WE all know that Christopher Columbus discovered America — but we all don’t know that this is a myth. Yes, Columbus was not the first European or outsider to discover the American continents, and North America to be precise.
The credit for the discovery of America should go to the Vikings, Chinese, Arabs, Italians, British and Polynesians (inhabitants of islands in the southern Pacific Ocean), as research, archaeological discoveries and scholars now point out. Though there is much debate about some claims, there is no doubt that many different people, spanning centuries, set foot on the New World (as the Americas were called) before the Columbus.
Interestingly, many countries in the New World (that is North and South Americas) and elsewhere, celebrate the anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ arrival (October 12, 1492), as Columbus Day and various events, official and unofficial, takes place to mark the occasion. In the United States, it is celebrated on the second Monday of October.
However, today we are not celebrating Columbus’ feat, but we are going to discover who else discovered the Americas. While we will be presenting to you the facts and some hypothesis, it is up to you to decide who deserves the credit of being the discoverer of the New World.
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In November 1964, National Geographic magazine published a research by Helge Ingstad, an archaeologist, about his discovery of ancient Norse settlements in Canada.
In L’Anse aux Meadows, a remote site in Newfoundland, Ingstad recovered hundreds of Norse artefacts — a soapstone spindle whorl and a bronze-ringed pin process, as well as other iron, bronze, stone, and bone items. Carbon dating confirmed that the items were made between 990-1030AD!
Thus the Vikings landed in Greenland and parts of Canada 500 years prior to Columbus, but they are believed to have occupied the area for just a few years before being expelled by the hostile natives.
In the beginning of the 20th century, Professor Gustav Storm, of the University of Christiania in Oslo, credited Leif Ericson (970-1020), also the discoverer of Greenland, for the sighting of Nova Scotia, in 1000AD, after his boat was blown far south when he was returning from Greenland.
What is obvious about these Norse seafarers is that they were not really explorers but traders and adventurers who chanced upon the New Land as a result of accident or unfavourable winds.
Interestingly, October 8 is Leif Ericson Day, an unofficial celebration of the day the Norse explorer landed somewhere in Canada, though the actual date is still unknown.
A British historian Gavin Menzies, claims that “the Chinese have been sailing to the New World since ancient times across the Pacific Ocean” and Admiral Zheng, a Chinese, set up colonies and sailed round South America before Columbus.
In his book Who Discovered America?, Menzies refers to the copy of a 1418 map charted by Chinese Admiral Zheng He, which appears to show the New World in some detail, who most likely created the map when he sailed to the New World in 1421, more than seven decades before Columbus.
Menzies also claims that the first inhabitants of the Western hemisphere didn’t come over land from the Bering Strait, but instead were Chinese sailors who first crossed the Pacific Ocean ages ago. He further stresses that DNA markers prove American Indians and other natives as the descendants of several waves of Asian settlers.
Menzies also wrote in his book that Zheng He sailed around the tip of South America, through the Strait of Megellan around the Gulf of Mexico and up the Mississippi, and he left colonies there as both archaeological and genetic evidence suggests. However, we must note that Menzies’ theories are not accepted by the mainstream academic community.
According to researcher and author S. Frederick Starr, Abu Raihan al-Biruni (973-1048), an Muslim scholar from Central Asia, discovered America some 500 years before Columbus — without leaving his study!
Biruni, an expert in mathematics, astronomy, mineralogy, geography, cartography, geometry and trigonometry, studied the ancient Greeks, Indians, medieval Arabs and fellow Central Asians, then came up with completely new methods and technologies.
According to writer By S. Frederick Starr, Biruni measured the earth’s circumference that was a mere 10.44 miles less than the definitive modern measurement! He wrote his lifetime’s research in his book Codex Masudicus, where he summarised everything known at the time about astronomy and allied disciplines. Here he discussed the possibility that the sun is stationary and that the earth revolves around it and also hypothesised about the existence of North and South America.
Starr further explains that when Biruni studied his research on the earth’s circumference and fixed all known geographical locations onto his new, more accurate map of the globe, he noticed that the entire breadth of Eurasia, from the westernmost tip of Africa to the easternmost shore of China, spanned only about two fifths of the globe. This left three-fifth of the Earth’s surface unaccounted for. Was three-fifth of the Earth’s circumference really nothing but water? Biruni rejected it on the grounds of both observation and logic.
Biruni concluded that somewhere in the vast expanses of ocean between Europe and Asia there must be one or more unknown land masses or continents. He concluded that the unknown land masses between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans would have to be inhabitable as, in fact, they were.
Starr concludes, “Biruni’s constant urge to quantify whatever he observed, combined with his enquiring mind, was to plunge him down a path that led to epochal insights, which in most respects put Columbus, Cabot and the Vikings in the shade.”
Zuan Chabotto (1450-1499), a Venetian navigator and explorer, is known in the Anglophone world as John Cabot. English scholar Alwyn Ruddock was the first to come up with the idea that Cabot reached North American a year before Columbus.
In a research done on a rather eccentric Ruddock, who had almost all her research work destroyed when she died, it was found that Ruddock had discovered a letter written in 1498 to Columbus by an English merchant named John Day. In the letter, Day wrote that it was “considered certain” that the North American mainland, which Cabot had visited the previous year, had been ‘found and discovered in the past’ by seamen from the port of Bristol (which happened to be Ruddock’s home town). There was further suggestion that Ruddock had come across some other evidence to prove that Englishmen had reached America as early as 1470.
As almost everyone knows, Italian explorer Christopher Columbus was sponsored by the Spanish king and queen to find a western ocean route to China, India, and the fabled gold and spice islands of Asia. But instead, he first reached the Bahamas, which he first thought was East Asia, then a month later Columbus sighted Cuba, which he thought was China, and in December the expedition landed on Hispaniola, which Columbus thought might be Japan.
Columbus returned to Spain with gold, spices and captives in March 1493 as a celebrity for he and the Spanish quickly realised the importance of his discoveries. During his lifetime, Columbus led a total of four expeditions to the New World. He is universally credited as being the discoverer of various Caribbean islands, the Gulf of Mexico, and the South and Central American mainlands — but he never achieved his initial goal of discovering a western ocean route to the great cities of Asia!