In 1492, when Christopher Columbus brought the new world to the attention of the old world. What was the extent of the known world, and what was the shortest distance someone could have travelled to discover the new world - That is, assuming any point on the known world starts at having travelled zero distance, even if you came from spain and travelled to Iceland how far would you have to travel to discover what is now known as the new world?

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    This just depends way too much on definitions. For example its only about 300 miles from Iceland to Greenland. But Icelanders already had "discovered" Greenland 5 centuries earlier. In fact, there's a letter from the Pope asking Icelanders to send Greenland a new bishop about 50 years before Columbus.
    – T.E.D.
    Oct 29 '13 at 21:57
  • The question is one of geography rather than history. You can't even answer it today with any precision. Oct 29 '13 at 22:26

0 meters, as the known world (that is, known by Europeans, which I assume you mean) already included parts of the "new world", ie Greenland and the coast of Canada.

As for the distance between the "old world" (ie Afro-Eurasia) and the "new world" (ie the Americas), the Bering Straight is about 80 kilometers wide. However, very few people live either side of it, so that's not much use. (Unless you include islands, in which case Iceland straddles the mid-Atlantic ridge, which means Reykjavik is in America, but that's really stretching "New World"...)

Other relevant distances:

The distance between Iceland and Greenland is as little as 300 kilometers, and Icelanders were completely aware of Greenland at this time, but there wasn't much reason to go there. The last Norse people on Greenland probably died quite shortly before Columbus travels.

The distance between Reykjavik and L'Anse aux Meadows, where there was a Norse settlement for a short time (probably just a winter) who were driven away by the native Americans, is about 2400 kilometers, which can be compared with the around 6900 kilometers Columbus traveled from Europe to land in America on his first voyage.

I assume your question really is about "Could there have been some other easier way to discover America", and the answer is yes. And in fact it had been discovered at least twice before. Once by the people who first moved there about 13.000 years ago, and secondly by Leifr Eiríksson around the year 1000.

  • If we are going to get technical, there are island chains stretching the Bering Strait, which would bring the distance down to a bare handful of miles. However, I suspect by "known world" he meant known to Europeans, rather than to the folks who happened to live there. Barring Antartica and a few small islands, the entire landmass of earth was known to somebody by 1492.
    – T.E.D.
    Oct 29 '13 at 22:26
  • Well, counting small islands does seem a bit silly. :-) Oct 29 '13 at 23:06
  • I was aware that he Vikings and the natives there had discovered the new world, which is why I said that Christopher Columbus brought the new world to the attention of the old world as they didn't really seem all that aware that the Vikings has discovered it 500 years prior. It does seem that the shortest distance that I can make out is about ~2500 kilometers aswell, but I measured it from from the west coast of Africa near Cape Verde.
    – Atheuz
    Oct 30 '13 at 8:47
  • @Atheuz Well, the smallest distance between what? 2400km is not a "smallest distance", it's just a distance which I felt was of interest in the context. The shortest distance is purely depending on definition of the terms, and you haven't given any definition. Oct 30 '13 at 8:58
  • @Atheuz Updated and clarified the answer somewhat. Oct 30 '13 at 9:05

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