1421 AND ALL THAT JUNK
Professor Victor Prescott
Gavin Menzies is the author of a very successful book entitled 1421: The year China discovered the world, published first in 2003. There have been subsequent editions in paperback. Many members of the community of scholars who specialize in the history of cartography have criticized this text severely. This lecture reviews some of the reasons why Menzies interpretation of cartographic history should not be trusted. I have challenged Menzies thesis because he asserts that the Chinese discovered mainland Australia before the Dutch, Spanish, British and French. This year a body called Australia on the Map, 1606-2006 celebrates the discovery of our coastline in the period 1606 to the 1840s. If Menzies was judged to be correct this would be a hollow celebration. I hope to persuade you that we need have no fear on that score.
Captain Phil Rivers, a well qualified master mariner, wrote a small volume in 2004 drawing attention to some of the nautical inaccuracies and improbabilities in Menzies’ book. He listed Menzies’ five main propositions.
In 1421, Chinese fleets set off to complete voyages throughout the entire world .
In 1423, Chinese catographers produced an accurate world map complete with latitude and longitude.
In 1424, a Venetian Niccolo dei Conti, arrived in Italy with this map and gave it to a Portuguese Prince in Venice.
From this map the Portuguese produced a world map in 1428 that accurately depicted the four corners of the earth.
Explorers from Colombus to Cook relied on this 1428 map. (Rivers, 2004, Introduction.)
Since Menzies volume occupies 650 pages, including 90 pages of appendices and references I will limit my criticisms to a few obvious weaknesses, selected from all the continents except Europe, which the Chinese did not visit, Asia, where the voyages started , and Antarctica. Only the last example will be based on my original research. The other examples have been selected from the host of detailed analyses of errors, published on the internet, by scholars, mainly from the United States, Asia and Australia.
The Chinese discovery of Australia
Menzies describes the discovery of Australia by two fleets. Admiral Hong Bao’s fleet sailed to the southwest tip of Australia via the southern tip of South America and the Indian Ocean Islands of Heard and Kerguelen. Admiral Zhou Man sailed from the north coast of Peru, on the west coast of South America, to Fraser Island, north of Brisbane. Both Admirals certainly took the long route because they were familiar with Malacca Strait and aware of the archipelago to the south.
I will restrict my comments about the Chinese discovery of the north , east and southeast coasts of Australia to three matters. The first deals with Bittangabee Bay, near Eden.
If Zhou Man’s fleet had reached south-east Australia after crossing the Pacific, there should be evidence of that landfall in the area depicted with most precision on the Rotz chart. As soon as I started a search of the coastline south of Newcastle, I found a mine of information. In the 1840s a ruined fortress was found by Benjamin Boyd, one of the earliest settlers, at Bittangabee Bay near Eden in the far south of New South Wales. ( Menzies 2003, 203.)
Menzies then goes on to describe this ‘fortress’ and calculates that a large force would have been required to construct it. Menzies does not give any reference to the source of his discovery and it is unclear from his text whether he actually visited the Bay. The Bittangabee ‘blockhouse’ was certainly described by Gordon McIntyre who wrote and published the ‘The secret discovery of Australia: Portuguese ventures 200 years before Captain Cook’ (1977, 292-3). Menzies refers to this book in chapters 6 and 8, but not in Chapter 7 regarding Bittangabee Bay. The descriptions of the structure by McIntyre and Menzies have a number of similarities. In fact Menzies is the third claimant to foreign construction at Bittangabee Bay. Roger Herve, Curator at the National Library of France, in Paris, claimed that the Bittangabee ruins were built by a marooned Spanish crew in 1527.
I asked the Eden Tourist Bureau whether they had any information about these ruins and I was referred to Dave Costello. He advised me that the best view, of the archeologists he had consulted, was that the structure was built by the Imlay Brothers who had whaling and cattle interests near Eden, in the first decades of the nineteenth century. Of course McIntyre was trying to prove that the Portuguese had discovered Australia before Captain Cook. He raised the possibility that Mendonca might have wintered near Eden. Why someone would choose to winter in southern New South Wales when more congenial climes are available within two weeks sailing is not clear. It could also be questioned why a Chinese Admiral would build a fortress at Eden, when he was on the last leg of his very long journey.
The next curiosity is the Mahogany Ship near Warrnambool. This matter was explored by McIntyre and Menzies relies on him for his short account from which one quotation will suffice.
