The Year China Discovered America

By Gavin Menzies

… And last of all comes the biggest controversy. New Zealand historians have been the most apoplectic of all about my book. Anything that challenges Maori legend is to be resisted at all costs! Accepted New Zealand history has it that the foreign animals and plants found by the first Europeans were brought by the Maoris in their open canoes – that is, horses, pigs, dogs, rats and an array of plants from South America, North America, Asia and the Pacific. According to New Zealand historians, the Maoris traded all over the world.

A number of critics have emailed me about the size of the tankers required by Zheng He`s fleets to provide water for horses, arguing that the limiting factor on the number of horses was the number of water tankers; it would have been impossible to desalinate anywhere near enough water to satisfy more than a handful of horses as each needs about three gallons a day. Now, apply this to the Maori scenario, travelling from Tahiti to New Zealand in open canoes. They must have brought at least two horses to breed as one pregnant mare would not produce a line. I have taken my submarine from New Zealand to Tahiti; the seas are short and choppy most of the year which makes for a difficult journey which would probably have taken at least six weeks. Horses drink more in exposed conditions of high humidity such as spray in an open boat, so the consumption is likely to have been at least five gallons a day per horse, which for a six-week journey amounts to 420 gallons or around a ton of water per animal. Then, of course, the animals would have needed hay, and that`s not to mention food and water for the boats` crews. I submit that it would have been impossible for Maoris to bring horses to New Zealand. The wild Kaimanawa ponies of North Island must therefore have been brought by others, either Europeans or Chinese. DNA tests are in hand for the Kaimanawa, the Pasos of Peru, the Assateagues of the islands off Virginia and the Kiger Mustangs of North America. I believe their common ancestor will turn out to be the blood horses of Tajikistan which were the mounts of the Chinese cavalry. Emperor Zhu Di imported millions to China during his reign.

When the first Europeans arrived in New Zealand they came across an array of plants foreign to the island. The most common was Chenopodium album, introduced from North America, where it has been used by native peoples to make cakes since time immemorial. Captain Cook discovered it in 1769. The second is marsh cress, Rorippa palustris, identified by the French expedition of 1826-9 aboard L`Astrobole. Again, this was used by the Navajo – who have Chinese DNA, and whose elders to this day understand Chinese – as a ritual eyewash. Others include maize, which originated in Peru; scented grass from Colombia; taro from China (Captain Cook); yams from the Pacific (Captain Cook); and most celebrated of all, the kumara, the sweet potato, from South America (where it is called kumar), which, as Captain Cook rightly said, was a vitally important food for Maori people.

Someone, either Maoris, Polynesians, South American Indians or Chinese, must have brought these plants to New Zealand. The carriers were clearly not Europeans for they found the plants there. Thor Heyerdahl, to my mind one of the greatest explorers of all time, argued that it was Incas who had sailed from Peru to Tahiti then onwards. Regrettably, DNA has shown that his hypothesis is incorrect; if it were true, Inca DNA should be found on the Pacific islands. An investigative team of Cambridge archaeologists led by Matt Hurles published their findings in the American Journal of Human Genetics: only on one island around Tahiti, Rapa, did they find the distinctive DNA of native South Americans, and these Rapa genes had come from the crew of a Peruvian ship that stopped off at the island in 1862 to kidnap slaves.

Could it have been Maoris or Polynesians who travelled to South America and returned with the plants? This possibility has been examined by Professor Bryan Sykes and his team at Oxford University and written up in Bryan`s wonderful book The Seven Daughters of Eve. `If we found DNA matches [of Polynesians] in Chile or Peru, or even in coastal North America,` he wrote, ` then Heyerdahl was right. If we found them in south-east Asia, he was wrong.` Later, he concluded: `I had to be sure that 247, the defining variant of Polynesian mitochondrial DNA, was not abundant in the Americas. No-one had ever seen it. Not even once. Heyerdahl was wrong.`

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So that, in my view, leaves only the Chinese as the possible carriers to Australia (seventy-four species) and New Zealand (eight species) of those South American plants found by the first Europeans. If it was the Chinese, their DNA should be found on both sides of the Pacific, in the Incas and the Maoris. We know that`s true for the Incas, but does Chinese DNA turn up in the Maoris?

First, a short digression. The Maoris were not the first to settle in New Zealand. Carbon dating of rat bones found in Hawkes Bay on the east coast of North Island shows them to be at least two thousand years old. The oldest Maori settlement dates back to AD 800. Dr. Richard Holdaway, a Christchurch palaeontologist, says the rats must have arrived by human voyagers – in short, humans must have arrived 800 years before the Maoris. As Dr. Rau Kirikiri, a leading Maori academic, reflected, `this could lead Maoris to question their own history.`

Back to Maori DNA. For the past fifty years debate has raged over where the Maori came from. Some say China (Taiwan), others Indonesia. Events have recently taken a startling turn. Adele White, for the ABC television programme Catalyst (broadcast on 27 March 2003), used mitochondrial (female line) DNA to trace Maori origins back as far as mainland Asia. But where in mainland Asia? The answer came from a surprising quarter – by looking at the gene for alcohol. Adele`s supervisor, Dr. Geoff Chambers, found a match between one of the variant genes for alcohol with people from Taiwan, so it seemed the original homeland of the Maori people was Taiwan. Or was it? When Dr. Chambers` team studied the Y (male) chromosome, they found a different story. While the females came from China, most of the men came from Melanesia.

What might have happened is that a small number of Melanesians settled in New Zealand about two thousand years ago; it was they who brought the rats whose bones have been carbon dated. Zhou Man`s fleet arrived from the Antarctic (Campbell Island) in 1422/23. They landed in substantial numbers in South Island and some ships were wrecked on North Island (Ruapuke Beach). The fleets carried Chinese Tanka concubines. The Melanesians murdered the Chinese men and took the concubines as their wives. If this was the case, evidence of the Chinese visit to South Island should be there. Thanks to Cedric Bell, to whom I am indebted, that evidence has been found. We have carbon dating of wood, mortar, stone and slag as evidence that the Chinese lived on South Island and mined her minerals for five centuries before Captain Cook `discovered` New Zealand.

I am, now more than ever, convinced that accepted history has been turned upside down, not only in New Zealand and Australia but in North and South America, across the Pacific and in the Arctic and Antarctic. The great bulk of the new evidence that has enabled me to make such startling claims has come from readers of my book. It is you, not historians or academics, who have rewritten history…

For more information about this book or to purchase it from simply click on its title: 1421: The Year China Discovered America


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