The Americas have had native groups living there for tens of thousands of years, but Columbus was surely not their first visitor. Uncharted covers a range of cultures who seemingly have been visiting the Americas since long before Columbus. Evidence is explored of potential Roman and Phoenician shipwrecks off the coast of South America through to Egyptians, Greek, Celtic and Norse exploration of Northern America. Put simply, the history of the discovery of the North America is all wrong.
How did the Knights Templar influence the discovery of the new world? What do the Sinclair family, Rosslyn chapel, and two venetian brothers have to do with the discovery of a new continent? How did the Vikings navigate their way? With source materials dating back through millennia, including very recent finds, this book will induce you to thought about a side of history still so readily dismissed by some.
Uncharted tackles the evidence and stories of visiting distant lands that abound from many cultures, such the Egyptian, Greeks, Celts, Vikings, as well as various people from Asia; and one large Chinese group likely settled in the Americas in 100 BC, which current DNA evidence supports. Columbus should be remembered, but remembered for the conquering tyrant he was. These other groups did not come to conquer, but to trade, explore, and escape.
The Zeno Exploration of the North Atlantic
There is some dispute over exactly where Henry established his fort in Shetland. According to Frederick Pohl, it “was in all probability at the water’s edge in Lerwick.”1 Someone my co-author Wallace-Murphy trusted who has made a prolonged and in-depth study of the St. Clair voyage, Niven Sinclair, has a different opinion that sounds far more plausible. The Zeno Narrative states that Henry built his fort in Bres, which most modern scholars assume to be Bressay. Niven Sinclair claims that the foundations of this castle are still visible on Learaness, a place that in Henry’s time would have been on the tip of a long peninsula, the tip of which is now an island. This spot gives a superb view of the approaches to Bressay Sound that comprises both the north and south harbors of Lerwick.2 Sir Nicolo Zeno remained here and, in 1393, prepared three small barks for an exploratory voyage. He first sailed north in the month of July and landed in Egroneland, or Greenland.
Here he found a monastery of the Order of the Preaching Friars and a church dedicated to St Thomas by a hill which vomited fire like Vesuvius or Etna. There is a spring of hot water there that is used to heat both the church of the monastery and the chambers of the Friars. The water comes up into the kitchen so boiling hot that they use no other fire to cook their food. They also put their bread into brass pots without any water, and it is baked as if it were in a hot oven.3
There is a site in Greenland that mirrors this description accurately, and it lies just north of the main eastern settlement. As cited in Pohl, archaeologists such as Alwin Pederson, Helge Larsen, and Lauge Koch reported the existence of formerly active volcanoes and thermal springs on the east coast of Greenland.4 Dr. William Herbert Hobbs, the geologist, identified some ruins nearby as those of St. Olaf’s monastery, one that had been described several centuries earlier by Ivor Baardson, who wrote that the hot springs there “were good for bathing and as a cure for many diseases.” Dr. Hobbs reports that in respect of the descriptions in the Zeno Narrative, evidence for all of these have been found there. One nineteenth-century historian, Dr. Luka Jelic, tells of an account written by papal emissaries in 1329 who reported to Pope John XXII that there were two monasteries in Grotlandia (Greenland): one called Gardesi (Gardar) and the other called Pharensi—a name suggesting a Pharos, or lighthouse, indicating its proximity to a volcano. The Zeno Narrative goes on to describe how the hot springs were used to irrigate the gardens before flowing into the harbor. Despite the nine-month long winter, the harbor never froze because of the thermal springs draining into it. The warmth of the water ensured that fish and seafowl were there in abundance to feed the monks. However, ships that reached the harbor immediately before winter were trapped nonetheless because the seas immediately beyond it froze, and these vessels had to wait for the thaw before being able to leave.5 The winter in that part of Greenland was so severe that Sir Nicolo became ill, and he returned to Fer Island, where he died. His brother Antonio inherited all his wealth and honor and succeeded him as Earl Henry’s admiral. An account of Nicolo Zeno’s voyages of exploration and his death was reported by Marco Barbaro in Discendenze Patrizie in 1536, some twenty-two years before the eventual publication of the Zeno Narrative.
