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I’ve never paid too much attention to American History.  I’ve always been fascinated with Rome, Carthage, Egypt, and Parthia and Medieval England is the latest period I’ve spent any time with.  Still, I’m a history buff and I was able to persuade my family to stop at the Anasazi and Fremont Indian State Parks during our trip to Utah.  More on the Anasazi people later.

The Fremont Indian State Park was a fascinating place and I highly recommend stopping there if you ever get a chance.  My family and I were the only visitors so I had the museum to myself.  I was delighted to spend as much time with the exhibits as I liked without having to try and read over someone else’s head or dodge children.  It was in the museum that the similarities between Ancient American and Ancient Egyptian Cultures first clicked in my mind.  I was grinding corn with the mano and metate when I looked up to read the description of the artifacts.  Whoever had written it had added that the Ancient Americans suffered from painful teeth due to bits of stone ending up on the grain.  I’d read the exact same thing in Red Land, Black Land by Barbara Mertz and was struck by the similarity.  I shrugged it off: of course there would be similarities between cultures, I told myself: there are only so many materials from which basic tools can be crafted.  It makes sense both cultures would grind grain between two stones.

And yet…as I traveled through the outdoor exhibits and saw the cave paintings, I was struck again with how similar the two cultures are: similar and yet utterly unique.  I thought perhaps it was merely human nature to wish to leave something behind; something carved into stone that tells future generations ‘I was here.  I lived.’  Apparently, both the Ancient Egyptians and Ancient Americans felt the same way.  I marked the similarities and went home.

I admit I didn’t pay them much more thought until I was purchasing more books.  I’d listed a few from the Fremont State Park library I wanted to read and, while I was searching for those titles, I found They Came Before Columbus: The African Presence in Ancient America by Ivan Van Sertima; a professor of Afro-American studies at Rutgers University.  I was reading Jack Turner’s Spice at the time and was curious what Professor Van Sertima had to say about pre-Columbian visitors.  I knew about a Viking presence but had never heard of an African presence before.

The entire book is fascinating.  I can’t say enough good things about it.  Get it.  Read it.  I wish I had time to discuss the entire book but I’ll limit myself to Chapters 7 through 9 because they reminded me of the sense of similarity between Egyptian and American cultures I’d felt at the Fremont Indian State Park.

Chapter Seven, titled Black Africa and Egypt, introduced me to the influence of racially black Africans on Egypt and how many of things I considered uniquely Egyptian-mummification, tomb painting, bird and animal deities-had their origins among Africans south and west of the Nile.  Chapter Eight, titled The Black Kings of the Twenty-Fifth Dynasty, introduced me to Nubian Kings who liberated Egypt from Assyrian vassalage and ruled it for a century.  Chapter Nine, titled African-Egyptian Presences in Ancient America, took me through the archaeological evidence that not only proves Africans had crossed the Atlantic and mingled with Ancient Americans, but that there are astonishing similarities between Ancient American and Ancient Egyptian cultures.

The North Equatorial current and counter current make travel between the African and American continents possible.  Professor Van Sertima includes descriptions of experiments proving such travel and culture sharing was possible with the level of ship sophistication of the time, especially that of the Egyptians and Phoenicians.  Travel and culture sharing happened across the Sahara and that culture sharing was carried across the Atlantic long before it was believed to be possible.

I found this absolutely fascinating.  Of course the two cultures are unique but, arm-chair scholar that I am-I saw the similarities and was amazed to learn there is archaeological proof for culture sharing hundreds of years before Columbus.  The culture sharing went both ways: I read it’s a bit more difficult to make the crossing from American to Africa but Professor Van Sertima shows examples of linguistic similarities that suggest an American influence in Northern Africa.

I never learned this in school.  Public school classes are, by necessity, overviews of history and I get that but I think this African influence, the culture sharing across the Sahara, and the fact that there were great explorers who carried their culture across a vast ocean, is worth knowing.  I look forward to studying more African history.  And, my interest in American history has been piqued.  I think seeing how these African-Egyptian influences were absorbed into and made unique by Olmec, Aztec, and Mayan cultures will be fascinating.  I’m going to need more bookshelves.