Cuba's Gateway To Atlantis P.2: Cocaine

For Collins the considerable distance between the Sargasso and the Bahamas is accommodated by the suggestion that "in singling out the Sargasso Sea" (which is a huge assumption on Collins' part since there is nothing at all to suggest Plato was talking about the Sargasso) Plato was just trying to indicate the general location of his sunken island.

A similar case of a late authority quoting an earlier one is offered in a further effort to bolster the idea that some people of the classical world knew about the far western reaches of the Atlantic. This time it's thinner than with Pliny and Solinus. Proclus, we may recall, of about AD 450, writes about an obscure Roman historian of perhaps 100 BC who apparently mentioned some islands of the "external sea," of which three were of immense extent, the middle of these being sacred to Neptune who is our old friend Poseidon in Roman guise. The inhabitants of these islands were said to preserve the memory of a former island 'which was truly prodigiously great', dominating all the islands of the Atlantic. Collins wants to see in all this evidence for knowledge in Roman times of an island group which he readily identifies with the West Indies, where memories of old Atlantis were still being handed down. 

We might think it difficult to avoid the conclusion that, like everyone else touching on Atlantis in the classical world, Marcellus was simply building on Plato with no other source material to go on. Or that Proclus was doing that, with or without any Marcellus for Proclus starts off referring merely to "certain historians," only bringing in mention of Marcellus and his Ethiopic History at the end of his remarks. What the West Indies would be doing in a book about Africa is not obvious. At all events, Collins thinks the three big islands of Proclus-Marcellus were Cuba, Hispaniola and Puerto Rico (the Greater Antilles) and the rest were the Lesser Antilles of the West Indies. Flood stories of the native Caribs of these islands, allegedly related to the Spaniards after the European discovery of the New World, are held by Collins to suggest that postglacial flooding may have broken up a greater landmass into separate islands - and then Phoenician sailors visiting the West Indies before Plato's day may have taken stories of these, floods and lost lands back to the Mediterranean world of classical times. This is turning out to be a modification of Lewis Spence's Antillean speculations, with behind him le Plongeon, Brasseur and, it seems, a chap called Hyde Clarke whom Collins has tracked down as the first proponent of Atlantis in the Antilles in 1885. (Let's remember that all flood stories told by natives to Christians are open to suspicion.) 

If we are invited to believe that Atlantis was in the West Indies and the later inhabitants of those isles still remembered it, even only folklorically, thousands of years after it was gone, and if their stories are supposed somehow to have been taken across the Atlantic in time for Plato to write them into his Timaeus and Critias, then we really do need some evidence to show that transatlantic voyages were being made in ancient days. Ideally some sound archaeological evidence of, say, Egyptian or Phoenician materials in the Americas or American materials in North Africa would come to light. And not just stray finds, either, of perhaps coins that could have come from much later collections or the odd Roman lamp or some such one-off item: what we really need is proper archaeological contexts in which whole assemblages of foreign goods are found in properly dated situations in association with native material. It can be confidently said that no such archaeological contexts have ever been demonstrated in the Old World or in the New where dated assemblages of goods from one world have been found in dated situations in the other - not even in one case, let alone the several we should ideally require. This stark fact alone makes the idea of regular intercourse between the western Atlantic and the Mediterranean before Columbus hardly worth entertaining. In the Delta of the Nile, Minoan materials have been turned up in dynastic Egyptian contexts: all well and good, trade and perhaps even immigration from Crete are indicated. Nothing like this is known in the Americas and no American products have been found in an Old World context. 