Another exploratory voyage was soon being planned based on a local story of interesting provenance. An Orkney fisherman recounted that some twenty-four years previously, four fishing boats had been driven westward by a severe storm and landed on a place they called Estotilanda, over 1,000 miles from Iceland. One boat was wrecked, and its six-man crew were brought to a nearby city, where the king found an interpreter who spoke Latin and asked the men to remain with him. The fisherman described this land as “very rich and abundant in all things.” The inhabitants were “intelligent and as well-versed in the arts as we are and that they had obviously had dealings at some time with our people for in the King’s library were Latin books which they did not now understand.”6 These people traded with Greenland, exporting furs, sulfur, and pitch; grew corn; and made beer. They did not have the compass, and because of this, the fishermen were held in great esteem. They were sent on a voyage to the south to a place called Drogio. On their arrival, locals captured them, and one fisherman who taught these locals to fish with nets was spared; the others were all killed and eaten. The surviving fisherman lived among them for thirteen years, moving among them and teaching them all the art of net fishing.7
Henry’s informant described this country as “a new world” peopled by locals who were uncultivated, had no metal, and who lived by hunting with wooden spears. They were very fierce, fighting among themselves, and their chieftains and laws differed from tribe to tribe. Eventually, a ship arrived that took this informant home, where he met with Earl Henry.
No one will ever be certain whether this traveler’s tale was the trigger point that provoked Henry into action, whether it was merely one issue among many others, or if it was merely a clever piece of camouflage used to disguise the long-planned nature of the enterprise. Henry was already well aware of the New World across the Atlantic from the Viking sagas and from the reports of the Knutson expedition. He also knew of the exploratory voyages of Nicholas of Lynne, as well as the long-standing trading links between Greenland, Markland, and Vinland. It is also reasonable to speculate that Henry had already disclosed much of this information to Carlo Zeno and his brothers. However, it would have been most imprudent to disclose any of this information in letters home that might ultimately have been intercepted and disclosed to either the Inquisition or the dreaded Hanse.8 The first notice of the intended voyage is to be found in a letter written by Antonio Zeno that states:
[T]his nobleman is now determined to send me out with a fleet towards these parts. There are so many that want to join on this expedition on account of the novelty and the strangeness of the thing, that I think we shall be very well equipped, without any public expense at all.9
The eventual editor of the Zeno Narrative, a later Nicolo Zeno, added after the preceding passage that Antonio “set sail with many vessels and men, but that he was not the commander as he had expected to be.” Earl Henry himself was going to be the leader, and in this manner, the expedition went ahead.
Earlier authors, in their attempts to estimate the size of Henry’s fleet for this voyage, have been somewhat too imaginative in their assessments of both the size of the fleet and the number of men Henry took with him. Fantasy has had free rein in previous descriptions, which have alleged that Earl Henry took with him the Knights Templar, Cistercian monks, or that he carried vast treasure, or in one patently ridiculous account, transported the Holy Grail across the Atlantic. There is not one shred of credible evidence to support any of these crazy allegations. The Knights Templar had been suppressed some seventy-five years before Henry sailed. Was it even reasonable to suppose that he would have taken a number of monks with him on what was both a trading and exploratory voyage? We think not!
Henry’s original fleet of two galleys, one battleship, and ten barks had been augmented by the addition of the Venetian galley brought by Antonio Zeno. When we take into account Henry’s duty to protect Orkney and Shetland while he was away, it is virtually certain that he left at least one galley, the battleship, and six or seven barks behind for defensive purposes. The remaining ships were one Venetian galley and its 200 oarsmen, one Orkney galley, and three or four barks for scouting purposes. Such a fleet would have been more than capable of making the planned voyage and of defending itself against any piratical attack that might occur.
