Ming, eh?

Claims of a pre-Columbian Chinese settlement in Cape Breton Island raise eyebrows
Baechler has an explanation for every feature on the mountain that Chiasson maintains is Chinese. “The courtyards are actually areas that were cleared off for the test drills,” she says. “The remains of the wall are most likely related to a 1952 fire road.” Pictures she took in 1989 show that the road up the mountain was clearly built that year. A team of archaeologists led by David Christianson of the Nova Scotia Museum has also been to the top of Kelly’s Moun-tain. They confirm that all the man-made features there are of twentieth-century origin.

Chiasson is unwavering in his faith, though. When I asked him via email about the contradictory evidence, his response was, “You have seen the stone features on the site and the mason marks on the stone tiles. When I started this project, I realized that I would have to trust journalists to answer [such] reasoning.”

The more I looked at the photos I had taken of the stone tiles and marked-up rocks, though, the more natural the objects seemed to me. I had come to Kelly’s Mountain expecting to see ruins, but ultimately the hilltop was simply a particularly amazing spot on a beautiful stretch of Cape Breton.

What stood out most from the tour was not the idea of ancient Chinese settlement in Canada. Rather, it was the memory of our descent. As we made our way down the mountain, Chiasson spoke not of the Ming Dynasty, but instead of sites he had seen on a 2000 trip to the Middle East. We talked about the great Crusader castles, especially the massive Krak des Chevaliers in Syria. His description of the castle was vivid and rich, his passion palpable.

But soon his brisk pace left me breathless, and I had to slow down, along with his family. Chiasson continued down Kelly’s Mountain, leaving the rest of us far behind.•
Powell is a senior editor at Archaeology magazine.
Previous · Page 2 of 2 · Home

13 comment(s)

baileyNovember 25, 2006 08:41 EST

Very intriguing.
The 1952 road would certainly follow a previously cut road as this is the only place one can reach the pond and fire. Also the 1989 road would have reached the higher heights and followed along to the city site via the easiest route. Chinese would have brought their supplies up the hill next to their sight from below pathway along St Anns Bay; using previous road across peninsula only at beginning.

baileyNovember 25, 2006 08:43 EST

Very intriguing.
The 1952 road would certainly follow a previously cut road as this is the only place one can reach the pond and fire. Also the 1989 road would have reached the higher heights and followed along to the city site via the easiest route. Chinese would have brought their supplies up the hill next to their sight from below pathway along St Anns Bay; using previous road across peninsula only at beginning.

MikmaqApril 17, 2007 20:06 EST

Ahhhh...A Chinese settlement in Cape Breton? This would be intriguing and possibly a threat to Canada's history... I can understand why the government would feel this historical possibility can change the face of North American History...If this is so, than the Chinese and Mi'kmaq MUST of been ALLIES with the largest tribe in the world. It is possible that our government may want to cover up these facts for whatever reason... As a Mi'kmaq, I have never heard of such stories in our oral history BUT that does not go to say it has never happened. The fact is our culture "Pre-Columbian" has always thought us that we always knew that the world was circular and not flat, that the world consisted of four major tribes, The Black, red, white and yellow tribes. We of course are the red tribe and the Chinese are the yellow tribe. We knew this fact even before contact! It was also prophecized we would encounter these four tribes and that harsh times would follow for several generations. That it did. So harsh, we consider it GENOCIDE. The fact is , in the last 500 years we have not only lost over 90% of our tribe - in culture, blood, language, land, in numbers, we even lost a GREAT DEAL of history and ancient ways of life with every death that has fallen upon our peoples.
When I was a child I can recall a legend which is still a part of our oral traditions, story telling. In this story, Kelly's Mountain was a part of this story and on this mountain was an indian village...yes thats right, an indian village by glooscaps cave. At this time, our tribal villages were great in numbers and we had to be on high ground due to the circumstances of the day.

Just the tip of the iceburg here people. Anyone ever consider the first people of the land may have settled here and that it is possible we were not just "savages" but always have been an innovative and adaptable tribe that society still not fully understand.

