Crossing the Atlantic the Phoenician Way

For some reason, the question of who discovered America has always been a hot topic among alternative historians. The question has a pretty conclusive answer: the ancestors of the Native Americans who migrated from Asia. Dating is tricky, but I’ve heard ranges from 12,000 – 16,000 BCE.

For some reason, those folks don’t count. I don’t know if it’s cultural chauvinism or just a lack of romance, but some people seem to want there to have been a bold crew of explorers blown off course by a storm who landed on the shores of North America. Candidates for the bold explorers have come from Ireland, China, Norway and other places.

Another popular candidate are the Phoenicians, the ancient merchant kingdom located in what is now Lebanon. This would give the New World a tie to the Bible, and play into a great deal of speculation about the Native Americans somehow being tied to Israel.

To prove that it is at least plausible that they made the journey, retired businessman Philip Beale hopes to sail across the Atlantic in a replica ship. From Paleojudica:

Man’s mission to prove Phoenicians discovered the Americas a thousand years before Columbus


Mr Beale has already been on an epic voyage in his 50 tonne wooden vessel – aptly named The Phoenician – after he sailed it around Africa in 2010.

He hired archaeologists and traditional shipwrights to construct the boat based on the design of an ancient galley found wrecked in the western Mediterranean.


The odyssey is expected to take two to three months, setting sail from Tunisia and arriving in America via the Atlantic Ocean.

He has also been invited by New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art to be part of the museum’s landmark exhibition on the Phoenician civilisation, opening in September 2014.

(The original article is via the Daily Mail, which I prefer not to link to.)

I don’t know what Beale hopes to prove. Unless he’s going to the and make the whole journey with no medical supplies, no maps and a hold full of salted fish, he’s not going to be replicating the conditions that the Phoenicians were under. And at best he can only hope to show that the voyage is plausible and not that it happened.

The Dome Overhead
All Cycles Come to an End
So Long, And Thanks For All The Memories (From Dan)
Being Agent Scully
  • L.Long

    Lets say he makes it. Let say he proves it was plausible. Who gives a phuck!!
    Your comment is correct, the AmerIndians did it first and well and not many care.
    Even if the (insert bias group) did do it, where are the signs of trade? Colonization? Records of the mysterious lands? FAILURE!
    Even Columbus was an all out failure, because he did not discover anything, he ACCIDENTALLY bumped into the Americas while going to India, and did not know he had discovered anything. This is very different from the AmerIndians traveling to the new discovered lands and doing stuff.
    Now I’d be impressed if this Philip Beale was trying to show how the AmerIndians did it by using the Pacific Ocean rather then the supposed overland route. Not that the overland route was just a walk in the park.

    • SundogA

      I don’t agree that Columbus was a failure. Yes, he didn’t find what he was looking for; but he was smart enough to convert a bit of serendipity into fame, fortune and a lot of good press.
      And for the record, he DID discover the Americas. It doesn’t matter that others had already done so – it was an unknown to his people and civilization., and that counts.

      • Bob Jase

        It wasn’t unknown to the Vikings, they had been visiting and attempting colonization for centuries. If they had gunpowder like Columbus did they might have succeeded.

        • kessy_athena

          Actually, the Viking’s main problem seems to have been an inability to deal with harsh Greenland winters once the Little Ice Age started.

          And once again the Daily Fail never fails to fail. The Phoenicians would have made it to the Americas between two and three millennia before Columbus, not one. If they made the journey at all.

          It seems to me that it’s been pretty well established that any seafaring civilization probably could have made the journey to the Americas. Especially if they used the island hopping rout across the North Atlantic. Of course it helps a lot if you know before hand that there’s someplace to sail to, like modern folks do and ancient folks didn’t. The question is did they? Well, more accurately, the question is which ones did? There’s no question that the Norse did it. It seems more and more likely that the Polynesians made it to South America circa 1000 CE.

          There have been claims of artifacts and inscriptions and such that would indicate the presence of various Old World civilizations in the New World prior to Columbus. They’re pretty universally dismissed out of hand as hoaxes. A lot of them undoubtedly are, but there are some that are more equivocal.

          I think the topic has appeal largely because a lot of the history of the Americas is basically a black hole that we know very little about. And people love a mystery. Well, some people do. It’s simply an intriguing historical puzzle.

          • Bob Jase

            The Little Ice Age certainly didn’t help but the Greenland colonies lasted for at least three centuries and if they had the literal firepower that was available only shortly afterwards that would have given the Norse plenty of time to colonize NA which had milder weather than Greenland.

            • kessy_athena

              Considering that the Norse outright conquered the northern half of England and forced France to cede Normandy to them around the same period against much more organized opposition then the Native Americans would likely have been able to put up, I don’t think that firepower was really the issue. I suspect that economic, political, social, and climatic issues had much more to do with it.

