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The True Discovery of America

How scientists figured out the truth about the first Europeans in the Americas

From a young age, most of us are taught that the Americas were discovered by Christopher Columbus, a Genoese explorer who decided to sail across the world in search of another route to Asia. But recently, some scientists have brought up evidence that disproves this notion completely.

There have been many theories about whether Columbus had truly been the first person to reach the Americas, such as the one about Peloponesian explorers, who visited South America and took sweet potatoes back to south east Asia with them, or the one about the monk St. Brendan, who supposedly took a trip across the Atlantic ocean in the 6th century in a boat known as a curragh. But no theory gained more traction than that of the Viking explorers who arrived in America during the late 10th and early 11th centuries.

The Viking saga of Grænlendinga (Saga of the Greenlanders) states that a Viking captain by the name of Bjarni Herjólfsson was blown off course by strong winds whilst on his way to Greenland, and became the first European to ever see the American continent. All of this supposedly occurred in 985 A.D. The saga goes on to say that after the sighting of this new land, dubbed Vinland (Land of wine) by the Vikings, a Viking explorer by the name of Lief Eriksen, son of Erik the Red (the discoverer of Greenland) set out to find this mysterious continent. According to the saga, he reached Vinland in the year 1000 A.D, 492 years before Cristopher Columbus.

These stories may have passed as just legends, like those of St Brendan. However, in the 1960s, a Danish explorer discovered the remains of a Viking camp which dated back to the year 1000. The encampment was found on the northern tip of Newfoundland, suggesting that the Viking sagas did, in fact, happen.

On October 21st, 2021, researchers at this very same camp, known as L’Anse aux Meadows, suggested a more accurate date as to when that camp had been functioning - that is, exactly 1000 years ago. In the year 1021 the Vikings occupied a site in the new world. Research suggests that they only remained in America for 3-13 years.

The researchers came to this conclusion by observing the rings on a piece of felled wood. Since it was known that a solar flare had occurred in the year 993 A.D, they were able to locate the tree ring that corresponded to that year. They were able to do this because the solar flare emits a particularly radioactive form of carbon-14, that is then absorbed by the trees, and can be identified by scientists. From there, the tree’s growth rings were counted using a microscope, enabling to find the exact year that tree was chopped.

Even though this knowledge means a major paradigm shift from what we have been taught to believe, it doesn’t mean much in practice, since the impact the Vikings had on the new world was miniscule. In practice, the Vikings only “discovered” America in the literal sense of the word, since the effect these expeditions had on Europe and the world were negligible, and the explorations led by Columbus, were in a sense, represent much more of a discovery. . However, what this discovery does show us is that science and scientific knowledge is always changing and evolving, and what was once considered true can become a myth in just the blink of an eye.

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