Before Cabot, Who Arrived?

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For many years, it was believed that the first Europeans to arrive in North America came in the 15th and 16th centuries.
The reality is that there are legends, and proof, of people arriving from across both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans before Columbus hit the New World in 1492.
Today, I am taking a look at the people who arrived after the First Nations but before the Europeans in the 1500s.


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In 1882, Chinese coins were discovered in British Columbia by a miner. It is said he found 30 coins about 25 feet below the surface and they had been strung together. One coin was examined and it seemed to have figures that looked like an Aztec calendar. 

In 1885, a vase containing small discs of coin was found wrapped in the roots of a tree that was 300 years old. 


There is the belief among some scholars that the Phoenicians may have arrived in North America over 3,300 years ago. In 350 BCE, gold staters were imprinted with a map of the Mediterranean and what is possibly the Americas shown to the west. Whether they made it that far, or even landed in Canada, is unknown. 

Saint Brendan, Sixth Century

While this is more legend than anything, there is the belief by some that Saint Brendan was one of the first Europeans to reach the New World. Detailed in the Voyage of St. Brendan the Navigator, a text from the Ninth Century, it explains how he set out with 16 pilgrims to search for the Garden of Eden. On that trip, it is said he saw Saint Brendan’s Island, a blessed island covered with ample vegetation. 

There are some who believe that Saint Brendan’s Island was actually the coast of North America. 
There is no evidence to support this at the current time, but Tim Severin was able to prove that a boat such as the one St. Brendan would have used could make the trip across from Ireland to Newfoundland. He was able to make the 7,200-km trip from May to June of 1977.

Bjarni Herjolfsson

In 986, the Norsemen settled in Greenland and Bjarni Herjolfsson sighted the coast of North America but did not land there. He is believed to be the first-known European to have found the mainland of the Americas, which he saw that same year. 

Sailing to Iceland to visit his parents, he found they had left for Greenland. He took his crew to find them but was blown off course by a severe storm. Soon after, he sighted land covered with trees and mountains that was not Greenland. Ignoring the pleas of his men to stop at the shore, he insisted on heading back. They were able to regain their course and return to Greenland. 
It is believed that the lands he saw were Newfoundland and Labrador. 
Many Greenlanders took an interest in his discovery and the many trees there that could be harvested. This led another Norseman to take a journey of his own. 

Leif Erikson

Around 1000 AD, Lief Erikson approached Bjarni and purchased his ship with the intent of finding the land he had found. With a crew of 35 men, he left for the fabled land. Following Bjarni’s route in reverse, he sighted what was possibly Baffin Island, which he called Helluland or Flat-Rock Land. He then continued to venture further and landed at Labrador, which he called Markland or Forest Land After two more days at sea, he landed once more at a site that had a nice climate and lots of salmon to eat. He decided to encamp for the winter and organized his men into two groups. One group stayed at camp while the other explored. The expedition set out to explore came to a land full of grapes and vines and they named it Vinland. The crew built a small settlement there and wintered. 

After the winter, the crew returned to Greenland with grapes and timber. 
Research done in the 1960s by Helge Ingstad and his wife Anne Stine Ingstad, put further proof to the claim that the Norse were the first Europeans to settle in North America. An entire settlement was found, L’Anse aux Meadows, with many artifacts dating back 1,000 years. It is believed that 30 to 160 people lived there over the course of its existence. 
It is believed that the Norse, as well as Irish and English, fishermen fished off the coast of Newfoundland from 1000 AD to 1200 AD, using this site. The site was eventually abandoned, as was the Norse colony in Greenland.


According to folklore, Madoc was a Welsh prince who sailed to North America in 1170 AD. The story does not have any evidence but it was used as evidence for why North America belonged to the British in later centuries. 
According to the legend, it is said that Madoc landed in the area of Yarmouth, Nova Scotia and in Newfoundland. 

Joao Vaz Corte-Real

Just two decades before Columbus landed, it is believed that Joao Vaz made the trip to Newfoundland around 1473 when he claimed to have found the New Land of the Codfish. There is a great deal of belief that this was Newfoundland. 

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