we do now; I don't recall when they came into use. So, you would call people by their personal names + perhaps a description - 'John the Baptist', 'Leonardo da Vinci', 'Genghis Khan' etc. The last is not really a name as much as a title: 'Great Khan' - his name was Temüjin, but still you see him re

  • by Aryden ( 1872756 )
    Until something is found predating L'anse aux Meadows, the Europeans to find the Americas were the Norse.
  • Get in line (Score:4, Funny)

    by paiute ( 550198 ) on Monday October 06, 2014 @06:51AM (#48072099)
    When Columbus pulled into harbor that day in 1492, he had to wait for a berth as the docks were crowded with Vikings, Chinese, Egyptians, Phoenicians, Micronesians, and extraterrestrials.
  • I'm going with Phoenicians at about 350 BC as the first westerners in the Americas.

  • by tomhath ( 637240 ) on Monday October 06, 2014 @08:48AM (#48072825)
    People had been crossing over from Asia for thousands of years when Marco Polo was in China. It shouldn't be a surprise that some knowledge of the other continent was circulating.
  • by slashmydots ( 2189826 ) on Monday October 06, 2014 @09:08AM (#48072975)
    Actually, there is strong evidence that the Native Americans discovered America.
    • by ignavus ( 213578 )

      Actually, there is strong evidence that the Native Americans discovered America.

      No. Their ancestors did. The Asian people who first discovered North America were not, by definition, native to America - they were native Asians. Their descendants were native Americans, but by then, North America had already been discovered.

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