HUMANPAST.NET

Transport in General
Africa
Southwest Asia
Egypt
Indus Valley
China
Europe
South America
Mesoamerica
North America
Other

The Globe

Horses revolutionized warfare in a way that no other animal, not even elephants or camels, ever rivaled. Soon after their domestication, they may have enabled herdsmen speaking the first Indo-European languages to begin the expansion that would eventually stamp their languages on much of the world. A few millennia later, hitched to battle chariots, horses became the unstoppable Sherman tanks of ancient war. After the invention of saddles and stirrups, they enabled Attila the Hun to devastate the Roman Empire, Genghis Khan to conquer an empire from Russia to China, and military kingdoms to arise in West Africa. A few dozen horses helped Cortes and Pizarro, leading only a few hundred Spaniards each, to overthrow the two most populous and advanced New World states, the Aztec and Inca empires. With futile Polish cavalry charges against Hitler's invading armies in September 1939, the military importance of this most universally prized of all domestic animals finally came to an end after six thousand years. (114)

Reed boats developed where timber was lacking and because timber was lacking. Simultaneously, a log was used as a float, such as is used by single fishermen in West Africa today. From the log they developed a dug-out canoe or a log raft with a sail; thence to a plank boat, where the planks are sewn together under the influence of the reed boats. Some societies, such as Pharaoh's Egypt or pre-Columbian Peru, used both wooden boats and reed boats, doubtless whichever was the most efficient for the job at the time. There were other variants, such as skin floats employed by Assyrian troops and boats made out of skins and wickerwork used at the same time by Greeks and Celts. Herodotus says that the Babylonian skin boats could carry loads of 150 tons. Elsewhere bark boats were developed from whole barks peeled off a tree. (135)

\Over the long period of time that we are studying, some 3000 years, there seems to have been one constant - the division between land-people and sea-people. Although Egyptians sailed down the east coast of Africa and in the East Mediterranean to Phoenicia, they were essentially landsmen; as indeed were also American Indians, Assyrians and Romans. (135)

The fewer appliances men possess, the better naturalists they must be. Stone Age men in dug-out canoes travelled far out of sight of land when fishing or travelling from island to island. Birds were used as indicators of the presence of land. So much did the Sumerians rely upon these, they took their own birds with them to release when lost. If they were surrounded by water, the bird would come back to the ship. And this was Noah. The Irish followed the skeins of geese in spring when they migrated to their breeding-grounds in Iceland. (135)

Young sailors would learn their trade apprenticed to experienced sailors. The standard lead and line was one of the first appliances we know of for finding the depth of the water and for navigation. Tallow was fixed to the lead to bring up a piece of the bottom with it. By studying the sea-bed, as well as knowing intimately the winds, seaweeds and currents, a sailor experienced on a particular run could locate himself. The bottom changes with the silt a hundred miles from the mouth of the Nile. Of course, the faster the sea becomes shallow, the nearer the land. Currents have their own colours. The Gulf Stream along the American coast is a deep indigo blue, distinguishable from the greenish or greyish water inshore of it. The floor of the sea, and doubtless the ocean's taste and colour, would change a hundred miles and more from the mouth of the Amazon. (135)

The size of ships available for these long voyages was quite adequate. Polynesian double canoes have regularly traversed the length and breadth of the Pacific. Sumerian vessels in the fourth millennium were not less than these. The ship in which Columbus crossed to America, the Santa Maria, was of 100 tons. The Egyptian barge, admittedly a river boat, which took the two obelisks of Queen Hatsheput (1502-1480 BC) down the Nile, measured 200 by 80 feet, and with its load weighed 1,500 tons. Egyptian boat-building was later superior to that of Rome. In 1500 BC Ugarit was using ships of 500 tons displacement. (135)

I shall sketch the five principal nations involved in organised, long-distance sailing: namely the Indians of northern India; the Sumerians and Akkadians of Mesopotamia; the Phoenicians; the Cretans; the Pelasgian and Mykenaean Greeks. (135)

