by Jim Leslie,
Originally published in The Midwestern Epigraphic Journal
BEFORE COLUMBUS, by Dr. Samuel Marble, 1980, A.S. Barnes and Co., Inc., Cranbury, NJ 08512 and Thomas Yoseloff Ltd, Magdalen House, 136-148 Tooley Street, London SE1 2TT, England, ISBN 0-498-02370-2. The subtitle is “The New History of Celtic, Egyptian, Phoenician, Viking, Black African, and Asian Contacts and Impacts in the Americas before 1492”. Be sure to read my short bio of Dr. Marble at the end of this article.
A number of “Before Columbus” books have been written since the cultural ice-breaking books by Barry Fell and others in the sixties and seventies. Each surveyed the then known repositories of pre-Columbian evidence and added the evidence privy to the author, plus their opinion and insight on it all. Dr. Marble’s wonderful book is no less than these others but stands out with his extensive knowledge of Celtic and Christian influences in the new world, especially in the Incan society, and some little known but revealing details of the Columbus voyages and influences of the Egyptians and the Vikings.
Dr. Marble’s main literature resources were: Barry Fell, America B.C. (New York: Quandrangle/The New York Times Book Co., 1971), Leo Weiner, Africa and the Discovery of America, (Philadelphia; Innes and Sons, 1920), Peter Tompkins, Mysteries of the Mexican Pyramids (New York: Harper and Row, 1976) and The Secret of the Great Pyramid (New York: Harper and Row, 1973), Samuel Eliot Morison, The European Discovery of America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1971), F.E. Warren, The Liturgy and Ritual of the Celtic Church (Oxford: Claredon Press, 1881), Aziz S. Atiys, History of Eastern Christianity (London: Methuen, 1968), Thor Heyerdahl, The RA Expedition (New York: Doubleday, 1971), Magnus Magnusson, Viking Expansion Westwards (London: The Bodley Head Ltd., 1971) Hjalmar Holand, Norse Discoveries and Explorations in America (New York: Dover, 1969), Arthur E. Morgan, Nowhere Was Somewhere (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1946), plus the more common Encyclopedia Britannica, The New Yorker and the National Geographic.
What follows in my article is a synopsis of the main chapters – identified by bold paragraph titles. But before I start I must admit I have a special connection to the author. Dr. Samuel Marble was President of Wilmington College, Wilmington, Ohio when I started my higher education there in the fall of 1956. Since my major was in science rather than history, I had no contact with Dr. Marble other than respectful exchanges of “hello” upon chance campus encounters. I did not know of his interest in the ‘before Columbus’ field, but it was brewing before his Wilmington College arrival.
Introduction. Marble’s life-long journey commenced with a fascination of Ikhnaton, Pharaoh of Egypt expanding to general Egyptian history and culture, followed by travels there and learning to translate their hieroglyphs “to let the Egyptian voices speak directly“, as he declared. He learned that many words presently in the English language were in standard Egyptian usage and virtually unchanged in meaning, how Egyptian goods reached across the known world, to the southern tip of Africa and as far north as Cologne and east to China.
Soon after the Christian era started, China became the principal supplier of ceramics and pottery to the east coast of Africa. Marble asks that if these Chinese voyages were possible, why is it not plausible the same mercantile drive could also make crossing the Atlantic possible? Totora reed grows only in the fresh waters of the Nile and Lake Titicaca of Peru. Each is genetically identical to the other and it could not have found its way to the Andes unless carried by hand. Is this evidence of an African presence? Egyptians wearing birdlike hats with beaks wove the reeds to make boats for the Nile, and men wearing similar hats with beaks are shown in ancient artworks of Peru where reed boats were woven with the totora reeds in a pattern almost identical to that of ancient Egypt., Is this an accidental development by different peoples unknown to each other at about the same time and separated by half a world?
The Testimony of Columbus. According to Marble, Columbus was the first to wonder if he was the first person to discover the new world. Recorded in his journal before his initial departure was a visit with King Juan of Portugal who said he had evidence of trade between Africa and America in tobacco, cotton, shell money and bread root for a considerable time in the unknowable past.
Also in the Columbus journal is the entry of his first arrival at Haiti of the natives informing him that six European expeditions had preceded him. Marble ponders that this might not have been six but simply one such expedition that returned on five subsequent trading visits. Columbus brought back examples of a metal called ‘guanin’ which Africans traded with the natives for assay by Ferdinand’s mineralogist who concluded the metal was of African origin.
On his second voyage Columbus explored more of the Caribbean islands and two things impressed him: an unquestionable Negro presence with an unquestionable Christian heritage. Black Christians in America? How could this be? He then remembered ‘the legend of Prester John’, thought to be a descendant of one of the Magi and a patriarch of a Christian nation, Nestorian perhaps, and located first in maybe India, then central Asia, and in Columbus’ day African Ethiopia. Columbus, still thinking he was in Asia, concluded he had stumbled upon Prester John’s trail, and launched an expedition into the interior of Cuba (which he thought was the Asian mainland), without success.
