Monday, March 20, 2017

Monsoons and Wind and Ocean Currents – Part II

Continuing with a reader’s submission about our being wrong regarding the winds and currents in the Indian Ocean and not being able to sail from Arabia to Indonesia, specifically the Malay Peninsula, in 600 B.C. Having shown some of the errors in the article submitted in the previous post, we continue here with that article and its sometimes questionable content in regard to the winds and currents in the Indian Ocean. 
    Before continuing, we should note for our readers that winds and currents of the world’s oceans are based on over 35 million surface observations covering the world ocean from 1870-1976 and have been processed for the purpose of calculating monthly normals and standard errors of the eastward and northward components of the wind stress and work done by the winds in the lower 33-feet of the atmosphere. The fields are intended to serve as boundary conditions for models of the ocean circulation, and reliable maps show such results.
Ports along the east coast of India, where much of the early trading and sailing took place. Note the closeness of these ports and trading centers, requiring limited sailing time and certainly coastal sailing, not crossing into deep water away from land

In the referenced submitted article, “Monsoon wind and maritime trade: a case study of historical evidence” (Current Science, Vol 90, No 6, March 2006, p864), the authors discuss ports along the east India coast. In reality, according to their map (see large map like this one in the previous post), there were 19 of these ports, 8 of which were trading centers, were mostly close together with the one big stretch in the south between Mahabalispuram and Masulipatnam, a distance of about 240 miles, then north to Pistapur, about 115 miles, and then to Bimlipatnam about 110 miles, all the rest are from just a handful of miles to about 50 miles. It is important to understand that these jaunts would have been along the coast and not involved in winds and currents out to sea, but upon coastal waters and their winds—a very different type of sailing, requiring a simple, thin hulled and often flat bottomed boat.
    In fact, the ancient Arab coastal dhow was strongly built for coastal waters, with thick wood slats for continual rubbing on rocky shores as they came in each night, and the numerous rocky reefs that abound on these costs, but would not have stood up to the currents pounding the little vessels out to sea. Despite the fact that modern historians love to draw straight lines across narrow channels as ancient routes, these routes hugged the coast for three very important reasons: 1) the waters were less active there and the currents well understood, 2) it was easy to come ashore each night, and 3) it was close to safety in case of storms or even pirate attacks. The fact that these vessels rarely sailed out of sight of land has been accredited by misleading historians writing about fears and not know where they were, etc., is more fantasy than factual, but for the obvious reasons stated above, sailing close to land was a necessity; therefore, the idea of drawing lines from India directly across the Bay of Bengal to Sumatra is of little fact and often downright ignorance of early sailing techniques and shipping construction. To the modern sailor, of course, being close to land is far more dangerous than being out to sea, because of various perils such sailing entails, but then modern sailors have diesel power and strongly-constructed ocean vessels and sailing far from land is not only safer, but simpler. The mistake they make is in believing the ancient mariner, prior to the Age of Sail, with ocean-going vessels and technology of sailing capabilities, believed the same way. It is not that the ancients were not brave enough to sail where they wanted to go, it was that they were not stupid enough to endanger themselves, their cargo, and their crew.
 It is easy enough to draw lines that seem to make sense on a map to show ancient sailing and trading routes, like the red arrow lines that mimic the authors lines on their map, but these ancient mariners would not have taken their small, flimsy 500 B.C. vessels across the deep water where the pounding would have reduced them to kindling