Contrary to the guesses of the modern Vedists, the Rig Veda has been found to be the book of a marine people. The people traded with lands beyond the seas, amassed great wealth by maritime trade and faced both the smile and the frown of the waves. They crossed and recrossed the oceans, they carried trade with the foreign lands, where they built permanent emporiums and sometimes lived there permanently. The Indian mariners, who went out of India, never to return again, are traced in the Nile and the Euphrates Valleys, in North Africa and Crete in the West, in the East they are traced in the Easter and Carolina Islands and Peru, and in North China. So, the maritime Empire of India, in the Vedic Age, comprised a vast area in the globe. (135)

Now water transport is today, even with our trains and lorries, cheaper than land transport. How much more so would this have been the case before the building of roads, the taming of the horse and the invention of the spoked and iron-shod wheel! The first reason for civilisations developing in river valleys is not irrigation, important though that was; nor fishing, although that was important ancestrally, but communication. For a long time the Sumerians had to be content for transport with boats, the lowest classes and pack animals - then came the use of a sled. When they invented the wheel, one can see from their pictures it was a solid, wooden wheel. This would be only of limited help. Sailing and seamanship would remain a primary consideration, otherwise travel must be on foot. But let it be clearly appreciated now that the Copper and Bronze Ages were pre-eminently the Ages of the sea, of sea-people, of sea travel, of sea empires. (135)

The combination of wind and current in the Atlantic, the great circular motion of wind and tide, which so aids the Atlantic trip to and from America, is inconvenient in the Pacific, where in the warmer regions wind and current move almost uniformly from east to west. Certainly the distance between continents is three times greater. (135)

This map shows how our ancestors could have crossed wide oceans without sextant, compass, or chronometer, using only winds and currents that would bring them back home a few years later. They could determine their latitude from the height of the polar star and their longitude from the relative motions of the Sun and Moon. The current of the North Pacific moves south along the coasts of California and Mexico, turns west at Acapulco, crosses the Pacific at its widest, passing south of Hawaii, and arrives at the Philippines, where it starts flowing north until it reaches Japan, turns east, and comes back to California. This current must have played an important role in the migration of the Asiatic races who came to America between ice ages, when the passage over Bering Strait was not frozen solid. The South Pacific current moves north along the coast of Chile up to the northern part of Peru, then turns west and traverses the Pacific north of Tahiti and south of New Caledonia and the New Hebrides. It skirts the east coast of Australia, hooks to the north and then twists south to evade New Zealand before returning to Chile by way of Easter Island and the Juan Fernandez Island group off Chile. This current played a decisive part in the migration of Polynesian people to South America or vice versa. (141)

Once we understood how the ocean currents helped men to migrate, we can also understand why the monuments of Easter Island look so much like the ancient buildings of Tiahuanaco and the submerged ruins in the Bahamas; we can explain how Roman coins could be found in an old amphora on a beach in Venezuela and the remnants of Hindu plantation colonies, where cotton and jute were grown, on the east coast of Mexico. Sumerians and Phoenicians established mining towns in Peru and Bolivia to obtain copper and tin. To get there, these intrepid sailors had to navigate the Amazon for thousands of miles, and that is why mysterious inscriptions resembling the Phoenician alphabet have been found all along the banks of the world's biggest river. (141)

In several places on the globe somebody traced gigantic figures and geometric designs like those in Nasca, the Maltese cross in the Aegean Sea, or the triangle of France. None of these figures and designs could have been created by humans standing on the ground. Flying machines and possibly electromagnetic navigation devices were needed to trace these huge markers, which could be seen and recognized only from high up in the sky. (141)

Africa

 A sixth wild horse relative, the wild ass of Africa, gave rise to domestic donkeys, which proved splendid as pack animals but useless as military chargers. (114)

The Phoenicians themselves kept few records, and these mostly on perishable material; they also scrupulously covered their tracks. They lived by their sea-trade and became comfortably rich on it. Their own countries were small. So they went out, as did the insular English later for the same reasons, mining and trading in other peoples' countries. (135)

