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Columbus Day honors explorer, but was he here first?

Christopher Columbus' ship as painted by Wyeth.
Christopher Columbus' ship as painted by Wyeth.

“Columbus sailed the ocean blue, in fourteen hundred ninety-two. For many weeks he was at sea, with sailing ships that numbered three,” are the first lines of an old grade school song about the man credited with discovering America. As researchers have documented, Christopher Columbus, although a successful sailor, was not the first non-Native American to set foot upon the North American continent.

Columbus did not even set foot in North America. He landed in the islands of the Caribbean, near Cuba. This puts him closer to Central America. Still, he is honored with a federal holiday, closed schools, banks and many offices, parades, and lots of Italian pride.

Although Christopher Columbus is credited by many with the discovery of America, many scholars believe the Vikings were here first, and some say Leif Erikson should receive the credit. It can also be said that the people who migrated from Asia were the first, as they were the ancestors of the Native American peoples. There are many theories about who came first to North America. Here are some:

About 10,000 BC, people made the dangerous journey across the solid ice from Siberia to Alaska. Game was plentiful, since animals had migrated to the new continent long before man.

Man advanced south and east, eventually occupying the whole of North and South America. These people became the Native American groups recognized today. They developed sophisticated civilizations, such as the Maya, Nazca and Inca.

According to Thor Heyerdahl, Norwegian sailor and anthropologist, a group of Egyptian pyramid builders crossed the Atlantic on a papyrus boat and landed in Central America. To prove that the journey was possible, Heyerdahl constructed a boat from papyrus. He attempted crossing the Atlantic and succeeded on his second attempt in 1970. The Ra II is on display in the Kon-Tiki Museum in Bygdø, Oslo, Norway. The original journey of the pyramid builders would have happened before about 2000 BC, before pyramid building died out in Egypt.

According to Joseph Smith Jr., the founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, a group of Israelites made the journey from the Eastern Mediterranean to America. There they wrote the Book of Mormon, and engraved it on gold plates. According to the Testimony of Eight Witnesses,

“Be it known unto all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, unto whom this work shall come: That Joseph Smith, Jun., the translator of this work, has shown unto us the plates of which hath been spoken, which have the appearance of gold; and as many of the leaves as the said Smith has translated we did handle with our hands; and we also saw the engravings thereon, all of which has the appearance of ancient work, and of curious workmanship.”

The Carthaginians, from the northern African coast, learned sailing skills from their Phoenician ancestors. They were vigorous explorers, mapping the coast of Africa and parts of Europe. Greek historian, Diodorus, reported in 100 BC that the Carthaginians knew of a large island far out in the Atlantic which had many mountains and large navigable rivers. This island was a great source of wealth to them but they kept its location secret. They had discovered it accidentally by a ship blown off course by a storm.

St. Brendan the Irish Navigator, sailed across the sea to a new world in the 6th century with a group of acolytes. He used a currach, a type of boat still used in the west of Ireland, made of a frame of wood covered in animal skin and then tarred. Tim Severin, author and explorer, built a replica, and in 1976 sailed across the Atlantic in it with a crew of five.

The Vínland Saga tells how Eirík 's son, Leif, sailed south from Greenland and discovered a temperate land. Vinland loosely means “with berries”, which may have been some native grapes not found in Greenland. He reported to have met other peoples living there.

Even the Chinese can claim North America. The Junk Theory says that after completing the great Wall Emperor Zhu Di, in 1421, sent of an armada of junks to explore the whole world. They arrived in Brazil by way of the Indian Ocean, rounding the southern tip of Africa and crossing the Atlantic. Some claim that carved stones in Asian languages around the world date from this time.

Whatever theory may or may not be true, including aliens and angels, Columbus Day, actually October 12, is celebrated as a holiday on the second Monday in October.

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