The Discovery of America

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In history
classes all around the world we learn how Christopher Columbus gained
the blessing of Spanish monarchs King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella,
and eventually went on a quest to find a way to India over the ocean
westward. In 1492 he set out with three ships, the Santa Maria,
Niña and Pinta, and sighted what he believed to be the Indian
coast in early October.


Vinland map, uncovered in the 1960's is claimed to prove the
Vikings were in America 1000 years ago.


We all know
that story, and future generations will probably also learn that
story in school even though it seems he was not the first guy to
set his foot on American soil. People will continue to be amazed
by this guy's courage, and Hollywood will continue to make films
about the fantastic journey across the Atlantic.

Some things
simply seem to stick in people's minds and stay "true"
for generations no matter what other facts are available or if new
facts are discovered. Just like people believe the computer was
invented in the 1950's, while it was in many important ways a copy
of Charles Babbage's Analytical
from the 1830's. Some things stick, other things don't.

A new map,
in Shanghai, PRC, suggests the Chinese could have
discovered and mapped the Americas decades or perhaps centuries
before Columbus is news in 2006. It is exciting to think of the
Chinese having crossed the Pacific or rounded Cape Horn to investigate
and map out the Americas a century before Columbus or even before
that. And it is fascinating that such achievements were not discovered
until now.

However interesting,
neither Columbus nor the Chinese were the first ones to discover
the Americas. It is a well-known and documented fact that North
America was discovered by the Vikings already in the 9th
century. The Vikings were great sailors and their vessels, the "long
boats," were superb for exploration and trade. Setting out
from Scandinavia they investigated both rivers and oceans, frequently
trading with people in the Mediterranean and Middle East as well
as with Russians, the French and the Irish.

the east, the Vikings went as far as Iran and Kazakhstan. To the
west, Iceland was discovered in the year 860 and Erik “the Red"
discovered Greenland in 982. Mainland North America was discovered
by mistake by the not so impressed merchant-ship owner Bjarni Herjolfsson
in 986, who immediately went back north to trade according to plan
with the people in Greenland. He probably never even bothered to
get ashore.

Erik the Red's
son Leif Eriksson ten years later led an expedition to discover
trading opportunities in North America and probably went as far
south as Nova Scotia. After returning to the Viking settlements
on Greenland a great many ships crews set out to further explore
Leif's findings.

the theories of Norwegian marine biologist Thor Heyerdahl, the Vikings
may very well not be the first to discover the American continent.
According to Heyerdahl, there is reason to believe the Ancient Egyptians
could have communicated with the Americas already some four thousand
years ago. (To verify his theory could be true, he set sail from
Morocco on a small papyrus boat to sail across the Atlantic ocean
in 1970. He actually made it all the way to Barbados – 4000
miles in only 57 days.)

So from a European
perspective, the Americas should have been a well-known fact for
a thousand years, if not more. Even though being at least five centuries
too late, I am sure our grandchildren will also learn about the
great explorer Columbus setting out for that great journey to discover
America. Some great stories are worth telling, even though they
may be just that: great stories.

18, 2006

Per Bylund [send him mail]
works as a business consultant in Sweden, in preparation for PhD
studies. He is the founder of
Visit his website.

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