Pre-Columbian American history is one of my biggest areas of interest. And one of the things I’ve learned over the course of studying it is that unlike in European history, where “theory unsupported by most mainstream historians” generally means “crazy pile of nonsense someone dreamt up to further their political cause,” in Pre-Columbian American history it generally means “explanation of ambiguous evidence that may very well come to be accepted as true in another ten years.”
Non-Native historians of the Pre-Columbian Americas are very reluctant to let go of their preconceived ideas of American history. But after looking through evidence, I think there’s strong suggestions that the following things really happened:
1. Norse in Greenland and the Canadian Atlantic, ~900s to 1400s
This one has been actually definitely proven with lots of records and archeology and stuff. They sailed in from Iceland, set up some camps, got in a lot of fights with the Native people (either Inuit or Tuniit/Thule).
My thought: yeah we know this one happened for sure.
2. Polynesian-South American trade, probably between ~300-1000 AD
This was the period when Polynesian people were sailing all over the place through the Pacific. It’s also the time when sweet potatoes, native to South America, showed up in the Pacific Islands. There’s some material evidence of Polynesian bones and art in Chile. This one is also fairly widely supported by archaeologists although there are some people who disagree.
My thought: 95% sure it happened.
3. Inuit sailors in Europe
This one baffles me because there’s extensive evidence of it but no one actually talks about it. I guess it’s because Native Americans discovering Europe is less exciting than the other way around. Anyway, there were for sure records of Inuit people going to Europe with Norse, mostly as prisoners. There’s also a good amount of evidence in both material and historical records of Inuit-style artifacts and people getting shipwrecked in Iceland, the British Isles, and Friesland.
My thought: This one 100% definitely happened.
4. Japanese sailors in the Pacific Northwest, ??-1800s
There’s a LOT of Japanese shipwrecks in the PNW. There were about 187 shipwrecks of Japanese boats on the PNW coast from 500-1750. Later records from the 1800s write that of the shipwrecks at that time about half had survivors. Records of Japanese sailors sailing into the Pacific the distance it would take to get to the PNW exist and actually it would have been easier to get there than to some of the other places they were going. There are a good amount of Japanese artifacts from Pre-Columbian times in the PNW, though some contest the significance because they might have been old items brought by more recent Japanese sailors.
My thought: I think it almost definitely happened but probably not as a major, regular thing. It’s not as certain as the first three but the evidence is pretty solid.
5. Basque fisherman on the northeast coast, 1300s-1400s
There’s a lot up in the air on this one, with some people taking it as a given that it happened and others saying there’s no evidence whatsoever. The evidence is compelling but all very circumstantial: the Basque established themselves ridiculously early in the region of the North American northeast (the first record is 1517 but they already appeared well-established with the Native people), a Basque-Algonquian pidgin showed up almost immediately, and adult light-skinned, curly-haired, green-eyed Natives were around the area very early on. In addition, European records show that the Basque had found a mysterious source of cod on an island west of Iceland. They were highly secretive of this source but even when they were cut off from Icelandic fishing they continued to bring in fish from the west.
My thought: the evidence isn’t solid enough to say it definitely happened but I would be very very unsurprised if this gets proven to be true in the next decade.
PRE-COLUMBIAN CONTACTS BETWEEN THE ASIAN FAR EAST AND THE NORTHWEST COAST OF NORTH AMERICA, Africans and Native Americans by Jack D Forbes, numerous other sources I didn’t write down as I plowed through the internet trying to make sure I was remembering the evidence right.