Phoenician naval history begins in about the fourteenth century BC, and they came to be so famous that Solomon asked king Hiram of Tyre to send him carpenters to build a Red Sea fleet, together with sailors to lead this fleet to the land of Ophir (Old Testament, Kings I, 9.26).
The geographical location of Ophir is described in exactly the same way as the Land of Punt. Both countries lie ‘far away, to the south-east'; the ships set sail from a port on the Red Sea and the round voyage lasts three years in both cases. The goods brought from Ophir are more or less the same as those the Egyptians brought from Punt and their other ports of call: gold, precious woods, incense, spices, slaves etc. (Avezac – Macaya Marie Armand Pascal d': Memoire de le pays d'Ophir où les flotes de Salomón aillent chercher l'or, in l'Académie des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres 30, Paris, 1864; Richard Hennig: Terrae Incognitae, Vol 4, Leiden, Brill, 1950).
We shall follow the Phoenicians with the help of Paul Gallez (La Cola del Dragón, p 150 onwards). He says that as Solomon was the pharaoh's son-in-law, it was only natural that his wife should have obtained sufficient information from her father to organise an expedition to the Land of Punt or a neighbouring country. In any case, it was the Phoenicians who made up the crews of the Egyptian fleets and were in charge of the running of the ships, before they took on the same role in Solomon's fleet. The Phoenicians, even more than their Egyptian or Hebrew bosses, were perfectly aware of the benefits of sailing to the Far East and so it was only natural that they would want to undertake their own trading expeditions.
It might be asked how their fleets would have had access to the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean when their country only occupied a tiny stretch of the Mediterranean coasts. There are several possible answers, says Gallez. The Phoenicians originated from the Persian Gulf, from where they travelled to modern-day Lebanon. Their first expeditions could have taken place from the Persian Gulf, prior to this migration. In the sixth century, Phoenicia was incorporated into Cyrus's Persia, and the Phoenicians were once again able to sail from the Persian Gulf in fleets that were officially Persian, but in actual fact Phoenician. For more than a thousand years, and under several different flags, the Phoenician fleets sailed across the Mediterranean, the Atlantic, the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean. Their sailors could well have left Phoenician inscriptions in the countries they visited, even when they were sailing under the orders of a non- Phoenician ruler (Lienhardt Delekat: Phönizier in Amerika, Bonn 1960).
What leads us to this Phoenician theory is a series of remains thought to be Phoenician in several South American countries.
Dick Edgar Ibarra Grasso has identified two Phoenician ships on the centre slabs of the temple of Sechim, in the Casma Valley, on the coast of Peru (La Representación de América en mapas romanos de tiempos de Cristo, Buenos Aires, 1970, pages 175-177). These ruins are generally considered to be some three thousand years old. Other monoliths in the area show a large ocean-going craft and a sextant (Julio C. Tello: Arqueología del valle de Casma, Lima 1956).
Even more extraordinary are the discoveries made by Bernardo Silva Ramos. This author, president of the Manaus Geographical Institute, spent over twenty years in the Amazon rainforest, searching for, photographing and copying 2,800 stone inscriptions, identifying the majority of them as Phoenician and others as Greek (Bernardo de Azevedo da Silva Ramos; Inscriçôes e tradiçôes da América pre-histórica, especialmente do Brasil, Rio de Janeiro, Imprenta Nacional, 1930).
The oriental scholar Lienhardt Delekat (Phönizier in Amerika, Bonn 1969) has established that the characters on the Paraíba Stone are of Canaanite origin (the former town of Paraíba is now called Joao Pessoa and is the capital of the state of Paría, to the south of the Cape of Sâo Roque in Brazil). The stone, which broke into four pieces after it was discovered on a plantation, totally disappeared, but copies of the inscription were made before this occurred. It was discovered on September 11, 1872 and might well be proof that Phoenician sailors reached Brazil two thousand years before the official discovery of America.
We owe the most detailed study of the inscription on the Paraiba stone to Delekat of Bonn University (Paul Gallez: Predescubrimientos de América, Bahía Blanca, Instituto Patagónico 2001, p 41 onwards). The author analyses all the grammatical forms in the text, comparing it to Aramaic, ancient Hebrew, Sidonian and other Canaanite dialects, especially in respect to the form of the imperfect consecutive.
Delekat comes to the conclusion that the passage is written in ancient Tyro-Sidonian, dating from the end of the sixth century BC. Lienhardt Delekat's translation reads as follows: ‘We are children of Canaan, from the city of Sidon. We are a nation of traders. Our ship is beached on this far-off mountainous coast and we want to make a sacrifice to the gods and goddesses. In the 19th year of Irma's reign, we set sail from Ezlon Geber across the Red Sea, with ten ships. We have been sailing now for two years and we have sailed all around this land, both hot and far from the hands of Baal (i.e. cold), and twelve men and three women have arrived here, because ten of the women have died on another coast, because they had sinned. May the gods and goddesses be favourable to us'.