Twenty years later, an Australian woman, Mrs Manifold examined the wreck, one of a further twenty-five people to record their impressions of it. She was impressed by the internal bulkheads, ‘stout and strong’. I am confident that this is probably a missing ship from Hong Bao’s fleet. (Menzies, 2003, 189
McIntyre’s chapter on the Mahogany Ship was written in 1977. Menzies , writing 20 years later, does not appear to have seen the records of the two Australian symposia on the Mahogany Ship. The first was held in 1981 and the third edition of its proceedings was published in 1985 (Mahogany Ship Committee, 1985). The proceedings of the second symposium were issued in 1987 (Mahogany Ship Committee, 1987). The first Symposium contains a detailed report by McKiggan (Mahogany Ship Committee, 1985, 29-60). He records the published accounts of sightings from 1841. In 1836 three men went looking for seals to the islands near Warrnambool. Coming back to shore the boat capsized, one man drowned whereupon the other two walked back to Warrnambool. On this journey they encountered a wreck ‘supposed to be Spanish’ (The Mahogany Ship Committee, 1985, 30). A captain Mills thought the vessel was of 100 tons burden. This means the vessel could carry cargo amounting to 100 tons. In 1847 a Portland newspaper reported that the wreck of a vessel of about 300 tons burden was found, buried in sand with its deck completely removed. Some men visited it and found articles of French manufacture; they considered the vessel was a French whaler. Menzies (2003, 315) believed the large junks were 145 metres long, 54 metres wide with a displacement of 3,400 tons, which is much larger than any wreck seen near Warrnambool.
John Archibald, once an apprentice reporting for the Warrnambool Standard, founded The Bulletin in Sydney. He became wealthy and on his death bequeathed many personal effects to the Nation, including a piece of wood believed to be from the Mahogany Ship. It was lodged in the National Library, in Canberra. The wood appears to be European cedar and it was carbon-dated in 1980. The test produced a result of 1685 plus or minus 25 years. That would mean the vessel was built at least 239 years after 1421.
The simple fact is that the Mahogany Ship, if it existed, has never been scientifically examined. A large prize for its discovery, by the State Government has never been claimed, despite the determined efforts of many prospectors. It is surprising that Menzies should be confident it was the wreck of a very large Chinese junk based only on the memory of Mrs Manifold.
The last Australian example concerns maps drawn in 1542 by Jean Rotz. He was a member of the French school of cartography based in Dieppe and other members produced a series of similar maps. They had access to early Portuguese charts. On these maps, mainland Asia, was well represented. Southwards there are two islands. Java, that is of modest size and Java la Grande that is very large. Menzies is sure that the Dieppe maps show the continent of Australia and that the information was derived from the Chinese explorations.
Despite his accurate depiction of the coasts of China, Asia, India and Africa, many historians have failed to identify a vast new landmass Rotz showed south of the equator. It consists of two islands, ‘Little Java’ south of Sumatra and ‘Greater Java’ a large continent stretching away from near the equator towards the South Pole. At is northern end this continent has a protruding spit resembling Cape York, the northernmost tip of Australia. The northeast part of this southern continent also resembles the northeast Australian coast, but the land shown on the Rotz chart stretches further south to the southeast than Australia actually does. (Menzies, 2003, 187)
The Rotz chart depicts western Australia, Sumatra, the Malay Peninsula, Indochina and the west coast of Borneo with considerable accuracy. (Menzies, 2003, 190)
Lesser Java on the Rotz chart is Arnhem Land, part of the mainland of Australia. The shape of northeast Australia is instantly recognizable. (Menzies, 2003, 225)
In fact there were some earlier proponents of the view that Java la Grande was Australia, such as Collingridge (1895),McIntyre (1977), Fitzgerald (1987) and Wallis (1991). The quality of some arguments was not high. For example Fitzgerald compared sections of the coast of Java La Grande with a modern map and then simply re-arranged the sections to produce a map of west, north and east Australia!
Unlike all those authors, Menzies does translate, or rather mis-translate, some of the names on the Dieppe maps. In other words he did not rely on shape alone. He notes that ‘The names are easy to translate and all of them correspond to what is found there today’ (Menzies, 2003, 225). Alas. If only he had troubled to read some of the various articles by Bill Richardson, formerly a Reader in Spanish and Portuguese at Flinders University, he could have avoided his schoolboy howlers. So Richardson was obliged to point out his errors in a review of Menzies’ book (Richardson, 2004).