Southwest Asia

Theoretically, the god traveled about the country, and as all Babylonia was enclosed by rivers and intersected by arms of rivers and canals, a boat or barge was provided for him, as well as a chariot. The boats of the gods were made of metal or of a special kind of wood inlaid with precious stones. Some gods appear to have had two boats, the one being a large, serviceable craft which was used when the god journeyed by water, and the other a small boat which rested on its sledge in the temple or sanctuary. The latter was probably the equivalent of the Hennu Boat in sanctuaries in Egypt. The god's state chariot was usually made of ebony and inlaid with many kinds of semi-precious stones, and in very early times it was thought that the chariot, with the god in it, was drawn across the sky by two fabulous animals, for which, after the Kassite conquest of the country, horses were substituted. (118)

...the sea-trade was conducted not so much by Sumerians as on their behalf by the professional sea-peoples. (135)

In classical times, men reckoned upon sailing in twenty-four hours, according to the Pseudo-Scylax, 100-125 Roman miles, without the help of currents. Another authority reckoned upon seventy Roman miles during the day, sixty during the night. Sumerian vessels were not much inferior to these so that classical speeds are a guide to their speeds. (135)

An Akkadian dictionary of the Sumerian language was found to contain a section on shipping, listing 105 Sumerian terms for various ships by their size, destination, or purpose (for cargo, for passengers, or for the exclusive use of certain gods). Another 69 Sumerian terms connected with the manning and construction of ships were translated into the Akkadian. Only a long seafaring tradition could have produced such specialized vessels and technical terminology. (146)

For overland transportation, the wheel was first used in Sumer. Its invention and introduction into daily life made possible a variety of vehicles, from carts to chariots, and no doubt also granted Sumer the distinction of having been the first to employ "ox power" as well as "horse power" for locomotion. (146)

Egypt

The reed boats plying on Lake Titicaca, and on the eastern coast of Brazil, both in construction and material, resemble the Egyptian papyrus boats. (135)

The ships they used were open boats propelled by oars, but with one large square sail for use when the wind was behind them, or prosperous, as it was later called. Smaller ships were used for river trade and coasting, long boats for long voyages. Gilgamesh constructed a wooden boat ninety feet long for Urshanabi. When rowing against the wind, crews would lower the mast. A temporary shelter could be put up for the crew. A picture of the boats of this period is given in the inscription of the Pharaoh Menes on his tomb at Abydos. Sixty-oared boats are depicted on the pre-dynastic pottery of Egypt. Pre-dynastic Egyptians were using both the plank boats and the papyrus boats. The planks on what seem to have been the first plank boats were sewn together, the joints caulked with fibre. This seems to be an extension of the method first used for papyrus boats. Heyerdahl describes the use of large, ocean-going, balsa rafts and reed ships by the Peruvians up to the time of the Spaniards. (135)

The Nile delta, however, was cosmopolitan. It was a centre for foreign seamen; at first for the Semites, the Aryans and those Sumerians who began the first dynasties of Egypt; later for the western Semites, Phoenicians, in whose ships Egypt's trade was carried, and again and even until today for Greeks. Egypt, then, provided the demand for metals and paid for them with the products of her excellent factories or her farming. But her trade was largely carried in foreign bottoms. (135)

...the totora vessels of Suriqui were virtually identical, both in the method of construction and in finished appearance, to the beautiful craft fashioned from papyrus reeds in which the Pharaohs had sailed the Nile thousands of years previously. In my travels in Egypt I had examined the images of many such vessels painted on the walls of ancient tombs. The reed boats of the ancient Nile, and the reed boats of Lake Titicaca (the original design of which, local Indians insisted, had been given to them by 'the Viracocha people'), had other points in common. Both, for example, were equipped with sails mounted on peculiar two-legged straddled masts. Both had also been used for the long-distance transport of exceptionally heavy building materials: obelisks and gargantuan blocks of stone bound for the temples at Giza and Luxor and Abydos on the one hand and for the mysterious edifices of Tiahuanaco on the other. (152)

