Time Travel Club: Who was Leif Erikson?

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.

Even in this day and age, precision is a tough thing to achieve with ancient history…    (Photo Credit – Google Maps)


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.


13 thoughts on “Time Travel Club: Who was Leif Erikson?

  1. Native Americans have lived in the Americas
    for thousands of years. It is always interesting
    when these conversations of “who discovered
    the Americas” come up from time to time always
    completely ignoring Native American History.

    Just like how the Babylonians had perfected the
    timing of eclipses thousands of years before they
    were re-discovered by modern mathematicians.
    The human ego has a strange habit of trying to claim
    things that have already been discovered long before.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I tried to be careful when discussing ‘who discovered America’ by referring to European discovery. Native Americans are a fundamental aspect of American history, deserving more than a throwaway comment. Though a mention would of probably been best at least.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. We were lucky at school to have several trips to Anglo-Saxon
        settlements like West Stow, so Norse & Viking history has
        always been extremely fascinating. But also on our road trips
        across America we stopped at different Native American sacred
        sites, so there are many parallels to be found. Similarly the
        shamanism that still exists in Siberia very closely resembles
        many traditions held by Native Americans. It is always
        interesting to learn about ancient customs and spirituality.

        So much barbaric genocide still continues in the name of
        Christianity, so it is always welcome when people dig a little
        farther back into our shared histories, these eras truly had
        the greatest explorers since they didn’t have all this modern
        technology to rely on to travel vast distances. In many ways
        they were much more advanced & in balance with the natural
        world than we could ever dream of being today.

        I still see this Mars conversation & think if we can’t even
        come into balance on our own soil, what right do we have
        to go and destroy yet another ecosystem in our universe?

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I’m optimistic about the Mars conversation.

          I agree that humanity at present have done some horrendous crimes to the natural world and that we should learn to respect the great home we have before setting foot on other planets.

          However, I see Mars as a catalyst for unity, peace and respect for each other and our home. If we can achieve something as grand as reaching another planet then we can save our own as a global population. The advances we will have to make in order to get to Mars may ultimately serve to benefit our planet with new, efficient, clean energy sources and more sustainable means of using resources.

          I know it shouldn’t take leaving our home to achieve all this but I hope it only serves to improve our planet.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. I think they should complete a successful moon colony
            for say 10 – 20 years before they could even try attempting
            something as infinitely more difficult as colonizing Mars.

            That way much of the unforeseen problem solving will have
            been tackled & understood during a much easier “trial run”.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Agreed, the Moon would be a more manageable starting point for space colonisation. It may very well be a step along our journey towards to Mars.

              This article might be worth a read: https://www.sciencealert.com/nasa-scientists-say-we-could-colonise-the-moon-by-2022-for-just-10-billion. If they do go ahead with it a lot of the initial challenges the Mars mission faces could have been refined and overcome with relative ease.

              Space exploration is entering an exciting age which I’m glad to be alive to see (hopefully) come to fruition.

              Liked by 1 person

              1. My dad was a survival equipment specialist
                with the Air Force, & he worked @ Edwards
                AFB in California. He actually helped problem
                solve issues the scientists were having with the
                parachute systems used for planet re-entry.

                All these issues come with huge time constraints
                & obviously budgets, so even small problems can
                quickly add up to multi-million dollar cluster-flunks.

                I still think we should be spending these millions
                and billions on educating the next generation of
                scientists, mathematicians, & inventors first long
                before we boldly go where no one has gone before.

                Liked by 1 person

                1. p.s. Love all the work you do on your blog!
                  Enjoy your analysis & explanations of theories
                  & physics that can sometimes make grey
                  matter leak out of my ear! It is always exciting
                  to see what fresh minds can hypothesize &
                  add to the conversation. No one brain has all
                  the answers, that is why collaboration & cross-
                  fertilization will be so important going forward.

                  Liked by 1 person

                  1. Thank you!

                    You make an excellent point about education. Personally, I hadn’t really considered the billions they spend on space programs being used for educating future scientists/ mathematicians/ engineers etc.

                    I guess part of the benefits that come with heavy investment in science is that it sort of acts as encouragement for young people to get into sciences. I know here in the UK a fair bit is done to encourage students to pursue science.

                    I think part of it falls down to balance. It is all well and good having these ambitious programs but, for the sake of longevity if nothing else, they need to have people capable of taking over when the time comes.

                    Education in general should be supported more than I feel it does.

                    Liked by 1 person

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