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They Came Before Columbus: The African Presence in Ancient America
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They Came Before Columbus: The African Presence in Ancient America

4.43 of 5 stars 4.43  ·  rating details  ·  1,212 ratings  ·  53 reviews
They Came Before Columbus reveals a compelling, dramatic, and superbly detailed documentation of the presence and legacy of Africans in ancient America. Examining navigation and shipbuilding; cultural analogies between Native Americans and Africans; the transportation of plants, animals, and textiles between the continents; and the diaries, journals, and oral accounts of t ...more
Paperback, 336 pages
Published September 23rd 2003 by Random House Trade Paperbacks (first published 1976)
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Joakim Wendell
Stylistically compelling, this book can be an enchanting read, though its thesis is deeply flawed. Behind the dramatizations, Van Sertima asserts two different points: 1) that Africans travelled by sea from Egypt to America about 3000 years ago, thus sparking the first American civilization, the Olmec; and 2) that Afrikans from the Empire of Mali had extensive trading relations with the American peoples of the Caribbean from the time of Mansa Abubakari, in the early 14th century. Of these, the l ...more
Aug 21, 2012 Kia rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: message
I remember my 7th grade history teacher use to talk about Christopher Columbus, and this particular day in class I asked him “ How could he have discovered something when people were watching him from the shore.” Ivan Van Sertima is a Guyanese historian, linguist and anthropologist whose impeccable research clearly demonstrates that great African mariners visited the Americas and had major influences. Any reader who has given this work a negative review, is due to the fact they do not know histo ...more
Raven Moore
Oh my goodness! Forgive me for taking forever to read this book! It was my fault alone! This book was incredible and to sum it up in a nutshell from Sertima's own words, "The African presence in America before Columbus is of importance not only to African and American history but to the history of world civilizations. It provides further evidence that all great civilizations and races are heavily indebted to one another and that no race has a monopoly on enterprise and inventive genius." The var ...more
I read this book nearly 18 years ago in college and never doubted it bc i always believe there were an african present here before columbus. I also would recommend people read diaries from columbus and other early settlers. U can really learn history far from what the textbooks teach one in school. Im grateful to my history teacher who taught me how to find these first person resources bc i have learned alot about why blacks were enslaved and who idea it was to enslave my ancestors
Khemauset Ankh
This is another informative book that tells more truth about the Ancient Africans. These Africans travelled to the Americas, namely central America and Mexico. They didn't have steam ships; they had man power and Atlantic trade winds. Africans were doing it before the white man came and told the world that we didn't do anything. DON'T BELIEVE THE HYPE!
Very interesting alternative interpretation of well known data about pre-columbian america. After doing some more research inspired by reading this book I've learned that the Moors did indeed have very advanced navigational technology way ahead of the Europeans. So it would not be surprising in the least if they were here before Europeans.
Jun 24, 2009 John rated it 2 of 5 stars
Shelves: mymap
Read this at a suggestion of a co-worker. Though I do not believe the man definitively makes his case concerning a longstanding trade relationship between Africa and the Americas - his theory concerning the Mayan pyramids being built by the Nubian Era Egypt is particularly glaring since he never acknowledges or explain how, for some mysterious reason, they had forgotten to transfer the invention of the wheel. The sad irony is that by charging Western historians of base racism for discounting any ...more
Jansen Estrup
Outstanding - well documented tracings of voyages, immigrations and trading secrets which go far toward solving mysteries in the Old and New World - of cultural similarities which had heretofore seemed impossible to reconcile with Euro-centric versions of history. Centuries before Columbus or even Eric the Red, commerce and exploration between Africa and the Americas blossomed, and an entire African kingdom seems to have immigrated to South America. It was exciting to read Van Sertma's discussio ...more
They Came Before Columbus was and remains a seminal book to understand the magnificence of the black diaspora pre-colonization. Dr. Van Sertima was the historian that most influenced me when I was a young women in my twenties. He was brilliant and kind, while I remember being struck about how precise he was about his facts and resources. This would make an important impression on me and influence my understanding of research.

