Who really discovered the Americas?

Some thoughts about history

I was taught in school that Christopher Columbus was the first person to “discover” America. I never gave that a thought until recent years after learning about the Viking settlement that archeologists discovered in Newfoundland, Canada. My wife and I are presently touring the province of Newfoundland and Labrador; a wonderful province filled with natural beauty, fine sea food, and wonderful, friendly people. We recently visited L’Anse aux Meadows where excavations of a Norse settlement occurred. This got me thinking. Who really discovered the Americas? Was it Columbus? Was it the Norse? Was it the Irish? Was it the Chinese? Or was it someone else? Truth is, no one can really answer that question with certainty. Of course, we must not forget that there were indigenous people here long before North America was “discovered”. Scientists know that First Nations people have lived in North America for at least 12,000 years because they have found bones and artifacts that go back that far.

L’Anse aux Meadows, whom the Norse explorers and traders called Vinland, is really a fascinating place. It is located on the northern tip of the Great Northern Peninsula in the province of Newfoundland in Canada. ThoughtCo is a website about learning which says in 1961, archaeologists Helge Ingstad and his wife Anne Stine discovered an irrefutably Viking settlement. Eleventh-century Norse artifacts recovered from l’Anse aux Meadows numbered in the hundreds and included a soapstone spindle whorl and a bronze-ringed pin process, as well as other iron, bronze, stone, and bone items. Carbon dating placed the occupation at the site between 990-1030 C.E.

Reconstructed Norse buildings in L’Anse aux Meadows

The site consisted of three building complexes and a bloomer, a building where they made iron products such as nails used to repair their ships, but there were no barns or stables that would be associated with farming. It is inferred that the elites, such as Leif Eriksson, resided in one end of the large hall, ordinary sailors slept in sleeping areas within the halls and servants, likely slaves, resided in the huts. L’Anse aux Meadows housed between 80 to 100 individuals, possibly up to three ship crews.

Leif Eriksson is generally credited as the first European to set foot on the shores of North America, nearly five centuries before Christopher Columbus would arrive in 1492. Most scholars agree that Eriksson was most likely a member of an early Viking voyage to North America, if not, in fact, the leader of that first expedition. Our interpreter told us that it was the Norseman who established the settlement, and not the Vikings as Vikings travelled about raiding and pillaging. Norsemen refers to explorers and traders.

So why were we taught that Christopher Columbus was the first European to set foot in North America. According to LiveScience, Columbus didn’t even set foot in America since he actually landed in the Bahamas, an island later named Hispaniola.  Today that island is split into Haiti and the Dominican Republic. On his subsequent voyages, he went farther south, to Central and South America. He never set foot in North America in what is now Canada, the United States and Mexico.

So why does the United States celebrate Columbus day? I was surprised to learn that this is because the 13 colonies (the beginnings of the United States) rebelled against and fought with England. It was John Cabot who “discovered” Newfoundland in England’s name around 1497 and paved the way for England’s colonization of most of North America. This is why the American colonialists turned to Columbus as their hero, not England’s Cabot. This is also why the U.S. capital, Washington, D.C. which stands for District of Columbia and not District of Cabot.

What about China being the first to “discover” the Americas? An amateur historian and author Gavin Menzies in his controversial book “1421: The Year China Discovered the World” (William Morrow, 2002), claimed that a Chinese fleet helmed by Admiral Zheng had sailed to the Americas in 1421 and left behind ample archaeological and genetic evidence of their journey. Menzies’ claims were roundly criticized by respected researchers and historians (see LiveScience).  Now this begs the question: Did the Chinese discover America before the Norse?  Just how credible is this hypothesis?

