Since my childhood, I was taught that the first european to set foot on the American continent was Cristoforo Colombo. Or better, the Vikings, but Italian education system never gave too much importance to those northern horned freaks. Then, when I moved to Barcelona, people argued me that Cristoforo Colombo’s name was actually Cristobal Colon, and he was Catalan. I must fairly admit that this theory makes a lot of sense, since one of the very first islands he discovered took the name of a mountain just a shot away from Barcelona, the Monserrat. Anyways, national prides and few historical proofs make the history of America’s discover quite cryptic.
Recently, another fact has come to light, and this story got more complicated and much more amazing. The italian science writer Elio Cadelo reported somenthing really striking on the italian newspaper La Stampa.
In a roman Shipwreck, dating back to Repubblican Age and found off the coast of Tuscany, the remains of a Roman doctor have been found in a very good condition. Archaeologists have unearthed phials, bandages, surgical instruments and closed boxes containing tablets very well-preserved. A DNA genomic analysis revealed that the tablets were made with Ibycus and Sunflower seeds. This is the point. Ibycus only grows in Southeastern Africa and India, and Sunflower is an american plant. Official history says that the very first one to describe a Sunflower to the Europeans was the Spanish conqueror Pizarro, who mentioned how Incas used to worship it as a sun- related divinity.
How did Romans got Sunflower seeds? We can make two hypothesis. On one side, one could argue that sunflower could have existed on this part of the Ocean at the age, and then be extinguished. On the other side, we can say that Romans actually discovered America and started to exploit his resources, or maybe started to commerce with indigenous populations. Both quite weak, honestly. We don’t have any proof indicating that Helianthus annuus, the Sunflower, existed outside America, and think that it existed and then extinguished it makes even less sense, given the economical importance of this flower, which surely would have attracted the interest of European farmers. But we also have to wonder why Romans, proud and fierce conquerors, and great historians, never tried to conquer the american territories and never reported in historical chronicles.
Anyways, that sunflowers tablets are talking for themselves. Furthermore, in his book (unfortunately in italian only), Elio Cadelo supports his fascinating theory with more evidences. A small roman literature talks about “brand new lands in the west”, and there are artifacts proving that an exchange between the two coasts of the Ocean really occurred.
So, was America discovered by the Romans? Well, I have to be honest. As I told before, everyone tries to claim this discover for his own country. I think I am just doing this, but this fact is fascinating enough to be reported. Where’s biology? Come on, they used DNA sequencing and I guess that Barcoding PCR is involved.