Top 10 People Who Possibly Explored The Americas Before Christopher Columbus

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At this point, it’s well-known and accepted that Christopher Columbus was not the first explorer to reach the Americas. So who got there before him? There are various opposing arguments as to which European, Asian and African explorers may have reached the Americas prior to that fateful day in 1492. Here are ten of the most notable.

10. Lehi (Reached “Promised Land” About 589 BC)

lehi

The first alleged pre-Columbian explorer of the Atlantic Ocean is a prophet from The Book of Mormon. As such, his existence is something that you are only likely to believe in if you happen to be a Mormon.

According to the book, Lehi originally hailed from Jerusalem during King Zedekiah’s reign as the final King of Judah, before the Babylonians destroyed that kingdom and capture Jerusalem. In the aftermath of that destruction, Lehi then traveled down the Arabian Peninsula with his family and friends. They subsequently built a ship capable of traversing the ocean and managed to arrive in the Americas, setting the stage for much of the Mormon theological history of the Americas.

Nevertheless, non-Mormon archaeologists have found many anachronisms and historical errors in the Book of Mormon’s description of American flora and fauna among other things, although Mormon apologists have attempted to refute these criticisms. As such, only a minority of individuals out of the broader world population accept this particular possibility as plausible.

9. Saint Brendan (Possibly Reached The Americas Between 512 and 530 AD)

saint-brendan

Perhaps a full thousand years later, Saint Brendan of Clonfert, also known as The Navigator, lived in Ireland. As a saint, he is the subject of hagiographic literature, the most fantastic of which suggesting he undertook a number of voyages straight out of a Jules Verne book. For example, he encounters a sea monster, while searching for the Garden of Eden with anywhere from seventeen to sixty fellow voyagers, using a boat made of skin or leather, known as a currach.

Whether they accomplished this fantastic voyage or not is uncertain and, as with Lehi, one must have faith to believe the story due to the various supernatural elements (God intervenes, for example, to save the crew from a sea creature.) Regardless, Brendan became a revered man whom Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Anglican Christians alike celebrate as the patron saint of boatmen, divers, mariners, sailors, travelers, whales, the diocese of Clonfert and the diocese of Kerr. Busy guy.

8. Erik the Red (Discovered Greenland by 985)

erik-the-red

Eric The Red is known from Norse sagas of his exploits, but historians are far more convinced that he actually accomplished what is claimed in those sagas. This Norwegian is the first Viking to set up a settlement on Greenland, and thereby provided a major step in the process of Viking exploration further westward across the Atlantic Ocean.

Erik lived up to the reputation of a stereotypical Viking. He was first exiled from Iceland for murder around 982. So, he sailed to the then-mysterious and unknown island of Greenland, which he named as such because it had an appealing sound to it, and it might encourage subsequent settlers to follow him. To that end, despite his rough beginnings, he had set in motion a chain of events that would cause further Viking expeditions in the next few decades.

7. Bjarni Herjólfsson (Spotted North America In 985 or 986)

bjarni-herjolfsson

One such follow-up expedition to Erik came with Bjarni who had sailed to Iceland to visit his parents, only to discover that they had left with the exiled Erik. Bjarni, however, was determined to find his parents and set out with no map or compass. Unfortunately, he encountered a storm that blew him off course. He appears to have sighted North America but, due to his determination to find his parents in Greenland, did not make landfall on the new continent and instead journeyed to Greenland and then back to Norway, where he shared his tale of adventure.

6. Leif Erikson (Established A Norse Settlement In North America Around 1000)

leif-erikson

Not everyone took notice of Herjolksson’s tales, but at least one man was quite intrigued: Leif Erikson, the son of famed Viking explorer Erik the Red. Hoping to go even further than his father, Erikson bought Bjarni’s ship and enlisted a crew of thirty-five to find this mysterious land. They apparently succeeded and, after discovering such places as Flat-RockLand and ForestLand, they ultimately established a settlement at Vinland. Now known as L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland, Vinland is the first undisputed European settlement in North America.

Leif became known as Leif the Lucky, and gradually became celebrated for his accomplishments. America Not Discovered by Columbus by Rasmus Anderson, a book published in 1874, helped to popularize the Viking accomplishments that were largely diminished among non-Scandinavians over the preceding centuries. As such, Leif has gained a bit of a following of admirers. He appeared on a United States stamp in 1968 and, in 1964, the United States Congress authorized a request that October 9th be henceforth known as Leif Erikson Day.

5. Madoc (Reached The Americas In 1170)

prince-madoc

Whereas we are certain that the Vikings made it to the Americas, we have much less certainty about the supposed Welsh expedition that took place not all that long after the Viking colonization projects in the New World ended.

