Earliest explorers

Leif Ericsson

Leif Ericsson (Eriksson) the Lucky (975-1020) was a Viking explorer, he was most likely the first European to sail to North America. Ericsson was born in Iceland, and was one of the sons of the famous Viking explorer Eric the Red. His father created the first European settlement of Greenland in the year 1000 A.D. Leif sailed north from the southern tip of Greenland around the year 1000. Leif then traveled south along the coast of Baffin Island, down to Labrador, this being what is now called Newfoundland. Leif originally called Baffin Island, Helluland (Land of Flat Stones) and originally called Labrador, Markland (Wood-land). He also originally called the newly discovered land in North America, Vinland. The reason Leif called it Vinland was due to the countless number of vines of grapes around the island. Another peculiar thing about the island was that there was no frost on the grass when it came winter. Leif decided the name Vinland fit the island well. There are two common Viking stories on how Leif made his exploration to North America. One story revolves around Leif becoming a Christian in Norway; he planned on going to Greenland to teach other Vikings of Christianity and its beliefs. Christianity became a huge part of the Viking culture, King Olaf of Norway was the one responsible for teaching Leif Christianity in the first place. He instructed Leif on training, and teaching needed to spread Christianity throughout the Norse lands. As Leif was sailing to Greenland, he was blown off course by a powerful storm. He ended up in North America instead of his intended destination of Greenland. This story presents the fact that Leif was not going on an exploration, but rather a Christianity conversion trip. The second version of Leif's story says that another well-known Viking explorer, Bjarni Herjolfsson had already traveled to North America. Thus Leif was not the first to discover North America, the reason Herjolfsson is not celebrated is due to the fact that little evidence or dates indicate he ever actually made it. Leif's intent was to retrace Bjarni's route, he set sail for North America and ended up in a new land in which he called Vinland. Vinland is most likely the part of present-day Canada known as Newfoundland. Newfoundland is the original land Leif discovered, but two theories exist on Vinland. Either Vinland is part of Newfoundland, or Leif traveled farther inland to possibly the United States, where he named the area Vinland because of the lush valleys or vines of grapes that dotted the area. Most experts believe that Vinland could most likely be present day Maine, where evidence of a Viking coin was found, this coin is proof that the Vikings did at least make it to the border of Canada and the United States. There is no certain proof that they did make it and discover the United States. Leif did travel back later to Greenland to convert the Vikings to Christianity. Leif is the earliest explorer to be recorded for traveling to and discovering North America, as well as having the most credit for discovering North America, as well as his own national holiday on October 9th. In both stories, Leif sets sail for a faraway destination, but both result in his discovery of an entirely new land. Leif earned his nickname, "the Lucky", in his luck in finding Newfoundland. He set sail for Greenland, but an ocean storm swept him away to unknown parts. He then mapped out the routes for all the islands. Thus resulting in his name, for being so fortunate to find this new and uncharted land by accident. (Weitemier, 2002)
An early Viking expedition with the Norse Longboat.
Other less known Viking expeditions helped discover new land and areas in the world. Viking navigators around the year 1000 A.D. were responsible for the creation of settlements in Shetland, Orkney, the Faroe Islands, Iceland, Greenland, L'Anse aux Meadows, and of course, the famous Newfoundland settlement. Many of these islands were discovered by sailors who had been blown off course by storms; the navigators had only discovered these areas by accident. Unfortunately, some of these areas were hard to map out and could not be traveled to easily, therefore the settlements died out. L'Anse aux Meadows is proof of the Viking settlement that Leif helped to found around the year 1000 A.D. Christopher Columbus was not the first European to reach North America, he is only known worldwide because the Norse people did not keep good track of the dates and records of their early expeditions.Columbus was over 400 years later, so the dates and records could be easily recorded better. Leif was given full credit of the title in 1964; he was the first European to set foot while Columbus was only the first European from continental Europe, not including the Norse lands and islands. Leif helped set the future precedent for many other Viking explorers who made the trip to the New World and helped discover new settlements as well. Leif was the spur for the rest of Europe to stake its claim in the New World. His expeditions helped lead the French, Dutch, Spanish and English as well to the New World. (Ryne, 2011)

Team of Coop and Mike M
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Projects by Students for Students. "Leif Eriksson." Explorers of the Millennium. Oracle Thinkquest. Web. 13 Aug. 2011. http://library.thinkquest.org/4034/ericson.html>

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Weitemier, Kevin A. "Leif Erikson." MNC Online. Metropolitan News Company. Web. 11th Aug. 2011. <http://www.mnc.net/norway/LeifErikson.htm>