Menzies translates Canal de Sonda as narrow sea ford, which must be Apsley Strait between Melville and Bathurst Islands. The correct answer is the rather obvious Sunda Strait between Java and Sumatra. Chumbao caused Menzies difficulty until he decided it was lead that was mined in the Northern Territory. It is in fact Tjeribon or Cheribon today called Cirebon on the north coast of Java.
Rotz omitted place-names on the east and west coasts of the continent, but that defect was corrected by others in the Dieppe School, who made translations into French. However, Menzies did not tackle any of them. In the vicinity of the northwest bulge of Java La Grande there are three names: Quabesequimesce, Hame de Sylla and Cap. Richardson has drawn attention to the problems of interpreting handwritten lower case. For example the letters ui might have been read as m, sometimes a can look like s. He translates the first word as a phrase Cubeb is here. Cubeb was once a prized pepper grown only in west Java. Hame de Sylla could reasonably be interpreted as Havre de Sylla., that is Harbour of Sylla. The word Cap is written just below Sylla. If it is added to Sylla, Syllacap becomes Cilicap, the main port on the south coast of Java. These translations mean that the northwest bulge of Java la Grande is part of Java.
It is difficult to understand how Menzies could resist translating some of the names on the east coast of Java la Grande, such as coste dangereuse in the vicinity of what he regards as the Great Barrier Reef. Especially since he believes Cook was using a Dieppe chart.
Captain Cook later used some of the maps of the Dieppe School to get to Cooktown, where he beached his ship, HMS Endeavour, after it hit a reef that was also shown on the earlier charts. (Menzies, 2003, 224)
Richardson brilliantly demolished the argument that Java la Grande showed the east coast of Australia when he demonstrated, from the place-names, that it was actually a large scale chart, but without a scale, that showed the coast of Vietnam (Richardson, 1984). To maintain the secrecy of surveys the Portuguese omitted latitude, longitude, scale and north point on original surveys. Richardson solved the puzzle by translating the French names, on the Dieppe maps, back into the Portuguese from which they had been derived. So ‘Coste des herbiages’ in French, perhaps ‘Coast of meadows’was the Portuguese version of Coasta de Champa, If the final letter of the handwritten champa looked like an s, then we have the French word for fields. In fact Champa was the large Middle Kingdom of Vietnam. The name Aliofer refers to modern Hainan. It was a mis-transcription of Aljofar that in English means ‘seed-pearl’. In the early 16th century, Hainan was regarded as the place to find the best pearls. Since Menzies cites no papers by Richardson we must assume that he did not know they existed. In that case his research or that of his assistants was defective.
To illustrate the problems of copying Portuguese charts in Dieppe Richardson gives a possible example of a group of Islands given the French name Magna Sayll. When inverted the name appears as Ilhos Condora. The Portuguese fleet in 1517 spent several days at the Condor Islands.
Referring to the extreme southwest of New Zealand’s South Island, Menzies makes reference to the loss of two of the treasure ships.
The Chinese would have had to claw their way back against the current; as they did so, at least two of the great treasure ships were lost. The wreck of an old wooden ship was found two centuries ago at Dusky Sound in Fjiordland at the south-western tip of New Zealand’s South Island. It was said to be very old and of Chinese build and ‘to have been there before Cook’, according to local people. (Menzies, 2003, 209)
There is a footnote to Gossett (1996, 31). For the remainder of the New Zealand example I am indebted to Bill Harz (2005). He did what many scholars fail to do. He patiently tracked the footnotes in 1421 back to their source with some interesting results. In the case of Gossett he eventually found her rare edition and a very interesting fact. Robyn Gossett explored this legend in three pages, and includes reference to the log of a Captain Murray, who had been fourth officer on the Endeavour that was abandoned in 1795.
By the time the ship reached Dusky Sound the Endeavour was in a bad way, and after a thorough inspection the officers and men came to the only possible conclusion: the Endeavour would have to be abandoned. … So the old Endeavour remained. Not worth salvaging, she became a sort of spare-parts store, name unknown, just another wreck until imagination and rumour made her one of the mystery ships of the New Zealand coast. (Gossett, 1996.)
The avoidance of this clarification of the identity of the wreck suggests poor scholarship by Menzies or his research assistants.