We see no real difference between the reed floats on which Ra crossed the sky in ancient Egypt and the reed floats of the sun-god Raa, used by the hopu manu of Easter Island to cross the waters to Moto-Nui and symbolically retrieve the sunbird's cosmic egg. Moreover, the conical reed floats depicted in the hieroglyphs, which are recognized by archaeologists as 'the earliest craft navigating on the Nile and in the Delta swamps are indistinguishable from reed floats that were still in use in Nubia and in Middle Egypt well into the twentieth century. These in turn are identical to the reed floats of Easter Island - the only variation being in the materials used (totora reeds in the case of Easter Island; papyrus reeds in Egypt). (161)

Indus Valley

The Vedic people of India apparently navigated around Africa, across the Atlantic, and up the Amazon River to take copper and tin from mines in Peru and Bolivia. (113)

A degree of longitude at the latitude of the caves of Cuenca, in Ecuador, is nearly 111,230 m. Divided by 320,000, this gives a foot of 0.3476 m and 1 cu. ft. equals 42,000 g of water. This weight could have been the base for several coins of our ancestors, but it is certainly the foundation of the gold tola in India, weighing 11.66 g and still in use today in the Persian Gulf... This mystery is even more intriguing when we see it in the light of recent discoveries that the Hindus navigated all the way around Africa, across the Atlantic Ocean, and up the Amazon River to bring home copper and tin from mines in Peru and Bolivia. (141)

China

 

Europe

In classical times, men reckoned upon sailing in twenty-four hours, according to the Pseudo-Scylax, 100-125 Roman miles, without the help of currents. Another authority reckoned upon seventy Roman miles during the day, sixty during the night. Sumerian vessels were not much inferior to these so that classical speeds are a guide to their speeds. (135)

Archaeologists on the island of Crete have discovered a set of tools they believe prove that man sailed the sea tens of thousands of years earlier than previously thought. A Greek Culture ministry statement said experts from Greece and the U.S. have found rough axes and other tools thought to be between 130,000 and 700,000 years old close to shelters on the island's south coast. Whoever made the tools must have traveled there at least 40 miles by sea. "The results of the survey not only provide evidence of sea voyages in the Mediterranean tens of thousands of years earlier than we were aware of so far, but also change our understanding of early hominids' cognitive abilities," the ministry statement said. The previous earliest evidence of sea travel was 60,000 years ago, so the findings upset the current view that human ancestors migrated to Europe from Africa by land alone. (155)

South America

Neither the Inka nor any other New World people...ever developed the wheeled chariots, wagons, and other vehicles that were a major reason why Old World civilizations were able to dominate the world for centuries. (52)

The Vedic people of India apparently navigated around Africa, across the Atlantic, and up the Amazon River to take copper and tin from mines in Peru and Bolivia. (113)

Ironically, relatives of the horses that Cortes and Pizarro rode had formerly been native to the New World. Had those horses survived, Montezuma and Atahualpa might have shattered the conquistadores with cavalry charges of their own. But, in a cruel twist of fate, America's horses had become extinct long before that, along with 80 or 90 percent of the other large animal species of the Americas and Australia. It happened around the time that the first human settlers--ancestors of modern Indians and native Australians--reached those continents. The Americas lost not only their horses but also other potentially domesticable species like large camels, ground sloths, and elephants. South America was left with only the guinea pig (used for food), alpaca (used for wool), and llama (used as a pack animal, but too small to carry a rider). (114)

No native American or Australian mammal ever pulled a plough, cart, or war chariot, gave milk, or bore a rider. The civilizations of the New World limped forward on human muscle power alone, while those of the Old World ran on the power of animal muscle, wind, and water. (114)