In this case, the Welsh prince in question was disillusioned by fighting back in his homeland, and so set out to find greener pastures. He reportedly not only made it to the Americas, but returned to Wales and then came back to the Americas with ten ships of both men and women. Along with these men and women, he attempted to set up a colony after landing somewhere along the Gulf of Mexico.

The main proponent for popularizing this particular story was none other than the Queen Elizabeth I who, in the sixteenth century, hoped to lay claim to the Americas. In order to do so, she hoped to suggest that people from her realm had reached them prior to explorers sailing under Spain’s flag. One of her supporters was the Welsh scientist John Dee, who suggested that not only did Madoc made it to America prior to Columbus, but the semi-legendary King Arthur did so as well, despite no definitive proof of such a wild claim.

4. Abu Bakr II (Explored The Atlantic Ocean In 1311)

Editor: This is his son, Mansa Masu. Apparently nobody bothered to immortalize Abu Bakr in picture form, so we're forced to skip a generation.

This is his son, Mansa Masu. Apparently nobody bothered to immortalize Abu Bakr in picture form, so we’re forced to skip a generation –Editor

Abu Bakr II, the Emperor of Mali, abdicated his power around 1311 to lead a massive expedition of 200 vessels of men and 200 vessels of supplies, to find the limits of the Atlantic Ocean that bordered his Empire. Despite never returning to Mali, the BBC named Abu Bakr “Africa’s greatest explorer” in an article from 2000. Some scholars, including one from Rutgers University, contend that Abu Bakr II actually made it across the ocean.

3. Henry I Sinclair (Explored Greenland And North America In The Late-1300’s)

henry-I-sinclair

Scottish and Norwegian nobleman Henry I Sinclair lived in the same century as the height of the Empire of Mali, albeit some decades after Abu Bakr II’s voyage. Various aspects of his life fall into the realm of conspiracy theories and unsolved mysteries, the two most notable examples being that he allegedly voyaged to the Americas, and allegedly had connections with the Knights Templar. Letters and a map composed by Venetian brothers purportedly reference Henry’s expedition, in addition to some other questionable evidence. The Templar allegation is tied into this alleged voyage in that he purportedly undertook the voyage on behalf of the order of knights.

Historians have disputed these claims, some going so far as to suggest that the letters were a hoax. However, given that we already have alleged instances of an Irishman and a Welsh explorer possibly undertaking pre-Columbian transatlantic voyages, we might as well have a Scotsman do so, so as to make sure just about every country from the British Isles had some legendary transatlantic explorer.

2. Zheng He (Possibly Discovered The Americas In 1421)

zheng-he

Zheng He, Admiral of the Ocean Sea, is without any doubt the most famous Chinese oceanic explorer. This eunuch toiled under the Ming Dynasty and gained the favor of the Yongle Emperor. From 1405 to 1433, he led seven voyages to explorer lands, predominantly along the Indian Ocean. His fleets included massive treasure ships (roughly the size of a football field) that utterly dwarfed the three ships of Columbus’s first voyage. On board his large and numerous ships were over 20,000 men, far more manpower than anyone else on this list.

He definitely reached at least as far as Africa, but how much further he traveled is disputed. In 2002, British author Rowan Menzies published the book, 1421: The Year China Discovered the World, in which he puts forth the thesis that Zheng visited the Americas before Columbus. In 2008, Menzies went even further by arguing in 1434: The Year a Magnificent Chinese Fleet Sailed to Italy and Ignited the Renaissance that the Chinese later reached Italy, and even ignited the Renaissance. Not surprisingly, both books have received considerable criticism, but the “what if” possibilities are nevertheless intriguing.

1. Christopher Columbus (Reached Greenland or Canada in 1477)

christopher-columbus

Yes, Columbus is on a list of pre-Columbus explorers. The reason being: he may have actually reached the Americas before 1492.

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We know that Columbus started out his professional career in Genoa. In 1476, he traveled with a convoy from Genoa to northern Europe. During this trip, he docked in England and Ireland, where some claim he was inspired by the stories of Brendan the Navigator. The next year, he possibly made it to Iceland, Greenland or even Canada, setting in motion his interest in conducting a more extensive and official voyage across the Atlantic. It took him nearly twenty years to officially make it across the Atlantic, but imagine if he had really participated in five trans-Atlantic voyages, as opposed to the generally accepted four.


