The beginnings of the history of a land are usually murky, and mysterious, making it difficult for scholars to accurately chart the story of the place. When it comes to America, it is difficult to record a conclusive history, because, of the place being a home of different, and diverse cultures, and peoples. Hence, the discovery of America has always been very interesting and intriguing.
It is even more difficult to correctly state who were the first people who set foot on this, initially, rich, and flourishing land, brimmed with resources, and natural wealth. Usually, when the question of discovery of America arises, most people, promptly, and confidently mention the name of Christopher Columbus. However, there have been doubts regarding this claim of his discovery of America.
This is because, when Columbus had arrived in America, he had encountered the Natives already living there; clearly, they had been there before him. Moreover, there are other theories mentioning earlier “discoverers”, that suggest, otherwise. Let’s look into some of these theories, and names of people who have, apparently credited for discovery of America before Christopher Columbus.
“Leif Eriksson Day” celebrates Leif Eriksson, the Norse explorer who is believed to have lead the first European expedition to North America, and is a contentious figure when referring to the discovery of America. This would have occurred, at least, 500 years before the birth of Christopher Columbus. As the story goes, half a millennium before Columbus had landed on America, a crew of European sailors had left their homes behind in order to find the New World. It is said that this crew of Vikings might have been the first Europeans to have discovered the land of America. It was Leif Eriksson who had lead this crew, and voyage.
To Eriksson, voyaging, and navigation were parts of his family’s business. It is estimated that Eriksson might have been born in Iceland around 970 A.D., and had spent his childhood in Greenland. The Icelandic stories that narrated the explorations of Eriksson’s expeditions in the New World were known as the sagas. These legends date around 1000 A.D. There are two sagas that give contradicting narrations of Eriksson’s arrival in North America. Sometimes, it is felt here it was the starting of discovery of America
The “Saga of Erik the Red” states that Eriksson had accidentally passed the Atlantic after veering off the directions to Iceland, on his journey back from Norway, following his conversion to Christianity. The “Saga of the Greenlanders” narrates differently, stating that Eriksson had deliberately travelled to North America, and it was not an accident that he found the land. Apparently, he had listened to an Icelandic trader’s story of a land existing in the west.
This Icelandic trader, known as Bjarni Herjolfsson, had passed Greenland, and come across the land of North America without landing on it. Eriksson had purchased his ship, gathered a crew of 35 men, and had followed the trader’s path backwards. This troop was thought to be the first one to ever go for the discovery of America.
Archaeologists have found evidence to somewhat prove the sagas’ accounts of these expeditions to the land of America. In 1960, the Norwegian explorer Helge Ingstad searched the coasts of Labrador and Newfoundland for traces of any settlement. Incidentally, he had found them on the northernmost tip of Newfoundland at L’Anse aux Meadows. A team of archaeologists then proceeded to excavate articles of Viking origin dating around 1000 A.D., and the vestiges of a Norse village.
While Christopher Columbus is commemorated with a federal holiday, the man reputed to be the leader of the first European expedition to North America has not been completely overlooked. In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson declared October 9 to be Leif Eriksson Day honouring the Viking explorer, his crew, and the country’s Nordic-American culture. This is why we need to consider his contributions towards to discovery of America.
There have been stories of an Irish monk, known by the name of Saint Brendan, sailing to North America on a currach, in the 6th century. A currach is a boat with a wooden frame, covered by animal skin. This journey of Saint Brendan has been recorded, and is a part of the Irish annals, and geneologies. Saint Brendan, also known as “the Navigator”, and “the Voyager” was one the early Irish monastic saints, who had had many expeditions, and travels in Europe. However, there is little to no evidence of his having set foot on North America. He is also one of people regarded for the discovery of America.
There is a theory that states that a Chinese, Muslim mariner had discovered America, 71 years before Columbus. This mariner is known by the name of Zheng He, and he was from the Ming Dynasty. Zheng He is an explorer from the 15th century, who was known for making expeditions to India, the eastern coast of Africa, and Southeast Asia. He had commanded a massive naval fleet of wooden, sailing ships with ingenious, and intuitive navigational abilities.