...in Polynesia itself traditions existed of voyages beyond Easter Island, and that both the seaworthy catamarans of the South Seas and the balsas of Peru were capable of trans-Pacific adventures: furthermore, that in Peru there were traditions of expeditions to the West - one, indeed, of four hundred boats and twenty thousand men, sent by one of the last of the Incas of Peru, Tupac-Inca-Yupanqui, which returned after nine months or a year with black prisoners and a brass or copper throne - in Mangareva, reciprocally, there having been the tradition of "a red man who came from the East with a fleet of raft-like ships." The Kon-Tiki Expedition of Thor Heyerdahl in the summer of 1947, from Peru to the Tuamotus on a Peruvian balsa raft, made evident as vividly as anyone could have desired the possibility of voyages of this kind. (128)

Early water-users developed four styles. The peoples who lived by the mouths of the great rivers depended for their protein largely upon fishing. Lacking timber, they constructed floats out of bundles of reeds - the same building material is still used for houses and churches to this day. Such floats developed into reed rafts, rafts into wind-driven reed vessels, so that we finally hear Heyerdahl recording an Easter Island tradition of the arrival there of larger, three-masted reed boats carrying four hundred people in each vessel. The reed boats plying on Lake Titicaca, and on the eastern coast of Brazil, both in construction and material, resemble the Egyptian papyrus boats. (135)

This map of northern South America shows how ancient navigators from the Mediterranean, after crossing the Atlantic with winds and currents, could navigate up the Amazon, cross the Andes, and reach the continent's gold, silver, copper, and tin mines. Moreover, the whole Amazon basin could have been a huge inland sea many thousand years ago, making navigation much easier. (141)

...the totora vessels of Suriqui were virtually identical, both in the method of construction and in finished appearance, to the beautiful craft fashioned from papyrus reeds in which the Pharaohs had sailed the Nile thousands of years previously. In my travels in Egypt I had examined the images of many such vessels painted on the walls of ancient tombs. The reed boats of the ancient Nile, and the reed boats of Lake Titicaca (the original design of which, local Indians insisted, had been given to them by 'the Viracocha people'), had other points in common. Both, for example, were equipped with sails mounted on peculiar two-legged straddled masts. Both had also been used for the long-distance transport of exceptionally heavy building materials: obelisks and gargantuan blocks of stone bound for the temples at Giza and Luxor and Abydos on the one hand and for the mysterious edifices of Tiahuanaco on the other. (152)

Mesoamerica

Neither the Inka nor any other New World people...ever developed the wheeled chariots, wagons, and other vehicles that were a major reason why Old World civilizations were able to dominate the world for centuries. (52)

Ironically, relatives of the horses that Cortes and Pizarro rode had formerly been native to the New World. Had those horses survived, Montezuma and Atahualpa might have shattered the conquistadores with cavalry charges of their own. But, in a cruel twist of fate, America's horses had become extinct long before that, along with 80 or 90 percent of the other large animal species of the Americas and Australia. It happened around the time that the first human settlers--ancestors of modern Indians and native Australians--reached those continents. The Americas lost not only their horses but also other potentially domesticable species like large camels, ground sloths, and elephants. (114)

No native American or Australian mammal ever pulled a plough, cart, or war chariot, gave milk, or bore a rider. The civilizations of the New World limped forward on human muscle power alone, while those of the Old World ran on the power of animal muscle, wind, and water. (114)

Near the top of the 13,000 foot Mexican mountain, Popocatepetl, Charnay, the nineteenth-century French explorer discovered children's graves with wheeled toys in them; wheeled dogs and four-wheeled chariots, some broken, some with their wheels intact. (135)

North America

Neither the Inka nor any other New World people...ever developed the wheeled chariots, wagons, and other vehicles that were a major reason why Old World civilizations were able to dominate the world for centuries. (52)

Ironically, relatives of the horses that Cortes and Pizarro rode had formerly been native to the New World. ...America's horses had become extinct...along with 80 or 90 percent of the other large animal species of the Americas and Australia. It happened around the time that the first human settlers--ancestors of modern Indians and native Australians--reached those continents. The Americas lost not only their horses but also other potentially domesticable species like large camels, ground sloths, and elephants. Australia and North America ended up with no domesticable mammal species at all, unless Indian dogs were derived from North American wolves. (114)