North and South America
Menzies searched for evidence that Zhou Man’s fleet had reached the Pacific coast of the Americas. He started from the explorations of Hernando de Alarcon along the Californian coast in 1540 and worked backwards and reached the following conclusion.
…the Kangnido, Pizzigano, Piri Reis, Jean Rotz, Cantino and Walseemüller charts are indisputably genuine. They contain information that can only have come from cartographers aboard the pioneering fleets. (Menzies, 2003, 436)
Waldseemüller’s map of the world in 1507 provided a representation of the Pacific coast of the Americas.
Such evidence does exist in the form of the Walseemüller world map published in 1507, the first to chart latitude and longitude with precision.(Menzies, 2003, 238)
Menzies volume includes a small coloured version of Waldseemüller’s map in a double spread after p.464. Two claims are made regarding this map.
The Pacific coast of America is strikingly drawn on the Waldseemüller chart and latitudes correspond to those of Vancouver Island in Canada right down to Ecuador in the south. This is completely consistent with a cartographer aboard a ship sailing down the Pacific coast, but not charting the coast in great detail. Oregon is clearly identifiable, and several old wrecks have been discovered there on the beach at Neahkahnie. (Menzies, 2003, 239).
I decided to make a search for another wreck between Manzanillo and Acapulco, a stretch of coastline only around three hundred miles long and again clearly shown on the Waldseemüller map. (Menzies, 2003, 248)
Emboldened by the new evidence of Chinese colonies in Mexico, I next turned my attention to Queen Charlotte Island, off British Colombia. The Waldseemüller map clearly depicts the island and the Kurashio current off the coast of northwest Canada could have carried Zhou Man’s junks there. (Menzies, 2003, 462)
So at least three sections of coast, on Waldseemüller’s map, have been positively identified by Menzies. However, there is no feature on Oregon’s coastline that stands out on a map, for example, in The Times Atlas at a scale of 1:12.5 millions. The Walseemüller map has a scale of approximately 1:15 millions, at the Equator. Equally the coastline between Manzanillo and Acapulco is undistinguished by any promontory or major bay. Menzies refers to Queen Charlotte Island. He presumably meant the Queen Charlotte Islands. This group is an archipelago of about 150 islands with an area of 9,790 sq. km. No island appears anywhere along the Pacific coast on Waldsemüller’s map.
In respect of Waldseemüller’s depiction of the Pacific coast of the Americas, it is astonishing that Menzies makes no reference to its most obvious feature. Unlike the east coast of the Americas and the coasts of every other continent and large island, there is not a single place-name on the west coast. There are two phrases written on the land in latin. In the north Terra Ulteri’ Incognita and in the south Terra Ultra Incognita. The word ulteri means ‘more remote’. The word ultra means ‘beyond’ or ‘on the far side of’. Waldseemüller is explicit in disowning any knowledge of either the coastline, that is smooth, unindented and consisting of straight sections, or any specific places on that coast.
At the close of Chapter 11 Menzies describes the passage of Admiral Zhou Wen’s fleet along the northeast coast of Cuba , its diversion northwards across the Great Bahamas Bank and its arrival in the safe Northwest Providence Channel. To reach this situation Menzies had to alter significantly the geography of this region. It was necessary to close the channel between the north coast of Cuba and the south coast of the Great Bahama Bank called Old Bahama Channel. This is done by arguing that sea-levels were lower in 1421 than they are today
Sea levels in 1421 were lower than they are today. Global warming has caused the south polar ice to melt, causing sea levels to rise slowly but inexorably. The best estimate of the Proudman Oceanic Laboratory of Birkenhead is that they have risen over the past centuries by about two millimetres a year. Other reputable oceanographers put the rise a little higher, at an average of four millimetres a year. In the almost six centuries since 1421 it is safe to say that sea levels have risen between just under four and just under eight feet. For simplicity, I assumed the overall rise has been one fathom or six feet, roughly the mid-point of the range of estimates. (Menzies, 2003, 299-300)
First it is necessary to note that there is no footnote to either the Proudman Oceanic Laboratory of Birkenhead or ‘Other reputable oceanographers’ who suggest a rate of 4 mm per year. Second a technical study of sea-level rise by Douglas, Kearney and Leatherman (2001) presents a different rate of sea-level change.