M ThompsonDecember 26, 2007 20:26 EST

Mr Chiasson has long been looking for allies in anyone willing to truly stretch the imagination. Unfortunately, he chose to write and stand behind a book based more on internet research than actual facts. PLEASE check out the website www.1421exposed.com for factual information based on scientific evidence and conclusions drawn by intelligent and educated people who specialize in this area. It is unbelievable to me that Mr Chiasson could spend 2 years researching a book and not find out the following facts which he completely missed.
1 The 'chinese road' was built to reach a fire burning on the mountain in the 1950's
2 There was a quarry on the exact site he claims is part of a 'city'
3 The soil on the top of the mountain is very poor quality and would never have been adequate for farming
4 The 'sites' he claims are foundations are on the north side of the mountain which was completely exposed and would have made for horrible living conditions while there are many other areas much more protected and much more suitable than the mountain top

Mr Chiasson has worked hard to sell books and controversy is great for that so congrats on the sales, Paul but it's time to quietly slip into oblivion and let this go.

AnonymousJune 08, 2008 16:56 EST

do you believe that the government is trying to cover something up.

AnonymousJanuary 26, 2009 22:31 EST

To M.Thompson...
Funny you should mention 'internet research' when critiquing Chiasson. Isn't the source you quote as being 'full of factual information' on the internet? Hmmmm. How can you say then, that www.1421exposed.com is more 'factual' than Chiasson's extensive research -done mostly in libraries and museums, not on the net- by the way? Sure his argument has some flaws, but you must admit that overall it is quite logical and very plausible given the background of Chinese navy and the Mi'kmaq culture.

If you believe in anything about Jesus in the Bible, then you cannot not believe this story.

