Exactly like Christopher Columbus 500 years after him, Leif Erikson reached the shores of what would later become known as America by mistake. The Norse explorer was the son of Erik the Red, the first colonizer of Greenland—and was converted to Christianity in Norway at the court of Olaf I Tryggvason. Around 1,000 CE, King Olaf ordered Leif Erikson to sail back to Greenland and bring the new religion to them, but the winds blew Erikson’s ship off course and it landed in North America instead. Erikson was apparently was so taken with the forests there that were ‘full of grapes’ and he named this strange land Vinland, aka the Land of Wine.
Remember the opening scene of American Gods when Viking ships reach the American shores and raise a statue to honor Odin, the Allfather? This is actually historically accurate: archaeologists have found evidence of Viking settlements in North America and they expect to find even more in the future. The precise location of the place Erikson described as ‘Vinland’ remains uncertain, but they found ruins of a Viking settlement at L’Anse aux Meadows in northern Newfoundland in 1963. The settlement matches Erikson’s description of Vinland, so Odin definitely has a right to behave as if he owns the place.
Leif Erikson is not completely forgotten: there’s a park in Seattle named after him with a statue raised in his honor—and October 09 is observed as Leif Erikson Day in the United States. But ask many Americans, let alone the rest of the world, and they probably don’t even know about it. There was a time when America was celebrating 400 years since Columbus’s arrival that they debated whether they should be recognising Leif Erikson instead since he was technically got there first.
Columbus’s ‘discovery’ has ultimately prevailed as canon because of what came after his exploration. The Vikings came, saw, and departed on their dragon-headed ships back across the Atlantic. Christopher Columbus returned to court and convinced European monarchs that there is profit to be made by exploring this strange land further. The rest is history.