A mys­tery writ­ten in stone

Did Chi­nese ex­plor­ers roam North Amer­ica thou­sands of years be­fore Colum­bus got there? A self-taught in­ves­ti­ga­tor says he has proof, and some top ex­perts agree with him, Chris Davis re­ports from New York.

China Daily (Canada) - - IN DEPTH -

In 2005, John Ruskamp, a re­tired statis­ti­cian, was hik­ing with his fam­ily Nine-Mile Canyon in north­east Utah. All along the stretch of gravel road were rocks that had had “graf­fiti” carved, chis­eled, scraped or pocked into them since no one knew when. Most of the fig­ures were Na­tive Amer­i­can de­signs, pre­his­toric pet­ro­glyphs, or rock art, pic­to­rial and sim­i­lar in style. Oth­ers were more rec­og­niz­able names and words from more re­cent etch­ers.

Sud­denly, on a steep in­cline, Ruskamp no­ticed a “glyph” that seemed out of place with the rest. It roughly re­sem­bled a draw­ing of a step lad­der. “Wait a minute,” he said. “I’ve seen that be­fore. I know what that is.”

Dur­ing the Viet­nam War, Ruskamp had been on two Western Pa­cific tours as a ra­dioman aboard the air­craft car­rier Con­stel­la­tion, which made stops in Hong Kong and Sin­ga­pore, where he had got­ten some ex­po­sure to Chi­nese cul­ture, mu­sic and cal­lig­ra­phy.

“That’s the Chi­nese sym­bol for a boat,” he told his wife and fam­ily. He wasn’t say­ing it was made by a Chi­nese passerby, but he felt sure who­ever made it, picked it up from Chi­nese some­how. China was its ori­gin. But how old was it? And were there more?

Then and there, hav­ing the lux­ury of a re­tiree’s un­spo­ken-for free time, Ruskamp and his wife Linda set them­selves the chal­lenge: Could they find other Chi­nese pet­ro­glyphs in North Amer­ica?

From that re­mote cor­ner of Utah, the Ruskamps started wan­der­ing trails, look­ing and look­ing. And sure enough they found another one, slightly dif­fer­ent but, in their view, un­ques­tion­ably Chi­nese. And then another. They’ve kept at it for the last 10 years, ap­ply­ing the most strin­gent sta­tis­ti­cal anal­y­sis Ruskamp could bring to bear. And their find­ings are now chal­leng­ing the foun­da­tions of Amer­i­can ar­chae­ol­ogy and sug­gest­ing that China’s own history books may need some emend­ing.

History ei­ther way

“We’ve ei­ther proven that the Chi­nese were over here about 3,000 years ago; or Na­tive Amer­i­cans were the first peo­ple in all of hu­man history to re-in­vent an­cient Chi­nese writ­ing,” he added. “Ei­ther way, we’ve got a his­toric thing here.”

“We’ve found, across the whole coun­try — just where we’ve gone, of course, you can’t go ev­ery­where — 84, out of mil­lions,” Ruskamp said.

One of their most fan­tas­tic finds, he said, is right in the city of Al­bu­querque, New Mexico, at Pet­ro­glyph Na­tional Mon­u­ment, a 17-mile-long vol­canic basalt es­carp­ment with more than 24,000 pet­ro­glyphs that have been en­graved into its face start­ing — it was be­lieved — about 700 years ago with the Zu­nis and Hopis and more re­cently by Con­quis­ta­dors.

There are six or seven sym­bols de­pict­ing a man pre­sent­ing him­self to his su­pe­rior mak­ing a rit­ual sac­ri­fice of a dog. “Pos­si­bly to the Shang Dy­nasty Em­peror Tai Jia (1535 to 1523 BC),” Ruskamp said. “It’s ac­tu­ally read­able. They can­not be faked. They’re very com­pli­cated sym­bols which are uniquely Chi­nese.”

Ruskamp en­listed the help of Michael F. Me­drano, PhD, chief of the di­vi­sion of re­source man­age­ment at the mon­u­ment. Me­drano, who had been at the park 25 years, went out with them, looked at the glyphs and agreed that they did not seem Na­tive Amer­i­can, and were cer­tainly not Span­ish.

The mon­u­ment’s un­funded man­date is to un­der­stand the glyphs and try to fig­ure out what they mean. Me­drano regularly met with tribal lead­ers, go­ing over var­i­ous glyphs, some claim­ing these, some claim­ing those. No one claimed what the Ruskamps had found.

“These im­ages do not read­ily ap­pear to be as­so­ci­ated with lo­cal tribal en­ti­ties,” Me­drano wrote to Ruskamp.

