By the time Christopher Columbus mis-navigated his way to the West Indies, the New World was already old news to many others. These are all the people who discovered America before Columbus made his much more famous voyage.
The Native Americans
There are still many questions about where the Native Americans travelled from. Many believe that immigrants from Asia came to the Americas 40,000 to 13,000 years ago, though they may have come from two separate places. Either way, they are technically the first people to discover America. Upon finding it, they began to build communities and populate the land. But many, many others would come after them.
Ancient Egyptians may have traded with South American tribes around 1,000 B.C. Scientists can’t figure out any other explanation for the amount of tobacco and coca, found only in the Americas, discovered in Egyptian mummies. It is a proven fact that ancient Egyptians traded extensively with other civilizations.
Lehi The Prophet
According to the Book of Mormon, an ancient prophet and his followers sailed to the Americas around 600 B.C. Lehi, the prophet, lived in Jerusalem when he was told by the Lord to leave and find the promised land. Lehi built a ship and set out on a voyage across the ocean. He landed in the Americas. The story was later recorded for the Book. DNA evidence proves that Native Americans do not originate from the Middle East, however, and there are no artifacts to verify this legend.
The Irish Navigator
Saint Brendan the Navigator did a great deal of missionary work throughout Ireland, sailing all around the British Isles to spread Christianity. According to legend, he even sailed off across the ocean. He built a boat and took 18 to 150 men, depending on which account you read, in search of the Garden of Eden. He found a Paradise at the end of his journey and sailed all the way back to Ireland to tell tales of it. He was absent for seven years. The legend was passed down orally for many centuries before it was finally recorded on paper, and no evidence of Irish artifacts has been discovered in the Americas. Some say the story is merely allegory, and does not refer to an actual voyage at all, but many historians wonder if Brendan’s tall tales were really truth.
Leif Erikson, Viking explorer, legitimately did discover the New World around 1000 AD. He discovered Novia Scotia, though he named it Vinland. Later, a settlement was built there. Newfoundland is home to the oldest European settlement in the Americas. More than 2,000 Viking artifacts have been discovered there that date to the days of Leif Erikson.
Welsh lore tells of the voyage of Prince Madoc. One of the illegitimate sons of the king of Gwynedd, he sailed from the north Welsh coast in two ships. They were headed west, and legend says that they landed near present-day Alabama. He returned to Wales telling fantastic tales of the western land he found, and convinced others to join him on a second voyage. After he left in 1171, he was never seen in Wales again. There is some sketchy historic evidence to suggest that Madoc’s legend may be based on truth. Early American explorers told of the Mandans, a tribe of Indians with white skin who spoke a Welsh-like dialect. That tribe of Indians was decimated by smallpox in 1837, so there is no current evidence to support the Welsh legend.
Abu Bakr II
In 1311, the emperor of Mali was Abu Bakr II. His kingdom encompassed most of West Africa and he had great wealth. But he gave it all up, and abdicated his throne, to take a great voyage to the west. He sailed away with upwards of 2,000 boats, according to legend, and never did return to Mali. Most of the legend was passed down orally, and so far no concrete evidence has been found to prove he landed in the Americas.
All Polynesians are descended from the same seafaring people who sailed all over the Pacific. They built colonies on Easter Island, New Zealand, and Hawaii. They may have made it all the way to the western shores of America. DNA evidence shows that they made have found the Americas sometime between 500 and 700. Historians have doubted this possibility because the Polynesians used raft-like boats that are not prudent for long ocean voyages. </p
Henry Sinclair was Scotland’s Admiral of the Seas, and tasked with pacifying Shetland around 1390. He had 13 warships at his disposal when a fisherman showed up telling a story of an amazing land to the west. He’d been driven way off course by storms to discover it. Legend holds that Sinclair took his ships out past Greenland and discovered a “fertile land.” He came back to Scotland in 1399 and told stories of his journey. He planned to return, in fact, but was killed in battle in 1400. The documents supporting this legend are in question by historians, who say they may be forged. However, there was a tribe in Nova Scotia who told tales of a King who came from an island far away, only to stay for a year and sail away again. Sinclair’s grandson built the Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland, pictured, which has carvings that resemble corn and cactus plants. You can only find those in America.
Zheng He was a famed Chinese explorer, leading voyages all over the Indian Ocean. He set out with 20,000 men and dozens of ships to the Atlantic, and definitely made it as far as Africa. He made at least seven voyages from 1405 to 1433. Zheng He was believed to be lost at sea in 1433. Some have theorized that Zheng He went all the way to America. There is a map, said to be Chinese in origin, that supports this theory. No other evidence of Zheng He in the Americas has ever been found.