Welcome to our first outing as the Time Travel Club. Today, we will be taking a look at 11th century Viking/ Norse explorer Leif Erikson, a man reported to be the first European to visit North America. If you are prone to sea sickness, expect to feel it today. Sick bags are available
Leif Erikson is reported to have been born in 970 CE, the second son of Erik the Red. He grew up in his father’s settlement in Greenland. His father had been exiled from Iceland after helping cause a landslide that killed a few people over some magic beans. Banishing ran in the family as his grand-father, Thorvald Asvaldsson, had been exiled from Norway for manslaughter. Good guy Leif was clearly better behaved as he didn’t get exiled from anywhere.
After converting to Christianity during a trip to Norway in 1000 CE, he went off course on his return journey to Greenland, Olaf I having sent him to spread the Christian faith, and ended up in a place that would become known as Vinland as a result of the grapes growing from the fertile soil. However, that is only one theory of how he got there. Some believe that his arrival was intentional, following the intriguing rumours of a mysterious land to the west.
The exact location of Vinland is not something historians are certain of, a number of sites presenting perfectly feasible locations for Leif’s settlement. Some argue that it is located at Cape Cod whilst others believe that it was in Newfoundland. As no one from that time is alive (Though who knows what Erik the Red’s magic beans could do. Did they grant the consumer immortality?) it’s a real challenge to pinpoint it’s exact location.
Before we address the legacy of Leif, let’s discuss the elephant that is the first European to discover North America. The vast majority of people are familiar with the Italian explorer Christopher Columbus who is credited as being the first European to land in America and almost as many are probably aware of Erikson. However, another person is also believed to be the first to discover North America: Bjarni Herjólfsson, another Viking who lived at the same time as Leif. Though he never actually landed there (Apparently, stuff this old is a touch more challenging to confirm) some credit him with being the first to see (And consequently discover) the continent. Furthermore, some argue that his stories of the mysterious lands to the west are what inspired Leif to explore them further. It’s a challenging to confirm outright but who knows, we may come across new evidence confirming one of the above as the true discoverer of North America. Conversely, it could be someone completely unknown to us at the moment.
So what impact did ol’ Leif have in 1000 CE? To some degree, he can be credited with bringing Christianity to Greenland, converting his mother Thjodhild who went on to order the construction of the first Christian church in Greenland at Brattahild. His landing in North America also encouraged others, like his own son and younger brother, to venture west, though not necessarily in as great a number as would be seen centuries after. In terms of impact, his expedition did a fair bit.
Today we remember Leif Erikson on the 9th of October, a date that also recognises the landing of the Restauration, a Scandinavian vessel that brought the first Norwegian immigrants to the USA.
Personally, he’s the guy I’ve named my hypothetical space craft after for my Life on Mars project. I liken his presumably difficult journey across the Atlantic almost a 1000 years ago in a wooden boat to be of a similar challenge my hypothetical crew of astronauts will face travelling across the ‘ocean’ of space in a more advanced vessel. Plus, Viking names are awesome (Would definitely consider naming (one of) my possible son(s) Thorvald (Though not sure how I feel about naming him after someone who committed manslaughter…)).
If you have any thoughts, questions or SUGGESTIONS FOR FUTURE VOYAGES TO THE PAST please feel free to leave them in the comments. Thank you.
- BBC (2014), Leif Erikson [online] Last accessed 23 August 2017: http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/erikson_leif.shtml
- Kate Erbland (2013), 11 Leif Erikson Facts for Leif Erikson Day [online] Last Accessed 23 August 2017: http://mentalfloss.com/article/52993/11-leif-erikson-facts-leif-erikson-day
- HISTORY.COM (2010), Leif Erikson [online] Last Accessed 23 August 2017: http://www.history.com/topics/exploration/leif-eriksson