Discovery of America

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The discovery of America is the first sighting of the American continent by seafarers from European civilization. Although it is known that Grænlendingar - under Leif Eriksson - set foot on American soil as early as around the year 1000 , Christopher Columbus is considered the discoverer of America, since it was only after his discovery of the Caribbean on October 12, 1492 that the continual exploration and finally the perception of the land mass of America was considered Continent began, which is why this date marks a turning point in human history .

Currently , Giovanni Caboto is considered to be the first European to reach mainland America in modern times , although there are references to earlier explorers such as Didrik Pining and João Vaz Corte-Real . America was only recognized as a separate continent in 1507 by the Italian Amerigo Vespucci and named after him as America by Martin Waldseemüller in the same year .

From a world historical point of view, America was first discovered and colonized by people, according to previous doctrine, 12,000 years ago via the Bering Strait by residents of Northeast Asia, their descendants are the Native Americans . More recent research and discoveries suggest that further settlements from Oceania on the southern Pacific coast of South America as early as 15,000 years ago appear to be possible.

The Virgin of the Navigators oldest depiction of the discovery of America, circa 1510
Columbus lands on Guanahani (woodcut)
The first explorers went over the Bering Strait (English animation)

Safely occupied voyages of discovery

Faroe Islands postage stamp
Postage stamp with Skálholt card

Scandinavian (around 875–1000)

Bjarni Herjúlfsson is believed to have been the first European to sight the North American mainland . He went off course in 986 on the voyage from Iceland to Greenland and later reported "forested hills to the west". But he did not explore the land he had seen. However, since Greenland also belongs geographically to the North American continent, Gunnbjörn Úlfsson can already be regarded as its discoverer (around 875). It is reported that he was the first to sight the Gunnbjarnarsker ( Gunbjörns archipelago ) named after him on the Greenland coast. This later led to the colonization of Greenland. It is uncertain whether Gunnbjörn reached the American mainland.

As far as we know today, Leif Eriksson was the first European to set foot on the American mainland around the year 1000. The details are passed down differently. At L'Anse aux Meadows on Newfoundland , archaeological finds were made in the 20th century that are assigned to the Grænlendingarn , i.e. the Scandinavian inhabitants of Greenland. The Maine coin probably came from there to its place of discovery via Native American trade routes. According to the " Vinland-Sagas ", which tell of the discovery trips of the Grænlendingar, they named coastal stretches discovered in Helluland , Markland and Vinland . The assignment of these areas is controversial and ranges from Baffin Island and Labrador to Nova Scotia or Massachusetts .

On other expeditions, including those of Leif's brother Thorvald , there were encounters with natives. The Grænlendingar called the Native American Skraelingers ("weaklings" or "ugly people"). Around 1020 the Grænlendingar Thorfinn Karlsefni went to Vinland to found a settlement there. The lack of women and fights with the Skraelingians caused the Grænlendingar to leave Vinland after a few years.

It is unlikely that the Grænlendingar would penetrate further inland. The Kensington runestone found in Minnesota in 1898 is considered a forgery.

First voyage of Columbus (Spanish graphic)

Christopher Columbus (1492)

Christopher Columbus came across America while trying to reach India (or East Asia) by crossing the Atlantic Ocean . At the turn of the year 1487/88 the Portuguese Bartolomeu Diaz was the first European to sail around the southern tip of Africa ; the further way to India was unexplored until 1498 .

Giovanni Caboto (1497)

The Italian explorer and navigator Giovanni Caboto (English John Cabot ) entered English service in 1484. King Henry VII commissioned him in 1496 to look for a western route into the Chinese Empire . Accompanied by his son Sebastiano , he started the journey and discovered the North American mainland on June 24, 1497, which was probably Labrador . Caboto had a letter for the Chinese "king" with him, but it never arrived because he and four of his ships disappeared on his second voyage across the Atlantic in 1498.

Vasco Núñez de Balboa (1513)

The first cartographers like Martin Waldseemüller assigned the newly discovered parts of the Atlantic coast of America to a new continent, "America", even before the first proof was provided that America is a continent . This rendered on September 25, 1513 morning at eleven o'clock, Vasco Nunez de Balboa after a costly expedition through Panama , the first when he Europeans the Pacific saw the American mainland. Amerigo Vespucci had postulated the continent quality before him , after he had established clear peculiarities of the fauna and flora of America through precise observations .