No native American or Australian mammal ever pulled a plough, cart, or war chariot, gave milk, or bore a rider. The civilizations of the New World limped forward on human muscle power alone, while those of the Old World ran on the power of animal muscle, wind, and water. (114)

Other

Ironically, relatives of the horses that Cortes and Pizarro rode had formerly been native to the New World. ...America's horses had become extinct...along with 80 or 90 percent of the other large animal species of the Americas and Australia. It happened around the time that the first human settlers--ancestors of modern Indians and native Australians--reached those continents. The Americas lost not only their horses but also other potentially domesticable species like large camels, ground sloths, and elephants. Australia and North America ended up with no domesticable mammal species at all, unless Indian dogs were derived from North American wolves. (114)

...in Polynesia itself traditions existed of voyages beyond Easter Island, and that both the seaworthy catamarans of the South Seas and the balsas of Peru were capable of trans-Pacific adventures: furthermore, that in Peru there were traditions of expeditions to the West - one, indeed, of four hundred boats and twenty thousand men, sent by one of the last of the Incas of Peru, Tupac-Inca-Yupanqui, which returned after nine months or a year with black prisoners and a brass or copper throne - in Mangareva, reciprocally, there having been the tradition of "a red man who came from the East with a fleet of raft-like ships." The Kon-Tiki Expedition of Thor Heyerdahl in the summer of 1947, from Peru to the Tuamotus on a Peruvian balsa raft, made evident as vividly as anyone could have desired the possibility of voyages of this kind. (128)

"Would it after all have been surprising," asks Monsieur Rivet, after a consideration of all these matters, "if the Polynesians, the most prodigious navigators on earth, had pursued their travels as far as the shores of America? Perfectly familiar with currents and winds, able to steer a course by the stars, they sailed at night and regularly made trips of 2000 miles, sometimes even 4200 miles, without putting ashore. To find the tiny Polynesian islands lost in the immensity of the Pacific they were guided by the small cloud which forms above each island at a height of over 11,000 feet and which is perceived by a practiced eye from a distance of 120 miles. Their double canoes, pirogues, made seven to eight miles per hour, 75 miles in a ten- to twelve-hour day; thus one of these boats could have covered the distance from Hawaii to California, or from Easter Island to the South American coast in twenty days." (128)

Polynesians proudly kept the records of their own travels, and many of them, Heyerdahl says, relate that they came from the east. (135)

We see no real difference between the reed floats on which Ra crossed the sky in ancient Egypt and the reed floats of the sun-god Raa, used by the hopu manu of Easter Island to cross the waters to Moto-Nui and symbolically retrieve the sunbird's cosmic egg. Moreover, the conical reed floats depicted in the hieroglyphs, which are recognized by archaeologists as 'the earliest craft navigating on the Nile and in the Delta swamps are indistinguishable from reed floats that were still in use in Nubia and in Middle Egypt well into the twentieth century. These in turn are identical to the reed floats of Easter Island - the only variation being in the materials used (totora reeds in the case of Easter Island; papyrus reeds in Egypt). (161)

From the stepped pyramids of Babylon to those of Palenque, and from the Dendera zodiac to the celestial Llama, one finds evidence not of some feeble set of "beliefs" about the beyond, but of a ubiquitous and highly structured language mirroring an equally sophisticated grasp of celestial mechanics, all in aid of probing the nature of humankind's ultimate destiny. The best minds and the public treasure of the archaic world were lavished on this pursuit. Should it come, then, as such as a shock that people--serious people-- might be willing to risk journeys to "the edge of the known world" in search of kindred spirits? Anyone who has studied Polynesian navigation knows that archaic technology was equal to the task, and Polynesian mariners equal to the adventure. The history of such transactions has yet to be written, nor will it ever be written so long as we contemporary people remain unaware that the quest has a history, which is myth. (167)