The Beothuk Key: Finding a Lost Chinese-Norse Civilization in Canada

Two mysteries – one Oriental, one Western – have attracted considerable attention recently both in academic and popular spheres: the disappearance of the Seventh Chinese Treasure Fleet and the disappearance of the people of Greenland. Until now, people have not considered that the two stories might be somehow connected.

Indeed, although very much in retrospect, there were numerous pieces of evidence readily available that pointed to the two narratives possibly being associated, even if the key element were missing. However unlikely and counter-intuitive, it appears that key is in the much-disputed continuing existence of the Beothuk (Beothuk) People of Newfoundland Island – without them neither of the mysteries would have been resolved.

Origins of the Beothuk People

The journey of discovery began quite by accident, when a Beothuk person observed some unusual artifacts at museums in China that seemed to be the analogues of artifacts of the Beothuk People. The resulting investigation led to all known information about the Beothuk people being sifted and evaluated, with the conclusion being that the Beothuk People had Chinese origin.

Right: Beothuk symbols on poles, Newfoundland Island. Left: Symbols on poles. Confucian museum. Beijing

Right: Beothuk symbols on poles, Newfoundland Island. Left: Symbols on poles. Confucian museum. Beijing. (Author provided)

The considerable skepticism about the Chinese voyages seemed to be primarily because the idea of massive Chinese ships, as suggested by Menzies and Hudson was thoroughly doubted. Unfortunately, one could not appeal to China because that country has retained no information as to the design of such massive ships – no models, no sketches, no descriptions.

Curious genetic and ancestral stories of the Beothuk People led to an informal survey that revealed mtDNA of Celtic, Norse, and other Scandinavian/Baltic origin, leading to speculation that all of the people were descendants of the Norse from the time of the Viking Sagas. However, that speculation was disabused by research reports to the effect that (a) Newfoundland Island had had several waves of occupation, and (b) there is a genetic discontinuity between the maternal lineages of the various occupation groups. Moreover, historical reports indicate that whoever was on the island were substantially, or completely, killed off by some blight or combination thereof (plague, typhus, smallpox) between 1402 and 1404, which meant that as of that later date the island was effectively empty. If that were true, then it meant that the Norse ancestors of the contemporary Beothuk must have colonized at least part of the island sometime after 1404 AD.

Beothuk drawings by Shanawdithit (the last known member of the Beothuk people) representing a variety of subjects

Beothuk drawings by Shanawdithit (the last known member of the Beothuk people) representing a variety of subjects. ( Library and Archives Canada )

Ties to the People of Greenland

That led to a consideration of the story of the disappearance of the people of Greenland in the early 15th Century. There is no record of the people of Greenland going east, as some experts have speculated. According to Catholic Church records, there had been as many as 5000 people in Greenland circa 1409. That’s a lot of people to account for.

In a pastoral letter from the Holy See addressed to the Bishops of Skalholt and Holar in Iceland, dated September 20, 1448, concern was expressed that Greenland had been raided by a “Fleet of heathens” some 30 years previously, and that all of the people had been taken. It is not immediately clear how the Pope acquired that information. Related to that was another piece of information: tributes began to arrive at Rome sometime in the early-1400s, from “ Vinland.” Clearly, a vector of communication existed from the “far western lands’ to Rome.

Recent research suggests that there was no violent confrontation in Greenland. Indeed, everything points to a peaceful, organized departure of the people. The conclusion was that the people of Greenland, all 5000 of them, along with their priests and other religious people (monks and nuns), peacefully departed their homes sometime after 1409 and before about 1420.

The Mystery of the Beothuk Language

The language of the Beothuk has been something of an enduring mystery. William Cormack is the only person whose report we have who actually spoke with the Beothuk. Cormack said that the Beothuk language had all of the sounds of Scandinavian languages, maybe Swedish. Additionally, J. T. Mullock , Roman Catholic Bishop of St. John’s, Newfoundland, said that many people thought that the Beothuk had “Northmen” ancestry.

Top: Beothuk carved bone artifacts. Bottom: Beothuk iron projectile point (probably an arrow point), bone harpoon, and bone harpoon with iron blade

Top: Beothuk carved bone artifacts. Bottom: Beothuk iron projectile point (probably an arrow point), bone harpoon, and bone harpoon with iron blade. (Dr. Ralph Pastore/ Memorial University of Newfoundland )

Moreover, Dr. John Cooper of Dalhousie University concluded that the language was at least 25% Gaelic and Norse. There was not, necessarily, much difference between Norse and Gaelic because, as Wallace says, “… the Norse were mixed with Celts and Picts through intermarriage and slavery.”

Because Newfoundland Island was empty of people, say from around 1404, and because the people of Greenland departed their homes around 1418, and because a large number of people from Newfoundland Island has Norse ancestry from the forests of the island, it seemed reasonable to conclude that the Beothuk people were the descendants of the “missing” Norse of Greenland. The notion of a fleet of ships, as per the Pope’s letter, was, to say the least, intriguing.