Unsecured reports

The old Polynesians are considered excellent seafarers (French graphic).
This French map of America from 1792 locates the Chinese fousang roughly in the area of ​​today's British Columbia.

In addition to the original settlement and the trips mentioned, there is a multitude of hypotheses and speculations about other pre-Columbian expeditions to America.

None of these hypotheses have been adequately proven or confirmed in historical research in the Western world.

Unsecured Reports (Pacific)

Pre-Columbian colonization of America

Due to their work, some ethnologists , anthropologists and ancient Americanists (e.g. Robert von Heine-Geldern , Gordon F. Ekholm and Paul Kirchhoff ) came to the view that the origin and development of ancient cultures in Central America was due to transpacific contacts with visitors from the ancient world ( especially Asia).


Excavated chicken bones from the 14th century suggest that the domestic chicken came to South America from Polynesia . The sweet potato, on the other hand, came to Polynesia from America, and it was believed that this happened around the year 1000. Both distributions can also be attributed to natural mechanisms (e.g. floating debris in ocean currents), but transpacific shipping seems more likely. However, studies from 2018 showed that the sweet potato was native to islands of Polynesia even before human settlement. Genetic studies on residents of Easter Island suggest that the first contact between Easter Island and South America took place between 1310 and 1420.

Unsecured reports (Atlantic)

On the Sahara sand you can see the "inevitable" way across the Atlantic ...
... and the way back is by westerly winds supports


The Norwegian anthropologist Thor Heyerdahl showed in 1970 that it is possible to cross the Atlantic in a reed boat, as was common in ancient Egypt .

Strait of Gibraltar (left Europe, right Africa)


Both Aristotle and Diodorus state that the Phoenicians encountered a larger land mass on their journeys beyond the pillars of Heracles .

The cultural scientist Hans Giffhorn represents a collaboration between the Phoenicians and the Celts in the exploration of the Atlantic and South America .


Model of an ocean-going curragh

The Arab geographer al-Mas'udi (around 895–957) reported that the Andalusian Chaschchasch ibn Said ibn Aswad had crossed the Atlantic in 889.

Abubakari II

Reports of a possible expedition by the Malian king Abubakari II at the beginning of the 14th century are also discussed .


According to a legend that probably only emerged at the end of the 16th century, Madoc , a Welsh prince, is said to have landed in America around 1170 and also founded settlements there.

Saint Brendan in the 6th century

The historian and writer Tim Severin proved with a curragh in 1977 that Saint Brendan's journey to North America was possible, as one can interpret from the Navigatio Sancti Brendani .

Spread of the cod

Paul Knudson Expedition 1355-1363

In order to restore the broken contact with the Grænlendingar , the descendants of Norwegian Vikings in Greenland, King Magnus Eriksson had sent a Norwegian-Swedish expedition under the command of Paul Knudson in 1355 . The expedition found the settlements on Greenland abandoned and returned to Sweden around 1363 without success. According to the Norwegian Scandinavian Hjalmar Rued Holand , Knudson is said to have reached the North American continent in search of the missing, where he himself went missing. However, the Kensington rune stone, repeatedly cited in support of this thesis, has proven to be a forgery. Only Magnus' order to Knudson to go to the Greenlandic western settlement has survived.

Sinclair in the 14th century

A trip to America made by Henry St. Clair (1345–1400) in 1398 is also considered a legend.

Basques in the 15th century

Are already in the 15th century Basque sailors whales and cod in Newfoundland have caught.

Detail of the map from 1502 made for Alberto Cantino , presumably in Lisbon as a copy by the Portuguese Padrão Real. Newfoundland lies east of the Tordesillas line in the legal area of ​​the Portuguese crown and is called Terra del Rey de Portugall (Land of the King of Portugal).

