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The Last Discoverer of America

Does Christopher Columbus matter? You bet. Historians use his accomplishment to delineate different epochs in world history, especially that of the Western Hemisphere. Days before 1492 are known as Pre-Columbian. The only other person I’m aware of who has influenced our view of history to that extent is Jesus Christ.

Also, Columbus Day is one of only two national holidays named for an individual. He is an American hero.

But what about that discovering America stuff? There is evidence, even very strong evidence, that other (non-Native American) people set foot on American shores before Columbus. “Hello-o-o,” I can hear them saying. “Where’s our holiday?”

The spirits of Thorfinn and Gudrid Karlsefni, Norsemen who led a party of hopeful colonists to Vineland (now Canada) in 1005, may be shouting, “Hey, Columbus visited Iceland in 1477. Who do you think clued him in to the existence of another continent?” There’s no proof of that, but a man of Columbus’s curiosity surely would tune into the epic tales of these journeys that Scandinavians continued to recite.

Oh. You’ve heard about the Viking voyages. How about the Phoenicians and West Africans?
Olmec statues–you decide
There’s lots of evidence, albeit controversial, that early Africans migrated to Mexico. Statues of Olmecs, “ranging up to 9 feet and 4 inches in height, with a circumference of 22 feet, and weighing 30 to 40 tons, … depict helmeted Black men with large eyes, broad fleshy noses and full lips. They appear to represent priest-kings who ruled vast territories in the ancient New World from provinces near the Gulf of Mexico,” according to Legrand H. Clegg II in his article, “Before Columbus: Black Explorers of the New World.” [] There are also claims of African skulls found in the area.
“Where did you say you got those points?”

Columbus himself wrote of meeting the Arawaks of Haiti during his second voyage. The Native Americans showed him spear points made of “guanine,” claiming black traders from the south and east brought them. They were made of the same alloy used in West Africa, where it was also called “guanine.”

There are claims by historians of pre-Columbian visits from Siberians, Indonesians, Japanese, Chinese, Irish, and Polynesian explorers as well.

The heroified version of Columbus

So why the heroification of Christopher Columbus? Many reasons, but one might be that his was the right voyage at the right time. Due to a number of reasons, Europe at that time was ready to embrace this new “discovery.”

Whether hero or villain, the man was an adventurer who greatly influenced world history. But, like all historic figures, he did not work in a vacuum. The real story—which deserves to be examined—is bigger and more magnificent than one guy. A combination of events, people, cultures, and trends created a “perfect storm” for Christopher Columbus to define an epoch and get his own holiday.

I can feel the rants of the other explorers from here.

Many of the ideas in this post came from Lies My Teacher Told Me by James W. Loewen, an excellent starting point for re-examining our historical myths.
Photos came from the website of the Library of Congress.
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