(ORDO NEWS) — Christopher Columbus reached America in 1492, but he certainly wasn’t the first to do so. When Columbus landed in 1492, the Americas had already been inhabited for tens of thousands of years. He was not the first person to discover this continent. On the contrary, his discovery was the last of many discoveries.
In total, humans have discovered America at least seven times. In at least six of them, she wasn’t all that new. The discoverers arrived by sea and by land, bringing with them new genes, new languages, new technologies.
Some stayed, explored and built empires. Others returned home leaving behind only a few hints that they had been there.
From the last to the first, this is the story of how America was discovered.
7- Christopher Columbus: 1492 AD
In 1492, Europeans could have reached Asia via the Silk Road or sailed along the Cape Route around the southern tip of Africa. Sailing westward from Europe was considered impossible.
The ancient Greeks accurately calculated that the circumference of the Earth was 40,000 km, which put Asia far to the west. But Columbus made a mistake in his calculations. An error in the conversion of units of measurement gave him a circumference of only 30,000 km.
This error, as well as other assumptions born of wishful thinking, gave the distance from Europe to Japan only 4,500 km. In fact, the distance is almost 20,000 km.
Therefore, Columbus’ ships set sail without sufficient supplies to reach Asia. Fortunately for him, he ended up in America. Columbus, thinking he had found the East Indies, called its inhabitants Indios, or Indians.
In the end, he died without realizing his mistake. It was the navigator Amerigo Vespucci who realized that Columbus had found an unknown land, and in 1507 the name America was given in honor of Vespucci.
6- Polynesians: A.D. 1,200
Around 2500 BC Mariners set sail from Taiwan in search of new lands. They sailed south through the Philippines, east through Melanesia, and then out into the vast South Pacific. These people, the Polynesians, were masters of navigation, by wind, waves and stars they crossed thousands of kilometers of the open ocean.
Using huge double canoes, the Polynesians settled Samoa, Fiji, Tonga and the Cook Islands. Some went south to New Zealand, becoming Maori. Others went east to Tahiti, Hawaii, Easter Island and the Marquesas Islands.
From there they finally made their way to South America. Then, having explored most of the Pacific Ocean, they stopped exploring and completely forgot about South America.
But evidence of this remarkable journey remains. The South Americans acquired chicken from the Polynesians, and the Polynesians may have taken the South American sweet potatoes.
And they shared more than just food. Eastern Polynesians have Native American DNA. Polynesians didn’t just date Native Americans, they married them.
5- Norwegians: 1021 AD
According to the Viking sagas, around 980 AD. Eric the Red, a ferocious Viking and cunning trader, named the vast icy wasteland Greenland to lure people into it. Then, in 986 AD, a ship from Greenland sighted the coast of Canada.
Around 1021 AD Eric’s son Leif founded a settlement in Newfoundland. The Vikings struggled with the harsh climate, but war with the Native Americans eventually forced them back to Greenland.
These stories have long been considered myths, until in 1960 archaeologists unearthed the remains of Viking settlements in Newfoundland.
4- Inuit: A.D. 900
Shortly before the Vikings, the Inuit traveled from Siberia to Alaska in leather boats. Hunting whales and seals, living in turf huts and igloos, they were well adapted to the cold Arctic Ocean and skirted its shores as far as Greenland.
Curiously, their DNA is closest to that of Alaska Natives, suggesting that their ancestors colonized Asia from Alaska and then traveled back to rediscover America.
3- Eskimo-Aleuts: 2000-2500 BC
The Inuit are descended from an earlier migration: Eskimo-Aleut speakers. They are distinct from other Native American languages and may even be distantly related to Uralic languages such as Finnish and Hungarian.
This, and DNA evidence, suggest that the Aleut Eskimos were a distinct migration. They came across the Bering Sea from the territory of modern Russia to Alaska, perhaps 4,000-4,500 years ago, partially displacing and mixing with earlier migrants – the Na-Dene people.
2- Na-Dene: 3000-8000 BC
Another group, the Na-Dene, crossed the Bering Sea and came to Alaska about 5,000 years ago, although other studies show that they settled the Americas as early as 10,000 years ago.
The DNA from their bones links them not to modern Eskimo-Aleut people, but to Native Americans who speak languages of the Na-Dene family, such as the Navajo, Dene, Tlingit, and Apache.
The Na-Dene languages are closest to the languages spoken in Siberia, further suggesting that they represent a separate migration.
First Americans: 16,000-35,000 years ago
Nearly all Native American tribes Sioux, Comanche, Iroquois, Cherokee, Aztec, Maya, Quechua, Yanomani, and dozens of others speak similar languages. This suggests that their languages are descended from a common ancestral language spoken by one tribe that came to America a long time ago.
The low genetic diversity of their descendants suggests that this founding tribe was small, perhaps less than 80 individuals.
How did they get there? Before the last ice age ended 11,700 years ago, so much water accumulated in the glaciers that sea levels dropped.
The bottom of the Bering Sea dried up, and the Bering Bridge was formed. The first people of America simply walked from Russia to Alaska. But the timing of their migration is controversial.
Archaeologists once believed that the Clovis people, who lived 13,000 years ago, were the first settlers of the Americas. But now evidence suggests that humans arrived in America much earlier.
Finds in Washington, Oregon, Texas, the US East Coast, and Florida indicate that humans arrived in America long before the Clovis people.
Footprints in New Mexico date back to 23,000 years ago. Stone tools in a Mexican cave may date back to 32,000 years ago. A slaughtered mammoth from Colorado has been dated to 31,000-38,000 years ago. And traces of fire indicate that people appeared in Alaska 32,000 years ago.
Some of these dates may be wrong, but with each new discovery it seems increasingly unlikely that they are all wrong.
An early migration would solve the main mystery. 13,000 years ago, a huge glacier, the Laurentian Ice Sheet, buried Canada in ice up to three kilometers thick. If humans arrived in North America then how did they cross the ice?
The rugged coastline of southeast Alaska, full of glaciers and fjords, was most likely impassable, and the early Americans probably did not have boats. But 30,000 years ago, the ice sheet had not yet fully formed.
Before the ice spread, people could hunt mammoths and horses east from Alaska to the Northwest Territories, then south through Alberta and Saskatchewan to Montana.
It is noteworthy that people could populate America earlier than Western Europe. And yet it makes sense. The Arctic in Alaska is harsh, and there were potentially hostile Neanderthals in Europe.
End of discoveries
1492 was the last discovery of America. After the travels of Columbus, Magellan and Cook, the scattered descendants of the human diaspora are finally reunited. With the exception of a few non-contact tribes, everywhere was known to everyone. Discoveries were impossible.
But the history of the settlement of America is still being written, and our understanding is evolving. The Aleut Eskimos may have been two different migrations, not one.
The genes hint at the possibility of other, early founder populations. And given how little evidence of their visits was left by the Polynesians and Norwegians, it can be assumed that there were other migrations about which we have little evidence.
We don’t know so much. No one else can discover America, but much remains to be learned about its discovery.
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