Danish-Portuguese expedition of 1473

The historian Cordeiro reports from the Portuguese João Vaz Corte-Real that he reached Newfoundland ( Terra (Nova) do Bacalhau ) and Greenland in 1473 in a joint Portuguese - Danish expedition . The Polish historian Joachim Lelewel (1786–1861) claimed that Corte-Real and the navigator Johannes Scolvus were under the command of the German navigators Didrik Pining and Hans Pothorst in 1473 on behalf of King Christian I of Denmark and Norway and at the request of the Portuguese King Alfons V. set sail from Norway to the west with the goal of Greenland.

However, there is no evidence of the arrival of the small fleet on what is now the Canadian coast. Corte-Real's reports of the poor country on the other side of the Atlantic are said to have been one of the reasons why Portugal did not finance Christopher Columbus' expedition to the west. The Lisbon earthquake in 1755 destroyed the Portuguese archives, possibly destroying any evidence of the trip.

As a reference for João Vaz Corte-Real's Newfoundland trips, Newfoundland was named on nautical maps around 1500 as "Terra Corterealis" or "Terra dos Corte Reais" (land of the Corte-Reals). This name can also be traced back to his sons who sailed to Newfoundland for the Portuguese crown in 1500/01: Gaspar and Miguel Corte-Real . The legend of the Cantino Planisphere reads: “Esta terra he decober per mandado do muy alto exçelentissimo príncipe Rey don manual Rey de portuguall a qual descobrio Gaspar corte Real …” In St. John's (Newfoundland) today a monument commemorates Gaspar Corte-Real.

Outside of Portugal, only a few scholars, such as the Danish historian Sofus Larsen (1919/25), shared the view that the account of the 1473 trip was realistic. In the Bremen House of the Glockenspiel , Pining and Pothorst are honored on a plaque as “conquerors of the ocean” who are said to have reached North America.

Bristol merchants outside Caboto in Newfoundland

John Day, a Bristol merchant , claimed in a letter to Columbus dated 1498 that it was taken as a certain fact that the land that John Cabot discovered “was found and discovered by people from Bristol at other times, the Brazil found, as Your Grace well knows. It was called the island of Brazil, and it is believed and believed that this is the mainland that the people of Bristol found. "The" island of Brazil "( Ysle de Brasil ) is a phantom island , supposedly located west of Ireland , in various late medieval times Sources is mentioned. Based on this source, it is argued that it was actually the English who discovered America between 1480 and 1494.

Excerpt from the Waldseemüller map

Vespucci 1497

Amerigo Vespucci reported that he had already been in Mexico in June 1497. He might be the first Christian European to set foot on the American double continent.

Martin Waldseemüller , who mainly referred to Vespucci and the mysterious Caveri map , had astonishingly precise ideas about Central America and the ocean beyond.

Controversial cards

Zeno card

In the years 1388 and 1390, the Venetian Zeno brothers claim to have made voyages in the North Atlantic. They are said to have seen the North American coast near Nova Scotia and called it Drogno . The of them allegedly made Zeno Map keep historians nowadays predominantly a forgery.

Vinland map

Vinland map

The Vinland map is one of the most controversial maps on earth. It shows the islands of Iceland , Greenland and Vinland in the North Atlantic , the latter with the annotation “discovered by the companions Bjarni and Leif”. Greenland is already represented as an island in a form similar to that known today. The origin of the map can only be traced back to 1957, but the parchment could be dated to 1434 using the radiocarbon method. The drawings, however, were made with an ink that contained titanium dioxide - which has only been industrially produced since 1924 and is regularly used in ink. Thus the card was classified as a forgery. However, recent research has shown that ink, which contains the rare naturally occurring titanium dioxide, was used in isolated cases as early as the 14th century. As a result, the dispute over the card flared up again.

Map of the Piri Reis

In 1929 the map of the Piri Reis , a nautical chart of the Atlantic, was discovered in Istanbul . This map by the Ottoman admiral Piri Reis probably dates from 1513. He himself stated that he used around twenty different maps as a basis for creating his map. The map shows countries that were not yet discovered at the time. While North America was not shown, South America is shown very precisely. Central America and the Caribbean were shown oversized. Piri Reis made a few mistakes when signing off. B. the Amazon twice and Cuba drawn vertically. Animals are also shown, such as monkeys in South America and parrots on the Caribbean islands. It was not stated where Piri Reis got the cards from or what year they came from.

