It is commonly believed that, on 12th October 1492, Italian explorer Christopher Columbus ‘discovered’ the Americas, but this merely marks the beginning of European colonialism. Although there are legends of Irish monks and Chinese fleets reaching shore long before, the first documented settlers are Vikings.
Leif Erikson (c. 970 – c. 1020), son of Norwegian explorer Erik The Red, heard that merchant Bjarni Herjólfsson had sighted land to the west of Greenland after being blown off course. Intrigued, Leif bought Bjarni’s ship and took a crew of thirty-five men towards the land he had described.
They landed on the northern tip of Newfoundland in an area rich in vegetation and salmon, but later began to explore the country and discovered a place full of grapevines that Leif named Vinland. There they built a small settlement and remained for 10 years until finally returning home to Greenland.
It seems that the Viking exit was influenced in part by a difficult and sometimes violent relationship with the country’s indigenous people, who arrived at least 15,000 years ago from Asia. The Vikings continued to visit America for centuries in search of timber and trade, but never settled again.