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Great Adventures: ‘Lucky’ Leif Ericson

Pat Kinsella follows the sagas and explores the exploits of the very first Europeans to visit America

LEIF ERIKSON’S VOYAGE TO VINLAND

BOLD ADVENTURER Leif Erikson, the Viking hero and true European discoverer of the Americas
ALAMY X1, AKG X1, GETTY X1

“Columbus wasn’t the first European to set foot on American soil. Not by a long shot”

The second Monday of October is a federal public holiday in the United States. Known as Columbus Day, it marks the anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the Americas in 1492 – an event that, without doubt, marked a turning point in the fortunes of the conjoined continents, north and south of where he landed. But despite popular perceptions, the Italian explorer wasn’t the first European to set foot on American soil. Not by a long shot.

Almost five centuries before Columbus crashed into the Bahamas, a boatload of flaxen-haired white men had made landfall in North America. And while the Vikings’ initial discovery of what would become known as the New World was almost certainly a fluke, within a short time Norse explorers led by Leif Erikson and his siblings were deliberately pointing their longboats at the fertile western land. By the early 1000s, a Viking colony was attempting to put down roots in the earthly Valhalla they called Vinland, a place of wine-grapes and wheat.

Leif was from a long line of adventurers, some of whose wanderings were not undertaken entirely voluntarily. His grandfather, orvald Asvaldsson, was banished from Norway for manslaughter, a punishment that prompted him to seek a new home for his young family.

This he found in Iceland, a land originally discovered by his relative Naddodd. Some 22 years later, orvald’s son (and Leif’s father), Erik the Red, was in turn turfed out of Iceland for killing Eyiolf the Foul. During his exile, he found and settled Greenland.

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About BBC History Revealed Magazine

Discover the daring escapes and rescue missions of the Dunkirk evacuation, find out how the Victorians revolutionised British summers with the creation of the seaside holiday, and meet the exotic dancer-turned-World War I spy, Mata Hari.