Why does Chris get all the credit? Leif was ahead of him by almost 500 years. Unfortunately, most people still assume that Christopher Columbus discovered America. Mention Leif Erikson, and you might get a puzzled stare.
The truth is that neither man ever set foot on the shores of the United States, but at least Leif landed on the continent. Legend tells us that he was most probably lost at the time, so he and Chris have that in common.
Historic conjecture makes for lively debates when viewed through the haze of centuries, but there’s no denying that a Viking discovered North America.
We know that Leif Erikson was the first non-native to park his ships offshore and take a look around. We know that his discovery incited a small Viking migration from his home base in Greenland.
We view the details through the veils of legend, but the proof is there. The location is known as L’Anse aux Meadows in aptly named Newfoundland.
Beginning in 1961, archaeologist Anne Stine Ingstad and her husband, Helge, spent eight years excavating the site. They didn’t find Leif’s initials carved on anything, but they documented extensive Viking artifacts and dwellings that dated back to 1000 AD.
Leif’s ferocious family was well known among the early settlements in Greenland. He sailed the seas as Vikings were inclined to do, and his tales were an important part of their oral history. The dates of his travels and the locations of his discoveries coincide with the Ingstad’s findings.
The dots connect with surprising accuracy. Almost 500 years before Chris bounced around the Caribbean, Leif stumbled upon our continent, and he deserves his recognition on October 9.
It doesn’t matter that he discovered North America by accident. It matters that he did it first. However, if we invited Leif to today’s festivities, it couldn’t hurt to send him directions.