Donald Allen
"how you like us now?"
Sam Orndorff
Obviously this is a controversial book, but it's a good book. It begins with some really engrossing explorations that challenged my understandings, and who doesn't like that? Overall I'm not sure the narrative is succinct enough to convince the average bugaboo. I find some of his postulates highly effective, and I do believe Africans were on this continent long before Columbus. I don't know enough about archaeology to say for sure how valid his arguments are in that regard, but they certainly ho ...more
Tlacaelel Quetzalcoatl
As the only representative of the people VanSertima is trying to steal from. I find it incredibly disrespectful that we're not even taken into consideration as if the "Nubians" were the only reason we develop a high and complex civilization like our mother culture the Olmecs. Everyone is so busy trying to defend Van Sertimas seafaring possibilities that it has blinded your logic on the obvious. WHY did the nubians fleet travel all the way to "Mexico"? Why didn't they trade with Africans, and "gi ...more
This book makes you want to read something with actual hard evidence. The theories he presents are completely plausible and in some cases backed by actual evidence but the majority of the book is based on the idea "why not". Don't get me wrong, his history is accurate but the direction he goes just doesn't have enough hard evidence for his ideas to become mainstream, it's almost as if Sertima started a journey he knew he wouldn't be able to finish with the evidence and research at his disposal. ...more
I thought this would be an interesting read, but it was terrible.. It almost ended up om my 'abandoned' shelf but I just needed to finish it to be certain ;)
Sure, i believe people could have made it from Africa to America in the ages before Columbus or even the Vikings, but Van Sertima just isn't convincing. I've read far more plausible evidence against his case. The dramatization doesn't help either.
Jan 15, 2009 Kembahli marked it as to-read
I actually just picked this book up at the Afrikan bookstore out here. There is a slight reference to textile trading that caught my attention. Apparently, Afrikan textiles were treated as the finest fabrics by europeans and were only worn by europeans who were wealthy and/or royalty.... still doing research on it. Anyone have any book suggestions on Afrikan Fabrics? k.
T.F. Hodge
I wasted no time procuring this excellent read by literary scholar, Ivan Van Sertima. I was fortunate to witness one of his talks as a student while attending Cal-State University, Long Beach. The research is outstanding, rooted in truth and well documented!
May 11, 2007 Rebecca rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Everyone
This book provides the underpinnings for my novel "The Nubian Codex" (See under "writing" and "thrillers.")It is an awesome, necessary piece of scholarship of which most Americans are totally oblivious.
Charles Williams
Read the book 1.5 times. This text should be required reading for all high school students.
James Hall
Powerful and detained argument for African presence in Mesoamerica centuries ahead of Columbus.
Should be required reading in Junior High maybe even elementary schools in the U.S.
Yves Johnson
Feb 20, 2014 Yves Johnson rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Everyone
Shelves: must-read
The best book I've read on African American history. I enjoyed Mr. Sertima's even handed approach. He stayed away from simply proving his point and that African American's need to be more respected for their contribution to society. Rather, he provided information for the reader to decide. He blew holes to some long-standing beliefs. Mr. Sertima use of documented evidence speaks for itself. It was well written and countered point-by-point many "evidence" people believe. I especially liked that h ...more
Dr. Barrett  Dylan Brown, Phd
Sep 15, 2013 Dr. Barrett Dylan Brown, Phd rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Historians, High Schoolers, Anthropologist, African StuddiesvMajors
Shelves: historical
On page 115, of the 2003 Random House copy of this book, there is an apparent TYPO, first Paragraph, eighth line down, "Nacron (a "preservative Egyptians used for Mummification)" should actually be "Natron."

Besides that, and a few other typos, I found this book epically worth studying. Besides making a brief mention of Eric Von-Danniken, one of my favorite Anthropologists ever, Ivan carelessly states that Von-Danniken "made up" his "spaceman theory," a horrible misnomer as the actual Acheologica
Daniel Lee
I feel like I would have rated this book higher if I had read it earlier in life when I was inundated with material that perpetuated social darwinistic myths about the inadequacies of non-european cultures. Since then however I had read better researched and better written material which supports the (now seemingly obvious) notion that civilizations of all cultural and ethnic stripes and in many geographic locations made very similar technological advances around the same period and those that u ...more
I think this book was very ground breaking, and Van Sertima's theory is very interesting, though a bit essentialist and for the critical eye, quite problematic. In the beginning of the book, I think he spends too much energy trying to make an argument that, at best, has several holes, and, at worse, is filled with speculation. He gets caught up in the argument of authenticity, which doesn't seem to achieve much...much like the chicken & the egg dilemma. I think he could have simply presented ...more
Gloria Creech
I would say I skimmed this book rather than read it and it was a long time ago. I am grateful I discovered it because it debunked what my teachers taught us in school that the Vikings alone were the earliest long distance seafarers who left their mark in the Americas.
James Brown
This book challenges conventional ideas of history. Ivan Van Sertima is a brilliant writer. His writing style is engaging and fluid. "They Came Before Columbus: The African Presence om Ancient America" is a must read for history enthusiasts.
I hate that I didn't read this book sooner. I realized we all have been lied to but you can't hide the truth forever.
very informative, great read!

Columbus was greedy & demanded from Spain 1/3, 1/8 & 1/10 of everything he found in the New World.

The whole notion of any race discovering a full-blown civilization is absurd. Such notions should now be abandoned once and for all. They presume some innate superiority in the "discovered" and something inferior and barbaric in the people "discovered."
Jaime Contreras
Ivan Van Sertima has written a seminal work of alternative anthropology and cultural history. Combining a colorful writing style and hard facts, Van sertima gives proof of the presence of African (ncluding Egyptian) presence in Latin America. I ejoyed reading this twento years ago and have since reread it again.
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Dr. Ivan Van Sertima was born in Guyana, South America. He was educated at the School of Oriental and African Studies (London University) and the Rutgers Graduate School and held degrees in African Studies and Anthropology. From 1957-1959 he served as a Press and Broadcasting Officer in the Guyana Information Services. During the decade of the 1960s he broadcast weekly from Britain to Africa and t ...more
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