Through DNA testing, a Danish scientist has determined that at least two of Christopher Columbus’ shipmates were Africans. From these findings, he deduced that they were the first Africans to set foot in the New World.

The findings give us something to ponder on this Columbus Day, which is Monday.

The DNA analysis was done on human bones excavated from a graveyard in La Isabela in the Dominican Republic, considered by some to be the first colonial town in the Americas. The town was founded in 1494 during Columbus’ second voyage to the New World.

Since Africa, Asia and Europe were considered part of the Old World, the New World was composed of the Western Hemisphere, including the Americas.

“African Americans have come to believe that their history began when the first slave ships docked in the mid-17th century, but our results suggest that it actually started far earlier, as the Europeans’ history on the continent did,” Hannes Schroeder of the Centre of GeoGenetics at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, was quoted as saying in the magazine NewScientist.

Schroeder’s DNA analysis was published a little more than a year ago on Sept. 16, 2010, in a NewScientist article titled, “Graveyard DNA rewrites African American history.”

According to the article by Shanta Barley, “Seventeen ships deposited 1,700 people–including farmers, builders and priests–on the part of the island of Hispaniola that today is the Dominican Republic. Within two years, all but 300 had died of starvation and diseases, and in 1498 the town was abandoned.”

But Schroeder’s view of Black settlement in the New World does not explain the Negroid Olmec peoples in what is now Mexico and comes thousands of years after some contend that the African presence in the New World began.

“Not only do the colossal Olmec stone heads resemble Black Africans from the Ghana area, but the ancient religious practices of the Olmec priests was similar to that of the West Africans, which included shamanism, the study of the Venus complex which was part of the tradition of the Olmecs as well as the Ono and Dogon people of West Africa, according to an article titled, “Black Civilizations of Ancient America (Muu-land), Mexico (Xi),” by Paul Barton on the website raceandhistory.com.

“The language connection is of significant importance since it has been found out through decipherment of the Olmec script that the ancient Olmecs spoke the Mende language and wrote in the Mend script, which is still used in parts of West Africa and the Sahara to this day.”

Barton believes that Africans had reached the so-called New World, or the Americas, “as early as 100,000 years ago” by way of the Bering Strait, and that their influence and settlements had spread to South America and the Caribbean Islands.

“In fact, the region of Colombia and Panama were among the first places that Blacks were spotted by the first Spanish explorers to the Americas,” he writes.

Barton also writes that there was ancient trade between the Americas and Africa.

“The earliest trade and commercial activities between prehistoric and ancient Africa and the Americas may have occurred from West Africa and may have included shipping and travel across the Atlantic,” Barton writes.

Attorney Legrand H. Clegg II in an article titled “Before Columbus: Black Explorers of the New World,” written in 2003, said:
“The best evidence of the Black presence in America before Columbus comes from the pen of the ‘great discover’ himself. In his journal of the second voyage, Columbus reported that when he reached Haiti, the native Americans told him that Black-skinned people had come from the south and southeast in boats, trading in gold-tipped medal spears. At least a dozen other European explorers, including Vasco Nunez de Balboa, also reported seeing or hearing of ‘Negroes’ when they reached the New World.

” . . . Who were the Africans who sailed to America before Columbus? Indian scholar R.A. Jairazbhoy states that the earliest settlers were ancient Egyptians led by King Ramesis III during the 19th dynasty.

“Ivan Van Sertima [considered the foremost authority on the African presence in ancient America] also believed that most of the explorers sailed from Egypt, but during the much later 25th dynasty. Many other scholars insist that the navigators came from West African nations such as Ghana, Mali and Songhay.

“Whoever these Black people were, they most certainly sailed to America in ancient and medieval times and left a profound imprint on New World soil. As Jairazbhoy notes: ‘The Black (man) began his career in America not as slave but as master.’”

Clegg can be reached at www.melanet.com/cleggseries, or 1-800-788-CLEG.