What do you get when you put an archeologist, an astronomer, a philosopher, a meteorologist and a computer expert in a room together? If your answer was “A new theory suggesting the ancient Greeks set foot in North America in 56 CE,” grab a gyro, some souvlaki and a shot of ouzo and toast what may be the biggest rewrite of the history books since the Vikings ousted Columbus from the “Who discovered America?” chapter. Opa!
“Our intention is to prove, with modern science, that it was possible for this trip to be made.”
Ioannis Liritzis is an archaeologist at the University of the Aegean and co-author of a new paper, “Does Astronomical and Geographical Information of Plutarch’s De Facie Describe a Trip Beyond the North Atlantic Ocean?” The “Plutarch” in the title is the Greek biographer and writer who lived from 46 CE to 120 CE and is best known for his ancient bestsellers, Parallel Lives (bios of famous Greeks and Romans) and Moralia (customs and mores of the times). It’s in Moralia that Liritzis finds words from Plutarch that planted the seed of his quest to prove the Greeks visited North America first … and many times thereafter, possibly even establishing a settlement.
Hakai magazine describes how Liritzis developed his theory. In a chapter titled, “On the Face Which Appears in the Orb of the Moon” or “De Facie,” a stranger tells the tale of making a long voyage to a distant “great continent,” a trip he claims new voyagers make every 30 years when Saturn appears in the constellation Taurus, with some staying permanently. Liritzis believes Plutarch’s stranger was referring to North America.
Into the room comes astronomer Panagiota Preka-Papadema and IT consultant Panagiotis Antonopoulos. Using a Plutarch reference to a total solar eclipse that happened around noon, they found one in 75 CE. They also found Saturn in Taurus from 26 to 29 CE, 56 to 58 CE, and 85 to 88 CE. If Plutarch’s stranger was talking to him in 75 CE, then the second Saturn/Taurus period would have fit the story, with the sailors leaving in 56, hanging out in the strange land for a year and returning in 58.
OK, so the years match. Was there any other evidence of such a trip?
“Plutarch says they are of the same geographical latitude, lying on [the] same parallel.”
Plutarch said the sailors landed in a bay that lines up with the Volga River delta on the Caspian Sea. At that point, Liritzis turned to an uncredited partner in the study – Google Earth – which showed that the delta lines up with the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, that big bay on the coast of Newfoundland.
Well, not quite. The calculations of the team based on the writings of Plutarch only show that the “great continent” COULD have been North America. It could also have been any other foreign land mass in the same latitude – Ireland, for example. And, even if the Greeks accidentally made it to North America once and successfully returned, other researchers doubt they had the sailing expertise to repeat the trip every 30 years multiple times as Plutarch suggests. Finally, Plutarch mentions gold that the sailors brought back, but studies of gold artifacts from the period show no physical or chemical evidence they came from Newfoundland.
Even with no physical evidence, it’s an interesting theory and that’s more than enough justification for another shot of ouzo.