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Prof says California's Chinese anchors not ancient

By
FREDERICK M. WINSHIP, UPI Senior Editor

NEW YORK -- Anchor stones found off the coast of California were not dropped there by ships carrying explorers from China years before Columbus discovered America but were lost by Chinese fishermen living in California less than 100 years ago, according to a California historian.

Dr. Frank J. Frost said in an article in the current issue of Archaeology magazine that pierced stones found in 12 to 25 feet of water off Palos Verdes peninsula south of Los Angeles in 1975 'are almost certainly Monterey shale, one of the most common coastal formations in southern California.'

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Frost who is professor of the history of seafaring at the University of California, Santa Barbara, said origin of the stone anchors was ascertained by tests conducted by the university's geology department in 1980. The finding was contrary to a claim made by James R. Moriarity III, an anthropologist at the University of San Diego, and a colleague, Larry J. Pierson, in an article published in the Anthropological Journal of Canada two years ago.

In the article, entitled 'Stone Anchors: Asiatic Shipwrecks off the California Coast,' Moriarity and Pearson said geological studies showed the stones were not of California origin and cited this as evidence that 'Asiatic vessels reached the New World in pre-Columbian times.' They noted previous finds such as carbon steel blades on the Washington coast and Japanese-style pottery in Ecuador.

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William Clewlow, formerly with the University of California, Los Angeles, Institute of Archaeology, supported Moriarity and Pearson's conclusion, adding that many archaeologists believe in long and continuous contact between Asia and America. Clewlow said he believed the stones to be 500 to 1,000 years old 'on the basis of style.'

'What style?' asked Frost in a telephone interview with UPI. 'Only a limited amount of style is required to bore a rough hole in a rock so it can hold a rope. Clewlow's statement about what many archaeologists believe is a gross distortion of current opinion in the ranks of what always has been a cautious profession.

'Presumably people already in California shaped these stones and drilled holes in them. The large number of objects, between 20 and 30, have been located off Palos Verdes and their wide distribution over more than an acre of ocean bottom would seem to rule out any pattern left by a shipwreck.

'Instead, the impression is left of an area where boats frequently anchored and occasionally lost their anchors -- in short, a favored fishing area.'

To find out who manned these boats, historians and scientists need look 'no further in the past than the last century,' according to Frost. The stream of Cninese workers who came to California for employment in mines and later on the railroads in the mid-1800s were mostly from the Pearl River delta and had experience in fishing, an industry ignored by Californians of the day.

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'These Chinese built junks and sampans out of redwood logs and turned to fishing north and south along the coast from San Francisco,' Frost said. 'It is hard to resist the working hypothesis that the Palos Verdes stones represent evidence of California fishermen who made frequent visits to a reef rich in marine life. There is no other human agency in the history of the California coast that had both the need for implements made of local stone and the means to get them to where they are found today.'

A Chinese marine historian has confirmed that the stone anchors are of a type used in China for thousands of years and anthropologist Eve Armentout Ma of the University of California, Davis, researched the development of California's fishing industry by the Chinese and interviewed a number of elderly who remember the use of stone anchors even in the early decades of this century, according to Frost.

'If the Chinese anchor mystery is to be solved, it will be by the rigor of scientific method rather than the distraction of fabulous speculation,' Frost said. 'I've also received reports that more stones have been found a little south of San Francisco, off Monterey and near the channel islands off Santa Barbara.

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In addition to the anchors, other stone artifacts have been located by divers and University of California students in the Palos Verdes waters. Frost believes these may have been net anchors or stones used to manipulate nets and permanent mooring stones. He said the actual purpose of many of the stones is the biggest mystery remaining to be solved.

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