Earl Henry and his fleet sailed west from Orkney and Shetland, island hopping in the traditional Viking manner to cross the Atlantic. We read, in the Zeno Narrative, that
Then at last we discovered land. As the seas ran high and we did not know what country it was, we were afraid at first to approach it. But by God’s blessing, the wind lulled and then a great calm came on. Some of the crew then pulled ashore and soon returned with the joyful news that they had found an excellent country with a still better harbour. So, we brought our barks and our boats into land, and we entered an excellent harbour, and we saw in the distance a great mountain that poured out smoke.10
An investigation in force by one hundred armed men was sent toward the smoking mountain with instructions to return with accounts of any inhabitants that they might meet. The main body remained with the ships, took on stores of wood and water, and caught a large quantity of fish and seafowl that were abundant there.11 The Narrative continued:
While we were at anchor here, the month of June came in, and the air in the island was mild and pleasant beyond description. Yet as we saw nobody, we began to suspect that this pleasant place was uninhabited. We gave the name of Trin to the harbour and the headland which stretched out onto the sea, we called Capo di Trin.12
The historian Frederick Pohl made a brave attempt to use this passage to date the voyage and the landfall. He assumed, not unreasonably, that the naming of this place was made because they made landfall on Trinity Sunday. Trinity Sunday is, however, a moveable feast, and Pohl quoted the possible dates as being June 6, 1395; May 28, 1396; June 17, 1397; and June 2, 1398, and opted for the last date. If one reads the Zeno Narrative with care and diligence, we find that Henry and his party arrived at this place before the beginning of June. The passage in question actually reads as follows: “While we were at anchor here, the month of June came in”13—thus, the expedition had anchored before the end of May. If Pohl was correct in his assumption that the naming of the harbor and headland celebrated the expedition’s landfall on Trinity Sunday, then the inevitable conclusion must be that the date of this moveable feast was May 28, 1396.
The key passage in any reasonable attempt to identify the actual point of landfall is the description of the smoking mountain and the information brought back by the party sent to investigate it:
After eight days the hundred soldiers returned and told us that they had been through the island and up to the mountain. The smoke came naturally from great fire in the bottom of the hill, and there was a spring giving out certain matter like pitch which ran into the sea, and there were great multitudes of people, half wild and living in caves. They were very small in stature and very timid; for as soon as they saw our people, they fled into their holes. Our men also reported that there was a large river nearby and a very good and safe harbour.14
Because Greenland is treeless and the landfall was well wooded, it is reasonable to assume that this area was Markland, which had traditionally been a source of timber. Furthermore, the information brought back by the scouting party indicates that this place is either an island or a peninsula. We can estimate the distance to the smoking mountain as being about three days’ travel—allowing for the time necessary to investigate the mountain itself and the harbor. Thus, the smoking mountain must be within a 45- to 60-mile radius of the original landfall. No island off the east coast of North America is large enough to take three days to cross, so Henry and his men had landed somewhere on the mainland itself. All the known deposits of pitch in the east of the Americas can be found in Trinidad, the upper reaches of the Orinoco River, and in Alabama, Kentucky, Missouri, and Texas. None of these areas lie within 1,000 miles of the northeast coast where Henry might have landed. The puzzle was solved by Dr. William Herbert Hobbs, a geologist from the University of Michigan, who named the one site that fits the Narrative’s description as near the present-day town of Stellarton in the Pictou region of Nova Scotia. There one can often find a fire near the base of a hill in close proximity to a river of pitch-like substance that runs into the sea. A stream known as Cole Brook flows into the estuary of the East River that empties into Pictou Harbour. Below Pictou, this river is tidal and, at low tide, the muddy bottom is black with oily waste. The local Native American people, the Mi’kmaq, speak of an opening near the riverbank that has burned and smoked many times over the centuries. This is caused by coal seams underground that catch fire: one such fire that started in 1870 burned for twenty-six years. When my co-author Wallace-Murphy visited this area, he was shown around by Leo F. McKay, a retired civil servant, who informed him that coal mining had been stopped in this part of the world for safety reasons. Too much methane in the coal seams and too many explosive mining disasters and the consequent loss of life set a price that was far too high to pay. However, Wallace-Murphy was in total agreement with Frederick Pohl in identifying the site of the smoking mountain with Stellarton.