Mark WhitakerFebruary 18, 2009 23:46 EST

I would like to see true verification of the Chinese claims. The book, which I have just read, reads like a slippery slope in many places when it discusses the Chinese information as 'facts' instead of being more honest with us that it is a hypothesis. His first half of the book is truly a compendium of careful research about known constructions on Cape Breton. However, it rapidly gets thinner and thinner on evidence when you expect it to get more detailed? At least MEASURE something up there for Christ's sake. Give us some data. There is nothing about measurements in the whole book! I wanted the book to have more pictures of the reality of the site. There were no pictures of the area Chiasson called 'graves'. I want more discussion of the supposed lengths and widths of the claimed "Chinese foundations" A lot of what the text calls "obvious Chinese foundations" really don't appear as such in the pictures as foundations at all. He didn't show the stamped earth area he claimed to have seen either! Since he left out the measurements, and only mentioned many things in passing in the text, is Chiasson hiding something. I don't know. Chaisson should put up a website with many more pictures, keeping its exact location hidden if he wants. I want more tangible data. Someone do the archaeology. The Chinese hypothesis is just that at this stage. Given the pre-judgmental and non-scientific responses from the Nova Scotia government, please don't let the Canadian government do the 'research' on it. Someone should fire a few government idiots he mentions because they think being an academic means not looking at evidence and laughing. Science is an investigative method, not a religion with preconceived answers. It is always the exploration of the unknown. Previous faulty history stories have been dashed many times before you know. I wouldn't think much of typical academics either if I was Chiasson given they have failed to demonstrate academic expertise instead of just pre-judgments. Let's go look at the data. It's a researchable question. Personally, I think that Chassons' book could have done well by integrating what has been discovered and pieced together by Michael Bradley—about Scottish Prince Henry Sinclair's voyages in EXACTLY the same area. I would grade Chiasson's book down became he entirely left out THE major scholar of the area he is studying regarding pre-Columbus findings. He has to be aware of Bradley! (He mentions the line of research in one sentence—only one sentence—in the entire book, in a completely flippant manner without looking at the evidence himself I guess. So Chiasson is guilty of treating others in the very same unjust way that he has been treated.) If Chiasson is not aware of Bradley, it further lowers my estimation of Chiasson as stubborn in his theories as the people he complains refused to see his ruins. If Chiasson's is a knowledgable omission, it's cynical for Chiasson to write about the Zeno map though ignore that the Zeno's worked with the Sinclairs (which ties Bradley's and Chaisson's stories together). I'll summarize my thinking. Potentially we have three choices I think: [1] Only Bradley is correct. (i.e., the missing unorthodox post-Templar fleet and the Sinclairs came to Nova Scotia (plenty of evidence they did—after reading a lot about it in books—get off the internet and read a book.) [2] Chiasson is correct and Bradley is wrong: Chinese were there (though no archaeology yet about it) and later or simultaneously Bradley was right or wrong. However, I don't think you can dismiss Bradley's many books on the topic so easily. [3] Both Chaisson is correct and Bradley is correct. Only archaeology can help us decide. Given Bradley has provided more evidence than Chiasson, I would say at this point Bradley has proven his case more than Chiasson has. Hopefully, non-North Americans will work on the site. Otherwise, I expect the information to be hidden, filtered, or destroyed by Canadian/U.S,.-centric nationalist teams. This happens a lot by the way. Read some Barry Fell and Michael Bradley on archaeologists as the ultimate 'first censors'—throwing away things they find buried in different layers that don't fit their preconceptions that might destroy their own careers. In short, Chiasson shows ignorance of the larger Atlantic coastal pre-Columbus venue: there's PLENTY of evidence of other settlements throughout the Americas of many peoples. Read Harvard academic Dr. Fell's _America B.C._ (It has more documentation than Chiasson on how Micmac has a lot of hieroglyph similarities to Egyptian. In the American Southwest, Zuni speech and Arabic are surreally similar. There is a lot more about North America than Canada or the USA nationalist histories teach about. Nationalist stories of Canada and the U.S. official 'first discoveries' are pretty much lies, though the Chinese hypothesis has not been proven yet. Many people worldwide have visited the Americas before Columbus. I would not be surprised if the Chinese did, because the Chinese do very well on censoring their own past of embarrassing episodes as well. Anyway, read some other books I mentioned about pre-Columbian America, above, and compare. Time to admire how Oscar Wilde was wittily prescient, paraphrasing, "America was discovered before Columbus though others had the good sense not to talk about it." Like Chiasson, Bradley has documented similar omissions from official records of Champlain and Verrazanno (sp?)—the same two that Chiasson noted. And Bradley did this 25 years ago. Bradley noted these two hid things the most populated areas with ruins and hid the best harbors from their maps. Now Chiasson notes they were hiding things about Cape Breton. So Read both books. Perhaps Chaisson discovered another Sinclair outpost? I still can't get over how damning to Chiasson it is that he entirely sells his Chinese hypothesis alone and leaves out Bradley's lifetime of research on the same area—particular since other Sinclair-esque settlements existed south on what became known as Nova Scotia as well as down into Rhode Island, USA. I'm still shocked he left out Michael Bradley. What was he thinking? It has to be intention omission to make his Chinese theory fit when there is overwhelming evidence of a bastion/outpost of escaped Templar/Sinclair families and wealth in the same areas of the world. I'm glad I bought the book for $6.99 instead of its full price because I doubt I ever would have bought it for full price and been happy. Still, admirable work Chiasson did in giving us some data to work with. Frankly, I don't care much for his unproven hypothesis, I want to see it proven first, then write a book. My final conclusion of two points: get the archaeology done then we can talk. Anything else at this stage is pointless until archaeological digs start and we have more data. Point two: states lie about their historical origins and cover up evidence. Don't let them get away with it.

ShonJuly 12, 2009 18:27 EST

I think Chaisson's book is so interesting. If vikings could make it to America why not Chinese? Its really not that huge of a strech. We know the sailed to East Africa and were far more advanced than Europeans at that time. Anyone open minded realizes its completely possable. Whats needed is a scientific excavation.

RichardJanuary 03, 2011 12:40 EST

An interesting hypothosis; I haven't read the book yet but I've ordered it. It begs the question, though; if the Chinese were such great explorers and city-builders, why didn't they build any in Western Canada (where I live)....or have such ruins also been dismissed as early fire-roads or more recent buildings? I haven't heard of any, but then, I might not even if there was some such speculation. Has anyone heard of any Ming type settlements here in Western Canada?

RodJanuary 24, 2011 21:05 EST

Unfortunately I also read Paul Chiasson's book and found it to be as much a joke so far as documentation, archeology and logic as Gavin Menzies' 1421 disaster. Chiasson's book is also a racist denunciation on the intelligence, artistry and uniqueness of the Mi' kmaq people of Cape Breton Island and the other provinces. The Mi' kmaq have no documented connection to the 15th Century Chinese and true historians know it. Years ago a whacko author wrote that the Mi' kmaq alphabet was actually Egyptian. Next someone is going to write a book saying the Mi' kmaq were actually Celt or Druids. Leave the Mi' kmaq alone.

