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The First Europeans in America
by Todd Underwood

     It is widely accepted that Chistopher Columbus was not the first of the Europeans to reach the new world. It was the Vikings. The vikings, or Norse, were Scandanavians who became "vikings" in about 189 a.d. The word Viking is not a description of a group of people, it is an act that people do. The act of viking involves robbery, piracy, or any evil act done in the summer months. The Scandanavians first "vinkinged" at Lindisfarne in 793 a.d when they attacked a monastery. Little is known as to the reason the Scandanavians turned to viking, but their attacks continued over the next 150 years marking their place in history.

     One thing that is known for sure is that the "Vikings" wanted land. In their quest, Norse seafarers sailed first to Iceland and then to Greenland. The first "Viking" to have made it to the new world stumbeled upon it by accident.

Leif Eriksson's brother Thorvald is mortally wounded
Courtesy J.Walker (artist), National Archives

Captain Bjarni Herjolfsson was attempting to sail to Greenland from Iceland and a storm blew him off course. When the sun finally came out, Bjarni found himself looking at an unfamiliar wooded coastline, North America. Bjarni contined his attempt to get to Greenland and eventually made it bringing with him the stories of what he had found. His tales inspired an up and coming explorer name Leif Eriksson, son of Eric the Red.

     Leif set out to find and explore this new world Bjarni had found. In about 1001 a.d. Leif's ship made landfall and he called this new world

Vinland Map - copied by an unknown scribe about 1440 from earlier originals that were later lost

"Vinland", after the many grapes they found. Leif and his people stayed at Vinland for the season and then returned to Greenland. Inspired by the stories of Vinland, a friend of Leifs by the name of Thorfinn Karlsefni brought his wife and about 160 others and started a colony at what is now known as L'Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland. Their stay didn't last long as the Newfoundland natives soon drove the outnumbered Norse away. In the 1960's, archaeologists uncovered foundations of Viking houses, workshops and a smithy at L'Anse aux Meadows, substantiating the claims of the Viking Sagas. Pictured at right is a Norse silver penny which was minted in the 11th century and found in an Indian Village site on the coast of Maine.



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