Ulli Kulke, Die Welt, August 5, 2013
[Editor’s Note: The following is a translation from the original German.]
Those in search of the legacy of the Celts naturally travel to sites in Germany, France, and other countries of Western Europe to find the remnants of settlements, burial grounds, and fortifications. They can now go to South America, to the eastern edge of the Andes, to admire buildings and other cultural achievements of that early European people and their descendants — all from a time many centuries before the first crossing by Christopher Columbus. Celts, in fact, arrived long before Columbus in the New World, together with Carthaginians.
That is the claim now being made by cultural scientist and documentary filmmaker Hans Giffhorn. In his view, there is reliable evidence that the Chachapoya mountain people who were living in eastern Peru at the time of the arrival of the Spaniards in the 16th century, and whose numerous descendants still live there, were closely related to the Celts.
Ever since the first conquistadors, the Chachapoya, because of their appearance — white, red-haired and some with freckles — as well as their lifestyle, have been a big mystery for anthropologists. Now Giffhorn, in his book Was America Discovered in Antiquity? Carthaginians, Celts and the Mystery of the Chachapoya (“Wurde Amerika in der Antike entdeckt? Karthager, Kelten und das Rätsel der Chachapoya”), has come closer to providing an answer, particularly because he is supported by genetic analysis that traces hereditary relationships.
Celts came from Mallorca
The audacious thesis of the book is this: At the beginning of the second century BC, after the destruction of their capital, a large number of Carthaginians feared that the Romans wanted to finish them off. They escaped, deliberately seeking a new home in another part of the world, as far as possible from their enemies. To this end, they allied themselves with the Celts, probably from Mallorca, who had often served them as mercenaries.
Various books on pre-Columbian transatlantic contacts now fill entire book shelves. Sculptures with negroid features are cited as evidence, as are world maps that include South America from a time before the area was discovered; reports from the Middle Ages of trips to large, exotic islands and lands in the far west of the Atlantic; very old archaeological discoveries of metals that do not exist in America; ten-thousand-year-old skulls with features that do not correspond to those of Native Americans; and apparently ancient stone buildings built in a European-Romanesque style.
Giffhorn once considered all this implausible. He notes that his original interest in this research was to refute all these theories, and disprove early crossings — but then he encountered the Chachapoya.
On one point Giffhorn’s theory is supported by other theorists of early connections: The crossing was not impossible in ancient times, at least not for the Carthaginians, who were a Phoenician sea-going people. Long before Christ, Phoenicians reached the Gulf of Guinea, and in all probability circumnavigated the Dark Continent 500 years before Chris — at least as reported by the Greek historian Herodotus.
Peruvians call them “Gringuitos”
Then as now, when ships venture too far off the West African coast — as Giffhorn thinks the Carthaginians did for fear of the Romans — currents and winds drive them almost inevitably toward South America. Some narrations of journeys from the early days of discovery confirm this.
According to Giffhorn it was at first by chance — he was a documentary filmmaker in search of a species of extinct Hummingbird — that he encountered the descendants of the Chachapoya in Peru, and after many discussions with archaeologists and other historians there, learned the history of this nation. Today, Peruvians call the Chachapoya descendants “Gringuitos.”
The Chachapoya culture — characterized by its stately stone buildings — developed approximately between 100 and 400 AD, according to scientific dating methods, long before the Inca made similar achievements. Nowhere, however, is there, as one would normally expect, remnants of preceding cultures. It seems as if the Chachapoya appeared from nowhere. Around this time in history, in the area north and south of the mouth of the Amazon, there suddenly emerged a previously unexplained culture. Ceramics give evidence for this, as does evidence of cremation, which was unknown in all of Latin America, but known in Europe.
For Giffhorn, the most likely explanation is this: In the second century BC, a large fleet of hundreds of Carthaginians and Celts drifted to the area around the mouth of the Amazon. There, they found no area to settle suitable to their accustomed manner of living. For example, there were no rocks to build their usual homes. Also, having found the Amazon River, they probably hoped to find a more suitable climate further upstream.
Round stone buildings, holes in skulls
Gradually, probably over a period of several hundred years, they migrated 5,000 kilometers up the Amazon, to the subsequent settlement area of the Chachapoya. Nowhere along the way were they able to settle for long, because — as the first Spaniards were told — the migrants always came into conflict with belligerent, hostile Amazonian peoples.
A number of parallels presented themselves to Giffhorn during his research. The massive stone rotundas, built without cement, resemble the buildings of the Celts on Mallorca. The type of slingshots they used, as described by the Spanish chroniclers of the conquistador era, resemble weapons that were once used on that Mediterranean island.
The practice of “trepanation,” and the arrangement of holes drilled in the skull by the Chachapoya for brain surgery are unknown to medical historians in the rest of Latin America, but arguably were known by the Celts in Europe. Their manner of mummification in turn showed significant similarities to that of the Phoenicians.
The most important evidence was found by genetic analysis of Chachapoya descendants. A molecular genetic research laboratory in Rotterdam reported that European blood is clearly detectable in this Andean nation. It appears that male Europeans bred with Indian women a long time ago.
The great fear of the Old World
What is not clearly verifiable is when the European line arrived. However, the very specific “variability of mitochondrial DNA,” considered in light of the life and migrations of the Chachapoya during the last 400 years, most likely suggests to Giffhorn, “that the encounters between Indian women and European immigrants, the male Gringuito-ancestors, took place in pre-Columbian times.”
Giffhorn complains that his research — as well as that of all others who pursue pre-Columbian contacts — is met with great resistance in Latin America. There are significant fears in scientific and cultural circles that Europeans want to attribute ancient American civilizations to roots in the Old World. This is a threat to the national identities of various Latin Americans, who were emancipated through liberation struggles in the early 19th century.
These reservations are shared by many historians in Europe, who therefore criticize his book, most without having read it. Nevertheless, Giffhorn is ready with his next project: a film about the Chachapoya for the Franco-German television channel Arte.