More on Beothuk Ancestry

The investigation has now arrived at the point where two phenomena seem to be supported: The Beothuk people had Chinese ancestry and the Beothuk people had Norse ancestry.

The local people in that remote and isolated geography, although having a high degree of illiteracy, had a rich oral tradition. For many generations these people, the European ancestors of whom came to the area around the mid-1700s or earlier, told stories of enormous ships that had been on the nearby ocean bottom since before their arrival. As late as 1890, people could easily see one massive ship in a sheltered harbor of relatively shallow water, and the mast of that ship – enormous, much larger than anything that they had ever seen or could imagine – protruded from the ocean surface. Moreover, at that time, they could see “dishes” and “jugs” on the ocean bottom near the ship.

Zheng He's Treasure Ship. Model at Hong Kong Science Museum

Zheng He’s Treasure Ship. Model at Hong Kong Science Museum. ( Mike Peel / CC BY SA 4.0 )

The subsequent generation (circa 1930) contained a story that two teen boys had attempted to measure the ship and, being creative with fishing cords, estimated that one ship was about 400 ft. (130 meters) long.

After several months of searching with Google Earth, during 2017, two almost identical ships were located, each being about 450 ft. (150 meters) in length. Since then, several other equally large ships, seemingly intact, have been found resting on the ocean bottom. The only ships that fit the circumstances are those of the Chinese of the early 1400s. No European or American ship of the dimensions of the ships that were found would be constructed until after the mid-1800s.

At that point it is possible to suggest, at least, that the enormous fleet that had taken the people from Greenland had been a Chinese fleet. If that fleet brought the people of Greenland to Newfoundland Island sometime around 1418, that would explain the Norse and Chinese ancestry of the Beothuk People.

Demasduit (Mary March), a Beothuk woman.

Demasduit (Mary March), a Beothuk woman. ( Library and Archives Canada )

The Voyage from China and Links to Zheng He

The available information supports the following scenario: after leaving port in southern China the fleet would split into several flotillas, each expediting their individual appointed tasks, more or less, and reassembling later. One voyage took place during 1417 – 1419. The flotilla that had been assigned the task of mapping the western North Atlantic area – whatever the Chinese called it – was under the command of Admiral Zheng He .

It crossed the North Atlantic, discovered Newfoundland Island (1417), and, maybe the next year (1418), returning from mapping Hudson’s Bay, chanced upon the Norse of Greenland, in a state of destitution and at the cusp of starvation. The Chinese “rescued” these desperate people and transported them to Newfoundland island, the mythical Vinland of the Norse people. Zheng He returned to China, but came back to Newfoundland in 1435.

The Matteo Ricci (1552 – 1610) map of 1605 has the lands of the north west Atlantic identifiably drawn. Someone spent time charting the north west Atlantic area, did the cartography, and returned to China, writing four Chinese characters on the land that would be identified as Newfoundland Island: “Island like a Chinese garden.” According to Lee, the Ricci map is a copy of a Chinese map and that the Chinese had a complete map of the world by 1430, a map that included the northwest Atlantic area.

Kunyu Wanguo Quantu. Chinese world map, circa 1430

Kunyu Wanguo Quantu. Chinese world map, circa 1430. ( Public Domain )

Did Zheng He know where he was going? Was the initial map-making done by a previous Chinese fleet and before 1418? Did Zheng He’s admirals do the charting of the northern lands? Who would have named Newfoundland Island so glowingly?

Wherever he was, the Great Admiral seems to have boasted:

We have traversed more than 100,000 li of immense water spaces and have beheld in the ocean huge waves like mountains rising in the sky, and we have set eyes on barbarian regions far away hidden in a blue transparency of light vapors, while our sails, loftily unfurled like clouds day and night, continued their course. ..

That would have gotten him to Greenland and back in the 1417-1419 time frame of that voyage.

Signs of a Lost Settlement

As a confirmation exercise, Google earth was utilized to seek indicators of Norse and Chinese occupancy of Newfoundland Island. That investigation resulted in the identification of a ubiquitous pattern. It was determined that the pattern was communal housing – much as had been described by John Cabot in 1497 and Jacques Cartier in 1534.

These dwellings were as much as 164 ft. (50 meters) in diameter and contained 10 – 12 family cells around a central common area. These dwellings appeared to be one-story adaption of Hakka-Han TuLu in south east China of the time (which continues today), the area that was the origin of the Treasure Fleets. The basic Hakka housing pattern incorporated Norse features to accommodate winter conditions, those features that the Beothuk descendants had incorporated into their root-cellars, many of which still exist. (Incidentally, the Hakka Tulu figures in the recent movie, “Mulan.”)

