When most of us think of ancient seafaring we think of something along lines of Christopher Columbus and his voyage to the New World using three ships. Those ships, however, were very small compared to ancient ships built by the Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, et al. Columbus only had about 88 men on board his three ships and two of his ships were only 50 feet long! That’s about the size of a small fishing boat.
When we look at the history of China we get a clue at just how much more advanced these people were than Europeans when it came to ship building and exploration. For example, there is a tiny island off the coast of Africa called “Pate” which is just off the coast of Kenya. People living on that island claim that they are the descendants of Chinese sailors who were shipwrecked on the island several centuries ago! These Chinese sailors traded with local Africans and they even took a few giraffes back to China for the emperor’s pleasure! People on this island have an Asian appearance, somewhat and many have antique porcelain heirlooms in their homes that resemble those made by the ancient Chinese.
History tells us that some six centuries ago a mighty Chinese armada sailed westward to Ceylon, East Africa, and Arabia for trade. Some of the ships (junks) had giant nine-masted sails and accompanying them were smaller escort vessels carrying patrol boats, horses, soldiers, supply ships, etc. This armada was anything but small because in total there were more than 27,000 soldiers and sailors! The biggest ships were recorded as being over 400 feet long and 150 ft wide! In comparison, Columbus’ ship named the Santa Maria was only 90×30 feet. These ancient Chinese ships were massive, to say the least.
The ships were laden with silk, lacquerware, porcelain, and other Chinese manufactured goods for trade. Chinese traders traded these goods for such things as spices, ivory, pearls, rare woods, medicines, and other goods they could obtain from Africa and Arabia. Thus, China had trading routes that extended from Taiwan to the Persian Gulf and I suspect even beyond! And all of this was before Europeans discovered the Indian Ocean! The ancient Chinese were nothing short of masters of the sea with their advanced nautical technology, ship building skills, and trade savvy.
It’s believed that the ancient Chinese built their first ocean-going ships back in the time of the Song Dynasty (960-1270 AD). Marco Polo documented his trek into China and he described junks with four masts larger than anything found in Europe. He also described how these massive ships had upwards of 60 individual cabins for the merchants, crews of up to 300 men, and watertight bulkheads. These were most certainly not fishing boats but ships designed and intended for sailing the high seas! And since we know they sailed westward I think it pretty safe to also assume they sailed eastward to the Americas!! And there is plenty of evidence to support that notion.
In 1962 a Ming boatyard was excavated and there we found timbers no less than 36 feet long. Using reverse engineering researchers discovered that several Junks made in this boatyard had to have been at least 500 feet long! One of the more notable discoveries is that of the Quanzhou found in 1973. This ship dates from the Song Dynasty. It was a double masted ship most likely sunk in the 1270s. It features a V-shaped hull framed around a pine keel over 100 feet long. It is covered by a double layer of cedar planking intricately placed into position. It CLEARLY indicates that this was an OCEAN-GOING VESSELS!
Humans have been sailing the waters for a long, long time. I’ve posted about ancient dugouts discovered around the world build by ancient humans and we’ve speculated how ancient human ancestors likely followed the shores to discover new lands. Humans seem to have a natural attraction to the seas and everything associated with them. I think we learned long, long ago how to sail on the waters and how to use those waters for survival and expansion of our species. There is no doubt in my mind that SOME ancient humans followed shorelines and others sailed upon the waters!!
The ancient Chinese accounts of their ocean ventures is nothing short of spectacular. The ingenuity they employed to conquer the seas is astounding and I’m sure our ancestors used similar ingenuity to do the same! In the Americas we find ancient artifacts along the western coasts that appear to be very similar to goods from ancient China. We find people who look Chinese more than they do Native American! We discover tales of ancient sea-faring people who came from a land far away to the west! That can only be CHINA!! I think Chinese explorers were in the Americas long before Columbus or the Vikings! I think they traded with the populations here and interbred with some of them. I think the ancient world’s people were far closer than we think!! And I most certainly do NOT think the ocean waters stopped humans, ancient or otherwise, from discovering each other, interbreeding with each other, and establishing settlements!!
Finally, I’m sure that some ancient Chinese shipbuilder didn’t just wake up some day and suddenly know how to build one of these great oceangoing vessels. I think there was a long progression of trial and error that very possibly extended back into the remotest of times! They learned how to build these huge ancient ships and they sailed the world once they build them!! It’s time we look at the EVIDENCE and get off our Western egocentricism. It’s time to see HUMAN history as it really was in accordance with the known EVIDENCE! Those who came before us obviously were NOT stupid because if they were our species would not even be here today. We would have perished as a species long, long ago. But we didn’t!!!