The Vikings preceded Columbus. What else do we know about their expeditions to the West?

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4 min readSep 26, 2022

In the fire-lit halls, Old Scandinavian storytellers spun tales of their first journeys west. They told of Bjarni Herjólfsson, who got lost in the thick fog, sailing from Iceland to Greenland. When the fog finally lifted, Bjarni and his men spotted land that didn’t very much resemble Greenland, as it was hilly and covered with forest.

[Photo: Lothar Dieterich from Pixabay]

However, the young merchant was not interested in exploring it, as he wanted to reach the destination of his voyage to visit his father, so he steered the ship back to the high seas. Bjarni reached the New World by accident. As it seems, he was the first European to see these shores.

Vikings discovered the New World

Today, there are few feats of Viking sailors as controversial as their exploration of the New World. Finding archaeological evidence of these expeditions proved frustrating. According to Scandinavian sagas, Viking chieftain Leif Eriksson and other explorers made as many as four or five expeditions from Greenland to North America in search of timber and other valuable resources.

Scouting the eastern coasts of Canada, they reportedly explored and named three lands as early as around 1000 AD: Helluland, considered by many scholars today to be the eastern coast of Baffin Land and the northern shore of Labrador; Markland, said to be the central and southern coast of Labrador; and Vinland, thought to be the region around the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

The sagas describe that some of these expeditions were prolonged. Their members would winter in a camp on the shore, and in the summer they would venture further afield, searching for resources and goods with which to return home. They cut wood, gathered wild grapes and berries, and hunted. They gave birth, traded and fought with the indigenous people — whom they called Skraelings — all centuries before Christopher Columbus crossed the Atlantic.

In 1960, the famous Norwegian explorer Helge Ingstad went in search of these Viking camps. On the northern tip of Newfoundland, at a place known as L’Anse aux Meadows, more than 4,000 kilometers from the nearest Viking settlement in Greenland, a fisherman told him about old ruins nearby. Intrigued, Ingstad…

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