A map unveiled in Beijing and London may lend weight to a theory
a Chinese admiral discovered America before Christopher Columbus.
The map, which shows North and South America, apparently states
that it is a 1763 copy of another map made in 1418.
If true, it could imply Chinese mariners discovered and mapped
America decades before Columbus' 1492 arrival.
The map, which is being dated to check it was made in 1763,
faces a lot of scepticism from experts.
Chinese characters written beside the map say it was drawn by Mo
Yi Tong and copied from a map made in the sixteenth year of the
Emperor Yongle, or 1418.
It clearly shows Africa and Australia. The British Isles,
however, are not marked.
The map was bought for about $500 (£250 or €360) from a Shanghai
dealer in 2001 by a Chinese lawyer and collector, Liu Gang.
According to the Economist magazine, Mr Liu only became aware of
the map's potential significance after he read a book by British
author Gavin Menzies.
The book, '1421: The Year China discovered the World,' made the
controversial claim that a Chinese admiral and eunuch, Zheng He,
sailed around the world and discovered America on the way.
Zheng He, a Muslim mariner and explorer, is widely thought to
have sailed around South East Asia and India, but the claim he
visited America is hotly disputed.
The map is now being tested to check the age of its paper and
ink, with the results due to be known in February.
Even if it does prove to have been drawn in 1763, sceptics will
point out that we still only have the mapmaker's word that he copied
if from a 1418 map, rather than from a more recent one.