“It’s pretty easily ex­plained,” Ruskamp said. “They’re Chi­nese writ­ing. Of course they’re not claimed by Na­tive Amer­i­cans.”

Fur­ther­more, based on the amount of repati­na­tion, or patina from weath­er­ing, they “ap­pear to have an­tiq­uity to them.”

“Me­drona said these are of age, these are not new, this isn’t graf­fiti, this didn’t hap­pen in the last 100 years. So there’s one real hot spot, Al­be­querque, New Mexico,” Ruskamp said.

They found “another real good one” in the Petrified For­rest of Ari­zona right off of I-40 near Me­teor Crater.

“There’s a beau­ti­ful writ­ten sym­bol of an ele­phant,” he said. “It’s not a pic­ture of an ele­phant, it’s the word ele­phant, their sym­bol — xiang — for ele­phant right there in the mon­u­ment.”

Over the years they have found Chi­nese cal­li­graphic fig­ures gouged into rocks from Lit­tle Lake, Cal­i­for­nia in the Mo­jave Desert, south of Las Ve­gas, and pretty much along I-40 all the way out to the pan­han­dle of Ok­la­homa. They found one north of Toronto and a cou­ple up in Min­nesota. But most are in the South­west. All, with­out doubt, read­able Chi­nese.

And in­deed they were, as confi by no less of an au­thor­ity that David N. Keight­ley of UC-Berke­ley, who won a MacArthur Ge­nius Grant for his stud­ies of the Or­a­cle Bones — the old­est known form of Chi­nese writ­ing.

“The in­cis­ing mat­tered more than the writ­ing,” Keight­ley wrote, as they were “in­scribed to leave a record rather than a doc­u­ment; the im­por­tance of the in­scrip­tions was that they were there, that they ex­isted, not that they were read.”

“One of the top guys in the world and he’s looked at these for me and said, ‘Yes, John, those are Chi­nese sym­bols and, by the way, did you no­tice this one?’ and [Keight­ley] pointed out one I hadn’t no­ticed,” Ruskamp said.

A pro­found find

About 250 miles south­west of Al­bu­querque Ruskamp made what he called a “pro­found” find: a group of three num­bered car­touches, or “frames”, each hold­ing four Chi­nese sym­bols. The group can be read as a poem in the styl­ized for­mat of po­etry around the time of Con­fu­cius, 500 BC. In rhyming pat­terns, they read: “Set apart 10 years to­gether/declar­ing to re­turn, the jour­ney com­pleted, to the house of the sun, the jour­ney com­pleted to­gether.”

Ruskamp put his years of sta­tis­ti­cal anal­y­sis to work. He used a sim­ple sci­en­tific tool called Jac­card’s In­dex of Sim­i­lar­ity. A di­rect yes-or-no com­par­i­son of ob­jects’ parts of­ten used in bi­ol­ogy for ver­i­fy­ing species, try­ing to fig­ure out if this bug be­longs to this group or that group — it’s got eight legs, two an­tenna, four wings, etc, right down to minute de­tail.

Ruskamp adapted Jac­card’s ap­proach to the line strokes of writ­ten Chi­nese sym­bols, us­ing in­for­ma­tion he gleaned from mod­ern Chi­nese hand­writ­ing anal­y­sis to de­ter­mine where the com­po­nent lines of each sym­bol con­nect, in­ter­sect or form junc­tions. He com­pared the an­cient pet­ro­glyphs’ lines with the lines of known an­cient Chi­nese sym­bols, like xiang for ele­phant.

Line by line, he en­tered the con­nec­tion and re­la­tion of each line to each of the oth­ers, they ei­ther matched or they didn’t match, onto the yes-or-no bi­nary data­base. In the end, he tal­lied up the pluses ver­sus minuses and got a Jac­card’s value.

To be in­cluded in his study, the score had to be 95 per­cent or bet­ter. “I used that as the over­rid­ing philo­soph­i­cal de­ter­mi­nant here,” Ruskamp said. “With a 95 per­cent sim­i­lar­ity level then that would hold up pretty much in a court of law.

“All 84 that we have — and some are ab­so­lute per­fect matches — they’re not sim­ple letters like I or J or K, there are many line strokes in them that match per­fectly.”

Then he ap­proached the ex­perts: Ma Baochun of Cap­i­tal Nor­mal Univer­sity in Bei­jing, who ver­i­fied they were an­cient Chi­nese char­ac­ters, prob­a­bly pre-Qin Dy­nasty, be­fore 200 BC. Nan­jing Univer­sity’s Fan Yuzhou looked at some of them and said, boy, this is pretty good, Ruskamp said. And, of course, David Keight­ley at Berke­ley, who has be­come one of Ruskamp’s strong­est sup­port­ers.