Controversial theories


According to a reading of old Chinese sources by the linguist and adventurer Charles Godfrey Leland (1824-1903) from the 19th century, the Buddhist missionary Hui Shen , coming from China , is said to have reached the American continent north of California in 499 and called him Fusang (also Fousang) have designated. Leland's theory met with rejection during his lifetime.

The British writer and naval officer Gavin Menzies hypothesized in 2002 that in 1421 a large Chinese fleet among the admirals Zhou Man , Zhou Wen and Hong Bao from the entourage of Zheng He discovered America. Menzie's theses are rejected as fiction by specialist historians.


The theory of the discovery of America by Muslims has many proponents who have written articles and books on it, but the treatment of the historian of science , Fuat Sezgin , is the strongest and most detailed.

The writer and hobby historian Luisa Isabel Álvarez de Toledo y Maura (1936–2008), based on her research in the private archives of the House of Medina Sidonia, believed that America was discovered long before Columbus by Arab-Andalusian sailors, Moroccans and African Muslims who Traded with ports in Brazil, Guyana and Venezuela .


The Phoenician inscription ( inscription of Parahyba ), which is believed to have been found in Paraíba , Brazil , gave rise to the - u. a. represented by the orientalist Cyrus H. Gordon (1908-2001) - assumption that the Phoenicians had crossed the Atlantic.

Criticism of the concept of the "discovery" of America

The term "discovery" of America is criticized for being formulated exclusively from the European perspective and for ignoring the point of view of the peoples living there who did not have to "discover" America first. The linguist and philosopher Noam Chomsky wrote: “The phrase about the 'discovery' of America is obviously wrong. What was discovered there was an America that had been discovered by the inhabitants there thousands of years before. Consequently, it was an invasion of America ... ”In 1984 the Mexican government, after consulting a national commission of historians, issued a statement calling for a revision of the terms“ discovery ”and“ conquest ”of America because these terms are only Europeans as agents , who presented the indigenous population as passively suffering. Instead, she recommended the use of the term encuentro de culturas (Eng .: clash / encounter of cultures). Since the early 1990s, historians have increasingly replaced “discovery” with the term “encounter”. This is viewed as more neutral and, unlike the subject-object relationship indicated in the term “discovery”, implies an interaction.


  • Philip F. Alexander (Ed.): The Discovery of America 1492-1584. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2011, ISBN 978-1-107-60060-7 .
  • Urs Bitterli : The discovery of America. From Columbus to Alexander von Humboldt . CH Beck: Munich 1999, ISBN 3-406-42122-9 .
  • Florian Borchmeyer: The order of the unknown. From the invention of the New World , Verlag Matthes and Seitz, Berlin 2009 ISBN 978-3-88221-666-0 .
  • Jacob Burckhardt : World historical considerations . Stuttgart 1978, ISBN 3-520-05512-0 .
  • Oswald Dreyer-Eimbcke : Columbus - discoveries and errors in German cartography , Frankfurt am Main 1991, ISBN 3-524-69097-1 .
  • James Robert Enterline: Erikson, Eskimos & Columbus - Medieval European Knowledge of America. Baltimore & London 2002 ISBN 0-8018-6660-X .
  • Kenneth L. Feder: Encyclopedia of Dubious Archeology: From Atlantis to the Walam Olum , Santa Barbara 2010 ISBN 978-0-313-37918-5 .
  • Horst Gründer: A History of European Expansion - From Explorers and Conquerors to Colonialism . Leipzig 1998, ISBN 3-8062-1757-2 .
  • Donald S. Johnson: Mirage of the Seas - The lost islands of the Atlantic . Munich 1999, ISBN 3-8284-5019-9 .
  • Samuel Eliot Morison: European Discovery of America. Oxford University Press, Oxford 1996, ISBN 978-0-19-508271-5 .
  • Eva Michels-Schwarz and Uwe Schwarz (eds.): The arrival of the white gods. Documents and early accounts of the great conquerors from North America to Peru. Edition Erdmann in K. Thienemanns Verlag 1992, Stuttgart, Vienna, ISBN 3-522-61200-0 , licensed edition for the Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt 1998
  • Heinrich Pleticha, Hermann Schreiber: The discovery of the world . Vienna 1993, ISBN 3-8000-3490-5 .
  • Ernst Samhaber: History of the voyages of discovery: the great journeys into the unknown. Löwit, Wiesbaden 1975 (special edition).
  • Andreas Venzke : Christopher Columbus. Rowohlt, Reinbek near Hamburg 1992, ISBN 3-499-50449-9 .

