Who really discovered America?


Everyone recognizes that many people were in America long before Columbus. The Asiatic peoples who became Native Americans were certainly the first, tens of thousands of years ago. Also Norse expeditions to North America, starting with Bjarni Herjolfsson in 986, are well established historically. Many other pre-Columbian discoveries are not well established. Claims have been made for St. Brendan, Basque fishermen, Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese, Africans, and even Carthaginians. Some of these claims may be true; most are probably not.

For example, Gavin Menzies recently made a big splash by claiming in a bestselling book that America (and most of the rest of the world) was discovered in 1421 by the Chinese Admiral Zheng He. While it is true that Zheng He made a number of important voyages, none of them went beyond the Indian Ocean, as numerous contemporary Chinese accounts make clear. A number of notable scholars have quietly demonstrated that Menzies' evidence is tissue-thin and his claims unfounded.

Even though Columbus wasn't the first, his discovery (or re-discovery, if you prefer) is rightly regarded as the most historically important, and will continue to be -- even if other earlier claims are eventually proven true. That is because, unlike the others, Columbus inaugurated permanent large scale two-way commerce between the Old World and the New. Previous discoveries were so obscure that almost no one in either hemisphere was aware of the other hemisphere's existence prior to Columbus. But after Columbus, everyone knew.

The "Admiral of the Ocean Sea," unlike his predecessors, changed the world.


America had often been discovered before Columbus, but it had always been hushed up.
Oscar Wilde
Irish dramatist, novelist, & poet (1854 - 1900)


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