The article, Did China discover AMERICA? claims researchers have discovered ancient scripts that suggest Chinese explorers may have discovered America long before Europeans arrived there. They have found pictograms etched into the rocks around the United States that appear to belong of an ancient Chinese script. These pictograms could have been inscribed there alongside the carvings of Native Americans by Chinese explorers thousands of years ago. This means ancient Chinese people were possibly exploring and interacting with the Native peoples over 2,500 years ago. John Ruskamp, a retired chemist and amateur epigraph researcher from Illinois, discovered the unusual markings while walking in the Petroglyph National Monument in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Our interpreter at L’Anse aux Meadows mentioned that St. Brenden, an Irish monk, was another European who potentially “discovered” North America. According to Heritage Newfoundland and Labrador, a case can be made for transatlantic voyages made by medieval Irish monks. During the fifth and sixth centuries CE, Irish monks ventured out into the North Atlantic in pursuit of some kind of divine mission. According to legend, Brendan was in his seventies when he and 17 other monks set out on a westward voyage in a curragh, a wood-framed boat covered in sewn ox-hides. The monks sailed about the North Atlantic for seven years, according to details set down in the Navigatio Sancti Brendani Abbatis in the tenth century.

But would a trans-Atlantic voyage have even been possible in the sixth century? According to the History Channel’s story, Did an Irish Monk “Discover” America? a modern-day adventurer, Tim Severin, attempted to answer the question. In 1976, based on the description of the curragh in the text, he crafted an identical vessel and began his voyage where St. Brendan had been entranced in prayer prior to his voyage (now named Mount Brandon in the saint’s honour). He followed the prevailing winds across the northernmost part of the Atlantic Ocean, and crossed it using landing points such as the Aran Islands, the Hebrides, the Faroe Islands, Iceland and Greenland as stepping stones before arriving in Newfoundland, proving that is was a possibility. As of yet, there is no reliable evidence to indicate that Brendan ever reached Greenland or America.

from monovisions.com

I love learning about history, but keep in mind that history is merely a person or person’s interpretation of the past. Do we really know who was first to “discover” North America? No, we don’t. We can, however, confidently say that the First Nations people have lived in North America for 12,000 years or longer. Perhaps we should be celebrating and emphasizing that fact along with our colonial roots. Canada is 150 years old as a nation this year but she has been a nation for much longer than that because of our indigenous peoples who were our nation long before the Chinese or Irish or Norse ever arrived.

But Words Will Never Hurt Me

A commentary on bullying

I was really saddened by a video I saw on Facebook. The video was featuring a 14-year-old boy named Jack Higgins who auditioned on Britain’s Got Talent. It is about a boy who refused to give up on his dream of being a dancer and thankfully Jack was rewarded for his efforts.

In fact, watching that video made me somewhat emotional. I felt so much compassion and heartbreak for 14-year-old Jack Higgins. Why you might wonder? I felt bad for Jack because he was bullied on the school yard simply because he prefers ballet to football. This led some of his schoolmates to look down at him and even call him “gay”, saying that dancing was for girls. As a teacher for 35 years, I witnessed this kind of bullying many times. When I personally see the pain that bullying brings, it breaks my heart. If you haven’t seen the video, here it is.

Jack gives a truly magical performance when he auditioned for Britain’s Got Talent and as a result was showered with compliments, but Simon Cowell’s words were the most powerful. Simon told Jack: “You know the one thing bullies don’t like? They don’t like it when you do well. I can see how hard you’ve worked for this moment and I congratulate you, Jack!” I applaud Simon for those words.

Bullying is never okay. We as a society must never accept it when someone behaves badly towards others just because of how he or she may look or what that person does. All humans deserve to be treated with equality as well as love and respect.

I’ve always known that bullying is prevalent, but how prevalent is it? I did some research to find out. Before we do that, it is important to know what bullying is. Psychology Today defines it as a distinctive pattern of harming and humiliating others, specifically those who are in some way smaller, weaker, younger or in any way more vulnerable than the bully. The organization PromotePrevent (preventingbullying.promoteprevent.org) defines bullying as a repeated aggressive behavior where one person (or group of people) in a position of power deliberately intimidates, abuses, or coerces an individual with the intention to hurt that person physically or emotionally. So how prevalent is bullying?