Treks into the forest confirmed the speculations: patterns on the forest floor, now covered with trees, certainly still retained the discernible and recognizable communal Tulu pattern. A survey of the island with Google Earth Pro revealed literally thousands of these structures. An estimate related to the number of structures detected suggested dwellings of maybe as many as 300,000 people, an enormous number in comparison to the paltry several thousand that experts have been suggesting up to now.

Satellite imagery revealed structures that seemed to be defensive walls, and treks into the forest confirmed the existence of the artifacts, some of which were not completely occluded by vegetation overburden. One trek also resulted in the discovery of a carving of a three meter long hand, chiseled into a rock-face, with the letter “J” carved just above it, and a scepter carved along the wrist.

The carved hand measures three meters long

The carved hand measures three meters long. (Author provided)

The next discoveries were towers and a wall, and, then, astonishingly, several Buddhist-type pyramids. About 12 miles (20 km) away, a set of buildings was discovered, including a three-tiered pagoda and an intact stone church, a basilica – a structure that is not in the history of Newfoundland and Labrador, and not in the history of the local Roman Catholic archdiocese.

The next astounding discovery was a set of massive bluff-carvings, the first found being a Chinese mythical dog, about 161 sq. ft. (15 sq. m.). The image is almost identical to that of a Chinese postage stamp for 2008 “The Year of the Dog.”

Above the dog carving, and about the same size, was the Monkey King, again from Chinese mythology. About a hundred carvings were found in all, ranging in size from 32 – 1640 ft. (10 – 500 meters) in length, the latter being a bird, 500 meters from beak to tail feathers, and about 656 ft. (200 meters) wingtip to wingtip.

The next mysterious phenomenon discovered was a boat, about 114 ft. (35 meters) long, that seems to have been under construction. Then, ten or so similar boats were discovered, all under construction, all in the forest well away from the coast.

A number of what were determined to be row boats, maybe water taxis, were located, still intact, preserved by the chemicals in the peat ponds where they have now lain for maybe as much as 400 years. Thus, it is possible to determine the design of these boats of so long ago. Why the boats were built in the location described is a mystery unto itself and has resulted in speculation that is tangential to this narrative.

Although some experts have written about the massive Chinese ships the fact is that the only existing more-or-less intact Chinese ships from the medieval Chinese period – and, indeed, any medieval period – and, thus, the only accurate information about these ships, there being next to nothing in China, are being preserved by the frigid ocean waters of north east Newfoundland Island. The next oldest existing ship from that period, worldwide, is the British warship, Mary Rose (Circa 1540), about 50% of which was recovered from her watery grave.

Compiling the Evidence in Newfoundland

Although Zheng He was erased from Chinese history shortly after 1433, he has been recently resurrected by China for, as some see it, a contemporary form of Chinese hegemony.

The accepted narrative, in China and south east Asia, of the demise of Zheng He and his enormous seventh fleet is that all succumbed to a typhoon somewhere near Sri Lanka or Malaysia. Virtually every country in south east Asia is seeking evidence that Zheng He and the remains of his seventh fleet is somewhere in their backyard. The Chinese government, believing their own myth, has recently spent hundreds of millions of dollars, with the help of the latest Chinese military technology, in the belief that they were destined to find the remains of their fleet. They have found nothing.

The research group on Newfoundland Island continues to make discovery after discovery that they associate with the Chinese-Norse civilization that began around 1420: fish weirs, harbor complexes, fish processing facilities, buildings (one with a discernible chimney), industrial structures (e.g., huge furnaces).

Moreover, now that considerable evidence and information has been compiled, it is possible to state that, on the balance of probabilities, the only people on the island as of 1450 were the Norse, the Chinese, and their progeny, who called themselves “BeiHanKe” but which was misunderstood as “Beothuk.”

A fanciful depiction of John Guy's 1612 encounter with the Beothuk in Trinity Bay. From Theodor de Bry, ‘America (Historia Americæ sive Novi Orbis),’ pt. XIII, German, edited by Matthaeus Merian. (Frankfurt: Caspar Rðtel, 1628, 1634)

A fanciful depiction of John Guy’s 1612 encounter with the Beothuk in Trinity Bay. From Theodor de Bry, America (Historia Americæ sive Novi Orbis) ,’ pt. XIII, German, edited by Matthaeus Merian. (Frankfurt: Caspar Rðtel, 1628, 1634) ( Canadian Institute for Historical Microreproductions )

The final conclusion is that the research group in that remote area has found the remains of a collapsed Chinese-Norse civilization of which the contemporary Beothuk are the remnants. Otherwise, they have stumbled on the remains of a collapsed civilization about which nothing else is known.

Top Image: A Beothuk woman named Demasduit ( Public Domain ). Background: An 1807 map of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, Canada. ( Public Domain )

By Ronald Lloyd Ryan , PhD

Due to the high number of references they are only available on request.

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