The Snake gets out his spade

Did a 15th century Chinese sailor really map the world? What will archeologists make of the Volvo Ocean Race in 700 years time?
Two weeks ago, at a press conference in Beijing, a previously unknown map of the world, dated 1763, was revealed publicly for the first time. The map - it is claimed - is a direct copy of an earlier document from 1418 and supports the notion of Chinese sailors discovering America 72 years before Columbus and circumnavigating the globe over a century earlier than Magellan’s expedition. Response to this extraordinary claim has been divided: serious historians have dismissed both the map and the ‘evidence’ of Chinese exploration as poorly researched and unconvincing pseudo-science. Likewise, the international press have been thoroughly underwhelmed by the ‘smoke and mirrors’ surrounding this map. However, members of the public who habitually believe the Ark of the Covenant lies beneath the White House lawn or that Elvis and Big Foot frequently sip skinny latte at their local Starbucks, will continue to suspend disbelief for the sake of a titillating yarn and gorge themselves on this risible hoax. Two characters occupy a central place in this fantasy: the talented Chinese admiral, Zheng He (1371-1433), and a retired Royal Navy submarine commander, Gavin Menzies (1937-). Zheng He’s existance is not in doubt: nor are his 15th century voyages with a fleet of massive junks sailing from China, across the Indian Ocean to the east coast of Africa, the Persian Gulf and the South Asia Seas collecting treasures and curiosities for his sponsor, the Ming Emperor, Zhu Di. These adventures are perhaps doubly remarkable for a man who underwent castration before entering imperial service. Sadly, though, the brave admiral’s reputation became severely compromised in 2004 with the publication of 1421:The Year China Discovered America by Gavin Menzies’. The book bestows the eunuch admiral with the original - relatively accurate - mapping of the entire globe, the discovery of North and South