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61 Comments

  1. I don’t know how long ago you published this list, but a lot has happened to verify the claims of the Book of Mormon that the average person parroting back misled theories would be unaware of, including positive DNA evidence that is so tight it cannot be refuted unless you have a complete and intolerant prejudice. This includes archeological finds that number in the hundreds of thousands and bear paleo-Hebrew inscriptions. It includes earthen works and buried cities that have been discovered since the writing of the book and have shown complete accuracy in minute details. But then the only real proof, going beyond even the most convincing evidence, is to ask God and receive revelation in witness. No one can do that for you and no one can convince you it is real unless you have an open mind. Otherwise you will stand in noonday sun and claim it is dark outside.

    • I sincerely hope you are joking.

      There is no DNA evidence to support the claims of the book of mormon. In fact, the evidence we do have disproves it.

      There is no archeological evidence that supports the claims of the book of mormon. None.

      Maybe next time, get your facts from actual geneticists and archaeologists instead of your bishop and apologists who have an agenda to support. Maybe then you will save yourself the embarrassment of outing yourself as a gullible fool.

        • I don’t even know where to start.

          DNA claims are absolute nonsense. The “study” in question looked at existing samples of present day Native Americans. They claimed there was no “Semitic” DNA, ignoring the fact there is no such thing as “Semitic” DNA. Additionally, for there to be a valid claim about DNA, you must have a sample of the original DNA to compare with your results. No such sample is available. (By the way, DNA evidence supporting a “Semitic” genetic background would prove nothing.).

          There was an existing population when Lehi’s party arrived. Over 2,500 years, a small group of DNA (between 30-50 people) added to an existing genetic pool would eventually vanish from the gene pool and would not be found today.

          Only a “gullible fool” would blindly accept the false of claims of DNA.

          Once again we get the “big lie” there is no archeological evidence supporting the Book of Mormon. A possible location for the valley of Lemuel has been found. Archeological evidence for Nahom (in Saudi Arabia) has been found where the Book of Mormon says it was. Possible locations for the land of Bountiful have been found.

          If you study the culture of the Book of Mormon society and compare it to the culture of the population during the time covered by the Book of Mormon, you find there are numerous similarities between the cultures.

          Limited space prevents more examples, but Steven, Graf, and Bob – you need to stop reading anti-Mormon twaddle and actually read and study the Book of Mormon.

          Only a “gullible fool” would respond and show his ignorance of the topic.

        • .I have read the book of Mormon, because I was raised Mormon, and I got sick of crap like this.

        • You were a Mormon. Irrelevant.

          You read the Book of Mormon. It would be interesting to see what you really know about the Book of Mormon.

          It’s crap. Meaningless, mindless, ignorant (from a knowledge perspective), irrelevant.

          Dispute one point I made with valid evidence (your opinion is not valid evidence).

  2. On the 9th one, the Saint Brendan, a boat made of skin or leather is named a currach! 🙂
    A curragh is something completely different.

  3. Why is Christopher Columbus on the list of top 10 people who possibly explored the Americas before Christopher Columbus?

    • VoiceofReason on

      If you actually READ the article and had reading comprehension higher than a 1st grader you would understand that. It tells you plain and simple in the explanation. You can’t fix stupid.

  4. I personally find that number 6, the Viking Leif Erikson, is the most likely of the list. In the list, it does say that there was a colony set up in Vinland where he found all those grapes to make wine. I think it is very likely that he succeeded because he did know how to sail seeing that he grew up running away from people who his father had to run away from. Not only that but he also wanted to out-do his father and go further than Greenland to discover a new land of his own. He wanted to find a new land and he did that by finding the coast of present day Canada.

  5. I believe the person who was most likely to arrive to the Americas before Christopher Columbus was Zheng He, the Admiral of the Ocean Sea. Considering at the time he was the most famous Chinese explorer, and since China is a large area with many resources, I believe their large ships and knowledge could have in fact brought him to the Americas prior to Columbus. Also, he did travel as far as Africa and possibly Italy, where he may have started the renaissance. Who is to say he didn’t go on a further voyage?

    HB

  6. I agree with Kaitlyn: Leif Erikson surely discovered the Americas before Columbus. There is no doubt in my mind that Erikson explored the shores and discovered the various places–the colony set up in Vinland proves it. It would have been simple for Erikson to set up an exploration: there were many other Vikings with a skill set for sailing that had troubles to run from and this exploration invited new prospects: new land and new fortune.

  7. I think that Leif Eriskson is the most likely to have reached America first. I believe that he discovered the various places while exploring the shores he landed on. The thing that really makes it believable is that he set up the colony in Vinland. That is what proves to me that he reached America before Columbus did.

