Richard J. Karam, J.D.
Michel N. Laham, M.D.
Mark McMenamin of Holyoke College has recently joined ranks
with other historians and scientists who are of the opinion
that the seafaring Phoenicians of Carthage discovered America
over 2000 years before Columbus. Although numerous people have
been accredited with the discovery, the theories and evidence
corroborating the Phoenician discovery seems to have the broadest
support, at least in the number of disciplines and theories
supporting the conclusion.
McMenamin bases his claim, announced in the November 1996 issue
of Numismatist Magazine, on the computer- enhanced images of
ancient Carthaginian gold coins called staters. The gold coins
were produced by the Phoenicians of Carthage located on the
north African Mediterranean coast (near present day Tunis) between
350 and 320 BC. Recall that Carthage became a domineering sea
power after 600 BC and they ruled the seaways for centuries
until their final defeat by the Romans in the last of three
wars known as the Punic Wars. The Romans referred to the Phoenicians
of Carthage as Punic, and hence the name Punic Wars. According
to McMenamin, the tiny designs on the bottom of the coins contain
a stylized map of the world as the Phoenicians knew it. Although
the coins were discovered years ago, the markings found below
the Punic horse presented problems for numismatist who attempted
to decipher and explain its meaning.
Carthaginian Stater (1-1/4 Shekel)
(Obverse = Tanit; Reverse = Punic Horse)
McMenamin resolved the mystery by explaining that the inscription
is actually a schematic map of the Mediterranean region and
beyond. He explains that the pattern represents the Mediterranean
basin, with the right edge reflecting the Levant coast of the
Phoenician homeland. The lower edge represents the north coast
of Africa. The lower left corner narrows to a point representing
the Strait of Gibraltar, and the top edge represents the coast
of Europe, from southern Spain to east of Italy. The image to
the right represents India with England and Ireland appearing
as small protrusions to the north of the Iberian peninsula.
The central dot on the coins as well as other Phoenician maps,
represents the island of Sardinia, which is most prominent and
a constant feature of all the maps reviewed. This is a reflection
of the fact that Sardinia was the key factor for centuries in
Carthaginian domination of the western basin of the Mediterranean.
But of compelling significance, according to McMenamin, is the
landmass portrayed to the west of the Iberian peninsula. This
land mass is seen on other Punic coins and maps. Since, as McMenamin
states, "The Phoenicians, and especially the Carthaginians,
were known throughout the ancient world for their prowess as
navigators and seamen, the intriguing possibility exists that
the land mass portrayed to the west of Spain represents an area
in the Americans, perhaps the coast of Brazil".
The similarity of the map on the staters and other Phoenician
coins, as well as on an ancient Carthaginian map, leads to the
conclusion that the Phoenicians were the first to discover the