The best Collins (and all the other fans of ancient transatlantic commerce) can do is to point to certain anomalous or ambiguous circumstances that cannot possibly outweigh the lack of repeated context archaeology. Tobacco and cocaine are, as we've seen, two current favourites in this line, traces of both having been reported in some Egyptian mummies (including that of the great pharaoh Ramesses 11), sometimes together and sometimes just the tobacco. Tobacco is attested in Brazil at an early enough date to supply New Kingdom Egypt, but not in Mexico until about 100 BC which is far too late. In any case, tobacco is a plant that may once have been indigenous in Africa, much closer to home for the ancient Egyptians. There is no literary, pictorial or artefactual evidence to suggest the Egyptians were smoking pipes or cigars, so the tobacco was presumably being used in the course of mummification (assuming that its traces are not simply the result of modern contaminations, as they may well be). The cocaine is yet more problematical, being only native to the Americas (though there is another species of the same genus on Mauritius). As far as I know, only one team has so far claimed to have found cocaine traces in an Egyptian mummy and they have not been overly inclined to share their researches with other investigators; indeed, they have gone quiet on the matter. We shall have to await developments on that one, if there ever are any. One might wonder why, if tobacco and cocaine could be traded across the Atlantic from the Americas in Phoenician times, the potato and tomato had to wait until after 1492 to make their way to the Old World. Apart from the exotic substances, it's the usual Olmec "Negroid" heads and alleged "Semitic" and "Caucasoid" features of some New World statuary that have to do duty with Collins by way of further evidence for cross-Atlantic comings and goings in ancient times, along with the shared traits of writing and calendar-making. I cannot help remarking again that the writing and calendar systems of the Old and New Worlds actually have no detailed features in common at all. 

An interesting aspect of Collins' methods of argument is illustrated by his handling of the Paraiba inscription. With other writers in this general Atlantological field, we have already seen the tendency on occasions to put in dubious material that they themselves will have to reject almost immediately. It looks like the maximizing of anything and everything that comes their way, even if it has to be dropped almost as soon as it's picked up. It also looks to me like the exploitation of even the dodgiest material to help create a vague miasma of possibilities in the readers' minds, when in fact the material turns out to be quite useless. (It all helps to fill out a big book, too, of course.) The Paraiba inscription from Brazil purports to be a Phoenician record of a voyage from the Red Sea that ended up in South America. Even in the late nineteenth century it was generally recognized as a hoax and is now seen to be "a fraud perpetrated by Brazilian Freemasons," as Collins himself tells us. 

Why spend two-and-a-half pages on it, then? In its wake he cites some coin finds, an oil lamp, a sword blade, the odd not-very-well documented wreck in Brazilian waters, and certain very dubious translations of alleged Punic inscriptions from the Americas (many if not all of which aren't human inscriptions of any sort, let alone Punic ones). Collins admits that all this can't add up to proof of a Phoenician presence in the West Indies. Even if the occasional foundering of a Phoenician (or Roman) ship, blown off course across the Atlantic, could deliver Old World coins or amphorae to the American coast, we would still not be faced with deliberate transatlantic crossings with cultural consequences in the Old World or the New. When it comes to Roman-looking bricks in Mayan structures (with no Latin brick marks, needless to say), I feel we are as it were scraping the bottom of the barrel. And what is the good of Collins' suggestion that it was trade secrecy that kept all reference to Phoenician or Roman transatlantic commerce so successfully out of all classical literature? 

On that score a complete lack of evidence for something would become the finest available proof of it. Plato's mention of an Atlantean name in its original, native form impresses Collins. That name is Gadirus, for which Plato offers his Greek-via-Egyptian equivalent of Eumelus. Gadirus is indeed a Phoenician-sounding name, related to the root that today gives us Cadiz out of classical Gades for the Spanish port that faces out into the Atlantic where Atlantis is supposed to have come close to western Europe. But there's really nothing suggestive in Plato's use of this name: Greek Eumelus ("rich in sheep") is not a translation of the Semitic root meaning of Gades (probably "limit," "hedge"); it is just a bit of exotic local colour in his tale, taken from the name Gades. It's no proof at all that the Atlanteans spoke Phoenician or that news of Atlantis was brought back to Europe by Phoenician sailors.

See also:

Cuba's Gateway To Atlantis P1

Gateway to Atlantis P.3: Seven Cities, El Dorado

Gateway to Atlantis P.4: Urheimat der Arier

For updates click homepage here





shopify analytics