Web links

Notes and individual references

  1. Grænlendinga saga in the translation by Felix Niedner: “Story of the Greenlanders”, Thule Collection, vol. 13. Diederichs 1965; in engl. Online translation: Rasmus B. Anderson in The Flatey book and recently discovered Vatican manuscripts concerning America as early as the tenth century : [1]
  2. In the Eiríks saga rauða Erik the Red goes out to explore what Gunbjörn discovered; see. Chapter 2, 6th paragraph of the Erik saga in the English translation by J. Sephton, 1880: The Saga of Erik the Red
  3. as before
  4. ^ Discovery of the Site and Initial Excavations (1960-1968) , Parks Canada
  5. ^ The Goddard Norse Coin . Maine State Museum. Archived from the original on November 19, 2009. Retrieved December 23, 2010.
  6. Chapter 14, 3rd paragraph of the Erik saga in the English translation by J. Sephton, 1880: The Saga of Erik the Red
  7. Chapter 14, 3rd paragraph, sentences 6 and 7, roughly: “Then the men began to let go a lot. Those who were without women approached the wives of married men. "
  8. Expressly given as a motivation in Chapter 13, 1st paragraph of the Erik saga in the English translation by J. Sephton, 1880: The Saga of Erik the Red
  9. Cornelia Giesing, “The pre-Columbian America in a circumpazifischer Sicht” (pdf, 5 MB), from: Wolfgang Stein (ed.); State Museum of Ethnology - Munich , "COLUMBUS or Who discovered America?", Munich (Hirmer Verlag), 1992 (pp. 38–68), ISBN 3-7774-6060-5
  10. Alice A. Storey et al .: Radiocarbon and DNA evidence for a pre-Columbian introduction of Polynesian chickens to Chile. 2007. doi: 10.1073 / pnas.0703993104
    How the chicken came to America. On: from June 5, 2007.
  11. Sweet potatoes who love to travel On: of January 27, 2013.
    When sweet potatoes take a trip. From: on May 22, 2007, accessed on September 10, 2019
  12. Polynesians discovered Americans - and vice versa In: , accessed October 31, 2014; all English: How The Sweet Potato Crossed The Pacific Way Before The Europeans Did In: (with map and linguistic comparison, 23 January 2013); Historical collections reveal patterns of diffusion of sweet potato in Oceania obscured by modern plant movements and recombination. In: (published February 5, 2013), s. a. DNA shows how the sweet potato crossed the sea. Historical specimens reveal that early travelers brought the tuber to Polynesia. In: (January 21, 2013), accessed October 17, 2014
  13. Verena Leusch: How the sweet potato came to Polynesia. Spectrum, April 12, 2018, accessed September 16, 2018 .
  14. J. Victor Moreno-Mayar, Simon Rasmussen, et al .: Genome-wide Ancestry Patterns in Rapanui Suggests Pre-European Admixture with Native Americans . In: Current Biology , 24 (November 3, 2014), pp. 2518-2525, 2520, 2522 f .; Genomic data support early contact between Easter Island and Americas In: , accessed April 26, 2015
  15. Article on Hans Giffhorn: Was America discovered in antiquity? Munich 2013 at and (accessed February 13, 2014)
  16. English-language article from Newfoundland: (accessed February 13, 2014)
  17. Erich Rackwitz : Fremde Pfade - unknown seas , pages 67-70. Urania-Verlag, Leipzig / Jena / Berlin 1980
  18. Report on 3sat broadcast on cod ; English-language sources:
    The First Voyages of the Europeans. ( Memento of February 3, 2014 in the Internet Archive ): "Later, around 1390, Basque whalers crossed the Atlantic from Saint-Jean-de-Luz to hunt for giant whales, which they found on the fringes of an undiscovered island they named land of the Basques (Newfoundland). "
