Unburied Gold: Cussler Digs MHC Prof's Theory

Posted: August 21, 2007

In 1996, Mount Holyoke geologist Mark McMenamin unveiled a new theory about who discovered the Americas. It wasn't the Vikings or that "Giovanni-come-lately" Christopher Columbus.

According to McMenamin, markings on Carthaginian gold coins from 350 BCE showed that Phoenician and Carthaginian mariners had discovered the Americas at least 1,300 years before the Vikings might have dropped anchor off North America.

When he presented it, his theory that the previously unrecognized markings were actually maps of the Atlantic Ocean and the landmasses surrounding it caused some significant shockwaves among archaeologists and students of the ancient world (the theory was discussed in Biblical Archaeology Reviewand was the focus of a January Term course at Mount Holyoke), but now McMenamin's idea has appeared in a completely new venue--in the latest novel by one of the nation's leading adventure writers: Clive Cussler.

In their new novel, The Navigator, Cussler and coauthor Paul Kemprecos use McMenamin's theory, with full credit to the Mount Holyoke scholar, to underpin the book's premise: an ancient Phoenician statue will lead those who can understand its secrets to gold aplenty buried in the Americas many centuries ago.

Cussler, of course, as noted on the Simon and Schuster Web site, is "acclaimed worldwide as the Grandmaster of Adventure, a title richly deserved given that there are nearly 100 million copies of his best-selling Dirk Pitt novels in print."

As to the plot of The Navigator, here's a synopsis from Penguin Books:

"Years ago, an ancient Phoenician statue known as the Navigator was stolen from the Baghdad Museum, and there are men who would do anything to get their hands on it. The first victim is a crooked antiquities dealer, murdered in cold blood. Their second very nearly is a UN investigator who, were it not for the timely assistance of Austin and Zavala, would now be at the bottom of a very watery grave.

"What's so special about this statue? Austin wonders. The search for answers will take the NUMA (National Underwater and Marine Agency) team on an astonishing odyssey through time and space, one that encompasses no less than the lost treasures of King Solomon, a mysterious packet of documents personally encoded by Thomas Jefferson, and a top secret scientific project that could change the world forever.

"And that's before the surprises really begin . . ."

Speaking of surprises, what did McMenamin think as he read his name and his theory presented in the pages of a page-turner?

"This is very exciting and great fun," McMenamin said. "Cussler and Kemprecos took elements of the Corvo statue account, the mysterious Farley coins, and my map-coin theory to weave a thrilling tale. Further testing of map-coin theory is now in order to help us determine the true extent of Phoenician navigation. I predict that more surprises are in store."

Corvo statue? Farley coins?

McMenamin elaborated, "An equestrian statue, with Phoenician writing at its base and the rider pointing off to the west, was reportedly (as recounted by Manoel de Faria y Sousa in his 1628 book History of the Portuguese) discovered by the first Portuguese navigators to reach the westernmost island of the Azores, now called Corvo.

"The Farley coins (named for Gloria Farley, who was first to publish an extensive account) are a mysterious series of bronze medals with Phoenician imagery (such as an uprooted palm tree) that have been reported from find sites across North America from Massachusetts to Nebraska."

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