All that re­mained was to fig­ure out how old they were, not an easy task with pre­his­toric scratches on pri­mor­dial stone. From the repati­na­tion lev­els on these glyphs in the desert or even up in Toronto, Ruskamp said you can tell roughly, not ex­actly, whether it was “new graf­fiti” from the last hun­dred years or whether these things had a lot of weath­er­ing on them and were quite old.

But there was an even more in­trigu­ing way to as­sign an age to some of the pet­ro­glyphs.

“In the ab­sence of suf­fi­ciently pré­cised ab­so­lute dates, ar­rived at by car­bon-14 dat­ing or some other method,” Keight­ley noted, “the in­scrip­tions them­selves pro­vide our most re­li­able ev­i­dence for rel­a­tive dat­ing.”

Nearly half — 40 — of the 84 were or­a­cle-bone script, the ear­li­est known form of Chi­nese writ­ing dat­ing back to the Shang Dy­nasty of 1,500 BC.

Ruskamp ex­plains: “Af­ter the Shang Dy­nasty was over­thrown by the Zhou in 1046 BC, each of the suc­ceed­ing changes of em­per­ors and dy­nasty would out­law the Chi­nese writ­ing that was used prior to them. Each regime would come in and say, ‘Okay, we’re not go­ing to use the Shang scripts any­more. Those are illegal. We’re now go­ing to use our form of writ­ing.’”

For­got­ten script

Since the Shang or­a­cle-bone style was out­lawed, Chi­nese writ­ing evolved through five or six it­er­a­tions down to mod­ern time. So, by im­pli­ca­tion, the style of writ­ing on an ob­ject places it in the time frame of when that script was in use, since sub­se­quent gen­er­a­tions never learned it.

Or­a­cle bone script was not known much af­ter 1,000 BC, Ruskamp said. It was illegal to use it and very quickly fell into ob­scu­rity. It was not re­dis­cov­ered un­til 1899, when a Chi­nese scholar named Wang Yirong rec­og­nized char­ac­ters etched in bones and shells as an early form of Chi­nese writ­ing.

“So be­tween roughly 1,046 BC and 1899 AD, or­a­cle bone sym­bols were un­known to mankind,” Ruskamp said. “We found some in read­able pat­terns.”

That, Ruskamp said, means only one of two things: Ei­ther some­body rein­vented Chi­nese writ­ing, which has never hap­pened in all hu­man­ity, or these are orig­i­nal scripts dat­ing to the ear­li­est times of Chi­nese cal­lig­ra­phy.

They are too old to have been done since 1899 and they’re def­i­nitely not mod­ern chance re­pro­duc­tions, he said. “You’re look­ing at a thing 3,500 years old and the weath­er­ing shows,” he said.

Ruskamp be­lieves this has gone be­yond the spec­u­la­tive. “It is an­cient Chi­nese writ­ing, read­able, con­firmed by ex­pert author­i­ties and lo­cated in the Amer­i­cas,” he said.

Ruskamp points to the fact that Na­tive Amer­i­can Zuni and Hopi com­passes use of the same col­ors for the car­di­nal di­rec­tions of the com­pass — turquoise or blue (West), red (South), white (East), yel­low (North) — that are found in China.

The Hopi have folk­lore of the Wa­ter Clan peo­ple who come on the backs of seven tur­tles from across the Great Western Sea, in other words, is­land hop­ping across the Pa­cific.

In 1800, Prus­sian ex­plorer Alexan­der von Hum­bolt found in South Amer­ica na­tives who used bam­boo to pro­tect the lines of their sus­pen­sion bridges, ex­actly the way it was done dur­ing the Qing Dy­nasty near Ti­bet.

DNA anal­y­sis more re­cently con­firms that all Amer­i­can In­di­ans (ex­cept for maybe the Chippewa and a few other tribes in Michigan) right down to the South Amer­i­cas have Asi­atic genes. “So we know they came from Asia, the ques­tion is when?”

Ruskamp said that for more than 250 years, the US ar­chae­ol­ogy es­tab­lish­ment has de­nied and re­jected any sug­ges­tion that Asians ex­plored North Amer­ica. He said they claim there are not enough ar­ti­facts, not enough ev­i­dence.

Ruskamp be­lieves his find­ings, though not ar­ti­facts, are still ev­i­dence. “It’s not ar­chae­ol­ogy at all. It’s epig­ra­phy. It’s an­cient writ­ing, not ar­chae­ol­ogy. I’m look­ing at an­cient Chi­nese writ­ings and scripts. I’m not look­ing for things in the ground. I’m not do­ing ar­chae­ol­ogy.”

