Norman and Chinese expeditions may have been previous to Christopher Columbus most famous effort.
Father Bartolomé de las Casas wrote that Columbus' motivation for the trip was to prove the existence of unknown lands of which a pilot had told him of.
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Home/Stories and articles/Recovery
October 2003

America's discovery:
History revisited

That Américo Vespucio —who was honored with the name of our continent— only explored what others had already discovered, and that Christopher Columbus was not the real discoverer of America, are some of the conclusions of historians, but which have not been able to destroy the official tale we learnt at school.

By Rosario Mena

On October 12th 1942, Christopher Columbus arrived to one of the Bahamas islands, which he thought was close to Japan. From the beginning of the expedition, his intention was to reach Asia's western extreme, opening a new route for commerce from Europe. Until his death he was convinced that he had landed on Asian land.

The development of geographical studies and interpretations that were more or less biased, led to establish that it was Columbus who had discovered America, and that he had a real intention in doing so.

The making of a discoverer
The initial idea may have been born in a myth: the legend of "the anonymous pilot". In his writings, father Bartolomé de las Casas says that Columbus' motivation for the trip was to prove the existence of unknown lands of which a pilot had told him. The myth says that this pilot had been thrown to mysterious beaches after a storm. So, the voyage made in 1942 was always presented as a "discovery effort", hiding the real "Asian objective", according to O'Gorman.

But, why didn't the "anonymous pilot" was registered as the true discoverer? Columbus son, Fernando Colón, wrote in his father biography "The life of an Admiral" that there was never such a pilot, and that no-one before Columbus knew of these lands. According to his version, the trip that his father made was motivated by his own thesis about the existence of this continent, of which he had an intuition because of his great talent, his studies and his scientific knowledge.

He says that the lands were then called "the Indias", as a way to convince the King and Queen of Spain to finance this expedition.

Those who got here first
There's been other proofs of Norman expeditions that may have reached America in the 11th Century, and Chinese that were here 70 years before Columbus. According to O'Gorman, "from a chronological point of view, one has to conclude that it was the Normans the ones to discover America, and that what happened in 1492 was nothing but a re-discovery. What made Columbus journey so remarkable, is that it allowed a kind of scientific register by which the essence of Humanity's points to its historical destiny". As a matter of fact, it was Columbus who made the world and the investigators discover an unknown part of the globe.

The investigations by British former captain Gavin Menzies -recently published in "El Mercurio" newspaper—indicate that in 1421 a group of Chinese men led by Eunuch Admiral Zheng Hen discovered this land crossing the Atlantic from one pole to the other, discovering also Australia and New Zealand, and placing Chinese colonies in America and Oceania. The conclusions in Menzies successful book are part of several thesis that identify the Chinese as the Continent's first colonizers. It even seems that Columbus met these Chinese in his trip, which was of no surprise to him since he was travelling with Western navigation maps.

In the name of Americo
Marveled by the tales of Columbus in "the Indias", Américo Vespucio started in 1499 an expedition that aimed to follow the route of Columbus' third trip. It seems that Vespucio abandoned his group when reaching the coast of Guyana, and head south on his own, all the time thinking that what he was bordering was nothing but the west of Asia. He discovered the Amazon, and then reached the Cabo Consolación (or San Agustín) in the coast of Brazil. On his way back, he went through Trinidad, the Orinoco mouth, and Haiti. But he was still convinced he was in the Asian sea.

In 1501 a new expedition left Lisboa. They reached land after 16 months of traveling, apparently the area between Ceará and Río Grande del Norte. After that, they went to San Roque and San Agustín, to get to Rio de Janeiro's bay area in 1502. From there, the explorer head further south, discovering Río de la Plata and the coast of Sao Paulo. Some versions say that, on his way back, Columbus bordered the meridional coast of the Patagonia. Others say he didn't even make it to Río de la Plata. Whatever, what's important is that this trip registered remarkable discoveries and the confirmation of the continent's unity.

It was in 1507 that the "New World" began being called America, mainly because of the effort of German humanist Martin Waldseemüller who, after the death of Columbus, re-wrote Vespucio's letters and added a map which included the new discovered countries, completely separated from Asia. He said the South continent must be called America in honor to Vespucio, the real discoverer.

There are several contradictions in Vespucio's writings, and these led that Spanish and Portuguese historians argued about how he may have usurped what were other sailor's triumphs. Years later, Waldseemüller admitted his mistake and tried to erase it, but the name of America was already popular use. Initially, this denomination corresponded only to South America. Later on, Central and North America were added.


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