Leif Erikson: First Norse Explorer to Set Foot On America

Posted by Ms Elly on

Leif Erikson: First Norse Explorer to Set Foot On America 

It is quite sensitive to talk about who was the first to discover America. Because it strikes up disagreement and even conflict between parties. The two major figures in dispute are Columbus and Leif Erikson. In Norse saga, Lief Erikson was the first Norse explorer to set his foot on America. 


Leif Erikson is a real figure (c.970 – c.1020). He was a Norse explorer. Erik the Red, who was the founder of Norse settlement in Greenland, fathered Leif. His homeland was an unsolved mystery. But the majority believed that Leif came from Iceland. 

He was a wise, nice, and strong man. He fell in love with a beautiful noblewoman and they had a son named Thorgils.

Leif Erikson the first European explorer to discover North America before Columbus. His statue at at Shilshole Bay Marina (Port of Seattle)

Statue of Leif Erikson at Shilshole Bay Marina (Port of Seattle)



There are various accounts telling how Leif set his foot on America. One account tells that Leif was off course when he was sailing back to Greenland. He unintentionally landed on America which he called Vinland. 

Because Leif saw many grapevines on that new land, he called it Vinland or Winland. Because the grape grew up abundant by themselves, they could produce the best wine. 

Leif Erikson was the first to discover America, nearly a millennium before Columbus

Vinland or Winland was full of grapevine and it could be the best place to produce the best wine

Another Icelandic saga recounts that Leif once heard a trader named Bjarni Herjulfsson talk about the new land. Bjarni observed the land from miles away and he hadn't set his foot on it. 

No text mentioned the exact location of his landing in Vinland.

In 1960, the archaeologists discovered the L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland. The archaeologists believed this was the camp of the 11th-century Viking exploration. 


Considering the time of landing, Erikson won. Because the landing time of Erikson, according to the saga was the year of 1000. But it was not until 400 years later that Columbus finally set his foot on America. 

Considering the fame and the influence, Columbus won. Obviously, the discovery of Erikson did not make a huge influence on the world. But the discovery of Columbus was known universally and regarded as ground-breaking. 

Many defied the power and strength of the Viking ships. They claimed that the Viking ship was not able to cross the high water like the Atlantic Ocean. And in 1893, when the Americans were holding 400-year-celebration for the day Columbus discovered America, a Viking ship replica sailed by captain Magnus Andersen approached the Columbian Exposition in Chicago. 

This was to attest to the power and talent in shipbuilding of the Vikings. Because the Viking ship replica in 1893 was built based on the construction of the Gokstad ship - a Viking ship buried in Denmark. 

Overall, it is very difficult and somewhat controversial to come to the conclusion "Who was the first to discover America". Some researches point out that before the landing of both Erikson and Columbus, an anonymous figure discovered America. This, again, remains a mystery. To answer questions like these, we have to await the future excavation and finding. 

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