The Celtic Essence, Celtic Migrations. In these chapters Marble presents a concise history of the Celtic people, stating first that they may have arrived in America as early as 800 B.C. with another wave in A.D. 300-500. One can see right away Marble stands in praise of the Celts. He describes who they are, their Ogam script and where found in the Americas, the Book of Ballymote, the ‘root cellars’ in Europe and New England, Mystery Hill, and phallic sites.
They were among the first peoples beyond Bethlehem to be converted to Christianity. The Bible records Apostle Paul’s work in Galatia, and from there the new religion spread throughout northern Europe, to Ireland and to the Norse, and eventually Greenland – much sooner than southern Europe. He spoke of their troubles with the Roman Church over the Trinity theology that came to a head under Theodosius, who ruthlessly purged all who did not accept the Trinity.
Celtic Christianity swept across northern Europe and into Ireland where monks preserved the only repository of the learning of the ancients, lost to Europe when immersed in the Dark Ages; thus the Book of Ballymote was saved.
Concerning Irish voyages to the new world, Marble notes it is not easy to separate their poetic records of the trips from what is factual. Marble writes that this is known; Aged Abbot Barinth recited the story of the voyages of his son Mernoc to “The Promised Land of the Saints”, described as an island already populated with monks to St. Brendan.
Brendan was induced to visit the isle too, and with fourteen of his monks made the trip through much fog and nearly exhausting their food stores, finally arriving at a high, rocky island, where they were greeted by the noted Irish saint, Ailbe, who founded the settlement with eleven monks eight years prior. Rested and with restored supplies Brendan set out again to the Promised Land [apparently the isle was not it], experiencing many difficulties and unusual sea creatures, finally arriving at his destination. They visited with the monks already there for some time before returning home without further events.
Utopian Mystery. Utopia: Land of Persons or Prisoners. Marble rightfully bemoans the Spanish treatment of Mesoamericans with their wholesale slaughter of not only the people but all aspects of their cultures in the name of Christ and gold such that little remains today. However learned Europeans studied one culture , the Inca, twelve years prior to Pizarro’s conquest, culminating in a book – Sir Thomas More’s Utopia published in 1516.
Utopia is in two parts, the first describes all the evils of England, its class system, crime, inequalities and a second part describes a society where these failures had been rectified. more made it clear that his society is no dream; it is an account of a conversation More had with a traveler to that society he fictitiously named Raphael Hythloday, Marble writes it was not until William H. Prescott’s Conquest of Peru was written in 1847 that parallels between More’s Utopia and the Inca society became apparent.
Marble describes the essence of the Inca society that made it a utopia, as can be imagined today by remains of their roads, architecture and farm terraces. It all started with the arrival of the Viracochas: four brothers and four sisters who ’emerged from a cave’ at Paucartambo, a few miles from Cuzco, and are referred to as the Inca. One of the men, Monco Capac, was the first Inca and the last was Atahulpa, killed by Pizarro. The Viracochas were described as unusually tall with very white skin, red hair and beards and became the ruling class. Their origin is one of the great mysteries.
The Skill of the Phoenicians, The Wisdom of the Egyptians, Vikings: Moody Adventure, History and Mystery. The Phoenicians were skilled traders, businessmen and of necessity skilled seaman and ship builders. They founded Carthage that eventually challenged Rome. They went everywhere, left their inscriptions and blocked the Mediterranean exit to the Atlantic to keep secret their trade routes and destinations. Pharaoh Necho [II] hired Phoenicians to circumnavigate Africa 609 – 595 B.C. Marble speculates Captain Hanno who in 400 B.C. commanded a Carthaginian expedition of 30,000 people colonize lands “beyond Gibraltar” could have reached the Americas. It is possible that Egyptians were members of Hanno’s voyage and taught the Micmac Indians their hieroglyphic-like alphabet. Thor Heyerdahl found evidence of Egyptian influence in South America, and the above mentioned connection between Egypt and Lake Titicaca, Peru.
Marble delves into the Viking Sagas more than the usual “Before Columbus” book, relating the lost Bijorni Herjolfsson accidental encounter with America while searching for Greenland, but finally arriving there. His three land sightings stirred the interest of Leif Erikson, who purchases Bijorni’s boat and sets out with 35 heavy souls to retrace the route. The first stop at Labrador was long enough to declare it useless, then next stop at the northern tip of Newfoundland which he found pleasant, naming it Markland. [L’Anse aux Meadows is there but possibly not founded by Erikson]. According to Bijorni, one more port remained and Leif steers in the general direction of Cape Cod and found a land with grass, salmon aplenty and excellent weather. First day of exploration yielded the discovery of wild grapes, hence the name Vinland. The group winters there [see NEARA Journal Vol 41 No 2 Winter, 2007 for article: “Frederick J. Pohl at Follins Pond”, by Suzanne Carlson and the spirit of J. Louis Bauer, for the probably Erikson winter site] and probably the next spring before favorable winds and currents allowed their return home.