    Mark Kurlansky: Salt. Random House, 2011, page 119
    Ivan Valiela: Global Coastal Change. Verlag John Wiley & Sons, 2009, p. 247 (accessed July 25, 2014)
  19. The Exploration of North America by the Corte Reals on the official website of Canada's Libraries and Archives. (English)
  20. Johannes Scolvus. In: Dictionary of Canadian Biography. Toronto 1979ff. ISBN 0-8020-3142-0
  21. ^ Derek Hayes: Historical Atlas of Canada. Canada's History Illustrated with Original Maps. Douglas & McIntyre, 2006, ISBN 1-55365-077-8 , p. 22.
  22. ^ The Böttcherstraße in Bremen: The Glockenspiel - The meaning of the picture boards ( Memento of February 21, 2014 in the Internet Archive ).
  23. "Se presume cierto averse fallado e descubierto en otros tiempos el cabo de la dicha tierra por los de Bristol que fallaron el Brasil como dello tiene noticia Vra Sa la qual se dezia la Ysle de Brasil e presumese e creese ser tierra firme la que fallaron los de Bristol ”. Quoted from David B. Quinn: The Argument for the English Discovery of America between 1480 and 1494. In: The Geographical Journal 127, no. 3 (1961), pp. 277-285; see. James A. Williamson: The Cabot Voyages and Bristol Discovery Under Henry VII. Cambridge University Press, 1962, pp. 212-214, online at (English); English Voyages before Cabot. In: , 1997 (critical appraisal, English).
  24. See and (accessed February 13, 2014)
  25. Even Vasco Nunez de Balboa had heard from locals that there was a "big lake behind the mountains".
  26. Konrad Haebler : The Columbus literature of the anniversary time . In: Historische Zeitschrift 74 (1895), p. 231 ff .; here: p. 244.
  27. 1421 exposed ( Memento from March 28, 2007 in the Internet Archive ) - critical side of an international team of experts
  28. ^ Robert Finlay: "How Not to (Re) Write World History: Gavin Menzies and the Chinese Discovery of America" ( Memento of September 21, 2004 in the Internet Archive ). In: Journal of World History , 15, No. 2, 2004 - Book Review
  29. 1421: The Year China Discovered the World. By Gavin Menzies. (No longer available online.) Archived from the original on July 5, 2003 ; Retrieved March 22, 2007 .
  30. ^ Robert Finlay: How Not to (Re) Write World History: Gavin Menzies and the Chinese Discovery of America (PDF; 1.6 MB) . In: Journal of World History . 15, No. 2, 2004.
  31. Goodman, David SG (2006): "Mao and The Da Vinci Code: Conspiracy, Narrative and History", in: The Pacific Review , Vol. 19, No. 3, pp. 359-384 (367-372)
  32. Ian Morris : Who Rules the World? Why civilizations rule or are ruled, Campus Verlag, Frankfurt am Main / New York 2011, p. 397
  33. ^ Website of the Fundación Casa Medina Sidonia
  34. ^ Lienhard Delekat , Phoenicians in America. The authenticity of the Canaanite (old Sidonian) inscription from Paraiba in Brazil , which became known in 1873, is proven in: Peter Hanstein, Bonn 1969, (Bonner biblical contributions 32, ZDB-ID 525852-2) --- Frank M. Cross , The Phoenician Inscription from Brazil . A Nineteenth-Century Forgery , in: Orientalia Rom 37 (1968), pp. 437-460
  35. Noam Chomsky, cit. in: Survival International, "The 'Discovery' of Machu Picchu", undated
  36. Roland Bernhard, History Myths about Hispanoamerica: Discovery, Conquest and Colonization in German and Austrian School Books of the 21st Century , Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht GmbH & Co. KG 2013, p. 164 ( Google Books preview )
  37. Guido Abbattista: European Encounters in the Age of Expansion , at EGO - European History Online, , 2011, p. 2