One of the cri­tiques of Ruskamp’s study, Asian Echoes, which is avail­able on Ama­zon, brought up the lack of ar­ti­facts is­sue.

“If you have writ­ing on the wall, what is that? It is the ar­ti­fact. You don’t need pot­tery or a sword or a belt buckle if you’ve got the writ­ing on the wall and it’s an­cient and in an an­cient form of script, you’ve got the ar­ti­fact,” he said.

It flies in the face of ar­chae­ol­ogy’s golden rule: Ab­sence of ev­i­dence is not ev­i­dence of ab­sence.

“What we’ve got here looks like an ex­pe­di­tion,” Ruskamp said. “This was a group of ex­plor­ers which are found in an­cient Chi­nese writ­ings. China has the most an­cient hu­man writ­ten history of any on Earth. In 2,000 BC they talk about send­ing out ex­pe­di­tions to the Great Lu­mi­nous Canyon of the Far East, way be­yond Ja­pan — that would be the Grand Canyon — to re­set the cal­en­dar af­ter the great flood.

“Then from 500 AD, there is a Chi­nese le­gal doc­u­ment, a de­po­si­tion of a group of Bud­dhist monks who re­turned from a jour­ney to what ap­pears to be Amer­ica and they re­count the miles and it all fits with the West Coast and the Yuba Pass. And that is in the le­gal records of an­cient China and you didn’t lie to the em­peror back then, you’d be cut apart,” he said.

Ruskamp said his ver­i­fied ev­i­dence rep­re­sent s four dif­fer­ent eras of Chi­nese writ­ing. Most are very an­cient. A few are more re­cent, from year 1 to 400-500 AD, and from there Chi­nese writ­ing doesn’t change that much, it’s al­most the same as to­day.

We’ve ei­ther proven that the Chi­nese were over here about 3,000 years ago; or Na­tive Amer­i­cans were the first peo­ple in all of hu­man history to rein­vent an­cient Chi­nese writ­ing.”

Reg­u­lar vis­its

“What it shows is that [Chi­nese] peo­ple were com­ing over pe­ri­od­i­cally. This wasn’t a one-time event. They were com­ing over here more than one time. They in­tro­duced the sym­bols and I be­lieve the Na­tive Amer­i­can In­di­ans took them for their own writ­ing also. They saw the Chi­nese writ­ing and said I can use that sym­bol my­self and used them in their own Na­tive Amer­i­can writ­ing. So some of these sym­bols we found I be­lieve were made by In­di­ans who copied it and ap­pro­pri­ated it from the Chi­nese. A nat­u­ral hu­man thing. I like that sym­bol I’ll use it too,” he said. “If we don’t fairly eval­u­ate and share this in­for­ma­tion, we’re deny­ing part of hu­man history, we’re keep­ing it from be­ing stud­ied fur­ther.”

“By deny­ing we have this proof and by not eval­u­at­ing it hon­estly, [the ar­chae­o­log­i­cal es­tab­lish­ment is] deny­ing the Chi­nese peo­ple their right­ful her­itage. They are deny­ing the Na­tive Amer­i­can In­di­ans their right­ful her­itage,” Ruskamp said.

Mean­while, on the other side of the story, a dis­cov­ery in China gives the saga even deeper roots. In 2007, a scholar in China made head­lines with his stud­ies of cliff carv­ings at Da­maidi near Yinchuan in western China. Be­tween 500 and 800 of the 8,452 fig­ures de­picted there could be in­ter­preted as early forms of Chi­nese char­ac­ters. Since the rock has been dated to 6,000 BC, it would push the ori­gins of Chi­nese writ­ing back another 3,000 years, ac­cord­ing to Endymion Wilkin­son’s Chi­nese History: A New Man­ual.

Con­tact the writer at chris­davis@ chi­nadai­lyusa.com


John A. Ruskamp, Jr, a re­tired statis­ti­cian who had some ex­po­sure to Chi­nese cul­ture while serv­ing in the US Navy dur­ing the Viet­nam War, has found ev­i­dence that Chi­nese ex­plor­ers roamed North Amer­ica thou­sands of years ago, ev­i­dence like the pet­ro­glyphs, or rock art, pic­tured here in New Mexico.


The sec­ond car­touche of three in Ari­zona, with the an­cient script for “sec­ond” be­neath it, dis­play­ing, from right to left, top to bot­tom, the an­cient char­ac­ters for and within Roughly trans­lated, ac­cord­ing to Ruskamp’s sources: “Declar­ing to re­turn, the jour­ney com­pleted, to the house of the sun.”

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