Think back to your elementary and high school days, and ask yourself "Who Discovered America?" You're probably hearing nursery rhymes about the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria already. You're thinking about how brave the explorers were to cross the vast expanse in their little ships in the 1400s, and about how funny it was they didn't know they weren't in India when they got to America. Well, add these up to all the other lies about Christopher Columbus, because they're wrong. Columbus was quite sure he wasn't in India, and was half a millennium late to the North America party. In case the discarded battle axes and rotting longboats weren't a clue, the Vikings had beaten him there by quite a stretch.
For those of you who don't know who the Vikings were, you should be ashamed of yourselves. The short version is that they were the Dark Age terror of the seas, raiders and plunderers as well as family men, explorers, and traders who covered Europe in raids that began in the 8th century. They eventually ranged from the far remnants of the Byzantine Empire all the way to, you guessed it, North America. North Carolina, if you want to be exact in how far south these men of the North made it. In fact, our red-headed heathens arrived right around 1000 A.D.
The Reach of The Longship
Ringing some bells? The longer version of the history is that Eric the Red left Scandinavia, and sailed west from Iceland until he found Greenland around the year 985 A.D. or thereabouts. Now the Vikings are known for their senses of humor, because Iceland was a great place to live with some good land, changing weather, and access to the sea so that men could fish or launch assaults on helpless monasteries to their hearts' content. Greenland, despite the name, was a horrible place wracked with freezing cold, rocky beaches, bad soil, and it was all-in-all a horrible place to live despite its massive size. And when you find yourself living in a place that you're sure doesn't want you there, especially if you have a longship and a crew, you leave and try to find some place better. That's what Leif Ericsson (the son of Eric the Red in case the name wasn't a hint) did around the year 1000 A.D. What he found going west from Greenland was North America.
Now, for those who have been to Greenland and would compare it to America, it makes you wonder why the Vikings would keep living in Greenland until the year 1500 (which is right around when that settlement decided to give up the ghost). Why wouldn't the Vikings have gathered their women, their goats, their swords and come to carve out a new life for themselves? Well they did in the year 1005. They lasted for two years, give or take.
That shall be repeated. The Vikings, fierce pirates and bloodthirsty berserkers who populated the nightmares of every Dark Ages town and village that could so much as smell the ocean, left rich land and temperate climes in North America after only two years. The reason for that? No one's entirely sure, but it might have had something to do with all of the people already living there that really didn't want these European immigrants just sauntering in and dropping all of their property values.
How Did The Natives Repel The Vikings?
What most modern-day Americans don't know is that the Native American population on the East Coast was massive. Accounts written 10 years before the Mayflower's landing in North America by sailors claimed you could smell the smoke from native bonfires up to 100 miles out to sea. Then the pilgrims drop anchor and the party seems to have moved on (as it always did when word came round that Puritans were showing up). That's because just before the "divine providence" that brought the pilgrims to Plymouth Rock, a massive plague swept through the native population, killing over 90% of the total populace. Now think back to the stories of how hard it was for the Europeans to resist the already-present native culture, and the violence that marked their interactions with the native peoples when they got here. Now take away the Europeans' guns, and increase the native population astronomically. It's something of a miracle the Vikings lasted as long as they did in America.
After the year 1007 the Viking colony on American soil was fairly well destroyed, and there wasn't much of a hope of getting it back up and running. But Vikings, being Vikings, did still raid the area for supplies, taking lumber and food back to Greenland where, had there been a native language, there would have been no words for these things. But they never tried to re-establish a toe hold on such rich land, and neither did any other white people until a few hundred years later.
Why Isn't This What You Learned in School?
So why didn't we hear about this in school? After all, anything involving bloodshed and pirates is sure to get kids' attentions, particularly kids who may already have been arguing the relative merits of a Viking-Iriquois throw-down on the playground. Was it because modern Americans were embarrassed that it took the assistance of gunpowder and plague to even give them a shot at taking hold of the new land? Or was it that the Vikings already had enough history, what with bankrupting France's treasury and giving us our modern name for Russia (oh, and being partially responsible for the names of the days of the week)? Who can say, but the idea that Renaissance Europeans were the first ones to cross the ocean in tiny boats to try and take land and wealth from the peoples that already lived in the New World is just silly. After all, Europe's gold medalists at that sport had already given it a go before taking their boats and going home.