The translations given by Netto, Schlottmann and Gordon vary in their interpretation of some of the words. The king Hiram referred to would have been Hiram III, and the nineteenth year of his reign corresponds to 532BC (Heinke Sudhoff: Sorry Columbus. Bergisch Gladbach, Lübbe, 1990). His study of the passage leads Delekat to an unexpected conclusion; the Phoenician sailors would have reached Brazil from the Pacific, sailing to the south of the Bering Strait and to the south of Cape Horn (cold zones) and between the two, along the coasts of Central America (hot zone).
Whether they were at the service of the Hebrews the Egyptians or the Persians, there is not the least doubt that Phoenician vessels would have been capable of crossing the Pacific using favourable currents and winds. The Egyptian ships had a capacity of 6,500 tonnes, like that of Ptolemy IV Philopator (222-205 BC); in fact the Hebrew historian Flavius Josephus talks of ships capable of carrying six hundred passengers and cargo as well as their crew (Paul Hermann: Las Aventuras de los primeros descubrimientos, Barcelona, Labor, 1967; Jacques de Mahieu: La agonía del dios-sol, Buenos Aires, Hachette, 1977).
Ibarra Grasso has compared the eastern Mediterranean trading ships of the third century BC with ships painted on Mochica pottery in northern Brazil. These ships are virtually identical and are mainly characterised by a bridge running all the way from prow to stern, laden with jars of wine, oil etc. It should be pointed out that this type of vessel is still used today in the Aegean Sea and in Indo-China, but as far as we know, has never been used in Peru. It was left to a present-day pre-historian to make this discovery in the Mochica pictures and find an explanation (Dick Edgar Ibarra Grasso; La Representación de América en mapas romanos de tiempos de Cristo, Buenos Aires, 1970; Al-Masudi; Kitab al tanbih wa'l-Israf and Michael Jan de Goeje; Bibliotheca Geographorum Arabicorum, vol 8, Leiden, Brill).
The Egyptian and Phoenician Ships that sailed from the Red Sea had to follow the traditional route, calling at Malabar, Taprobane (Ceylon) and the Golden Chersonese (Malayan peninsula) on to Zabai in Borneo and from there make the best use of the South Pacific currents to reach Cattigara, which we will situate in Peru to facilitate calculations; the return voyage would have been made using the equatorial currents to reach Borneo and the rest of the journey would have been the same as their outward journey. This would have meant a distance of 21,058 sea miles (39,000 km) on the outward voyage and 18,358 sea miles (34,000 km) on their return one, a distance of 39,416 sea miles (73,00 km) in all.
Now, Herodotus (The History, Book IV; G.E. Gerini: Early Geography if Indo-China, Journal of the Royal Society, 1897) says that the ships of that period normally sailed a distance of 70,000 orguias (fathoms) by day, and another 60,000 by night, in all, 130,000 orguias (fathoms) in a day's run, every twenty-four hours. He then uses these data to calculate the width of the Black Sea. Paul Gallez states that he has used the same method to make an approximate calculation of how long a voyage to Cattigara would take. The 130,000 orguias are the same as 240 km, which Hennig reduces to 200 km so as to leave a margin for any eventuality that might have arisen during the crossing. Based on these figures, the 73,000- kilometre journey would have taken 365 days of actual sailing time (Richard Hennig: Terrae Incognitae I, 4 volumes, Leiden, Brill, 1950; Georges Grosjean and Rudolf Kinauer: Kartenkunst und Kartentenik vom Altertum bis zum Barock, Bern and Stuttgart, Hallwag, 1970).
The three years given as the total length of the voyages both to Punt and Ophir (Kings I, 10 11,22) left two years for ports of call, their stay in Cattigara and possible loss of time due to storms and repairs. While we have not taken into account unfavourable winds, neither have we allowed for favourable winds nor the great advantage offered by the circular currents prevailing in the South Pacific. These calculations prove, says Gallez, that a voyage to Cattigara would have been perfectly feasible in those times.
Incidentally, there is another interesting fact; we have said above that the outward and return journeys would total 39,416 sea miles (73,000 km), and if we take a modern map to calculate the distance between Suez and Panama, calling at Aden, Freemantle and Wellington, we discover that the actual distance is 15,765 miles for the outward leg, that is to say, over 31,000 sea miles when we include the return journey. The conclusion, says Paul Gallez, is unquestionable: the Phoenicians pre-discovered America in the first millennium AD.