The last few thousand years are especially interesting as far as global sea level rise is concerned. Geological and other evidence presented in Chapter 2 and by Gornitz (1995a) and Verkamp et al. (1992) suggest that during this recent period, the average rate of change of global sea level has been very small, much less than the 20th century rate. This conclusion has also been reached by Flemming (1978, 1982) using a novel method. He analysed elevations of hundreds of Mediterranean coastal archeological sites relative to modern sea level and concluded that the average rate of sea level rise during the last two millennia [thousand years] has been only 0.2 mm/yr. Apparently the 20th-century- rate of about 2 mm per year is an historically recent development; (Douglas, Kerney and Leatherman, 2001, 37-8)
In the same chapter the studies of 16 scholars produce 11 rates of sea level rise derived from tidal gauge records. They range from 1 mm to 2.4 mm and they produce an average of 1.61 mm per year (Douglas, Kearney and Leatherman, 2001, 39). If calculations are made for the period since 1421 on these rates the following total rise is suggested. A rise of .2 mm for 429 years from 1421 to 1850 produces a rise of 8.58 cm or 3.4”. A rise of 2 mm per year for 156 years totals 30.6 cm or 12.5”. These two calculations yield a total rise since 1421 of 15.9” or 22 per cent of the figure accepted by Menzies.
Menzies than asserts that the Admiral would be faced by the junction of Cuba and the Bahamas Bank.
In 1421, vast areas that today are submerged would have been either above water or with rocks and reefs showing as breaking water and shoals. The banks and reefs of the Great Bahama Bank, stretching south of Andros Island towards Cuba, would in 1421 have been above water to the latitude of the Tropic of Cancer, and the numerous sand ridges today marked as ‘almost uncovered’ on the modern chart would also have been above water. To the Chinese cartographers, everything from Cayo Guajava in the middle of Cuba’s north coast as far as the latitude of Miami would have appeared as one large low-lying island, an extension of Cuba. (Menzies, 2003, 300)
In his map to show the situation Menzies shows a land bridge between Cayo Guajava, on the north coast of Cuba, and Andros Island (Menzies, 2003, 302).
If the sea level in 1421 was 16” lower than the levels shown on modern charts Menzies is correct in saying that more small features would have appeared above the surface of the sea at both high-tide and low-tide. However, this small fall would not have narrowed the Old Bahama Channel that presently has widths from 10 nm to 18 nm. The reason is that the lowering of sea-level would have occurred on the very steep sides of the Old Bahama Channel.
To create a land-bridge between Cuba and the Great Bahama Bank sea level would have needed to fall more than 900 metres. At the height of the last Ice-Age, 18,000 years ago, sea level was about 120 metres below present levels. 5,000 years ago sea-level had risen to within one metre of modern levels. In these circumstances there is no reason why the Chinese did not continue sailing westwards through the Old Bahama Channel.
The prevailing wind and current would have driven the fleet along the north-east coast of Cuba, then due north east of Andros, up towards Grand Bahama. (Andros Island is a favourite submarine haunt, for there is a deep-water trench well to the east of the coast along which thousands of tons of nuclear submarines can hurtle at forty miles an hour in order to test its silence at depth and speed. Afterwards we would surface and relax under the palms of Andros beach, drinking Bacardi and Coke). (Menzies, 2003, 300, emphasis added)
To cross the Great Bahama Bank from Cuba to the east of Andros Island and inside the Berry Islands (all shown on the Cantino [map]), the ships must have passed frequently, and at night, what the British Admiralty charts call ‘numerous sand ridges almost uncovered’ and ‘numerous rocky heads’. In one small stretch of forty nautical miles  there are literally hundreds of rocks and reefs capable of ripping wooden hulls apart. (Menzies, 2003, 303)
18. 77° 30’W between 23º 10’ N and 23º50’ N (Menzies 2003, 622)
This paragraph raises two questions. First Menzies implies that the Admiral had no choice but to follow the winds and currents northwards across the Great Bahama Bank. However, the British Sailing Directions show that the winds in January, April, July and October are blowing westwards, not northwards. They also show the currents between Cuba and the Great Bahama Bank flowing towards the northwest through the Old Bahama and Santaren Channels, with a constancy of 75 per cent. Westwards these currents meet an equally constant current flowing towards the northeast through the Straits of Florida (Hydrographer of the Navy 1971, 26-31). In short the Admiral could have followed the currents and the winds through the Old Bahama Channel and picking up the currents flowing northwards through the Straits of Florida. Had this course been followed there would have been no damage caused by shallow reefs and no need to go to North Bimini Island to repair damaged vessels.