The Mayan Synthesis, from Mastery to Oblivion. Upon his arrival Cortez was confronted with the Aztec whose civilization he obliterated, unaware of jungle-covered remains of the preceding Mayans, the Olmec, the Teotihuacano, and the Toltec. Some of the somewhat more tolerant clergy and researchers who followed Cortez rediscovered the Olmec via documents, a few of which they secretly cached or copied before submission for destruction. One was Friar Ramon de Ordonez y Aquiar, who studied just one document and concluded a Phoenician named Voltan crossed the Atlantic four times to colonize a settlement he established. More pieces and reports suggested the arrival date was c1000 B.C.
Twentieth century scholar Dr. Paul Felix Cabrera found a document from which he concluded the Olmecs had arrived from somewhere across the Atlantic and suggested they were Carthaginians.
Perhaps the greatest researcher was Abbe Brasseur de Bourbourg. Primarily a linguist he hoped to be the Mayan Champollion, but alas no Rosetta Stone. He did manage a partial translation of Olmec hieroglyphics based on his knowledge of Quiche and mastered a remarkable understanding of the Mayan calenders, number system and mathematics. Marble expends a few pages teaching the reader some basic Mayan math operations to illustrate its similarity with and in some cases superiority. In searching secret archives and reports he found records of the arrival of thirteen different expeditions that landed on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico before the time of Cortes. These were dated and the landing places known with relative accuracy.
Then there is the arrival of Quetzalcoatl and company during the Toltec period. He became a great inspiration to the people and taught them skills in the arts, sciences, astronomy, honesty, and morality in dealing with others. After some time he became a God to them and was worshiped by them and later the Aztecs. The Aztec priesthood plotted against him and forced him to leave the way he came, with his followers. Quetzalcoatl promised to return in the year One Reed – (A.D. 1519) – coincidentally the same year that Cortes ships appeared.
Who were the Viracochas – tall, blue eyes, red-haired and bearded? And who was Quetzalcoatl – yellow hair, blue eyes and also bearded? Resolution of these great mysteries would answer many other questions.
This book ranks at the top of the ‘Before Columbus’ entries for its breath of coverage of evidence known at that time. His literature research was extensive and all encompassing, yet he made it readable to the general audience.
I agree when Dr. Marble writes there is no sure way of knowing if the evidence in his book is actually what really happened. No evidence will convince everyone, for there is no way of knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt. It’s almost impossible for a defense attorney to prove the innocence of his client; the best he can do is to cast enough doubt in the minds of a few jurors so they will vote for innocence. Whether the client is guilty or innocent does not matter in the court of law.
Outside of mathematics there are no descriptions of events that work perfectly. Of course truth does exist somewhere in these vents, and Marble sites the newest tools available at the time – dendrochronology, blood type, C14, and ground penetration.
Truth has to be within the experience of the beholder. Few archaeologists and anthropologists have experienced sailing the ocean in a boat, so its beyond their imagination that ancients would prefer that travel method as opposed to walking great distances, whether there was ever a land bridge and a glacier-free corridor or not.
Samuel D. Marble Biography
Born in 1915 and died in the 1990s. He graduated from Syracuse University and did post-doctoral work at Columbia University. He traveled widely and studied many ancient sites and scripts covered in this book. He taught on the college level, was president of four colleges and his work as an educator has been mentioned in Reader’s Digest and Newsweek Magazine.
Dr. Marble came to Wilmington College, Wilmington, Ohio in 1947 and departed in 1959.
On April 13, 1948, Marble rallied the students to a cause which continues to have an impact on the life of Wilmington College – the construction of a new men’s dormitory with student labor and bears his name. This began a building program resulting in a number of other academic buildings being built. The Work-Study Program was another hallmark of his administration which made this author’s college studies financially possible.
Throughout his life Dr. Marble was active in the FSC – Friends Service Committee concerning world peace activities and the FDRS – Friends Association for Higher Education.
In 1961 Marble became the first president of Delta College, Michigan and left in 1964 to be also the first president of the nearby SVC – Saginaw Valley College until 1974.
From FDRS – Listed in the Federal Debt Relief System, American School System Quotes”
“As a subject for research, the possibility of African discovery of America has never been a tempting one for American historians. In a sense, we choose our own history, ore more accurately, we select those vistas of history for our examinations which promise us the greatest satisfaction, and we have had little appetite to explore the possibility that our founding father was a black man/” – Samuel D. Marble
[Also quoted in Lies My Teacher Told Me (Loewen, 1995)].
Other books by Samuel Davey Marble: Guide to Public Affairs Organizations, Glimpses of Africa.
Thank you to the author of this article Mr. Jim Leslie at M.E.S. Without his support, friendship, hard work and contacts, this website would never have happened.
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