  8. Melissa Smith on

    I believe that Zheng He could have possibly discovered the Americas before Christopher Columbus did. Zheng He had many resources to take advantage of, giving him ample ability to travel to the Americas. Also, he had made seven other voyages, traveling at least to Africa. It is very possible that he went further than that and made it to the Americas.

  9. Cameron Macklin on

    I also agree with some of the other students that Zheng He could have been the one to reach the Americas before Christopher Columbus. Because to me he seems like Zheng was more prepared which let him be at sea longer for him to travel further. Plus he made more than one voyage and had a lot of resources.

  10. I believe that Leif Erikson more than likely found the Americas prior to Columbus. Quite honestly, I believe a good number of these individuals, like Zheng He, probably stepped on soil of the Americas prior to Columbus. In class, Polynesians were also thought to reach the Americas before Columbus, and I could see that as well. The Vikings, Polynesians and explorers like Zheng He were navigating the seas long before Columbus and had the resources (ships and men) and knowledge to find new lands. We should all ask, “where haven’t the Vikings been?”

  11. Out of the choices, I believe Leif Erikson discovered the Americas way before Columbus. The colony he set up in Vinland gives more evidence than anything. Leif Erikson explored many places. I do not believe there is any way he didn’t discover the Americas.

  12. Anthony Luke Hackney on

    I believe that Leif Erikson had explored and discovered the Americas prior to Christopher Columbus. Leif’s father had the same plan and idea to sail west and his son had the same, if not more, determination than his father to reach farther than him. I believe he made it to the Americas and settled as it said in the article. There is most likely proof in the are they settled that they did so.

  13. As a predecessor of Columbus I have picked Leif Erikson for multiple reasons. At first it is well known fact, that Vikings were very good sailors and they actually reached shores of America. Other fact that is talking in his favor is that he was settled in Greenland, which makes the distance from Europe, respectively Greenland, to America much closer. There were also found proves that Vikings, and namely Leif Erikson, did discover America, they hit the shore and established Vinland, which is later known as Newfoundland. Vinland was the first undisputed European settlement in North America.

  14. Although Zheng Hi had the best ship technology at the time, The Europeans had better nautical technology at the time. I think that it was the vikings or the Irish that discovered America first.

  15. Half of these guys did not make it to the Americas. All of the viking evidence is true because of left over settlement. But getting down to what’s real, columbus was the cause for North American settlement. All these other explorers failed in starting new towns and settlements in the new world.

  16. This article is definitely interesting because the Americas are known for being founded by Christopher Columbus, but he encountered groups of people already settled here. It is a shame that we may never really know who were the first group to actually settle in the Americas.

  17. Vince Ziccardi on

    I believe that Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492, but I think that there was someone out there way before his time who already did. I think that people in the past were very curious and were constantly wanting to explore other “worlds” that could possibly be out there.

  18. I just know it is hard to know the true history because I think history is always written in favor of one person and or country. There can be a lot of favorites in history and this shows that we automatically think of Columbus and then once history goes deeper there is much more to be said. I think there should be more credit for other adventurer that are not just european.

  19. Interesting that Erik the Red was Leif Erikson’s dad & Henry Sinclair was related to these two as well as Christopher Columbus marring Henry Sinclair’s granddaughter.

  20. I’ve always heard that there was speculation about whether Christopher Columbus was actually the first person to discover the Americas. It’s not surprising that multiple individuals on this list were vikings.

  21. I thought the article was very entertaining and insightful theories. I personally believe the Chinese Star Fleet which was #2 on the list discovered america.

  22. I think Leif Erikson discovered America, but who knows I could be wrong. It was so long ago I wouldn’t be surprised if it was just an average guy no one knew.

  23. With all the alleged discoveries of “America” you would think that there were never any Indians, or “Native Americans” who were already here. I think that Christopher Columbus gets the credit, out of sheer laziness on the part of those that provide the historical timelines in America. It saves the time of explaining those who may have or may not have, just to say that he DID. when, in fact, he did not.

  24. I thought it was common knowledge that the vikings made it to Canada long before Columbus. I also don’t think that Columbus should get credit due to the fact that he was so oblivious and believed he had actually made it to India.

  25. Interesting. The only one I was aware of was Leif Erikson, but I always figured there were a bunch of other Vikings that sailed to America that we aren’t aware of.

  26. I knew Leif Erikson was known for discovering America before Christopher Columbus, I didn’t know that so many others could potentially have found it before him, or that even Christopher himself had potentially seen it before he “discovered” it in 1492.

  27. I found it very interesting that Christopher Columbus discovered the Americas before he discovered the Americas. Does not surprise me that so many other people have been to America before him though.