But let us follow the Admiral’s alleged course northwards across the Bank. The second question relates to the dangerous course east of Andros Island and ‘inside’ the Berry Islands. We know that ‘inside’ the Berry Islands means west of the Berry Islands because Menzies’ map shows the fleet’s route passing between the northern tip of Andros Island and the Berry Islands (Menzies, 2003, 302). The deep-water trench described by Menzies is called Tongue of the Ocean.
Tongue of the Ocean is a remarkable inlet with depths of several hundred fathoms and a width varying from 15 to 30 [nautical] miles, which is entered between the western end of New Providence Island, on the E, and Andros Island on the W, and extends 100 [nautical] miles SSE into the very centre of the Great Bahamas Bank. (Hydrographer of the Navy, 1971, 69).
Menzies notes that this trench is ‘…well to the east of the coast …’ of Andros Island. I can only say he is a bad judge of distance.
From High Point Cay, on the east coast of Andros Island, to Morgans Bluff, 75 nm to the north, the Tongue of the Sea platform is not more than 2.5 nm from the low-water line of the island. Only 3 nm from the island the water depths would be between 500 metres and 1000 metres. It is inconceivable that the Admiral did not detect the safe deep channel that today is the playground of nuclear submarines. Having found the channel, it is also inconceivable that the Admiral would have abandoned it to sail west of the Berry Islands, when the channel led directly into the Northwest Providence Channel.
However Menzies notes that the Admiral would have known he was in a deep channel as the ‘ …fleet passed the Berry Islands’ (Menzies, 2003, 307). You could only pass the Berry Islands in a deep channel if you were north, not west, of the Berry Islands.
Having got the fleet to the Berry Islands Menzies then made two assumptions. First some vessels were damaged by crossing shallow reefs of the Great Bahama Bank, to reach the deep water of Northwest Providence Channel. That is a reasonable assumption if the fleet followed that route. Indeed it would be a miracle if any of the huge capital ships managed to escape becoming wrecks on the Great Bahamas Bank., The next assumption is that a search would be made for land where the vessels could be beached and repaired.
The search for a suitable island would have been a matter of desperate urgency, for many of the junks must have been in a critical condition, unable to survive in the open ocean. (Menzies, 2003, 307)
These assumptions led to the two small islands called North and South Bimini (Menzies, 2003, 307). However, there is no explanation of why the Admiral did not seek to repair his vessels at the Berry Islands only a few miles away, when the fleet was leaving the Great Bahamas Bank. Menzies makes no comment on the Admiral’s decision to continue sailing 95 nautical miles [nm] to the Bimini Islands. We are not informed whether the Admiral knew about the Bimini Islands or whether they were found by chance.
Menzies then searches for evidence of damaged treasure junks.
It was a dramatic moment, for eight unidentified wrecks were disclosed within six hours or forty miles sailing from the point where the Chinese would have entered the Florida Strait. Four wrecks are shown on the Little Bahamas reef and the Florida coast; another four are due south. When I examined a large scale chart, it revealed that the track of these four southern wrecks was pointing towards a group of small islands, North and South Bimini, Gun and Ocean Cay, fifteen miles away. The position of these wrecks was consistent with four junks making a desperate but doomed bid to reach the islands; the last wreck is within a mile of North Bimini. (Menzies, 2003, 307)
Two questions must be raised. First how is it possible to change ‘unidentified wrecks’ in the first sentence, to ‘wrecks’ in the second sentence, and finally to ‘junks’ in the fourth sentence, without providing any evidence for the changes? Second, how can the intended course of a vessel be detected from a wreck that has been on the seabed for 500 years?
On North Bimini Island Menzies found evidence that suggested to him that junks had been there.
In September 1968, Dr J.Manson Valentine, a zoologist and underwater archaeologist, was swimming of North Bimini. He was in ten feet of water about a thousand yards from the shore when he spotted hundreds of flat rocks, eight to ten feet square, arranged in regular patterns. His discovery, named the Bimini Road, comprises two parallel lines of stones on the sand dunes of Bimini Bay running southwest towards the deep ocean. The western section starts at an angle of 160º to the beach and curves round to run directly to the shore. The curved part some 330 feet long, is composed of large, well-laid stones. The straight shoreward section is 1200 feet long by 200 feet wide and has a trench in the middle where there are no slabs. (Menzies, 2003, 310)
Menzies then wonders whether the road could be a slipway, made of smooth stones to prevent damage to junks being beached and refloated (Menzies, 2003, 312).
