You probably heard a simple rhyming phrase that explained the origin of European settlement on the Americas while you were at school, and it went like this. “In fourteen hundred and ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” From this, two great misconceptions have been born. The first was that Christopher Columbus, the Italian sailor and adventurer, was the first European to set foot on the American continents. The second is that Columbus was looking for America on purpose, and his arrival there was the successful completion of a grand mission. Neither of these was the case, and an increasing awareness of this among the American public may soon re-write the books we give our children in schools.
Columbus is still represented in history as the person who founded the Americas largely because historians are stuck in their ways, and Americans are too stubborn to change the established narrative of their history. You may have seen Columbus depicted as the intrepid discoverer of the New World on television shows or in films. Even within online slots websites like Online Slots UK, where there’s a slot by the name of ‘Columbus Deluxe,’ and another called ‘Columbus Treasure,’ this myth is repeated. We’re not trying to say that online slots websites should be viewed as guardians of what is and isn’t a reasonable telling of history, but the very fact that the story is so readily accepted that people are willing to make online slots about it is not insignificant. It’s embedded as a fact, deep in the psyche of the western world.
The first thing we ought to understand about Columbus is that when he set out from Spain on that fabled ‘first voyage’ in 1492, he had no concept of what America was. The idea of the New World didn’t exist in his mind. He believed he was sailing to the Far East. He wasn’t trying to prove that the world was round (that’s yet another oft-repeated error in the story of Columbus) but instead was hopeful of opening up new, faster trade routes between Europe and China. His landing on the Americas was an accident, and for a long time after the event, he refused to believe that he’d landed in a previously-undiscovered country at all. Instead, he thought he’d found a little-known island on or around Japan.
The accidental happening of Columbus hitting upon the Americas wouldn’t matter so much if he’d been the first European to do so, as the official narrative tells us. To accept that narrative, though, is to ignore irrefutable evidence that this isn’t the case. Travel to the Canadian island of Newfoundland, and you’ll find a site called L’Anse aux Meadows. It isn’t the catchiest name you’ll ever come across, but it’s been verified as a Viking settlement dating back to around the tenth century. UNESCO has known about this for a long time and designated it as a World Heritage Site in 1978. That’s more than forty years ago. You may have been taught in school during the 1980s and 1990s that Columbus was the first European to reach the Americas, but the scientific world already knew that the Vikings has the Italian beat by about four hundred years.
This is far from being the only enormous hole in the ‘Columbus was first to America’ theory. There’s an ancient Peruvian mummy currently on display at the Bolton Museum of Greater Manchester, England, that’s been embalmed using a form of tree resin. The resin comes from a relative of the monkey puzzle tree that can only be found in Oceania or New Guinea, and yet the mummy was embalmed in either the eleventh or twelfth centuries. If the tree resin had made it to Peru, someone must have brought it there. People from Oceania or New Guinea may not be European, but the presence of the tree resin confirms that the people of Peru weren’t uncontacted before Columbus or the subsequent Spanish invasions made it that far into South America.
Going back even further than the Viking settlement in Canada, there’s also the significant question posed by the giant stone Olmec heads that appear to have distinctly African features. The Olmecs lived in Mesoamerica more than three thousand years ago, and their civilization lasted until the 5th century. That puts them a further five hundred years before the arrival of the Vikings, and almost one thousand years before Columbus’s misguided mission. Even if we wanted to write the appearance of the Olmec heads off as a strange coincidence, there are also records of a North African visit to the so-called New World by a fleet that sailed from Mali in 1311, with Abu Bakr II in charge. The natives of Hispaniola speak of the arrival of black sailors during that century, carrying spears made from guanine. Examples of those spears have survived to the present day, and as far as we know, they can’t possibly have been manufactured in Hispaniola using the materials that were available to those people at that point in history.
Ripping up whole pages of our history books isn’t a pleasant prospect for anybody. We’d have to accept that several generations of children have been taught lies, and that a lot of what we know about American history is founded upon those lies. If we accept the truth of the evidence in front of us, we’re forced to conclude that Columbus didn’t discover anything. He still has a place in history, as it was his arrival that precipitated Spanish and British colonization of the Americas, but that process brought with it the brutal oppression of the native people who called the land home long before the Europeans started imposing themselves on it. Columbus wasn’t the first to reach America; he was just the first person to land there and decide that the land and the people were his for the taking. Perhaps, with that in mind, we should stop thinking of him as a discoverer and start thinking of him as a conqueror. Columbus did indeed sail the ocean blue in the year 1492, but the evidence tells us that there was nothing new in what he did, and that he was late to the party by a very long time.