The Vikings reached North America before Columbus.

  • Viking explorers
Viking explorers
Credit: GL Archive/ Alamy Stock Photo

Though the idea that Christopher Columbus discovered America has long been taken as fact, the famous explorer did no such thing. Not only were Indigenous people already living in North America, but the Vikings reached the continent long before Columbus did. Led by Leif Erikson, a group of Norse explorers arrived on these shores in 1021, nearly 500 years before Columbus’ 1492 journey. The two expeditions do have one thing in common, however: Erikson probably wasn’t looking for America either.

There are two main accounts of the Norse journey to North America. The Saga of Erik the Red (Erikson’s father) suggests the explorer made his way across the Atlantic by accident en route from Norway to Greenland. The Saga of the Greenlanders, meanwhile, claims it was indeed intentional. Having heard about the strange new land from Bjarni Herjólfsson, an Icelandic trader who had seen North America but not set foot on it after overshooting Greenland on a journey of his own a decade earlier, Erikson was inspired to make the voyage himself. Upon his successful arrival in present-day Canada, he named it “Helluland” — Old Norse for “Stone Slab Land.” It’s believed that this was Baffin Island, which certainly fits the description.

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