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Who Actually Discovered the America’s?

Christopher+Columbus+marching+into+America+on+October+12%2C+1492+believing+it+was+India.+%0A%0APhoto+under+Creative+Commons+License+%0A
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Christopher Columbus marching into America on October 12, 1492 believing it was India. Photo under Creative Commons License

Since elementary school, we have been taught that Christopher Columbus, an Italian explorer, and navigator, discovered America but that is not necessarily true. His journeys marked the beginning of centuries of exploration and colonization of North and South America.  He was portrayed as an amazing explorer who found new land, but there were already people living there years before he showed up. Before we get into who discovered the Americas, let’s learn about some background information. 

Columbus discovering America

Columbus, born between August 25 and October 31, 1451, lived on the coast of Liguria, Italy. He went to sea at a young age and traveled great distances. Fast forward to the 15th century, getting to Asia by land from Europe was difficult. The route was long and arduous and encounters with hostile armies were difficult to avoid. Columbus, however, had different ideas. He wanted to find a new route to India by sailing west across the Atlantic Ocean instead of around the African continent. He presented his idea to officials in Europe and Portugal, but both denied it. He conveyed his proposal to the Spanish monarchs (King Ferdinand ll and Queen Isabella l), and they agreed to sponsor his voyage. 

With 90 men and three ships (the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria) on his side, he set sail on August 3, 1492. Columbus didn’t know that the Americas existed. He made it to what is now known as the Bahamas after 61 days. Columbus thought that he had made it to India so he called the Indigenous people there “Indians”. Before returning to Spain, Columbus explored the Caribbean for nearly five months, particularly the Juana (Cuba) and Hispaniola (Santo Domingo) islands. During his stay there, he kidnapped many Native Americans to take back with him. He brought back (stole) gold, native birds, and plants to show the wealth of the continent he thought was Asia. 

The Vikings

Even before Columbus arrived, experts believe the Vikings arrived 500 years before him. Leif Erikson is said to have been born in the Icelandic Commonwealth and died in Greenland. Experts do not know what day he was born but they do know when he found the Americas. He is believed to be the first European to step foot in the Americas. He discovered Vinland, which is interpreted as Coastal North America, after being blown off course on his way from Norway to Greenland. When he encountered the storm(that blew him off course) and found the unfamiliar land, the crew went around to explore the area and found wild grapes, self-sown wheat, and maple trees. The crew and Erikson loaded their ships up with their newfound resources and headed east to Greenland. 

The Humans Find the America’s

However, Columbus and Erikson may have been the first foreign explorers to discover the Americas, but there were humans already living there when they both arrived. So how exactly did those humans make it there?  There are many theories on how the first humans made their way to America, but the most believed one is the Land Bridge Theory.  This theory proposed that people first reached America by a land bridge connecting Eastern Siberia to Alaska. Over time as the glaciers on the ice sheet melted the water levels began to rise, so the land bridge was “stolen” by the water and is now a dead route. The region the first humans crossed was known as Beringia. They walked a great distance, but one thing that confuses experts is whether they traveled by land or by sea. Most archeologists think they traveled along the western shoreline to reach America in a boat. The glaciers on land must have been difficult to avoid, but the glaciers were much easier to avoid in the water.

So Columbus or Erikson were not the first people to find America, they were humans that were there 25,000 to 16,000 years before their sighting. Who discovered the Americas? The explorers just found an area that was already existing. Many native tribes had already settled there, and the earliest humans must have adapted to their environment and started to evolve. The simple answer is humans, not those famous explorers we are taught about.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

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