Quadrant de doble arc / Cuadrante de doble arco / Double arch quadrant (Cortesía: Fundació Jaume I, Nadal, 1991)
Paul Gallez declares that the recognition of the river system in the Dragon's Tail, the total identification of all the rivers of South America in Martellus's 1489 Ptolemy projection, with neither one too few nor one too many, offers conclusive proof of our interpretation. At first sight, the ‘resemblance' of certain rivers on the map with the actual South American river system might be put down to coincidence. However, in the case of the Paraná- Paraguay system, quite unique in the world in its shape, direction, size and position relative to the coast, chance is quite out of the question. As for the other rivers, they offer mutual confirmation and, as if this were not sufficient, the distortion grid applied to Henricus Martellus's Dragon's Tail confirms the hydrographical analysis, completes it with the addition of new lakes and rivers and permits the identification of several capes. The Dragon's Tail on the Martellus map has gone from proto-cartography to cartography. The theory of forged maps, Paul Gallez goes on to say, immediately arises when we remember the famous story of the map of Vinland acquired by Yale University. The theory cannot work for the Martellus maps. In this case, it would have been necessary to forge the map kept in the British Library as well as the map belonging to the University of Leiden in precisely the same way, and this would quite clearly have been impossible. In any case, why would anybody have forged both maps? To show that the Dragon's Tail is actually South America?
Christopher Columbus, Hojeda, Vespucci and maybe even Magellan believed that this was so, but none of them could have drawn the courses of the great South American rivers further inland, since they were completely unknown to them.
Not even a hypothetical sixteenth century forger could have added to the map the three Patagonian rivers, Colorado, Negro or Chubut, since they were not discovered and recognised until much later, the end of the eighteenth century in the case of the Negro and the nineteenth century for the other two. Dr. Gallez believes that the identification of the Dragon's Tail with South America was lost and forgotten at the end of the sixteenth century until Enrique de Gandía (Primitivos navegantes vascos, Buenos Aires) rediscovered it in 1942. By then it would have been too late to forge the London and Leiden maps.
We should also remember that the al-Khwarizmi map belongs to the Arab world, quite distinct from the European and Mediterranean worlds where Martellus worked. Al-Khwarizmi's Dragon's Tail has so many points in common with that of Martellus that we are undoubtedly dealing with the same continent; we are dealing with South America. So, in the same way, al-Khwarizmi's Dragon's Tail goes from proto-cartography to cartography.
As for the identification of the South American Pacific coastline in Ptolemy and Marinus of Tyre, this was known to geographers between 1489 and 1574 and was shown once again by Ibarra Grasso and Enrique de Gandía.
The proto-historic repercussions are immense, says Gallez, and adds that the Martellus map is far superior to the maps of South America that were known of during the first half of the nineteenth century, especially in the case of the Patagonian rivers, Colorado, Negro and Chubut and the river Grande in Tierra del Fuego. ‘The very existence of this map prior to Columbus's voyage, says Gallez, implies pre-discovery expeditions and a detailed knowledge of the inland area of the continent'. We must remain in the realms of proto-history on this point. We cannot consider it history because the numerous theories we have gathered together or evolved so far have not been proved beyond all doubt, however many archaeological or linguistic items appear to support them.
Paul Gallez goes on to say that it has been absolutely impossible to find the sources of information for Martellus's 1489 map, since the possible presence of Egyptian, Phoenician or Chinese traders on the Pacific coast of South America hardly means that they would have travelled all over the continent and correctly drawn up its map. We know that Martellus's map belongs to the world of true cartography, since we have identified rivers mountains and capes, but at the same time, we have not reached even proto-history, as we have not been able to devise any theory about the expeditions which have permitted the drawing up of so perfect a map. As for the proto-historic problems arising from the existence of the Martellus map, Paul Gallez breaks them down into the following questions:
It is a matter of a series of interconnected questions, all proto-historic. We can evolve possible theories but we cannot insist on having proof because there is none. Paul Gallez says, ‘it would be an error of judgement to attempt to apply the rules of historical criticism too rigorously to proto-historic theories. Such a procedure would only lead to the destruction of all the theories, which would be of no benefit to anyone'.
A weak hypothesis invites us to carry on looking for new information, offer new interpretations to old data, to think about both one's own and other people's theories, to probe deeper into their interconnections, to search out new paths that link and intertwine and may perhaps support each other.
In conclusion, Paul Gallez says: ‘In direct opposition to these theories that must stay for now in the realms of proto-history, the new cartographic facts stand out; the presence of South America on the maps of Martellus, al-Khwarizmi and Marinus of Tyre. All else is an unsolved mystery; the Mystery of the Dragon's Tail.'