A history of the Landfall Controversy


A good survey of the landfall controversy before 1983 can be found in John Parker's paper, "The Columbus Landfall Problem: A Historical Perspective", Terrae Incognitae 15, 1-28. Parker's paper has also been reprinted in In the Wake of Columbus: Islands and Controversy (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1985). -- see the bibliography.

These publications inspired the creation of an informal group of scholars and enthusiasts who exchanged letters and essays on the subject of the landfall for the next twelve years. Much of the contents of these pages are the results of the efforts of these people. Here are the names of some of them:

I rush to mention, however, that the conclusions presented here regarding the landfall, and the landfall scoring, are entirely my own. It is likely that everyone on this list disagrees with something (if not everything) you see on these pages. The Columbus Landfall Round-Robin may well have been one of the last of the pre-internet, pre-email discussion groups carried on entirely by paper correspondence.

In November 1995 I gave a lecture to the Society for the History of Discoveries (SHD) that showed convincingly that Columbus measured distances almost entirely in leagues rather than miles -- thus knocking out one of the strongest crutches underpinning the Watlings theory. (Since only one of the eight distances in the Bahamas mentioned by Columbus actually fits the Watlings theory as written, some theorists have maintained that many of the "league" distances were really "mile" distances that had become corrupted during unit translation. My analysis of Columbus's log showed that such unit translations could not have occurred.) Immediately thereafter, I shared this analysis with the Round-Robin. The Round-Robin collapsed within a few months after the publication of this analysis, with the near-simultaneous announcements by three leading advocates of Watlings Island (Kelley, Peck, and Sealey) that their interest in the landfall problem had waned.

Since that time, there have been occasional sparks of interest by one or another of the old Round-Robin group, but with a few exceptions they have amounted to little. Although in 1997, my study of the log of the first voyage uncovered some interesting new wrinkles, including a bit of celestial navigation fraud on the part of Columbus, and some missing leagues in the log of the first voyage.

In 2000 and 2002, my studies took me to Cuba, where I confirmed the landfall of Columbus at Bahía Bariay in Holguín province. Today much of that area is part of the Parque Nacional Cristobal Colón.

As of 2004, it seems that only Bill Dunwoody and myself continue to work on the issue regularly. Bill continues with some well-considered analyses of various aspects of the Watlings route. In 2004, he lectured SHD regarding some of the vexing problems regarding Island IV, and provided some insightful new thoughts on possible misinterpretations of the log that might resolve these issues.

At the same time, I completed my longstanding work on the transatlantic problem, using the lastest 21st century scientific research to bolster the Plana Cays theory. You can read my 2004 lecture to SHD here. (And it turned out that my 1997 analysis of the log was quite useful after all.)


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