As often happens on Columbus Day, a federal holiday in the United States celebrated annually on the second Monday of October in honor of Christopher Columbus, the question arises: Who discovered America? Since many textbooks and historical annals of the preceding five centuries give Christopher Columbus the credit for "discovery" of the new world, one might wonder why anyone would bother asking such a question. One would think it quite evident who discovered America. But one would be wrong, because Christopher Columbus did not discover America, no more than he proved that the world was not flat.
Sailing off at the behest of the King and Queen of Spain to find a shorter passage to India may have been a brave thing to do, but Christopher Columbus' voyages and "discoveries" are questioned today because the science of archeology and common sense have given us alternate events that predate Christopher Columbus and that tell us that he wasn't the first human or the first European to set foot on an American shore.
First, common sense tells us he wasn't the first human in the Americas due to the fact that there were already "Indians" in the Americas. In fact, Christopher Columbus, after figuring out he was not in India, decided that slavery, subjugation, and religious oppression was the answer to the question of his discovery.
But before all that, before the European hordes that would descend on the native populations of North and South America due to Christopher Columbus' discovery of a New World for them to colonize and exploit, others set foot on American shores. In fact, there exists cartographic evidence, according to cartographic expert Armando Cortesao, that Portuguese explorers visited the Americas and mapped the area in 1424, but other than the map itself, there is no information.
It also known that Norse explorer Leif Erikson set foot in the Americas long before 1492, according to Icelandic sagas, having pulled his Viking longboat into the shallows off modern Newfoundland, Canada. Archeologists found remains of a Viking-type settlement in 1963. It is believed to have been extant around 1000 A.D., roughly half a century before Christopher Columbus "discovered" America.
To be clear, there were native Americans on the continent then as well. So the "discovery" of America was still only a European discovery.
But there are many who believe such seafaring peoples of the past, such as the Phoenicians, who have nautical records that stretch back to 1600 B.C. could have and did travel to the New World. The aforementioned cartographer, Cortesao, believes that many of the islands on ancient maps, long thought to be mythological or imaginary, were actual places. Many of them, he asserts, correspond to real geographical locations, leading Cortesao and others to believe that Erikson and others were late to the game of discovering the Americas.
So who discovered America? Certainly not Christopher Columbus. But if one disqualifies the argument of the migratory peoples that made their way to the Americas millions of years ago via water or land bridge and approaches the question from a European, African, or Asian standpoint, the matter can be argued that it may have been Leif Erikson and his band of Vikings. But it could have been an earlier group of brave and/or foolhardy seafarers from any number of lands, like Phoenicia.
But Columbus Day need not be about who discovered America. It can just as easily be about the man who helped popularize the idea of European expansion into the New World. But don't expect a native American to salute the Genoan sailor anytime soon, no matter what position he takes in the line of discoverers that made it to the Americas.
Published by Saul Relative
WVU graduate, with degrees in History, English, Secondary Education, Computer Programming, and Psychology (and nearly a degree in Political Science). Originally from West Virginia, with stints in Virginia,... View profile