Sunday, June 12, 2005


Archaeologist believes Chinese found Cape Breton

June 08, 2005

HALIFAX — A nine-kilometre road winds its way up an isolated mountain where a stone wall sits amid fields of wild blueberries and mayflowers. A closer look reveals a series of stone platforms.

At first glance, the scene is not an unfamiliar one in Cape Breton's sprawling wilderness.

But this one, nestled along the island's east coast, has become the latest battleground for archeologists with the startling claim it was discovered by the Chinese, long before the arrival of any European explorers.

"This is probably the most important archeological site in the world right now and it's going to change world history," Paul Chiasson, who found the site, said from his home in Toronto.

"Well before Christopher Columbus, well before the European age of discovery in the 15th century, China controlled the seas and had a major settlement on the eastern coast of North America."

Chiasson, an architect originally from Cape Breton, set off a heated debate in historical circles last month when he presented a paper in Washington outlining his belief that an armada of Chinese ships, carrying thousands of sailors, landed in Cape Breton as early as the 1300s.

Canadian and U.S. archeologists and historians have dismissed the assertion, arguing there is no evidence to support what they say is just another wild theory about North America's first foreign visitors.

"The evidence here was absolutely missing," Kirsten Seaver, an historian with a specialty in early Norse mapping, said from her home in Palo Alto, Calif.

"It just looks very strange to me that this would have anything to do with the Chinese - medieval Chinese sitting there like an island thousands of miles away from home. How would they get there? Why would they get there and why haven't we found any other traces anywhere else?

"Notoriety is a very strong motivator."

Chiasson insists the settlement is Chinese because of very distinct features he says only the Chinese would construct:
The lengthy stone wall is similar to the ones the Chinese built around their encampments.

The road leading to the site is the same, standard width of old Chinese roads.

The stone platforms are similar to ones found in the Forbidden City in Beijing.

Chiasson, 50, discovered the mysterious site more than a year ago while hiking in the area, which he is keeping a secret until it receives protected status by the province.

He says he came across a wider-than-average road that led him up the side of a steep, rocky cape, some 300 metres high. Surrounded by ocean on three sides, the cape is topped by a field and a stone wall.

Inside the three-kilometre-long wall, Chiasson found 15 rectangular platforms he believes were once the foundations for houses.

At first, he thought he had stumbled upon an old European site. But after reviewing aerial photos and sifting through stacks of history books in a Toronto library, he became convinced it was Chinese.

"There were moments when I had to leave the library because I was dumbfounded because the facts would simply pop out of the books," he said. "This will turn history on its head . . . and every day I realize how major a discovery it is."

But the find has elicited little enthusiasm among archeologists in the region, who say it is almost certainly an old farm.

"There are these kind of stone ruins all over Nova Scotia . . . and by and large, they're all just abandoned Loyalist farm sites," said Rob Ferguson, an archeologist with Parks Canada in Halifax.

"There are people who seem to take a hypothesis . . . and before you know it you have Phoenicians sailing across and Egyptians, and suddenly everyone is on your shore."

Provincial officials have said they won't explore the site because it seems unlikely it is Chinese.

David Christianson, curator of archeology at the Nova Scotia Museum, has seen the aerial photos and doubts there is anything to the claim.

"I cannot find any evidence there that would in any way support the assertion," he said. "I think he'll be disappointed. It's certainly speculative."

Chiasson scoffs at the skepticism.

"I understand the reticence on the part of the government and the museum because it is world changing and they missed it."

He has written a manuscript about the discovery and has teamed up with Gavin Menzies, who wrote the controversial book, 1421: The Year China Discovered America.

Meanwhile, they're hoping private partners will step forward with funding for an archeological dig.

The two visited the site a couple of weeks ago with an engineer and discovered more roads and a canal system, findings that bolstered their belief in its Chinese origins.

"It's either a grand hoax or a great discovery because it's nothing in between," Chiasson says.


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