Historical Figures

Did Christopher Columbus discover America?
Answered by Discovery Channel
  • Discovery Channel

    Discovery Channel

  1. If your initial answer to this question was to think, "Of course he did!" you might have to think again. Many of us have grown up with the familiar notion, from our earliest school years, that Christopher Columbus got the green light for his journey from Queen Isabella, and then the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria set sail. The trouble is, that America, as we understand it today, was quite well occupied by the time Columbus hit the new world. While we might have learned in history classes that Christopher Columbus "discovered America" in 1492, we also know that the American continents had actually been inhabited by Native Americans for centuries before Columbus arrived. In fact, Christopher Columbus wasn't even the first European to reach America -- about 500 years before Columbus, a group of Vikings, led by Leif Ericson, reached the North American shores and left a settlement on the island of modern-day Newfoundland. There is even a legend (and until proven otherwise it is only that!) that an Irish monk named St. Brendan may have reached North America even earlier, during the sixth century, along with several other monks in a quest to find Paradise.

    Columbus did unquestionably sail into the Bahama islands in 1492 and in fact made four trips to the new world. He even visited Cuba. And his discovery had a lasting impact on the trade routes of the day. Interestingly, one myth that somehow made its way into the lore about Columbus was the notion that somehow he "thought the world was flat." In truth, though, the educated people of his time all understood that the world was round. So that myth has been busted. Columbus did, however, think the world was just a wee bit smaller than it turned out to be. He'd hoped to reach Japan in a few thousand miles of sailing, when in reality it would have been more than 10,000 miles, and some continents in between. But he can't be blamed for something like that, given how much of the globe was still yet to be explored in the late-15th and early-16th centuries [source: NPR].

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