• 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.

     

     
    The
    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
    Engine
    from the 1830's. Some things stick, other things don't.

    A new map,
    recently
    discovered
    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.

    To
    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.

    Considering
    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.

    January
    18, 2006

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

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