Vikings had discovered the American continent centuries before 1492, the year of Columbus' trip. How did the information about the huge discovery got lost? It would not have seemed surprising to me if Columbus had some knowledge of Viking expeditions, but he really believed to have visited Asia instead.

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    There are several closely related questions already answered here: 1 2 3 What exactly do you feel has not yet been answered?
    – DevSolar
    Feb 23, 2018 at 11:50
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    No, the mentioned articles are about: 1) why Columbus is credited for discovering 2) Did anyone predicted the America existence (the author does not know about the previous discoverers) 3) Did Columbus know it is a continent? Here the question is really different and not covered by these questions. Maybe, by some answers, though, but that does not forbid to ask.
    – Gangnus
    Feb 23, 2018 at 14:30

1 Answer 1


Simply, the Greenland settlement those discoveries were centered on died out before the Printing Press. The last anyone heard from it for sure was 1410, and Gutenberg started working on his press in 1436.

Back then information had to be hand-copied by professional scribes, which was a relatively time-consuming and expensive process. Because of this, only the most valuable of information would get copied and disseminated widely, and then generally only to people who really needed or strongly desired to know it.

A few dozen Icelanders finding some new frozen land way up north they could barely survive in just wasn't a concern to most people. The only evidence I've seen that anyone outside of the Norse community was even aware of Greenland's existence is the paperwork the Church had to periodically send around when the settlement needed a new Priest, or couldn't send it tithes because it was so poverty-stricken. Its quite possible the Church hierarchy had no real conception of where Greenland was, other than that they periodically had to send a priest to Denmark so that people who did know where it was could get him there.

There's very little indication anyone else in the Mediterranean area had ever heard of the place. It doesn't show up on any of the early maps created by the Iberian or Italian maritime community that was performing most of the work of exploring new ways to get to the Indies.

Conversely, when Columbus came back from his explorations, his findings could be easily and cheaply reproduced and disseminated throughout Europe due to its printing presses, which informed the entire continent about it, and allowed its greatest minds to ponder the true significance of what was being found.

  • Greenland is a (largish) island in the northernmost Atlantic Ocean, like Iceland. Even if Columbus had known about them (or even about the few Norse contacts with northern North America), it would have said nothing about the existence of a couple of continents in the temperate & tropic latitudes. They could just as well have been islands north of China.
    – jamesqf
    Feb 23, 2018 at 18:57
  • @jamesqf - Its quite possible the Icelander/Greenlanders who briefly created a Vinland settlement realized there was an entire continent over there from the size of the river mouths (the only place we know they set up was on another island). But that doesn't mean they could convince anyone else of that, up until the day proof came in from other sources (eg: Magellan)
    – T.E.D.
    Feb 23, 2018 at 19:07
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    I'm not sure the Norse of that era would have had the geographical perspective needed to deduce the existence of a continent from the large river mouths. After all, they would have been (culturally, if not individually) familiar with Britain, which has a number of large river mouths despite being an island of only moderate size. Nor do I think they were actually interested in convincing other people of their discoveries :-)
    – jamesqf
    Feb 23, 2018 at 20:59
  • If the Vikings had found gold or other valuables in Greenland, the word would have spread quickly. But they didn't, and it didn't. Feb 24, 2018 at 22:45
  • There was a bishop of Gardar or of Greenland since 1124. The last time a bishop resided in Greenland was in 1378, but titular bishops continued to be appointed. The diocese was under the Archbishop of Bremen, Germany 1124-1126, the archbishop of Lund, Sweden 1126-1152, and the Archbishop of Nidaros in Norway from 1152, so those archdiocheses should have had records of correspondence with the bishops.
    – MAGolding
    Feb 24, 2018 at 23:42

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