Who discovered America? Of course, the most common answer to this question is Christopher Columbus. He was a famous European explorer who accidentally came across the continent searching for new trade routes to India. Even though Columbus never actually believed that he was mistaken and that the piece of land he had found was not, in fact, India, he is still the first person that often comes to mind.
However, little did Columbus know that some Europeans had stepped upon American soil centuries before him. The story of Leif Erikson - the Viking explorer who reached the shores of modern-day Canada about 500 years before Columbus set out on his journey, is known to fewer people.
With the recent discoveries of early Viking settlements in Newfoundland that date back to 1021 AD, let's take a look at the complete history of who discovered America, or, at least, to the history we know so far.
Christopher Columbus is the man whose name is associated with perhaps the most influential discovery in history. Columbus was born in 1451 in Genoa, Italy. In his youth, he gained more and more knowledge about marine travel, being part of merchant ships that sailed north to Ireland and south as far as the Portuguese colonies at modern-day Ghana.
Fascinated by his experiences, he became a sailing enthusiast, desiring one goal in mind - to find a new trade route to the distant rich lands of India.
One might ask: well, if Columbus wanted to find the route to India, why is he considered the one who discovered America? The answer to that question is simple - he was mistaken. Back in the 15th century, Columbus believed that everything west of Europe was an open sea. It eventually connected to the eastern shores of Asia - a location from where he could have easily found his way to his preferred destination of India.
So, after asking the Spanish royal family to fund his expedition, he started sailing westwards from Spain, eventually entering the Caribbean.
Columbus' expedition first landed in the Bahamas. However, the explorer himself believed that he had reached the far East Indies - the easternmost point in Asia. He wrongly named the natives he encountered Indians, which stuck for centuries.
After the Bahamas, Columbus continued his voyage and visited modern-day Cuba and Dominica, still believing that he had finally found the alternate route to India.
So, it was him who discovered America, right? Well, kind of. While he never actually stepped on mainland North America, he returned to Spain as a hero and visited the western hemisphere on a couple of more occasions. However, as the Spanish influence increased in the new world, so did the people's suspicions that they were not in India.
It was Italian merchant Amerigo Vespucci that would famously challenge Columbus. The name "America" actually derives from Amerigo, which people started using when they realized that Columbus' expeditions yielded different results.
Christopher Columbus was never convinced, however. He died believing that he had found the long-desired trade route to India. Despite his stubbornness, Columbus is known as the famous explorer who discovered America to this day.
Nowadays, when people think of Vikings, they think of these muscular, wrathful warriors from Scandinavia, who pillaged and raided every settlement they could and drank large amounts of ale. Well, this perception is partially correct.
Many people don't know that the Vikings were also formidable sailors. They used marine travel as their preferred way of transportation. It was logical because of the geography of the region where they resided.
Scandinavia is a peninsula surrounded by water and small islands, and Vikings adapted to it pretty well. The marvelous design of their long, slender ships allowed them for fast travel in the seas.
Thus, when it comes to who discovered America, Vikings may not be the first ones that come to mind. The fact that they were eager sailors and explorers should not be overlooked.
One significant evidence of the Vikings' early westward exploration is the Icelandic Sagas. Erik Thorvaldsson, also known as Erik the Red, was the first Viking to explore the shores of Greenland in the 10th century. There, he settled with about 2000 people, set up the trade of valuable materials like fur and walrus ivory, and established several farms and towns.
While it wasn't Erik the Red who discovered America, his early efforts showed that there were still a lot of unexplored lands in the west.
Vikings started sailing west of Greenland shortly after they organized settlements there. According to the sagas, Leif Erikson was motivated to explore the unknown shores of the west after a Viking merchant fleet had been blown off course and reached it first.
With a crew of 35 people, Erikson set out westward, stepping foot on what he called Vinland - the land of wine. Even though the ground he reached is not rich in wine, historians believe he mixed up some fermented berries and called it wine.
Leif Erikson actually arrived in modern-day Newfoundland, Canada, sometime around 1000 AD. He and his crew described the lands in their writings. They established a small settlement that lasted for about 30 years at today's L'Anse aux Meadows. They even encountered the indigenous population, although they didn't form a meaningful relationship with them.
According to these accounts, it was Erikson, leading an expedition, who discovered America way before Columbus.
In 1960, a group of scientists found Viking remains at L'Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland. After further excavations, more and more evidence was found supporting Viking tales of Eriksen's expeditions. According to historians, L'Anse aux Meadows was just a small camp, a base. From there, the Vikings proceeded to found new settlements on the continent.
Recently, with the help of the new radiocarbon methodology, scientists could determine the exact date of the settlement. It turns out it is precisely 1000 years old - going back to 1021 AD. This does not necessarily mean that Vikings were not present on the continent before then. It proves that Erikson and his expedition were the first ones who discovered America.
The legacy of Christopher Columbus is much more complex. Most people still regard him as the famous adventurer who discovered America. However, Columbus' discovery also caused Europeans' mass colonization of the new world. The native population was almost destroyed due to constant warfare and the lack of an immune system to unknown European diseases.
So, Who Discovered America?
While there are other accounts of some further explorations reaching the shores of North America, these theories lack any significant evidence.
From what we have established so far, the Vikings were the first explorers who stepped foot on American lands. The legends of Leif Erikson are true. Even though the Viking settlements in Newfoundland did not last for a long time, all the current evidence we hold clearly states that it was them who discovered America.