The Canadian organization known as PREVNet does work based on four strategies: education, assessment, intervention and policy in order to stop bullying and victimization and to create environments where children feel safe. According to the article, Age Trends in the Prevalence of Bullying, these are some statistics:

  • Today, an estimated 200 million children and youth around the world are being victimized by their peers.
  • It is estimated that 10-15 % of children repeatedly bully others, and 10-15% of children are repeatedly bullied.

With the introduction of the Internet, came cyberbullying. When I was in school, a bully had to harass you in your face since a tormenter had no way to hide. Most bullies today are cowards as they hide behind their computers because they are too afraid to confront their victims face to face. Cyberbullying involves sending mean and sometimes threatening emails, tweets or text messages, spreading gossip, secrets or rumours about another person that will damage that person’s reputation and other such activities. The article, Electronic Bullying: Definition and Prevalence, reports:

  • Among youth who bully others electronically, 6% report frequent bullying, 6% report occasional bullying, and 17% report limited bullying within the previous year.
  • 55% of youth who are victimized report multiple electronic or cyber bullying incidents in the previous year.
  • About 50% of adolescents know someone who has been victimized online.
  • A majority of teachers (84%) report that they have been electronically bullied.

In terms of all types of bullying, Statistics Canada reports:

  • Canada has the 9th highest rate of bullying in the 13-years-olds category on a scale of 35 countries.
  • At least 1 in 3 adolescent students in Canada have reported being bullied recently.
  • 47% of Canadian parents report having a child victim of bullying.
  • The rate of discrimination experienced among students who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans-identified, Two-Spirited, Queer or Questioning (LGBTQ) is three times higher than heterosexual youth.
  • Girls are more likely to be bullied on the Internet than boys,
  • The most common form of cyber-bullying involved receiving threatening or aggressive e-mails or instant messages, reported by 73% of victims.

Bullyiingfacts.info reports that in the United States in 2010,

  • 1 of every 7 students from kindergarten to Grade 12 has been a bully or has been bullied.
  • 61% of students who were interviewed stated that bullying can resort to students shooting other children.
  • More than 56% of students had already witnessed bullying that happened while they were in school.
  • 71% of students reported that bullying is an on-going problem.
  • 1 in every 20 students has seen a student carrying a gun while in school premises.
  • Each month, a shocking number of around 282,000 students are being victimized by bullying in the US.

These statistics are distressing to say the least, and they clearly indicate that bullying is a very serious problem. So, who is to blame? I hardly think it is fair to blame the children when many adults model bullying. Statistics Canada reports that 40% of Canadian workers experience bullying on a weekly basis.

from: http://www.panorama.com.al/

Even more disturbing to me is that some of our world leaders are bullies and model this to our youth. New York Times has a list of insults that U. S. President Trump made using Twitter since declaring his intention to run for president. Republican presidential candidate, Jeb Bush, said during the primaries that Russian President Vladimir Putin was a “bully” and the United States and its allies in Europe should be resolute in responding to Russian aggression (see Jeb Bush). Clearly, the Russian president is a bully when you consider what Putin has done to the Ukraine (see Ukrainian nationhood). Until adults stop bullying and sanctioning bullying, the cycle of bullying (actually a cycle of violence) will continue.

As long as our youth see adults harassing, they will continue to think that bullying is normal and acceptable. There is a well-known idiom that my friends and I used to spew at our tormentors growing up; “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” Well, the truth is, words to do hurt and words can have a life-long effect on us. According to Psychology Today,

Ridicule, distain, humiliation, taunting, all cause injury, and when it is delivered in childhood from a child’s peers, verbal abuse causes more than emotional trauma. It inflicts lasting physical effects on brain structure.

The reality is, words (verbal abuse) hurt just as much, maybe more, than other forms of abuse.

John Powell, an English composer living in the U.S., is quoted as saying, “More than 90 percent of all the prisoners in our American prisons have been abused as children.” In light of the above quote from Psychology Today, I believe him.