  28. Trevor Norquest on

    I knew the Vikings were known for discovering America before Christopher Columbus, I didn’t know that so many others could potentially have found it before him, or that even Christopher himself had potentially seen it before he “discovered” it in 1492. It surprises me we still celebrate Columbus for discovering America

  29. It is shocking to me that so many people are still under the assumption that Columbus discovered the Americas. I would love to talk to their history teachers! — DAVID WARDLE

  30. Angelina Huber on

    I didn’t realize there were so many different people who allegedly discovered North America. The most believable before Christopher Columbus would definitely be the Vikings around 1000 AD.

  31. I was aware that there was strong speculation that Christopher Columbus was not the first to reach the Americas; however, I was not aware of just how many people, of different backgrounds, that had allegedly reached North America before Columbus. Although explorers like Lehi and Saint Bredan’s journeys are more disproved, the exploration of North America appears to be much more likely of those of Viking decent. For example, Erik the Red and his son, Leif Erikson, are the most likely to have been the first to discover the Americas from this list of the ten explorers.

  32. It’s unfortunate that we may never know who truly discovered the Americas first. Although, many of these people and explorers could have visited the Americas. We do know that Leif Erikson and the Vikings arrived long before Columbus. B.E

  33. Hi,

    I was reading this nice report. I saw Henry Sinclair sculpture was carved by famous writer of Mauler. When I searched his name on web I discovered he is also famous sculptor in Britain. What a cool news!

    Best regards.

  34. Alexandria McDole on

    I dont understand if other people had reached the Americas before Christopher Columbus why is Columbus day a day? How do we know they discovered it or if they did?

    Although I do think it is cool how other people thought there was more to the world and seeked to the Americas.

    AM

  35. One thing i found really cool was that between 1405-1433 Zheng He led seven voyages! Come to think of how long each voyage took, just blows my mind, but it is really cool thwas able to take 3 more than what Columbus took!

  36. It’s so weird to think that growing up we are told that Columbus discovered America and was such good friends with the indians and the pilgrims, and then these articles say something different.

  37. I think it’s important to note that the Indians were the first people to really explore the America’s, not Christopher Columbus, or anyone else for that matter. The only reason Columbus gets the credit for discovering the America’s is because of the influx of people that came to the America’s after he sailed there. Even if the other people on this list did sail to the America’s before Columbus, they didn’t do anything to get other peoples to settle on the land.

  38. This is very intriguing because I only ever knew of Columbus discovering America. It makes me wonder what else has happened in America that I don’t know of just because it hasn’t been taught in any of my history classes. I do think it is cool that Zheng He took 20,000 people with him, but I don’t believe that he made it to America since there is not any factual evidence. (I think there would be some kind of evidence from at least one of that large group!)

  39. I think we should give the Vikings more credit for finding North America. When I was in grade school we were never told about the Vikings being the first to find North America I was always told it was Columbus. We need to start changing the history books.

  40. I remember watching Spongebob when I was younger and they celebrated Leif Erikson day. I had no clue who he was or that he is considered one of the top ten people to possibly discover America!! This is proof that Spongebob is educational and not stupid!

  41. looking at all of the possible discovers Zheng He. The Chinese we the most established naval power at their time and we already taking long voyages in several parts of the world. There is a strong likely hood that china may have at least visited the Americas at one point.

  42. I remember learning in seventh grade that the vikings were the first to discover America, so I’m not shocked that Christopher Columbus shouldn’t get as much credit as he has for discovering it. But I am surprised at how many other possibilities there are for who really did discover the Americas. I think we need to give everyone else credit for what they accomplished (whether they did or did not discover the Americas, A for effort) I think Columbus gets too much recognition.

  43. Alexandra Bull on

    I remember learning that Columbus was the first person to discover America. I am surprised that he continues to get the majority of the credit even though there is sufficient evidence to conclude that he was not the first to explore the new world.

  44. Knowing that Christopher Columbus was not the first person to discover the Americas is big news to many people. However it just shows that not everything think is true is. I think that historians need to take a deeper look into our past and re-write the history that we teach our kids today.

  45. Parker Stricklen on

    Growing up you were always taught that Columbus was the person that discovered America. Through this reading and from time spent in class I’ve learned that there are many other options and it’s insane that it’s so debated and questionable of who really discovered America.

  46. When we were taught about America, we were always told that Christopher Columbus founded America. However, many people say that this is not true and that Columbus took the credit for finding America.

  47. Jacqueline Carriger on

    We were always taught that Columbus discovered America, but after class and reading this article I no longer believe he did. I think that Leif Erikson discovered America.

  48. It’s interesting to think of all of the people who possibly visited the America and I believe that Lief Erikson was most likely first and Saint Brendan was least likely.

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