Identifying the Landfall
The landfall, Trin Harbor, must be within a 60-mile radius of the smoking mountain at Stellarton. From the Narrative we learn that as the party approached land, the wind was from the stern and was blowing from the southwest when they sailed toward the headland. Furthermore, beyond that headland was a superb harbor. This description matches up exactly with Chedabucto Bay on the northeast coast of Nova Scotia. The southern extremity of this bay is a headland that juts into the sea as described in the Zeno Narrative. Today that headland, named Cape Canso, is the one that Henry and his party christened Cape Trin. Furthermore, at the eastern end of Chedabucto Bay, which at first glance is a continuous and well-wooded stretch of coastline, there is a small opening that is masked by a sand bar, and it leads into a stretch of sheltered water that runs inland for over 10 miles, Guysborough Harbor, which was Earl Henry’s safe haven at the end of his first transatlantic voyage. Frederick Pohl first made the case for this landing over fifty years ago,15 and not only did Wallace-Murphy accept it without reservation, but so do many others who have followed him. To commemorate this landfall, the Clan Sinclair Association erected a memorial in the form of the upturned prow of a Viking ship, which rests in a public park near the waterside. On the southern shore of the bay lies another, far more permanent memorial: a large rough-hewn granite standing stone that bears a plaque installed by the Prince Henry Sinclair Association of North America, stating that this spot is the most likely site of Henry’s first anchorage.
The area surrounding the harbor has not changed all that much. It is still well wooded and the perfect habitat for bear, moose, and other game. When Henry and his party landed in the final years of the fourteenth century, it was the perfect hunting ground for the Mi’kmaq people, who are the Native Americans of this region. The Zeno Narrative described them as “timid,” an insulting term that belies the truth; we would perhaps use “circumspect” or “cautious” as being the more likely description of their attitude when they saw a large body of men dressed in a manner that was literally outlandish: “Who were these people, and what can we discern about their attitude, culture, and beliefs?”
1. Pohl, F. (1951) Prince Henry Sinclair, p. 91. Halifax: Nimbus Publishing.
2. Sinclair, N. (1998) Beyond any Shadow of a Doubt, Section 10. London:
3. Major, R. H. (1873) The Voyages of the Venetian Brothers, Nicolo and
Antonio Zeno, to the Northern Seas in the XIVth Century, aka The Zeno
Narrative. New York: Franklin.
4. Pohl, Prince Henry, p. 95.
5. Major, Voyages of the Venetian Brothers, p. 16.
6. Major, Voyages of the Venetian Brothers, p. 20.
7. Pohl, Prince Henry, p. 102.
8. Sinclair, Shadow of Doubt, Section 10.
9. Major, Voyages of the Venetian Brothers, p. 25.
10. Major, Voyages of the Venetian Brothers, p. 30.
11. Pohl, Prince Henry, p. 113.
12. Major, Voyages of the Venetian Brothers, p. 31.
13. Major, Voyages of the Venetian Brothers, p. 31.
14. Major, Voyages of the Venetian Brothers, pp. 31, 32.
15. Pohl, F. (1950) The Sinclair Expedition to Nova Scotia in 1398, pp. 33–34.
New South Wales, Australia: Picton: Advocate Press.
Adapted, and reprinted with permission from New Page Books, Uncharted by Tim Wallace-Murphy and James Martin is available wherever books and ebooks are sold or directly from the publisher at www.redwheelweiser.com or 800-423-7087