Obtaining stones and rocks of the required size for the Bimini slipway would have been a simple exercise. The junks would have contained thousands of tons of stone ballast. Zhou Wen’s fleet carried gunpowder that could be used to blow up rocks, and Chinese stone- masons were aboard the ships. They had built thousands of miles of Great Wall between 1403 and 1421. (Menzies, 2003, 312)
The “road” has been surveyed by a number of experts and there is almost universal agreement that the structure is man-made. (Menzies, 2003, 311)
Once again Harz has performed a useful service for other scholars. He tested the view that ‘there is almost universal agreement’. He found experts in the field of geology, who are certain that the road is a natural formation and in each case their studies were published before Menzies stumbled on the clue that led to the book 1421.
This unique physiography [of the Bimini coast] produces unusual conditions for the deposition of sediments. Subtropical Atlantic water flowing along and over the Banks is supersaturated with calcium carbonate sediment, and its cementation into rock, that accounts for the growth and form of the Bahama Banks themselves … The rise of sea-level from 15,000B.P. to the present produced a succession of beaches that formed on the outer platform off the west coast of North Bimini as the shoreline transgressed eastwards over the Great Bahama Bank. Along these transient beaches, deposits of beach-rock formed and subsequently were submerged as the water over them deepened. (Ball and Gifford, 1980)
The rock was thus almost certainly lithified during the lower relative level of the Pleistocene … The overall result is a field of blocks that at first sight appear to have been fitted together, and this has led to statements such as ‘ human agency must have been involved’. The blocky remains of the limestone outcrops are, however, no more enigmatic than other subaerial or subaqueous outcrop of jointed limestones found in various stages of fracture and decay in the northwestern Bahamas. (Harrison, 1971)
In the winter of 1976, Peter Tomkins, J.Harold Hudson and the author, and several Florida Institute of technology students drilled through 2.5 feet thick blocks into the underlying bedrock and concluded the blocks were composed of beach rock. … What can now be said is that the supposedly man-made rocks are of natural origin; that they are more or less in their natural position relative to each other and to the shoreline; the process that gave them their shape is natural; and that they formed about 2,200 years ago and are thus too young to be attributed to the Atlanteans. (Shinn, 1978)
It appears the Menzies relies only on Valentine and Zink for his assertion that the rocks are of artificial construction. Zink’s evidence is rendered less helpful by the fact that he thinks the stones are part of a temple built by the Atlanteans in 28,000BC.
Menzies makes his position clear in the opening of his Acknowledgements.
A brief outline of the more important maps, documents and other pieces of evidence I have used to form the conclusions presented in this book has been included in the Appendices, and the primary and secondary sources, I have used are cited in the Bibliography. However, this is a book for the general reader, not the academic; three-quarters of the evidence has had to be omitted for lack of space.
In my view, that position is untenable. If you are going to overturn the accepted history of exploration and cartography, built up over centuries by scholars, both careful and careless, you have to provide convincing evidence. It was correctly noted, when Menzies addressed the Department of History at the University of Melbourne, that if the book had been presented as a research thesis, it would have failed.
I congratulate Menzies for writing a successful book and making, I presume, a handsome profit. Such success is well beyond my skills. What I condemn is the fact that many scholars of cartography and exploration have spent a lot of their time refuting the most obvious absurdities of 1421, when they could have been more profitably engaged. Happily, this is my only foray into the protracted debate, and the Caribbean example is my only original contribution.
If I was allowed two wishes they would be these. First, that the various distracted scholars around the world would decide that it was time to get on with their neglected research topics. Second, that teachers’ associations in Australia, ensure that Menzies views about the discovery of the world, by Chinese navigators, does not become part of any history syllabus.
Ball, M.M. and J.A.Gifford, 1980. ‘Investigation of submerged beachrock deposits off Bimini, Bahamas’, National Geographic Research Reports, volume 12, 21-38.
Collingridge, G., 1895. The discovery of Australia, Hayes Brothers: Sydney.
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