This theory was insisted upon by Gavin Menzies leading a group of scholars; he was a retired British Naval officer. Menzies, in his book, 1421: The Year China Discovered America, insists that Zheng He had sailed to the eastern coast of the American lands, establishing settlements in the South of America.
He bases this theory on evidence from Chinese and European maps, accounts written by voyagers of the time, and old shipwrecks. However, there have been doubts surrounding his claims, and evidence. Due to which, today also we remember him for the discovery of America.
The Clovis People
It is believed that thousands of years ago, people had walked to the land of America, through the Beringia land bridge that had connected present-day Alaska to Siberia. They could do so because, at the time, the ocean-levels were much lower, and the land between continents was wide enough to facilitate crossing. These people might be the reason behind discovery of America.
The bridge area would have probably looked like an inhospitable, empty tundra. However, this did not deter people from making their settlements, and continuing their journeys. The land bridge area had probably supported the spread of plant and animal life between the continents. Species of animals, such as the woolly mammoth, mastodon, scimitar cat, Arctic camel, etc., had probably migrated from one continent to the other through the Bering land bridge.
Birds, fish, and marine mammals have created migration patterns that continue to exist, even today. Humans were one of the species that migrated, as well, in order to find food, water, and shelter. When they reached the lands of America, they spread themselves across the North, Central, and South America.
Until the 1970s, these humans were known as the Clovis peoples. This name was derived from an ancient settlement uncovered near Clovis, New Mexico, that dates back to over 11,000 years. The genetic analysis of the DNA found from the site shows that the inhabitants are the direct ancestors of nearly 80 percent of all indigenous people in the Americas.
Recent studies show that, before the Clovis people, there were other people who are yet to be identified. Their traces exist in places, such as, Texas, and Virginia, and also in the South, in places like Peru, and Chile. They are, for the time being, known as the Pre-Clovis people. This group has always been credited for being the discovery of America.
The Polynesians are believed to be a people who had found their way to America even before Columbus. This is because of the presence of sweet potatoes on the land. The earliest traces of carbonized sweet potato seems to date back to 1,000 A.D., which is 500 years before Columbus’ “pioneering” expedition to America. However, this evidence was not enough to prove the theory.
Eventually, the samples collected by French scientists from a herbarium gathered by early European explorers offers more concrete evidences to this theory. By genetically analysing the samples, the scientists could prove that the Polynesians had taken, and spread the sweet potatoes from America, across Southeast Asia and the Pacific, where they are a widely found, and grown vegetable.
There are also theories that link Brazilian DNA to the DNA of Polynesians, however, owing to recent findings, and studies, these claims have become dubious. In any case, it seems probable that the Polynesians had reached America, and had established a trade route, which had facilitated the spreading of the sweet potatoes. If this is true, this had definitely happened before Columbus’ “discovery”, however, it is not certain if this had happened before the Vikings.
Wherever one goes, there is always someone there, and the land of America is no different. Both the Vikings, and Christopher Columbus upon “discovering” America, had also discovered people already living there for generations. This makes the question of the discovery of America almost null and void. It is estimated that America was first discovered by humans 15,000 years ago. The exact date of this discovery is difficult to assess, and has been heavily debatable.
However, ongoing studies posit that the earliest migrations probably happened between 25,000 and 15,000 years ago. Ultimately, it could be asserted that the true discoverers of America, where the people who have been living there for generations, and centuries before Christopher Columbus’ voyage: the Native Americans. We still need to figure out how the people went for the discovery of America.
In conclusion, it is fairly uncertain to accurately determine the founder of any piece of land. This is due to the myriad of possibilities, and factors associated with the topography, geography, and history of a place. Frequent, and intermittent migratory patterns of many peoples over the centuries have left many vague traces of their existences on the land. Since, most of these traces are vague, and mostly indecipherable, it is difficult to use these as concrete evidences, and make any conclusions based off of them. However, this is all we can figure out by discovery of America.
Moreover, these traces could be contradictory, and transient in their implications, making it further difficult to make any conclusive judgements. In any case, what is certain when one thinks of the discovery of America that Christopher Columbus was definitely not the first “discoverer” of America, there have been people who have “discovered” America before him.