ChromstahlMay 27, 2011 08:22 EST

Unfortunately, there is nothing at all that suggests a settlement at this site, let alone a Chinese one. 500 years really not a very long time, and one would expect a LOT to have survived if there had been an occupation there. Natural piles of rocks are not easily mistaken for building foundations (Western or Asian). People leave large amounts of refuse at settlement sites. An occupation here would have left large quantities of accumulated animal bone, pottery, metal tools, etc. (At one archaeological site I worked at, we found over 50,000 pieces of animal bone and over 40,000 pieces of pottery in six weeks of excavation.) Nothing has been found here.

Also, Mr Chiasson argues that the stone foundations have weathered to the point that they are now easily mistaken for natural remains and the wooden super-structures have completely degraded. But have you ever noticed how Ming dynasty buildings (including courtyard houses like the ones he describes) are all roofed with beautiful ceramic tiles? Ceramic substances are amongst the most durable in the world (they last thousands of years and the space shuttle was coated in ceramic material because it is so tough). There have been no ceramic tiles found at this location, and one would expect them to be amongst the most abundant and obvious remains of Chinese architecture (as they are at archaeological sites all over China!).

So, even if we ignore the fact that there is zero evidence for man-made structural features here... where did all of the other evidence of human occupation go? Where are the remains of food (animal bones), tools, pottery, charcoal, ceramic tiles, etc.? Not one piece of material culture that could be associated with Chinese or any other human culture has been discovered here.

I might also point out that for centuries people have been looking for early Old World influence at New World sites, from claiming that Olmec statues depict Africans to arguing that Mayan pyramids are inspired by Egyptian ones to postulating that the Inca Empire was founded by a "lost White race". The truth is that no such explanations are needed. The ingenuity of the New World's own peoples easily accounts for all of the achievements of their civilizations. There's no need to look for ancient Eurasian or African influence to explain it. Give the Mi'kmaq their due... We don't need a medieval Chinese deus ex machina to explain the complexity of Mi'kmaq culture.

I am a trained archaeologist with experience excavating in three continents, and I am currently doing a PhD in history. I've also spent time in China (and Japan) and have some interest in Chinese architecture. I don't like to poo poo other people's theories, and I'm always thrilled to see amateurs showing an interest in history and archaeology. Unfortunately, in this particular case, there really is no basis for Mr Chiasson's claims. This is pure fantasy.

AnonymousMay 27, 2011 08:22 EST

p.s. As for the (frankly ridiculous) claims that the Canadian government would have a desire to cover this up... Please consider that this would be an astonishing archaeological discovery if proved true, would be an enormous source of tourist revenue for Cape Breton, and would generally be greeted with good-willed enthusiasm and interest in all quarters. Canada has no reason to cover this up. It would be another L\'Anse aux Meadows - in other words, extremely good publicity for the Maritimes. Imagine the numbers of Chinese tourists alone who would flock here.

Please, people, before pointing the finger of conspiracy at the government for no reason, think about why they would possibly want to cover this up. They wouldn\'t. This would be GREAT news for everyone involved. Halifax and Ottawa alike would be rubbing their hands together in glee if this was proved to be true.

food for thoughtMay 29, 2011 18:44 EST

for argument's sake, let it be known that there is factual evidence of tidal waves and severe weather patterns that batter this area from time to time for the past 500 years, so therefore, of course no remains will be present, other than the foundation that this man claims.

also, the television documentary at which is completely observant to fact and is relative to the objective mind, this land has never undergone any excavation whatsoever, only foot rubble kicking.

so i'd be not inclined to make such accusations of either side in dispute over what still needs to be done, excavation.

although, chiasson does have a valid theory that is unbiased of any euro-conquest claims, i think that the only way to find out is to start putting shovel and brush to work.

it is the only way to find out.

as for the arguments here, mainly those of pro-euro conquest belief, i think it must be thought out that to begin a journey and then to make a settlement, you will have to start a primitive life without the standards of euro-style farming and specialty trade ceramics.

reminds of the story of the lost colony of roanoke.

Add a comment

I agree to walrusmagazine.com’s comments policy.

Canada & its place in the world. Published by
the non-profit charitable Walrus Foundation
The Walrus SoapBox
The Walrus Laughs
Walrus TV