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They Came Before Columbus: The African Presence in Ancient America (Journal of African Civilizations) Paperback – September 23, 2003

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Editorial Reviews Review

This controversial book by Ivan Van Sertima, the Guyanese historian, linguist, and anthropologist, claims that Africans had been to the New World centuries before Columbus arrived there in 1492. Citing--among other things--the huge Negroid-looking Olmec heads of Central Mexico and the similarities between the Aztec and Egyptian calendars and pyramid structures, Van Sertima pieces together a hidden history of pre-Columbian contact between Africans and Native Americans. He also puts forth the possibility that Columbus may have already known about a route to the Americas from his years in Africa as a trader in Guinea. The ideas in this book have been debated and discussed since its first publication in 1976; even those who choose not to believe Van Sertima's theories should take his argument seriously. --Eugene Holley, Jr. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


—The Atlantic Monthly

“An immensely impressive book . . . well-written and clear.”

“I can’t praise this book enough! I kept shaking my head over its power.”
—Ishmael Reed

“Comprehensive and convincing . . . a big boost to black cultural history.”
—Publishers Weekly

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Product Details

  • Series: Journal of African Civilizations
  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks; Reprint edition (September 23, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812968174
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812968170
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (236 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #6,596 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Ivan Van Sertima's pioneering work in linguistics and anthropology has appeared in numerous scholarly journals. Professor Van Sertima teaches Afro-American studies at Rutgers University.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

239 of 265 people found the following review helpful By Jeffrey Carey on September 24, 2004
Format: Hardcover
The first time I heard Dr. Ivan Van Sertima speak was at Lincoln University a small historically black college in Pennslyvania. Dr. Van Sertima gave a powerful lecture about the African Presence in America before Columbus, a topic I never heard of before and honestly doubted it's validity.I thought I would leave the lecture only convienced that Van Sertima was a crank and his thesis was a fraud, but in fact the opposite happened. His speech was so articulate and his lecture so well researched and amazingly documented I decided I had to read his book and research the topic on my own. if skeptics think this book is solely for Afrocentrist they are wrong this book is very scholarly it gives botanical,cartographical,linguistic,artistic, and historical evidience in order to make a strong case for the African presence in America. Van Sertima shows us african cotton found in America.He shows the written accounts of the conquistadors themselves, Columbus and Balboa record the presence of Africans already arriving in America, in fact Balboa eyewitnessed Africans in Central America fighting among the "Indian" population..He highlights the mysterious Piri Reis map that shows Antartica mapped before it was covered with ice,when was the only time this could happen? 4,000 B.C.,the point is ancient man had the nautical skill to travel the world at a very early date. He touches on the journeys of Thor Heyerdahl and his ship the Ra successfully crossing the Atlantic, proving that ancient man could travel the high seas. I personally researched on my own the parallels between the Egyptian god(Osiris)and American god(Queztatcoatl)both are virgin born both are ressurection gods, it is amazing.Read more ›
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227 of 267 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 28, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Sertima has presented a thoery that is not "wild afrocentric babble." Its very plausible for the following reasons:

Most everyone is familiar with the time period of the Dark Ages, which lasted from the fall of the Roman Empire until about the 1200 or 1300's. It was a time when people were intellectually non-progressive, when the average peasent/serf never traveled 20 miles from the place of his birth. What people do forget is that the Dark Age was only a Western European phenomenon. The rest of Asia and Africa were steadily advancing.

One reviewer said that Africans had no ocean trade routes with other peoples. In fact, the East African coast was dotted with powerful city states that traded all over the Indian Ocean, including China. And on the West Coast, Africans did not need trade routes per se, because half of Europe was already under their complete domination through the Islamic Empire (black Moors).

Is it a coincidence that Spain and Italy were the first two European countries to climb out of the Dark Ages? No. Italy's trade routes with Africa long brought it into contact with Moslem and Chinese advances. And Spain; Spain was part of Islam! On the streets of Cardoba, Spain you would have seen Africans, Moslems, and a bunch of other races. By the way, the Moslems invented the magnetic compass and the astrolabe. This same Moslem learning flourished at the world first university; in Timbaktu. Timbaktu was in Mali, West Africa. In this climate how could West Africans not have known about sailing and trade routes?

Incidently, where was Columbus originaly from? Italy. Which country did he go to and got financing for his trip? Spain.
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148 of 179 people found the following review helpful By Michael K. Epps Jr. on July 16, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Any reader who has given this work a negative review, is do to the fact they do not know history and anthropology, and their foundation has been based off of some of the pioneers and scholars who have been culturally biased against Black people and Ancient Black civilizations. Also for the American Indian criticizers, I am one of you, if you would only check the records of the older tribes such as the Washitaw, Jamassi/Yamasse, Mawshahk, Lenape, and even the records of the Creek, Shoshoni, and Seminole and Iriqous and many others. The records have the history on the Black Mound Builders(Eagle Mounds etc.), and how the ancestors were Black, including the Mayan and Zu-Aztec coming from the Toltecs or Olmecs. In fact in 1996 the year of the indigenous people the Washitaw nation was recognized as the oldest indigenous people in America and they are Black people with wooly hair who link themselves back to the Olmecs only supporting what Sertima has said. Their United Nations number has the prefix 215, go and check it out. People do not want to admit that Blacks were the original people on the planet and has been the root for many of these civilizations regardless of how many artifacts and facts anthropologist and archeologist uncover. Well, guess what? Now science supports everything they have been saying. Biochemist have proven that Black people were here first with the Mitochondria DNA/RNA, go look it up, it is in a case study called Mitochondria Eve. Also read National Geographic while you are at it. Only about 10%-15% of the slaves came from Africa, where do you think the rest came from? They came from the tribes already here.Read more ›
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