    That these ancient seamen were constantly at sea and had established routes they followed is well known and established, but they sailed close to land, setting in at night, and on long voyages around unknown or unpopulated lands, often set in and planted crops and harvested them before continuing on with their journey, as was pointed out in the circumnavigation of Africa by Phoenician sailors in Egyptian ships in 600 B.C.
    In fact, though not mentioned in the submitted article, coastal sailing has been known in the region of Oman since the 10th millennium B.C. according to Omani history, and “Omani sailors had a reputation for bravery in facing the mountainous seas and other terrors of ocean-going travel in teh archipelagos and had an unrivalled knowledge of seasonal weather patterns, as well as of astronomy and the art of navigation. They are thought to have pioneered the use of mast and sail. The great Arab traveler Al-Mas’udi (an Arab historian and geographer 893-956 A.D.) known as the ‘Herodotus of the Arabs’ who made long voyages with Omani merchants, reported that on the 8,000 miles of ocean between Abyssinia and India and China, “most of the mariners are from Oman.” He was well known for sailing as far south along Africa to Zanzibar and possibly to Madagascar. Note that this is in the 10th century A.D., 1600 years after Lehi sailed, he is considered a brave man for sailing to Madagascar in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Africa!
    Returning to the submitted article, one of the odd statements within it is: “Harappans were the first mariners from India who had maritime trade relations with countries outside India. They sailed up to the coast of Bahrain, Meluhha, Oman Peninsula and Mesopotamia using monsoon winds and currents, but no evidence is available in this regard” (emphasis added). Again, this is misleading. Meluhha was the Sumerian name of a trading partner along with Magan (an unknown area believed to be in Oman) and Dilmun (an ancient area believed to be located in the Persian Gulf), but no one is certain where Meluhha was located; however, scholarly consensus places encompassing Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and the coastal regions of the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia (M.A. Nayeem, “Prehistory and Protohistory of the Arabian Peninsula: Bahrain,” Hyderabad Publishers, Arabia, 1990).
The Indus Valley is on the west coast of India and the south coast of Pakistan, a world away from the Bay of Bengal’s winds and currents in an area completely different, where half the trip for the Harappans would have been within the calm waters of the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf. This is an endeavor not even worth mentioning when it comes to braving winds and currents in ancient vessels

    In an interesting but highly misleading switch that one would never know unless they looked it up, sailing from Harrapa in Pakistan of the Indus Valley to Bahrain sounds like they would have had to circumvent the entire India subcontinent unless one has a good knowledge of the area, the trip would have been of no consequent, hugging the cost from Pakistan to the Persian Gulf and into it to Bahrain.
    In addition, how can one write about an event that has no evidence to support it? Is this conjecture, opinion, belief or someone else’s ideas restated here? To justify it, the authors go on to write: “The use of monsoon winds and currents for maritime trade by mariners is less known to all of us. Probably the knowledge of use of monsoon wind and current for maritime trade was only confined to sailors and mariners” (emphasis added). How can such qualifying and hesitant statements be part of a scholarly article in a scientific journal?
    Another comment, regarding the trading being described along the east coast of India, “All these archaeological findings are datable to 2500 to 2000 BP, if not earlier” (emphasis added), yet no reference is given to any dated findings. So how do we know this? Was anything carbon-dated? Is it just an estimate? An opinion? Another non-referenced statement is: “This system continued over a long period, which was possible because of existence of maritime trade” yet again no reference is given to substantiate this declaration 
White Arrows: Monsoon winds blowing from the northeast to the southwest, do not favor ships sailing (Yellow Arrows) to other countries, but send them out to sea in the deep ocean where, as Lehi experienced, are storms that threaten the very survivability of a ship--and no coastal vessel would have survived such a storm. Note the winds do not favor a landing on the West coast of the Malay Peninsula
Another unreferenced statement: “Sailors might have sailed to overseas countries during different seasons and monsoon winds might have favored them in their voyages” (emphasis added) —remember, this is in Current Science journal as though it is a proven fact since no references are submitted for a lot of these questionable statements.
    It is also interesting that the authors state: “The social and religious festivals as well as wind and current data corroborate that the mariners of Orissa probably commenced their journey between November and February and returned between June and September.” Now how can you "probably corroborate," when corroborate means “to confirm, verify, authenticate, validate, certify.” Do you probably certify something, or probably confirm it?
    Continuing with the statement: “None of the foreign authors or travelers has mentioned the association of social festivities of India and elsewhere in relation to monsoon and maritime trade” (emphasis added), thus appearing as though this is a known fact and how odd that no one wrote about it. And if they didn’t write about it, how can it be known to have happened?
    The point is, this article is full of speculation and opinions, not necessarily of these authors, but of the information in general as it is seen in that particular area. When there is no written support of historical beliefs, then they are just that, simply beliefs that are unfounded. And in many cases, simply myths that have been handed down.
(See the next post, “Monsoons and Wind and Ocean Currents – Part III,”  regarding more of our answer to a reader’s submission about our being wrong regarding the winds and currents in the Indian Ocean and not being able to sail from Arabia to Indonesia, specifically the Malay Peninsula, in 600 B.C. In his comment, he included an extensive article appearing in the India Current Science journal showing winds and currents)

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