Who Discovered America? Not Leif Erikson

Amerigo Vespucci statue, Florence, Loggiato of the Uffizi
Amerigo Vespucci statue, Florence, Loggiato degli Uffizi

We sometimes, blissfully not too often, hear that Christopher Columbus didn’t discover America because Norse peoples like Leif Erikson or the Vikings had previously travelled to it or because native “Americans” already lived there so, tautologically, they must have known of it.

The necessary quotes around the word “Americans” already give an idea of the paradoxical nature of the latter statement, because the name “America” hadn’t even been invented before Columbus, or rather before the Florentine cartographer, navigator and explorer Amerigo Vespucci, after whom the vast continent was named. Amerigo was the first to consider America a separate continent.

Leif Erikson and Vikings

It is absurd to say that the Vikings or Leif Erikson discovered America. If they landed in the continent we today (not thanks to them) call “America” it was without historical consequence.

Leif Erikson was an Icelandic explorer, thought to be the first known European who set foot on the island of Newfoundland, which is considered part of the continent of North America, around the year 1,000 AD.

Leif, according to the Saga of Erik the Red, saw Vinland (the name he gave to today’s Newfoundland) for the first time – what could be the closest to his “discovery of America” – in peculiar circumstances.

Like many other Vikings of his time, Leif had converted to Christianity. This happened in Norway, which he then left on a mission to evangelize and bring the Good News to Greenland. During this voyage, he was blown off course. When he reached land, it wasn’t on Greenland but on Vinland.

Other Northern Europeans before him had landed in the island of Greenland, including the father of Leif Erikson, the Norwegian explorer Erik the Red.

Leif Erikson, painting by Christian Krohg
Leif Erikson, painting by Christian Krohg

In fact the only Norse colony was in Greenland, which has always been considered as part of Europe, anyway, not America (so much so that it is a territory of the Kingdom of Denmark). And if Columbus is challenged by the radical Left, Antifa and assorted anarchists, he is also denied his discovery of America by some, probably not the most discerning, among the White Nationalists, who prefer the blond Vikings.

The evidence about Scandinavian travels to pre-Columbian America is sketchy. Norse settlements in North America were small and never became permanent colonies. Many sporadic, short-lived trips to the continent were made by Vikings and other Norse groups, mostly to modern-day Newfoundland or possibly Labrador (which was named “Markland”), to exploit local resources such as timber, but there is no archaeological evidence of lasting Norse settlements or of any influence of Northern European populations preceding Columbus in America.

What Columbus did was discover America for the world and open its people to evangelization, not just have a few trade exchanges in timber and fodder.

Here as in other cases, mythology is preferred to history by some of today’s fashionable and conformist thinking.

Native Inhabitants of the Continent

The “idea” that Columbus didn’t discover America because it had already been discovered by its original inhabitants cannot even be described as an idea, hence the use of inverted commas. It’s sheer nonsense.

The word “discovery” in this sense, objective, if you will, and not subjective, denotes two things:

1) that something new is understood for what it is, and

2) it is made available or known not just to the self, but also to others who don’t know it yet.

A new-born baby or young infant may “discover” his house, or a force of nature like fire, in the subjective sense that he didn’t know of their existence when he was in his mother’s womb, but the existence of the house or of fire could not be communicated to other people as a discovery, a novelty to them, quite apart from the child’s speech limitations, because it is already known.

In the case of Amerindians, not only they did not comprehend that they were on a separated continent and they could not see the lands they inhabited in the context of the whole world, but also they couldn’t communicate to anyone their supposed “discovery” because, unlike Europeans, they were isolated from other human beings. An objective discovery presupposes communication of it.

Therefore, not even one, let alone two, of the conditions which are both necessary for the use of “discovery” applies here.