        • SundogA

          Actually, by the time of Columbus’ voyage, even the Scndinavians had forgotten about North America. The evidence that they managed that trip emerged in the 19th and 20th centuries.

          • UrsaMinor

            The Scandinavians didn’t forget about North America at all. Christian IV of Denmark sent a series of expeditions in the early 17th century with the aim of locating the Eastern Settlement and cementing Denmark’s claim of sovereignty over Greenland.

            • SundogA

              I was actually aware of that. But if you dig into it, all Christian IV knew was that there was “something” past Greenland. He was actually somewhat skeptical about it – and none of his expeditions reported anything past Greenland.
              That may seem strange given the relative proximity of Greenland to Canada. However, the gap between is wider than most people realise, and rough sea conditions predominate. The amazing thing is that the Viking-period Scandinavians made it at all.

          • witless chum

            Seems real unlikely the people of Iceland had forgotten that Greenland and Canada were there, given the proximity. They may not have had an idea about the rest, but I’ve at least read it claimed that mariners from Iceland were still making voyages to the Labrador coast in Columbus’ time to export wood.

            • Bob Jase

              “mariners from Iceland were still making voyages to the Labrador coast in Columbus’ time to export wood”

              Technically making them Labrador retrievers.

  • brgulker

    The question has a pretty conclusive answer: the ancestors of the Native Americans who migrated from Asia. Dating is tricky, but I’ve heard ranges from 12,000 – 16,000 BCE.

    Yeah, but they’re not white.

    This would give the New World a tie to the Bible, and play into a great deal of speculation about the Native Americans somehow being tied to Israel.

    Surprisingly, this is one I’ve never heard.

    • Igor

      Isn’t that one of the tenets of Mormonism?

    • The Other Weirdo

      That’s a Mormon thing. I think.

  • The Other Weirdo

    I was going to say, but you beat me to it. Unless that ship is constructed using only the technique, raw materials and parts available during the time of the Phoenicians, and he stocks it using only food stuffs available to them, packs no drugs or medical supplies, nor communications equipment or distress signals, batteries or lights, I’m not sure what it accomplishes.

    Even then, crossing the Atlantic is quite a feat, so kudos to him for trying it especially with primitive technology, but it doesn’t prove anything.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    For some reason, the question of who discovered America has always been a hot topic among alternative historians. The question has a pretty conclusive answer: the ancestors of the Native Americans who migrated from Asia.

    That’s a very speciesist response. Even Kingdomist. I heard America was discovered by blue-green algae over 3 billion years ago.

    • L.Long

      Good try but there was no america 3billion years ago! There was a Pangaea.

      • kessy_athena

        Actually, Pangaea existed around 300 million years ago, and the supercontinent cycle is estimated to be something around 300 to 500 million years, so 3 billion years ago was several cycles back. Going that far back in geologic time, the evidence is pretty sparse, so there’s a lot of uncertainty about what the continents looked like back then. It’s not at all certain that either the North or South American plates existed in any recognizable form back then. Although we usually think of continental plates as being pretty solid things, on timescales of billions of years, they’re much more fluid, rifting apart into pieces and coming back together in different ways.

    • Bob Jase

      Hah! Archaea beat them to it!

  • Miguel (Argentina)

    Some fellow Argentinians made a similar trip in 1984, as a proof that IT MAY BE POSSIBLE that african navigators reached America by accident, drifting in currents. They made the trip in a raft with one sail and a primitive rudder.
    No intent to “proof” that Africans discovered America before Columbus (but after Asiatics), just “it may be done”. (not english article yet).

  • Schaden Freud

    It doesn’t prove anything, but it’s interesting to see whether you could cross the Atlantic with that technology and I don’t doubt it’ll be one hell of an adventure. And hey, it’s his money.

  • William

    Those aren’t what alternative historians are! That is pseudo history, alternative (or alternate to avoid the connection to these idiots) history is asking what if? (As in S.M. Stirling, Harry Turtledove, and other authors, or questions like what if carthage had won the punic wars, etc).

  • Bob

    It’s not certain that the ancestors of the Native Americans were first. It’s possible that ice-age humans from Europe made the crossing before them.

  • thrutch

    Baring that it is possible, I would like it to see it done, by people taught how to sail using just the toold the phoenciians had. This includes their observations of stars and maps as well. No modern records of currents and winds. No Sextant etc

  • Gwynnyd

    I once had the privilege of hearing an ethnic-Meso-American archaeologist reaming a new one in a “the only way the Mayans could have built pyramids is if Black Egyptians sailed to America and taught them how to build one” advocate (who, to make it even more amusing, was an official rep from CSICOP, as it was called at the time) . It was a thing of beauty to behold.

