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Phoenicians Before Columbus Expedition – Why Tenerife?

Some of you who have been following us may be wondering why we visited Tenerife rather than cross the Atlantic direct from Essaouira on the Moroccan/African coast. The answer isn’t totally straight forward but is worth explaining. Tenerife is arguably the most prominent south westerly point of the European/African continent that the Phoenicians had contact with and cultural influence over and therefore the most relevant point for both them and ourselves to voyage to the Americas.


What is the evidence for Phoenician contact with the Canary islands? First, it should be noted, that on a clear day Mt. Tiede on Tenerife can be seen from the Moroccan coast. And the islands were clearly known in ancient times. According to Pliny the Elder, writing in 1st century AD, it is probable that the Carthaginian captain Hanno, in his voyage along the West African coast, visited the islands. It is also widely accepted that the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Greeks, and Romans traded with the islands over the centuries. The Canary Islands, a source of the murex sea snail which was used by the Phoenicians to make the treasured purple dye, became known as the “Purple Isles” after the Phoenicians made contact with the islands. The islands have featured in many ancient texts: Plato made them the site of Atlantis, the sunken island civilization; Pliny the Elder was the first to call them The Fortunate Islands; and Marinus of Tyre gave them a prominent place in his calculations and understanding of longitude.


When we speak of Punic influence, we are really talking about Phoenicians inter-marrying with local Berbers in North Africa, so it is highly probable that the Phoenicians/Carthaginians brought the Guanches to the Canary Islands. Furthermore, linguistically, and some would argue in terms of religious beliefs, the Guanches have a lot in common with the Punics. When we speak of Punic influence, we are really talking about Phoenicians inter-marrying with local Berbers in North Africa, so it is highly probable that the Phoenicians/Carthaginians brought the Guanches to the Canary Islands. Furthermore, linguistically, and some would argue in terms of religious beliefs, the Guanches have a lot in common with the Punics.


With regard to material culture, Phoenician pottery has been found in the Canary Islands and a Phoenician site (dated to 3rd-10th century BC) has been found in Lanzarote according to Pablo Atoche, Professor of Archaeology at the University of Las Palmas (Gran Canaria). All of this points to Phoenician cultural influence in the Canary Islands and as the wind blows to the south and south west for some 80% of the year, it seems highly likely that some of the Phoenician visitors to the Canary Islands ended up in the Americas, just as we ourselves are about to discover.


Teide, Tenerife

Photo credit: Hans Braxmeier, pixabay.com

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