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The Vikings Came Before Columbus

Updated on June 24, 2015

Columbus or Vikings?

Open any history book and you’re likely to find the smiling mug of Christopher Columbus as the man credited with discovering North America. But in fact, the Vikings arrived about 500 years before.

There are historical documents indicating, Lief Erikson, a famous Viking explorer, discovered America long before Columbus, although his discovery didn’t lead to permanent European settlement. But it can be clearly shown in Old Norse records and other sources he discovered mainland America. Erikson landed on the continent around 1000 A.D. However, his colony in America did not last.

Leif Erikson descended from a long line of explorers. His great-great-great uncle, Nadod, discovered Iceland in about 861 and Leif's father discovered Greenland around 970-980. Leif Erikson was born in Iceland around 960 A.D. His father, Erik the Red, was also exiled from Iceland for murder so the family relocated to Greenland.

The Vikings were natives to what is known today as Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. Although all were referred to as Vikings, the three territories were very independent and distinct from one another.

Kensington Runestone
Kensington Runestone

Modern Day Concept

Our modern day concept of Vikings being murdering barbarians has been somewhat exaggerated. Today we know they were also skilled farmers, traders and settlers. They were also accomplished storytellers. Their history was largely passed on from generation to generation by way of “Sagas.” Perhaps it could be our derivative of the same word.

Erikson’s exploits in America are recorded in 13th- and 14th-century Icelandic tales. For years scholars viewed these stories as little more than folklore and rejected any idea Leif had landed near the American continent.

However, a major find in 1898 in Alexandria, Minnesota dispelled these views.
An American farmer, found a stone on his farm tangled in roots of a poplar tree. The stone, now known as the Kensington Runestone, was first thought to be an 'Indian almanac' by the farmer.

Inscriptions on the stone consist of 30 different runic characters and believed came from the 1300’s during a Viking Voyage to America which ended in modern day Minnesota! The Kensington Runestone is 30 x 16 x 6 inches in size and weighs 200 pounds.

Local residents claim the runic marks are an inscription describing a Viking expedition in 1362. Although the Smithsonian Institution didn’t confirm the runestone's authenticity, they couldn't disprove it. Additionally, missionaries later reported blonde-haired, blue-eyed Indians, living in huts "in the Viking style?”

There are other similar stones. One of these is the Heavener Runestone, in Heavener, Oklahoma. This 12-foot high monolith stands outside, shielded in a big box. According to scholars, the inscription on it dates back to AD 600-900. It tells the story of "Glome" who used it to lay claim to the territory.

Leif is often referred to as a Viking, but the Viking Age was drawing to a close when at the time he lived. He was also a devout Christian and didn’t follow the Norse pagan gods. While Leif's expedition was the first known encounter between Europeans and the Americas, it went largely unnoticed by historians until evidence supporting a Scandinavian settlement in Newfoundland was found in 1960.

Some argue Leif intentionally set out for North America, inspired by accounts of a strange land told to him by a trader. Others contend the discovery was accidental. Leif noted the traders’ directions and followed the course backwards. They first landed in Newfoundland, naming it Helluland. Next, Leif sailed to Nova Scotia and named it Markland. From there, he sailed for two days until arriving at an island thought to be what is now called Nantucket Island. These are locations determined by scholars using the Norse unit of 75 miles for a normal 12 hour sail and descriptions of the land.

Erikson sailed into the sound and in his haste to reach land he ran his ship ashore during low tide. Instead of waiting for the tide to come in, they switched to a smaller boat and sailed upriver into a lake. This is generally thought to be Bass River and Follins Pond in Massachusetts. Discovering there were salmon, trees, grass, and a mild climate, they built sturdy homes and began exploring. One of their discoveries was grapes. Therefore this new place became known as Vineland. The expedition remained for the rest of the fall and winter.

Archaeologists uncovered an early Viking settlement in 1963 at L'Anse aux Meadows, a location in northern Newfoundland, verifying Vikings were at that settlement around 1000 A.D.

Also linking Erikson to these events is a map called the “Vinland Map,” given to a Papal emissary by the Tartars around 1300. It clearly shows Vinland and mentions Lief’s name. Other references can be found in both English and German sources. And it is even possible both a Welsh Prince and an Irish Monk visited America before Lief, but evidence is seriously lacking in both cases.

Unfortunately, his father died about the time of this discovery, forcing him to return to Greenland and oversee established settlements there. The Vinland settlements were sparsely inhabited so Lief sent a brother and a sister with several parties. But the settlements eventually died out anyway. It is thought there was animosity between the Native Americans as Lief’s brother was killed by an Indian arrow.

Returning from Vinland, Lief rescued a party of shipwrecked Norsemen, earning him the nickname of Lief the Lucky.

The “grapes” of Vinland may have actually been a squash berry still growing there today. The Indians are known to have made a type of wine from them.

Leif is thought to have died around 1020.


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    • profile image

      sweety sexty 5 years ago

      how did people found about all these stuff and it was so long,long, long,long,long

      ,long,long,long ago.

    • JY3502 profile image

      John Young 6 years ago from Florence, South Carolina

      Daffy, sounds like the makings for a good hub.

    • Daffy Duck profile image

      Daffy Duck 6 years ago from Cornelius, Oregon

      I actually did a speech about Vikings in college and discovered these facts. Although my speech was on Viking burial rituals, sacrifices, and their "Blood Eagle" mutilation of dead enemies.