  • Brian K

    While trudging on a treadmill at the gym, there was a show on The “History” Channel* who claims that the Minoans were using Minnesota copper mines in their bronze age weaponry! Have to admit the identical chemistry of the midwestern ores is intriguing, but this is The Woo Channel we are talking about, so…

    * scare quotes are definitely intentional

    • CoffeeJedi

      I saw that same show! Later I found a bunch of blog posts from reputable archaeologists debunking it thoroughly. Basically the answer was that the “identical” chemistry was a cheat. The copper only had the same purity, but no discussion of the other minerals was offered on the show. A geology grad student from the University of Michigan also criticized the host for claiming they couldn’t take any samples, and for going to another university in Illinois for the analysis. Apparently they have a huge supply of various mineral samples there that the show conveniently avoided. They also went on a weird tangent about wolves falling down mine-shafts, as if that had anything to do with the hypothesis. The funniest part was that one of the local towns refused to let the show even say where they were out of embarrassment!

      • kessy_athena

        Keep in mind that this is a TV show we’re talking about, not a journal article. Their primary purpose is entertainment, not rigorous science. The results of any sort of testing done is just not going to be presented on the show in a way that would let it be evaluated.

        Scott Wolter (the host) certainly seems to be given to jumping to conclusions. Which is a real shame, since he did some interesting work on the Kensington runestone that’s almost certainly going to be completely ignored now thanks to the show. And the show does look into some interesting topics – it’s well accepted that there were some pretty large scale copper mining going on in the Great Lakes in pre-Columbian times, and that there’s not a good sense of just who was doing it. I hate how all it takes is one person getting some publicity with a kooky theory and suddenly the entire topic is taboo. Now Wolter’s drinking the Dan Brown koolaide about Templars hiding the direct descendants of Jesus in the Americas. I’m really disappointed, the show initially looked like it had some promise.

        • CoffeeJedi

          I think Wolter is just an attention whore. He’s a “forensic geologist”, which sounds great on TV, but really just means he examines crime and disaster scenes for evidence, it’s interesting but hardly archaeology. As for who was doing the mining, I don’t understand what the mystery is. The local natives used copper and inter-tribal trade routes have been discovered that would account for it making its way down to the south-west. If you really wanted to read into things, it’s almost like Wolter is saying that there was no way those dumb ol’ Indians could have been mining copper, so it MUST have been smarter white Europeans who came over!

          • kessy_athena

            Well, either that or History Channel just shoved a pile of money under Wolter’s nose and told him to come up with something. Who knows?

            A forensic geologist may not be an archaeologist, but it seems like they would have a valuable skill set if you’re looking at a stone inscription or artifact of unclear origin.

            My understanding is that the mining operations were pretty extensive, and we don’t know of any native cultures that used enough copper to account for it. Of course that idea rests on estimates that may have some squishy assumptions.

            I don’t think it was the intention of the show to imply that Native Americans couldn’t have done any of the things they look at, but I agree that they don’t pay nearly enough attention to native cultures. I have a suspicion that there’s a lot more to pre-Columbian history then a lot of people think, and there certainly are a good number of odd sites and artifacts in North America. The Mound builders are a good example of an interesting civilization that we know little about. I have no problem with the idea that there could have been contact between the New and Old Worlds that we don’t know about, but when you start talking about the Minoans, the Phoenicians, the Irish, the Egyptians, the Templars, the Chinese and who knows what else going back and forth all the time, you run up against one cold hard fact. The native population was entirely immunologically naive when the Spanish arrived, which puts some real limits on how much contact could have been going on.

      • Brian K

        Ah. LOL. I figured as much. My Google -Fu was weak as I could only find more woo-pseudo history on the topic.

        Disappointing. The Minoans are so very, very cool. Athena over at Astrogator’s Logs blogspot is a scientist of Greek extraction who wrote some sci-fi positing Minoan spacefarers. :)

  • rekyem

    Well, for the curiosity of knowing if it is possible the journey is worth doing.

  • PsiCop

    Even if Beale makes it in his ship, under the same conditions the Phoenicians would have traveled, it still won’t prove a thing. It will only show it was plausible they could have made the trip, it could never confirm they made it.

    Anyone remember Thor Heyerdahl and the Kon-Tiki, which supposedly “proved” his theory that Polynesia had been settled from South America rather than from Indochina? Actually it did no such thing … even though Kon-Tiki made it all the way to French Polynesia. At this point all the evidence points to Polynesia having been settled from the west or southwest, not from the east. The Kon-Tiki’s voyage was remarkable, but unfortunately it “proved” nothing whatsoever.

    As for Beale, isn’t he the guy who insists there were Celts in Oklahoma and Phoenicians in New Hampshire … based solely on inscriptions he’s found, or he’s privy to, which cannot be seen anywhere except on his own TV shows? As though I buy any of that tripe. Let him submit his inscriptions to outside inspection, and publish papers on them which he’s willing to subject to peer review. Why do I not think he’ll do any of that … ?

    The guy’s a pseudohistorical and pseudoarchaeological con artist … plain and simple.